Bookish Friday Fun

The bibliophilic fun continues…

First up, a semi-practical piece of fun for those of a travelling nature. Many of you may have seen the 20 most beautiful bookstores in the world when it did the Twitter/Facebook rounds a month or so ago, but it’s something that’s worth coming back to – after all, you never know when you might need to know where the most beautiful bookshops are in China…

That’s the Bookworm bookshop in Beijing.

I was actually disappointed at how few of the 20 I’d been to (one – the British and fabulous Barter Books in Alnwick), but it gives me a good bucket list, which can now be added to thanks to this week’s publication of a further 20 recommendations. Happily, this one includes one of Hay on Wye’s gems and my personal favourite – Daunt’s Books in Marylebone (home to many a lunchtime stroking of pretty books). It also, fascinatingly, includes a branch of Waterstones, a chain of which I do not approve – but from the photographic evidence it seems that their store in Bradford’s Wool Exchange is rather delightful. The Guardian also did a response to the original 20, in which readers could suggest their favourites, which is well worth a browse.
One of my favourite secondhand bookshops in London (ok, possibly the country, perhaps the world…) is Ripping Yarns in Highgate. A member of staff there is the author of oft-mentioned Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops (soon to be published as an actual book) and has recently begun a series on her blog of interviews with owners of bookshops about their origins. It begins, predictably, with the owner of Ripping Yarns which will definitely be of interest to the three people I know read this who have been there, but I promise it’s a diverting read for all.
In second hand bookshops you can find many a comic gem – like this book, a photo of which was texted to me the other day with the words: “Now you’re not a nerd but for some reason I thought you’d appreciate this. If nothing else it should really make you laugh!!” Laugh I did – and God bless Katie for saying that I’m not a nerd. 
On reflection, that doesn’t look second-hand! Go out and buy it now! 

That book reminded me of a blog I shared here ages and ages ago that’s probably worth a re-share. Awful Library Books does exactly what the title suggests – it shares awful books still found on library shelves. As you might expect they’re varied and ridiculous, from out of date health manuals, to truly special children’s books. The author has a justified sense of outrage with some of them – those that are held at multiple libraries across the US (the librarians can check these things), despite being woefully outdated. It’s well worth a trip into its archives if your Friday’s shaping up to be dull and dismal… 

And with that, I’d love to say that I’m off to spend my day off curled up with a good book, but no. It’s me and The Art of Biblical Narrative again. Fun times.

Designer London

Keep your eyes and ears open around London and you discover beautiful, fascinating things. Like on Sunday night, while walking from the pub to the tube after the classic Sunday evening post-church socialising, when a friend pointed out something interesting on a lamppost.

Yes, on a lamppost. It seems that the person who lit the Marylebone area of Westminster wanted to make a tribute to a certain designer. Guess who:

Yup, Coco Chanel. Legend has it that the second Duke of Westminster, Hugh Richard Arthur Grosvenor, was so smitten by the designer when they met at a party in Monte Carlo in 1925, that he ordered all the lampposts in Westminster to be adorned with her initials. (The ‘W’ on the other side is part of his crest.) Apparently she turned down his marriage proposal with the words: “There have been several Duchesses of Westminster, there is only one Chanel” Youch.

It’s a great story and makes for interesting street architecture, so I will ignore a recent quote from Westminster Council that states: “Periodically, we get calls from the fashion press asking if the double C’s on our lampposts stand for Coco Chanel. It’s a nice idea, but no… The fancy W stands for Westminster and the two C’s stand for City Council. The lampposts didn’t actually get installed until the 1950s.”

I love London’s designer quirks and nowhere are they more evident than on London Transport, which gives me a nice lead in to a nerdy confession (yes, another one).

The week before last my sister spontaneously came to town and we rather predictably ended up at the London Transport Museum shop – a place which draws geeks like a moth to a flame. I initially got very excited at the prospect of owning genuine Line Status magnets – the signs that informed passengers of any part-suspensions, delays or closures. Until recently these were magnets on a board updated by staff, now they’re (sadly) electronic screens. But with these you could make your own version on the door of your fridge!

