London In Between

Battersea Evolution Center Show Floor

It is June 21st. Summer Solstice. The longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. The beginning of summer.

This spring began full of hope and excitement and fun. The first, first kiss of spring had me hoping this year might be different. The mood lasted a couple months and has now slowed to a crawl. I was so funny and clever and inventive. It was just pouring forth every day.

I’d like to bring back those bright days of the first, first kiss of spring, but they got the urge for going, and I guess they had to go.

I’d like to call back early spring and have her stay for just another month or so
But she’s got the urge for going so I guess she’ll have to go
She got the urge for going when the meadow grass is turning brown
And all her empires are falling down
And summer’s closing in
And I get the urge for going when the meadow grass is turning brown
And springtime’s falling down

—paraphrasing Joni Mitchell

So spring came in like a sunrise, a rainbow, a starry, starry night and is leaving like a gloomy drizzly day.

We will see how summer begins. In 3 months, I’ll be able to assess it. Good, bad or indifferent.

I hope those good days resume. I was so productive. I was “smarter” than I really am.

And it was so much fun.

This is the third story about the London trip earlier this month—the middle part. The first part of the story is here. The way the London trip ended is here.

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Friday, June 7, 2019

In the morning, I wrote, edited and sent the Barbara and London book story off across the Atlantic for final corrections and to be uploaded.

I wanted to get to the London Book Show at its opening—noon. The actor and noted bibliophile Stephen Fry was going to open the show.

I didn’t quite make it. There’s no easy way to get to center of Battersea Park from Paddington Station. I’ve become pretty conversant with the London Underground, and, nope, you can’t get there from there. A taxi all that way would be expensive and could be slow because of London traffic, and it was…raining. Looking at the map, Sloane Square is the closest station. The walk from there wouldn’t be too bad and might be pretty interesting. It is always inspiring to walk across the Thames and see the city’s panoramas. I can’t help but think of the millions of people that have passed up and down this river for millennia. Plus, I’d never used the Battersea Bridge before.

When I got to the surface above the Sloane Square Station, it was raining hard. I popped up the brolly I’d bought the day before and waded across the road into the park-like square where there was a taxi stand.

“Battersea Park, please.”

The London cabbies are almost always chatty. “Where are you from?” “I’ve been to Washington.” “I have a sister in ‘Merry—Land.'” “How long are you here?” …

Soon we were crossing the Thames to a part of London I’d never visited before. I guess it is kind of remote to the heart of the city—kind of like Brooklyn compared to Manhattan.

I didn’t know what to expect about the venue. The last ABA Rare Book Shows I attended were in kind of disappointing, cramped venues.

When I stepped onto the show floor of the Battersea Evolution Center (Saving 20 GBP thanks to a pass sent by Johnson Rare Books ABAA Covina, CA.), I was thrilled.

A vast black ceiling was dotted with thousands of tiny blue white lights spread…vastly.

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This promised to be cool!

I decided to wander up and down every aisle to get a feel for things. Up. Turn. Down. Turn. Up…

It was a vast biblio immersion—although there was no moisture—unless I was drooling. There were more than 150 booksellers in booths of varying dimensions. There were the famous historic English booksellers like Maggs and Quaritch and Blackwells. Indeed most of the booksellers were from the United Kingdom. How can such a small country have so many great booksellers and so many wondrous books? Maybe it’s that England has some thousands of years of history more than North America? And I suppose formal antiquarian bookselling has more of a history and tradition as well. Contrary to stereotype, not all the English booksellers there were men of a certain age wearing sweater vests under tweed jackets with suede elbow patches. Some didn’t have the elbow patches.

I AM KIDDING. There was a great deal of diversity amongst the booksellers and the stock they offered.

What was I looking for? I dunno. I often shop and just hope a book will call out to me. This show was no different. I ended up finding things I hadn’t sought. The few books I decided on—we found one another, I suppose.

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I discovered Charles Van Sandwyk at a Seattle book show a few years ago. His work is just so charming, whimsical, complex (his books often have many parts, pieces, additions…) and collectible. The Canadian dealer, Aquila, had about 30 different on display. Apparently, they are friends of his. I had to battle off other buyers who were trying to jostle me from my asserted position front and center of that display. The transaction was very confusing as the booklets were priced in Canadian Dollars and British Pounds and Euros, but I wanted to write a check in US Dollars. I think the percentages they come up with were correct. I was happy if they were happy.

Now I’m looking online at the stuff they have in Calgary, and I am afraid. Very afraid.

The Sandwyk books I bought were unavoidable. I couldn’t not see them. This Baudelaire was something else entirely.

