European Diary: Christmas Eve, London
What about a bookshop crawl ? Cold enough to mandate gloves and head gear and an overcoat but not catastrophic. Good walking weather.
Begin with an old haunt, Hatchards at 187 Piccadilly, opposite the Royal Academy. It’s got the tone of a shop readers of The Telegraph and The Spectator might visit, a little too elegant and genteel. It does offer signed copies of recent editions. But the staff aren’t particularly knowledgeable .
I inspect but resist about six contemporary novels including the latest Philip Kerr whose terrain, Berlin noir and espionage in Second World War Europe, would normally appeal to me and which comes with supportive reviews. But I once tried one of his detective stories set in the Third Reich, and it didn’t persuade me he had taken research seriously. Not enough authority. Not tempted by the bios of Koestler or Trevor- Roper and we leave, turn through an arcade into Jermyn Street, have lunch at an Italian where the waiters are impatient to get on trains and head to the Veneto for the holidays and walk down to the National Gallery to take in a few favorite Renaissance masterpieces but find it closed early for Christmas.
Then up Charing Cross Road for the second hands and, in one, I grab for six pounds Fintan O’Toole’s A Traitor’s Kiss, the praised 1997 biography of Richard Brinsley Sheridan in preparation for Peter Hall’s production of The Rivals at the Haymarket. No luck in locating a first edition of the autobiography of Israeli novelist Amos Oz – a book I’ve heard praised very highly .
Bookshops in Charing Cross road are being squeezed out by high rents but Blackstones and, opposite, the venerable Foyles at numbers 113 to 119, still present their wares – in the case of Foyles, 200,000 titles displayed over five floors. The history section is a paradise. I can’t resist Richard Aldous’ The Lion and the Unicorn, about the rivalry of Gladstone and Disraeli and it looks engrossing, coming highly praised. A vast ancient history section, a substantial section on Russia including some choice communist nostalgia, a wall on America – all the titles from the last few years: when my time’s up I’ll come back as a ghost in Foyles.
A brisk half hour walk across Soho to defrost in the hotel and then a visit that deserves its own entry, to the best curry we’ve ever located in London and we’ve done a lot of looking spread over all our visits. Details will follow but it proves so good we have them do some takeaway that will serve for Christmas lunch and you didn’t eat better, I promise.
Happy Christmas, folks.