My latest business trip to London was mistimed.  A week after the clocks went back and British Summertime 2009 consigned to history, it was dark by 5:00 p.m.  Sightseeing on foot was postponed although I did manage a mini tour of London on the number 15 bus.  Through Marble Arch, down Oxford Street, Regent Street, Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square, Charing Cross, The Strand, Fleet Street, Tower Hill etc.  Marvellous value on an off-peak travel card, but not exactly what I had in mind. 

Perhaps books like this are meant to be read cover to cover.  But that’s not how I approach them.  Sometimes I want to read the selections by a favourite author, or by someone I’m keen to discover.  Last week I wanted to read by theme and the organisation of this book is perfect for that, divided as it is into sections.   Last week’s sections of choice “Take the Tour” and “Old Father Thames”.

“Take the Tour” perhaps an obvious choice given the limited daylight hours.  There are 19 selections in this selection, 38 pages in total.  Reallife experiences include a young Margaret Atwood searching for budget accommodation, and Iqbal Ahmed never quite feeling at home in Hampstead.  Although the atmosphere is entirely different during Virginia Woolf’s stroll through Hampstead Heath.  And as for the London in which all the statues come to life, well I may one day find myself reading Will Self’s The Book of Dave!  For the virtual tourist, this was a satisfying section as I visited Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, The National Gallery, The British Museum … and not an aching foot in sight! 

I chose to read the section of “Old Father Thames”  because a) the offices I visited were located in the immediate vicinity of the river and b) the river is a central to many a London novel (e.g Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend and, indeed, William Boyd’s latest Ordinary Thunderstorms).  Of the 14 selections in this section I was fascinated by the two extracts from Clare Clark’s The Great Stink – a reminder that the Thames was once an enormous cesspit, responsible for more than one cholera epidemic.  From this section came the blog’s photo opportunity.

Of London Bridge:  When we reach the middle of the bridge, and discover the north bank spread there before us, the Thames seems hardly more than a country stream, a pleasure pond, beside the gleaming vulgarity, the harshness, the concentration of the new City of London, the square mile that is the financial heart of the capital and its true core of constancy.  (Extracted from A Writer’s World by Jan Morris)

I didn’t make it to the centre of London Bridge, but I did manage an early morning stroll to the centre of Tower Bridge.  And here’s the view back to the City.

If there’s any downside to this book, it’s that it is such a dangerous temptation to bookaholics.  Remember I only read two sections – I’m saving the rest for my next trip.  Even so I added 4 books to the wishlist: Tom Quinn, London’s Strangest Tales; Catherine Arnold, Necropolis; Clare Clark, The Great Stink; Stella Duffy, The Room of Lost Things.

Who knows what will happen when I read the remaining 8 sections!

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