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The thin leather spine with no lettering was “invisible” on the German bookseller’s shelf. Why, of all the thousands and thousands of books at that show was I drawn to that thin blank spine? A month or so ago I searched what seemed like all the bookstores in Montreal—new and used; French and English—for a cool Baudelaire edition for a friend to no avail. And it really ticked me off! Also, I would usually avoid Continental booksellers. There’s no prejudice involved. It is just that my experiences have been a bit complex and problematic, and it is just so easy to deal with fellow Americans who often know me, speak the same language, use the same money… But when this book called to me and leapt off the shelf into my hands, I asked the German colleague how much it was as it had no price written inside.

“A thousand.”

His English was far better than my German. My German is actually pretty good.

“Pounds or Euros?”

This was significant because the difference would be about $1270 (if Pounds) versus $1130 (if Euros.)

Then I asked if there would be any “trade discount” as I am a member of the same bookselling organization he belongs to (ILAB.) Booksellers almost always offer one another a courtesy discount.


I suppose I must have exhibited “HBL”—Hesitation Body Language. Or maybe I set down my business card at that moment because he corrected himself to: “800.”

I would have bought it, regardless. One of only 200 copies. Each plate signed in pencil. Plus all 4 endpapers were hand illuminated in color.

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He retrieved one of those remote credit card machines that take your money out of the air. A check in US dollars would do him no good. He took my card and inserted it and…nothing.

Oh! There was no paper in it. He loaded it and tried again. It finally went through but still wouldn’t print.

So, I still don’t know if I paid 800 Euros or more or less. He couldn’t find his handwritten receipt pad either. I’ll check my credit card statement in a few weeks.

I also bought this French first edition Dickens of The Abyss (cowritten by Wilkie Collins.) I found it in the booth of my American colleagues Carpe Diem. Why? When I opened it, it had Dickens’ bookplate inside as well as his personal library ticket.

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Why did I pick up a French Dickens at all? Dunno. I had to Carpe Librum from Carpe Diem.

(That is a joke…Carpe Diem means “Seize the Day.” Carpe Librum “may” mean “Seize the Book.” Librum is the accusative singular of Liber. Liber means “book.” Accusative singular means…I’ve forgotten—it has been so, so long since I took Latin with Miss Fitch {her real name.} Close enough…)

It was in the booth they shared with Johnson Rare Books where I was almost injured—trampled, if you will. I was kneeling before the Johnson’s glass case when my pants cuff was trod upon. I looked up and a crazed woman was looming over me.

I said: “Excuse me,” and rose to get out her way. She bent and retrieved a large stack of Heavy Metal monographs. Motor Head from the 1980s, I think. Little did she know I was not in competition for these mags. But I was happy to get out of her way so the Johnsons could have a very good sale. Those Motorheads had flown from California to London, and now they’re wherever this woman was from. Maybe they are now in Impolitesville.

I wandered around the show a bit more but didn’t buy anything else.

I stepped outside, and the rain had ceased. There were no cabs, but I saw a little bus and remembered they had a free shuttle—to Sloane Square. I got the last seat and was soon north of the Thames again. I know enough about London that Sloane Square is but a short and lovely walk to Harrods. It is an impressive stroll through some of the most valuable real estate in the world. Knightsbridge…it always makes me think of the Rolling Stones.

Your old man took her diamond’s and tiaras by the score
Now she gets her kicks in Stepney
Not in Knightsbridge anymore
So don’t play with me, because you’re playing with fire

The Stones in 1965…go figure.

Harrods…crass over the top commercialism, wretched excess, obnoxious hyper consumers from all over the world…but I LOVE it! I actually bought things there in the past and had them shipped over to the states. Now, there is nothing I really “need”—but it is fun to look. The huge building is like walking through a vast decorative arts gallery—where everything is contemporary. I have not had a visit when at least several parts are being renovated. Harrods for all its traditions, is constantly changing.

I wandered through the food halls to see how many varieties of smoke salmon they were offering, serrano ham, mushrooms, petit fours… in Harrods numerous food halls there no such thing as one of any kind of food.

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The Harrods motto is Omnia Omnibus Ubique, which is Latin for “all things for all people, everywhere.”

And in recent years I’ve made it a point to go to the Godiva bistro and have a White Chocolate Chocolixer.

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It is a luscious warm thick liquid candy bar. I don’t indulge in that sort of stuff much, but that become a tradition.

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June 21. Afternoon

It has been the usual Friday craziness here. Plus it is “Payroll Friday” so everything is multiplied. I’d promised to pick up a lot of books from the daughters of a deceased State Department official. Clif and I each drove a van down to Bethesda—Kenwood actually—right near the DC line and about as far south as you can get in Montgomery County. The GPS wasn’t helping to get to us the big storage company. I called the sisters, and they talked me in. Usually, customers do not do the boxing and toting for us. But they had offered, and when we backed up to the loading door, there were dozens of identical plastic tubs on long carts waiting for us. One sister helped me load one van while Clif and the other sister took the elevator up to retrieve more tubs.

