Walking and Talking on Hampstead Heath : The Garden of the Finzi-Continis

Walking Book Group

This post is not a discussion or review of the book in question: Emily does that so much better than I could.


Rather, I’d like to tell you about how a Walking Book Club works.

Daunt Shop

 Inside Daunt Books South End Road

You may remember that I mentioned  Daunt Books‘ Walking Book Group in a previous post. Well, at last I have managed to coincide my visit to London with a Sunday meeting of the group. Only a couple of weeks ago did I discover that the group was back in action after Emily’s baby, Vita, was born just 4 months ago.

A group of about a dozen or so keen walker-readers gathered together at the shop on Sunday 22 February to walk on Hampstead Heath to talk about the chosen book – The Garden of the Finzi-Continis by Giorgio Bassani. As I’d only discovered this about a week before and as it wasn’t available from my library ordered a copy directly from Daunts. I just managed to finish reading it on the train down from Leeds. This was good as it meant that the book was fresh in my mind. Also, the evening before I had just watched the dvd version of the 1970 film.


At 11.30 we left the shop, crossed the road and before setting off Emily introduced herself : some of the group were regular reader-walkers, some occasional and others, like me, were there for the first time. The only man was later joined by a couple more; we were delighted to have two Italian nationals amongst us who had read the book in its original and were able to offer us other insights into Italian life and culture relevant to our discussions.

Emily Left

Book talk with Emily [left]

We set off walking and talking in pairs or small groups and every ten minutes or so Emily would bring us all together to sum up, ask questions, provide answers and suggest further topics for conversation. We would then find we started discussion with someone else. The formula works very well. At the highest point of the walk, with long views over London, Emily shared her home-baked cake with us.


Highgate from The Heath

London from Heath

View from the Heath

Somehow after about an hour we found ourselves back where we started and Emily summed up the discussion, distributed copies of the 2015 2nd Daunt Books Festival programme (there’ll be a walking book group from the Marylebone shop on 20 March) and told the group the next date and book for the regular Sunday Heath walk : 19th April “the Living Mountain” by Nan Shepherd :

“Shepherd wrote a short nonfiction book, The Living Mountain, during the 1940s. The Living Mountain is a reflection her experiences walking in the Cairngorm Mountains. Having completed it, Shepherd chose not to publish the book until 1977.” (Source)

If you’d like to hear a Walking Book Club session in progress you can listen here to Clare Balding who joined Emily on one of her walks in February two years ago.


Tea and Books in Oxford

When I meet with my online book group chums there is not much chance of sightseeing. Rather we seem to stagger from book shop to tea shop with our bags getting heavier and our purses lighter (although every purchase is always a bargain) and tummies fuller.

Saturday was no exception. Back in December Simon, over at Stuck-in-a-book, had invited us to join him for a day in Oxford. Although it is possible to get there and back in a day from Leeds for easier travel I opted to go via two nights in London. This meant a not so early start from Paddington in the company of another group member on Saturday morning.

St John's Oxford

St John’s College, Oxford, on St Giles

The Jam Factory is just across the road (more or less) from Oxford Railway Station. (I should just add that from the station there is no indication that one is in the city of dreaming spires and all that; but we did eventually pass hurriedly by one or two colleges and churches so the joys of Oxford await me on a future visit.) The JF is a lovely light and airy venue and the food looked excellent although I only shared a pot of Oxford Blend Tea before we set off on our books and teas trail. Whilst we all assembled at this venue Simon told us more about the new project that he’s a founder member of Shiny New Books an online book review magazine. I urge you to pop over now and have a look.

In Beatnik Books

At Albion Beatnik Books

From the Jam Factory we headed to The Albion Beatnik Bookstore at 34 Walton Street. “Opened in 2009, this bookworm’s paradise is the coolest and most maverick of Oxford’s many bookstores. It offers an eclectic selection of new and secondhand books with a particular focus on jazz and blues … , American pulp fiction, graphic novels, beatnik poetry, Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group and neglected 20th century novels.”  Says my 2011 LV City Guide to Edinburgh, London and Oxford. On the table were flowers made of printed paper and our purchases were wrapped in more printed paper with a quotation sticker to seal.

