Egad! Still More London Books!


Popping into St Pancras Station this morning to sign some books (tip; if you ever want a signed Bryant & May, that’s the place to go), I remind myself that this is simply the nicest station in the world (although the one in Cairo is kind of fun in a scary, let’s-get-out-of-here way). For a start it still has its piano, and it seems that everyone in the world except me can play it beautifully. This gent was knocking out waltzes like no tomorrow.



In the station itself, along with the French patisseries and organic food stores, Foyles is one of the country’s great bookshop success stories, proof that it’s not all doom ‘n’ gloom in literary circles. The chain is about to reinvent its flagship store in CXR with a huge new space, and its individual branches are superb. In fact, it’s quite tricky entering one and NOT buying anything, such is the excellent and often quirky choice. Their selection of London books in the St Pancras branch is, for a small store, simply astonishing and the shop possesses Tardis-like qualities that make it appear bigger on the inside.


Latest in their selection to add to various grisly historical murder guides of London is another ‘London’s Hidden Secrets’ volume, filled with even more arcane and forgotten places to visit. Then, to celebrate 150 years of the London Underground, there are 12 new books set on different tube lines by 12 different authors. The books are coloured-coded like the lines, and can also be bought in a box set. I picked up two by Danny Dorling and John O’Farrell, and they’re excellent. Also shown here is ‘The Spirit of London’ – my battered copy dates from 1935 but there’s a spiffing new version with a beautiful cover, and it’s filled with evocative photographs.

On a darker note, I found a copy of a book by Christopher Booker & Candida Lycett Green called ‘Goodbye London’. Printed in 1973, it’s a guide to some of the idiotic schemes the GLC had planned for London, including knocking down every old building it could get its hands on to build endless swathes of tarmac and car parks. It turns out that the much-reviled Camden Council planned to turn the now stunningly restored St Pancras Grand into a ‘leisure centre’, whatever that might be, and was going to demolish every remaining old house in the King’s Cross area to make a giant motorway.

There are stories here about the buildings that councils were prevented from wantonly destroying, but far sadder are the many photographs of the spectacularly baroque and evocative edifices they succeeded in pulling down and replacing with blank concrete office blocks in order to turn a quick buck. The photographs of the losses are more startling than any book on pre-Blitz architecture, because preservation orders were deliberately rescinded or ignored. And this was in 1973. Bravely, the book concludes by naming and shaming some of the  planners and developers responsible for trying to wreck the city.

There were at least half a dozen new large-format books of London photography, but I have enough of those for now. Spring flowers by Aflorum in King’s Cross, by the way, ‘spring’ being optimistic as it’s snowing hard today.

9 comments on “Egad! Still More London Books!”

  1. Steven Nash says:

    I always enjoy your blog posts about places and pubs in London.

  2. Dan Terrell says:

    Some interesting books there. Great looking flowers.
    Our neighbor just learned how to arrange flowers like that with fine results.
    But seriously, what’s up with the weather? It’s 7:32 AM, and 23f outside, spring time for the frozen with the heat in the basement running like the heat pump’s in the Marine Corps marathon; snow’s possible for Easter weekend, March 31. March came in like a grump this year and may go out like an iceberg. April showers bring frozen May flowers?
    Show of hands for those who now believe, or at least really, really think, we may in a few years be out hunting Mastodons for the grill. And just watch: one day of spring warmth and the very next day BAAM summer heat stroke. We’re to have a spring drought here, too. Anyone in London want a couple of boxes of Damp Rid?
    Where’s my old green 1st Earth Day pin?

  3. Ken Murray says:

    Oh dear you mentioned the taboo – GLC. My father worked for this organisation (building huge parts of London) for many years and it very nearly killed him and by default his family… Funny but nobody seems to be talking about them much even though they had an indisputable impact on the London we see today. One of my most abiding memories as a child is going into work with him, one weekend, and visiting a school with a playground on the roof! Totally an alien concept for me at the time?

  4. snowy says:

    Dan, I thought I paid over the odds when I bought that sort of stuff at £2/kg. But DampRid is nearly £6/kg! Egad indeed.

  5. Helen Martin says:

    Given the amount of rain we’ve had this winter why do I not know about DampRid? Because my basement is dry? Probably, but here we are at the first weekend in spring so we drove out to purchase lily bulbs and Pam is practically freezing her fingers off, the wind piercing us all like needles. We had sun, wind, cloud, rain, and hail on Thursday.

  6. Dan Terrell says:

    We have a 3/4-finished basement that we use for guests, my office, BOOKS to the 5th power, but it is underground on three sides and humidity settles, so I know about dehumidifiers and DampRid. We pay about $5.50 for 10/11 oz. Usually we have trouble in the summer with high humidity, but this year we’ve needed to dehumidify more than usual. Wife has a real allergy to mildew, must, etc.

  7. snowy says:

    If you want to save a few $$, and who doesn’t [it can always be wasted on buying more books]. Have a look about for a local bulk supplier of Calcium Chloride Flakes or Pellets, [the active ingredient without the fancy packaging].

    It also melts snow and ice even when it’s too cold for ordinary salt to work. Hmmm……..That might be the best source thinking about it.

    *disappears off to look it up*

    Yes, 50lb for $10 collected from the store.

  8. Dan Terrell says:

    Thanks and you are right about the Calcium Chloride Flake. I learned that long ago and immediately forgot. Good man, Snowy.

  9. Helen Martin says:

    Ours is underground on two sides and I will admit that there are some musty corners. That will all change as the work area is set up properly *cough, cough*. We have bags of salt and some sort of chemical thaw agent on the porch. Also some sand. Do you suppose I could clear those away now? I’m almost afraid to.

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