What they really need to do to make the nerds happy is also sell the boards that these were stuck to, but on a white fridge, with coloured marker pens, you could probably do a good job of creating your own. (I didn’t actually buy them, but if anyone wants to give me a gift…) 

You think that’s geeky? Just wait…

The book section is truly dangerous – after all, it’s where the nerdiest book in the world was purchased. I may now be developing a whole shelf of very nerdy books. Mim spotted a special offer that really couldn’t be resisted. If you bought The Story of London’s Underground (a gorgeous hardback full of tidbits of information and pictures) you got The Jubilee Line Extension free. It was £50-worth of geektastic reading for £25 – how could I resist?! The latter book is especially geeky, as it concentrates mostly on the architecture and engineering of the extension (I know two people at least who’ll be reading this and desperate to borrow it…) and is also about the bit of the tube I use the most.

To illustrate the point I was making yesterday about living ‘in the middle of nowhere’, here’s what it says about the new station built in Bermondsey: 
“Bermondsey Station is, in contrast [to Westminster & Canary Wharf], located in an unfashionable quarter of South London, far off the tourist trail.” 
“At street level, the station provides a welcoming refuge from heavy traffic – there is no attempt at a defensive look despite the harsh location.”

Point is though, that there is beauty even in the most unlikely of places – the middle of unfashionable Bermondsey and on a lamppost in literary Marylebone.

Further adventures of a TfL nerd

There are various quirks that emerge in my regular day-to-day London behaviour – I like to walk (stupidly long distances) to places for no good reason sometimes; when boarding the top deck of the bus I will always aim for the seat on the far-right of the front row; I get irrationally annoyed when people take up too much space on the pavement for me to over-take them; I like to be able to walk down escalators…I could go on.

Many would lay claim to some of the above quirks, but lately I’ve noticed a few, rather more nerdy ones appearing. Do many people deliberately manoeuvre themselves to the front of a DLR train so they can pretend to be driving it? [DLR trains are automatic.] Anyone else love the thrill of being able to see exactly where they’re going and feel every jolt and shudder? Has anybody else felt that they missed a trick in not including some rollercoaster-esque moments – like the steady ascent into Canary Wharf that ought to end in a dramatic drop?

Yesterday, I got absurdly excited at the prospect of using the Waterloo & City line, which I rarely travel on. It’s something of an oddity, what with only containing two stations, and simply exists to provide an under the river shuttle between Waterloo and the City. [Gosh, it was clearly a genius that came up with its name!] Plus, it’s the tube featured in Sliding Doors and I once got to observe new rolling stock being delivered to its tracks – a definite TfL nerd highlight.

You see, there’s no open air access to the line – unlike all other lines which connect emerge above ground somewhere or somehow – so moving the new trains in when the line and trains were refurbished four (ish) years ago was tricky. It just so happened that one Saturday morning on the way to my old, skanky gym in Waterloo, I spotted a train carriage in mid-air and paused to see what was going on. Turns out that the only way to get the trains down there was to cut a massive hole in Baylis/Waterloo Road (at the junction by the Old Vic) and use a crane to lower the carriages in, one by one. Fascinating. I wish I’d taken a photo, but luckily a quick Google has brought one to light:

Photo courtesy of the very useful SE1 website.


The other quirk is the continuing quest for disused stations. Ever since my nerd’s day out back in September, an increasingly grubby list of locations has sat in my jacket pocket. It’s not often that I’m the vicinity of a known station, but very occasionally I stumble upon them by chance – like last Sunday, while on a secret mission in Primrose Hill.

Emerging from Chalk Farm station and heading up towards the hill, I looked up a road to my left and spotted a bridge and a building that looked suspicious. Closer inspection revealed a set of buildings that had to be a former station, especially given their proximity to a railway bridge. I wasn’t entirely sure which station it was (it wasn’t on my list), so had to wait until  I got home to check out. [Those wondering at my sanity may be relieved to hear that it was well over 24 hours before I actually looked it up. I didn’t even use my iPhone there and then.]

The former Primrose Hill station buildings.

Turns out that the reason it wasn’t on my list is because it wasn’t a tube station, but a mainline one. Originally known as Hampstead Road, then Chalk Farm before becoming Primrose Hill in 1950, it closed in 1992 – a relatively recent abandonment. Disappointingly, perusal of this website revealed that the platform and its canopy was visible until just over two years ago. I’m glad – in an extremely nerdy way – that I thought to look up the road just at that moment.