Beatnik books


Beatnik book

Our next stop was the Oxfam Bookshop on St Giles but I also spotted the pub The Eagle and Child which has associations with the Inklings writers’ group which included J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis.

Eagle and Child


“A fascinating past :
The Eagle and Child lays claim to a number of interesting literary connections. J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and fellow writers met here and dubbed themselves ‘The Inklings’. They nicknamed the pub ‘The Bird and Baby’. A public house since 1650, our hostelry takes its name from the crest of the Earls of Derby. During the Civil War, our building was used as the playhouse for Royalist soldiers.” [From the pub website]

St Michael's St

St Michael’s Street

Time for lunch and the recommended venue was The Nosebag on St Michael’s St. I immediately recognised the address and building of The Oxford Union for it is the location of a Landmark Trust apartment : The Steward’s House. Even though it was after 2pm The Nosebag was packed so rather than miss out we had to split into two groups of 3 and 4. After the meal we dragged together enough chairs round one table in order to discuss the next steps in the campaign.

Oxford Union from The Nosebag

The Steward’s House and Oxfrod Union (red brick building) from the Nosebag

Pretty Arcadia is next door. It’s doesn’t just sell books but has a few displays and boxes outside and lots of vintage cards and accessories inside.

Before the end of our day we reached The Last Bookshop. This is also known as the £2 bookshop. It’s a great source of, presumably remaindered, new paper and hard back books. All priced (as it says on the tin) at £2. If I wasn’t such a devoted library user I would have bought loads here.

Last Bookshop

Actually, not The Last Book Shop for us

Our final two shops were – sellers of brushes not books – Objects of Use on Market Street – and a further Oxfam Bookshop on Turl Street. At least I thought OoU was more or less a kitchen wares shop as my companion and I only hovered near the entrance at a table full of brushes for different uses but I see from the website that it sells so much more. Apart from at The Home at Salts Mill this is the only other place that I have seen my Book Brush!

Book Brush

The very handy Book Brush

Book Brush Label

Instructions for Use

With trains and buses to catch around 5.30 time was pressing so we had a final tea and cake at ‘news’ and discussed plans for a Tenth Birthday Celebration in the autumn. All too soon it was time to hurry to station and rest our weary legs and heavy bags on the journey back to London.








I’m Invited! – A Shopping Evening at The London Review Book Shop

You’re invited!

At the London Review Bookshop, we have some upcoming events that are too good to keep to ourselves. Tickets are limited, so book early to avoid disappointment :

April Customer Evening

Wednesday 2 April, 6 p.m. – 8 p.m.
Browse our shelves with a glass of wine and an Eccles cake from the London Review Cake Shop, and get 10% off any books, DVDs, cards and stationery purchased on the evening. We are also offering a FREE gift wrapping service on the night.

Tonight’s menu: According to The Bloomsbury Cookbook, Virginia and Leonard Woolf considered Eccles cakes suitable sustenance for type-setting and printing at the Hogarth Press. We think they make suitable sustenance for book browsing too! We’re pairing them with nutty Lancashire cheese and plenty of Russian tea.

Caravan tea

Eccles Cake pieces, Lancashire cheese crumbs and slurps of Russian Caravan Tea

As well as the usual treats – wine and nibbles and 10% off books – you’ll have the chance to win a copy of the beautiful Bloomsbury Cookbook, courtesy of Thames & Hudson. Just print a copy of your confirmation email and hand it in to one of our booksellers at the Customer Evening for the chance to win.

Good luck!

Bloomsbury cook book

The Bloomsbury Cookbook Window Display

This message arrived in my email Inbox a few weeks ago and I worked out that my next visit to London would coincide with this customer evening. The London Review Bookshop is another of my favourite London shops. On many occasions I have visited the Cake Shop with friends, family and to meet members of the online book group. It’s one of our favourite venues.

Shopping evening

Shopping Evening at London Review Bookshop

However, on many visits, time in the Cake Shop takes priority and I find I have little time to browse the bookshelves. So I was looking forward to spending time in the actual bookshop for a change.

