Travelling to London is really quite pleasant on the train. No aggravation associated with flying – just 5 hours uninterrupted reading time and once you’ve added in all the to-ing and fro-ing to airports and security checks, train travel is not that much slower from house to hotel door. Plus there’s no need to worry about the weight of the
bookbag suitcase on the way back. I could make a habit of it. Heck I am making a habit of it, if you call 2 trips in 3 weeks a habit.
Once in London, I have to confess, I am not a tuber. Give me a bus whenever time is not of the essence. I want to sightsee and the top deck of a London bus is a great way of doing this. However, this year, given as the underground is 150 years old, I thought I’d make a special effort and, when I looked at the places and events on my itinerary I discovered that, with just a couple of exceptions, everything was literally only 5 minutes from the Piccadilly Line. It shouldn’t me much of a surprise. In the words of Peter York, author of The Blue Riband it is the tourist trophy line.
Have you seen the Penguin Tubelines bookset? A brilliant idea in which each tubeline is celebrated with its own volume. The Blue Riband, the Piccadilly line volume, was written by Peter York, a self-proclaimed capitalist tool, who hadn’t travelled on the tube for 25 years before being given this commission. How was he going to approach it? He summarises it neatly on the back cover: Idea for Book: The Line of Luxury, Big London with the highest house prices in the universe and a Royal Blue Line running through it..
The rest of this post compares Peter York’s architecture-focused Blue Riband with the literary one that I experienced during Spring 2013.
I arrived at King’s Cross after an excellent trip south with East Coast Trains. 1st time I had travelled with them and I shall willingly repeat the experience. Also the first time I had been to King’s Cross, currently in the midst of an extensive and pretty impressive renovation. Just look at this roof …
Admittedly this is the overground station and so is not mentioned by Peter York but it seems to me to me to be as architecturally aspirational as the Piccadilly line interwar underground stations designed by Charles Holden- modernist architectural experiments, modern, glamorous and clever, a metaphor for the new world.
Russell Square station, built 1906, designed by Lesley Green, is two stops from King’s Cross, is the heart of Bloomsbury and the centre of my first London trip.
George Orwell’s Ministry of Truth, aka London University’s Senate house, designed by Charles Holden, is 5 minutes from Russell Square as, indeed is the British Museum. But, for me, Bloomsbury is a hub of British Publishing and while in the vicinity I used the opportunity to meet up with Alison from Atlantic and Rebecca from Faber.
Bloomsbury is also, as we bloggers know, home to 2 world famous bookshops: the London Review of Books Shop in Bury Place and the Persephone Book Shop in Lamb’s Conduit Street. According to York, there’s a bit of a smart street scene around Lamb’s Conduit Street featuring several clothes shops and restaurants suitable for youngish types who’ve had a design education.
Of course, I visited both shops and it was in the LRB shop where I met Kim on her way to the same place as myself, the Bloomsbury Bloggers Tea Party. This is a very civilised and special occasion where a small number of bloggers are treated to tea and cakes and an afternoon of literary chat regarding forthcoming publications in the elegant reception area at Bloomsbury HQ in Bedford Square. It is such a literary setting – tea, cakes, bloggers, authors, publishers, surrounded by literary history …
Who could fail to be inspired by such a sense of literary and architectural history? Final words to York on Bloomsbury:It’s very late eighteenth century in its core architecture , the great Bedford estate squares (Bedford, Bloomsbury, Russell), and the wonderfully long, narrow, sooty, London brick Gower Street. And it’s festering in blue plaques.
To be continued …..