Now that spring has sprung I’m feeling an urge to go on another purposeful disused station hunt, so those that wish to join me do get in touch and we can formulate some kind of plan, no doubt involving flasks of tea (or whisky – I’m not fussy), anoraks and possibly binoculars…


I’ve just caught up on a tweet my sister sent me yesterday sharing a couple of videos she described as ‘geektastic’ (couldn’t watch them at the time, as I was trekking round London looking for churches), but having now watched them, I can confirm that they are indeed geektastic and incredibly informative.

Ever wondered what the point was of Mill Hill East station on the Northern Line? The random branch line that seemingly goes nowhere. Turns out it was meant to go somewhere – Edgware in fact – which would have created an incredibly convenient Northern Line loop. This, and other fascinating factoids about North London’s public transport system, are included in this video:

Part two is a similarly intriguing film about the 1960’s Ringways project that would have seen London surrounded by motorways – kind of glad that one didn’t get off the ground.


My new toy

I have succumbed.
After months and months of saying I was going to get one, not to mention three (divinely ordained) dreams in which I used one, I finally got on the phone to my network and ordered it on Saturday. 
Right now I’m far too busy trying to work out how to use the thing to blog properly – but I have a request, I need help…(don’t I always?) Can my lovely iPhone using readers recommend the best of the apps? 
In particular, I’m after:
– The best London-based apps (especially transport related ones)
– Ridiculous games that I’ll quickly become addicted to
– Pointless musical instruments
– Sound recording programmes
– Photo tools
– Cheesy musical related apps
– Churchy apps. (Despite vowing that I wouldn’t, I’ll probably end up downloading my employers’ app – it seems only fair given as I auditioned to be a voice on it last week…) 
Plus anything else that it seems sensible for me to add – I’m utterly open to suggestions. 
Now do excuse me, I must get back to re-editing my contacts list and trying to make a decision on which Cath Kidston iPhone cover to purchase tomorrow. 

Underground Art

There are many mundane aspects of the London Underground. While much of its design is both aesthetic and functional, others are just plain boring.

Take the ‘Service Information’ boards for example. Normally the one at Bermondsey simply has “Jubilee Line – Good Service” scrawled across it (or “Jubilee Line – Severe Delays” depending on the tube’s mood). Occasionally they’re covered up with other informative posters regarding strikes, apologies for poor service, engineering works or the importance of staying hydrated. This example of a spelling fail at Baker Street illustrates their un-excitingness:

Yes, I realise I’ve blogged this before, but it’s the only image I had to illustrate this! 

Yesterday, a couple of intriguing photos showed up on Facebook courtesy of a friend, which in turn hand me hunting the internet for more examples. It seems that some artistic genius at Caledonian Road station has demonstrated that there is much more that can be done with a white board and markers than simply writing informative messages… 

Photo Credit: John Grimsey
Now wouldn’t that make you smile on your way to work? As I never, ever go anywhere near this particular station (not because I’ve got anything against it you understand, I just have no reason to) it’s unlikely I’ll get to see the work in the flesh. [Though it’s very close to another abandoned station I’d like to check out, so perhaps I will pay it a visit soon…] Fortunately, I discovered a whole set of photos on Flickr chronicling the  work of the mysterious ‘Kim’.
I particularly love the ones that combine art, the season and the importance of carrying water with you in hot weather: 
In other artistic/Tube news, there’s a new exhibition at the V&A on Charles’ Holden’s designs for the network – the architect responsible for many stations on the Northern line as well as the particularly distinctive later Piccadilly line stations. 
Posters for this exhibit began appearing last week and I was continually bothered by the fact that the image depicted a station named Highgate, yet was no part of Highgate that I recognised. Having checked out the V&A website, I’m relieved to discover that it’s actually a design for what became known as Archway (a stop before actual Highgate), the solving of this conundrum should help me sleep more easily tonight! 
Anyone care to join me for some artistic, London Transport/architectural nerdiness? We could combine it with at least one abandoned station…