The Bloomsbury Cookbook looked very tempting … but I was expecting to win a copy! I haven’t received the ‘winners email’ yet though 😦 . I think I will reserve a copy from the Library as it may be useful to contribute to creating the atmosphere when I visit Sussex and the Bloomsbury connections later next month.

Charleston breakfast

 Breakfast at Charleston

I spotted some other books to add to my list for the future :

History of Armchair travel

A History of Armchair Travel : I do a bit of this. What’s not to like?

Quiet New York

Quiet New York : I have no plans to visit but I do have companion Quiet volumes – London and Paris

(I could be tempted to buy this just to read, anyway)


I’m a big fan of the late W.G.Sebald – new books keep being published!

I found the staff were very patient and helpful. They found each of the titles I wanted to buy, recommended a further title and hunted high and low for a book which should have been in stock but being a very slim volume had probably been mis-shelved.

Books bought

The four books I bought last evening

LRB Window

The Cake Shop Window Display – I’m Looking Forward to My Next Visit!


Slightly Foxed on Gloucester Road

When the quarterly reader’s magazine Slightly Foxed: the real reader’s quarterly started ten years ago I took out a subscription but this year now that I can borrow issues from The Leeds Library I have cancelled my subscription. The result is that I actually read the magazine instead of flicking through it and putting it in a pile “to read later”. However, I am still a great fan of all things ‘Slightly Foxed’ which includes the lovely bookshop on Gloucester Road, Kensington.


Due to predictions of inclement weather yesterday I left home in Leeds extra early to drive down to London. The journey presented no problems and I arrived in good time; leaving the afternoon free.


Letters and messages to the Sly Fox

So I took the Underground Train to Gloucester Road Tube Station and revisited this lovely bookshop. Stocks include new books as well as secondhand, plus cards and bags and mugs. The friendly bookseller [Tony] found me the titles I was interested in from the Winter Catalogue.

In addition to publishing the Quarterly SF also reprint some lovely out-of-print classic memoirs in their Slightly Foxed Editions and Paperbacks.


Preparations for stocktaking at Slightly Foxed Bookshop

Browsing wasn’t easy in the downstairs secondhand department as staff are preparing to stock-take on the 2nd January. The shop was about to close for the Christmas and New Year holiday at 5pm today and is due to re-open on 3rd January 2014.

If you are wondering where the name/term ‘slightly foxed‘ comes from here is one definition:

FoxingIn a nutshell, a foxed book’s pages have some spotting, ranging from sort of a beige color to a rusty brown (like a fox’s footprints, or maybe its reddish coat). Sometime foxed spots are referred to as “age spots.” The causes of foxing include temperature & humidity changes (don’t store your books in damp or unheated places!), and impurities within the paper (high acidity – most common in modern books with cheap paper, or iron or copper, commonly found in 19th century & older books). There may be other causes as well, such as fungus or other microorganisms. The reason for foxing in a particular book is often difficult to discern.

Foxing is very common in antique books (due to the paper used) and can certainly be found in contemporary books as well.
A book conservator / archivist can sometimes remove foxing, but it’s a very difficult & expensive process.
As far as how it effects value, well, it just depends on how easy it is to find an unfoxed copy. Some very old books may be difficult to find in unfoxed condition; in that case value will not be greatly affected. Modern books are devalued by foxing to a greater degree, because they are more readily available in fine condition.”

Of course, there’s another meaning to fox – sly, clever, crafty. So the sly fox can cleverly suggest all sorts of books for all sorts of reading problems.


A Great Time in Malvern : Books, Tea and a Theatre Visit

Last Saturday I arranged to meet up with a couple of members of my online book discussion group for our annual ‘Summer Meeting’ away from London (last year we were at Chatsworth).  This year’s venue was Great Malvern in Worcestershire. I had never been there before, nor I believe had Carol, but Simon (Stuck-in-a-Book) used to live not so far away in Eckington so he was pretty familiar with the town and its book shops, of course.

Malvern Map

These meetings generally follow a similar pattern. Meet for tea and cake, head off to a book shop or two, decide to have a light lunch, followed by more book shopping and ending with more tea (and often, cake). Anyway the theme is always of tea, cake and books in some kind of order.


