I’ve been taking a lot of walks lately. Partly because being a writer means a lot of sitting down – it’s not kind to the waistline, or in my case, seatline – and partly because it saves some pennies. It’s also giving me back my city, helping me to reconnect with a place that is all too easy to fade out in a coffee-fuelled haze, seeing nothing but phone notifications and closing tube doors.
A little while ago, I ended up walking around central London for about four hours due to an Apple Maps mishap. Luckily I had dedicated the day to drifting otherwise I’d have been pretty pissed off, angry emails may have been sent.
I’d been half-heartedly aiming for the London Library in St James’s Square (which turned out later to be for expensive membership payers only), but was redirected instead to Russell Square via Bedford Square, Mayfair and Savile Row. These are some of London’s most extravagant streets, bubbling with Russian ladies in Louis Vuitton riding boots and Arabs dripping in gold. No place for a short girl wearing no make-up and a jumper capable of housing a small boy band.
The little bouquets of designer clothes shops that fester there are so vacuum-formed that you could be almost anywhere. It’s the little oddities that make London worth bothering with and on Shaftesbury Avenue, tired and feeling a bit demoralised, I stumbled upon Arthur Beale’s yacht chandler, miles from any water. I’d seen it before, but never stopped to notice the way it shines out like freshly sprung daffodils in amongst the muddy bog of homogenised brands.
A little further north on Southampton Row, I passed Shepherd’s bookbinding shop, an entire shop dedicated to the almost obsolete craft of binding pages together. Then, and this has to be the best one, on the same road is a small-press that doubles up as a bookshop selling, and this is the really great bit, almost nothing other the works of an eighteenth century Swedish philosopher called Swedenborg.