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I’ve bought books in all kinds of containers, boxes, crate, drawers…but this is a novel storage philosophy.

About 200 uniform small and semi-transparent plastic tubs with lids. Perhaps the father liked being able to see the books and titles inside these small tubs.

Well, we will find new homes for all these tubs too.

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The books look uniformly good. Nothing rare or collectible so far…but just good and unusual history and literature.

The sisters didn’t want any money for these. They just wanted the expense of storing them to go away.

“We’ve read about you and talked with people you’ve worked with. We like what you do.”

Next week I’m going to the home. I’m sure those won’t be free. If they are as good or better than these, it’ll be fine.

Oh! We had a new van delivered while I was away. I bought it online the day before. We have been squeezed too often lately not having enough to service the stores and house calls. This Transit is #7 I think—or number 8? I should know these things. It is van #8.

Plus we still have the big 24-foot box truck.

A Book Fleet!

All this means I’m under the gun to finish this story before the afternoon wears on too far.

Now I can’t drone on and on about the middle part of the London trip much longer.

So back to London.

After my indulgence at Godiva in Harrods, I wandered around the sprawling square block multi story behemoth.

The store occupies a 5-acre (20,000 m2) site and has 330 departments covering 1.1 million square feet (102,193.344 m2) of retail space. It is the largest department store in Europe and lays claim to having its own unique postcode, SW1X 7XL.

Harrods has always had a great book department. This time I was a little disappointed. They’d moved it and renovated its size down since I was there last November. Maybe next time I return it will be expanded and on an entirely different floor.

I took the Underground back to Paddington. I dropped off my books and headed to Trafalgar. I rushed through the National Gallery and said hello to the Botticellis and some other old friends. Then I walked under Admiral Nelson and down to the Sherlock Holmes Pub close to Charing Cross Station. That is another tradition. A pint of the eponymous cask ale. The young woman was concerned when I ordered it.

“‘Tis a ‘kahsk’ beer and not very [something].”

“Huh?” I thought… “Oh, CASK and not very cold.”

She had been worried I wouldn’t like beer that wasn’t bright clear yellow and icy cold. Indeed Budweiser is amazingly popular among the Brits.

“It’ll be fine.”

And it was.

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And so was the second.

Cask ale pumped up from below in the ancient cool basement by numerous pulls on the tap is wonderful. AMAZING. You can find it sometimes in the states.

Then I walked along the Thames as the evening drew on a bit. I made my way to the Savoy…and the American Bar. It has been voted the Worlds Best Bar numerous times. I lucked into a seat at the actual bar—which only has six chairs.

When I’m there, I feel I’m in the company of hundreds of the worlds greatest geniuses. From Oscar Wilde to Bob Dylan. Kings. Queens. Presidents. Writers…you’ll have to look for yourself.

The bartenders are always amazing, genteel…they’ll treat an American bookseller the same way they treat a billionaire.

“Gin Gibson. Up very dry, please.”

There was no question they’d have cocktail onions.

“Certainly, sir.”

The incredible pianist about 30 feet behind me was playing Bowie’s Space Oddity.

The bartender set the new edition of their bar book before me. They produce a new one every year or so.

He began chatting while performing acrobatics with bottles and glassware. His name was Ferdi and seemed genuinely interested in me, my happiness, my satisfaction with the drink… He regaled me with stories—but never divulging the name of the celebrity…

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June 8.

I’m running out of time…)

After a breakfast of burnt toast and ham (think Canadian bacon.) I took the underground to Kings Cross. I think the luggage cart embedded in the wall at “Platform 9 3/4” (a la Harry Potter) is a dreadful and tacky tourist trap. Of course, I’ve visited nearly every visit. And, yes, I bought an eponymous hoodie. LOL…

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Then I walked to the British Library. There were having 2 special exhibitions.

One on the history of writing.

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Astounding! Unbelievable…

And another exhibition with a few hundred Da Vinci’s.

(I’m sorry. I can’t give these a short shrift. Maybe next week…)

Let me skip forward some few days—not long after my harrowing flight back from London.

A package had arrived. I knew what was in it.

I wanted to be by myself. I closed the office door behind me. I carefully sliced the tape sealing the box. I lifted our the bubble wrapped bundle. There was a very thin book inside.

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I lifted the frontboard. On the free endpaper was a perfect calligraphic signature.

By J.R.R. Tolkien. Tolkien touched this book.

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2 Comments on Article

  1. Richard commented on

    On Friday I look forward to reading a story or the chronicle of a book journey. Always enjoyable, occasionally I learn a bit, but until now never the green tinge of jealousy. Oh, what an exquisite find.

    1. Chuck replied on

      Thank you for reading and commenting Richard.
      Acquiring that book was extremely painful but it is the stuff dreams are made of.

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