Picture Source

As I was dropping off another friend at Great Malvern Station I arranged to meet Simon there. The station is probably one of the prettiest I have ever been to – there is a tea shop (Lady Foley’s Tea Shop) with tables and chairs outside on Platform One and as it is a listed building you can imagine it still has the signs and furniture of a bygone age. The station is slightly out of the town centre though so we drove, uphill, to a more convenient car park.

Priory Church Malvern

Great Malvern Priory Church

Malvern Hills

Malvern Hills

There are two very prominent features  that dominate the town: the Malvern Hills that rise straight up vertically behind the town to the west and Great Malvern Priory right in the town centre and which is also the parish church.

After our first tea and cake at Mac and Jac’s near the Priory and a visit to the friendly, helpful and well-stocked Malvern Bookshop :

The Malvern Bookshop
7 Abbey Road
MALVERN Worcestershire WR14 3ES
tel: 01684 575915 fax: 01684 575915
Open: Monday – Saturday 10.00 – 5.00, closed Thursday and best to ring first in the winter.
Several rooms carrying large diverse stock. Quality books bought and sold. Music a speciality. By the Priory steps near the Post Office.

we decided to head up, straight up, vertically up to St Ann’s Well for lunch.

St Ann's Well Cafe sign

St Ann's Well

For me it was well worth the climb to see the original well/spring and enjoy lunch on the terrace. The trees are very tall and block the view from the cafe itself but we had fantastic views each time we stopped for breath and looked back across what must be The Vale of Evesham.

View as we start our ascent to SAW

The View as begin our ascent to St Ann’s Well

View from our descent into Malvern

View as we return down to Malvern

In bygone days Malvern water was remarkable for its healing virtue, an efficacy that was held to be supernatural. How early the waters gained local repute it is impossible to say; but the fact that the old spring at Great Malvern is dedicated to St Ann, and that the well at Malvern Wells is the Holy Well, carries their reputation far back into the Middle Ages at least; while documentary evidence exists that they were in exceptional request early in the seventeenth century, especially for skin diseases, as public open baths.” So says my rather old copy of Ward Lock & Co’s “Malvern” illustrated guide book.

Ward Lock Malvern

Surely everyone has heard of Malvern Natural Spring Water – the only bottled water used by our Queen Elizabeth II, which she takes on her travels around the world. Or does she still? There are still many natural springs around the town – some with warning signs.

Safe Malvern water

‘Safe’ Malvern Spring in the Town

Natural spring water but beware

Natural Spring Water – but beware!

Spring Water

St Ann’s Well

Simon suggested a slightly less steep descent into town and a visit to Books for Amnesty :

Books For Amnesty
3 Edith Walk
MALVERN Worcestershire WR14 4QH
tel: 01684 563507
Open: Monday – Saturday 10.00 – 5.00.
Large general stock of donated books in all categories and at reasonable prices. Malvern has two other secondhand bookshops.

As we arrived he pointed out to me the world’s smallest theatre building in a converted Gents public convenience. I was intrigued and left the hard core book buyers in order to investigate. I bought a ticket for the five minute show and was entertained by The Deep Sea Diva and Stradi and his Various Voyages amongst others. After the show there is a photo opportunity which I couldn’t resist! [Pictures below]

Eventually we bought ices from the shop next door and headed to a park to eat them in the sunshine and for a final ‘show-and-tell’ of the books we’d bought before going our separate ways at around 5.30pm. We all agreed that it had been a most perfect day. We’ll soon be planning the next one …

Theatre of Convenience

The Theatre of small Convenience

Theatre sign

About the Theatre

The Theatre

The Theatre

Photo Opportunity

Photo Opportunity!

A Chapel, a Diarist and a Book Town: a visit to Hay On Wye and its Environs

On Monday I arrived in Wales for a few days’ visit with a friend and former colleague who returned to her home country after spending most of her adult life in Leeds. I’m having a very relaxing few days interspersed with an expedition each day. Tuesday was most glorious. The sun came out and the temperatures rose and spring seemed definitely in the air. We managed a couple of short walks in “Waterfall Country”.

Sgwd Gwladus near Pontneddfechan

Sgwd Gwladus near Pontneddfechan, Neath Valley

St Mary's Church, Ystradfellte

St Mary’s Church, Ystradfellte

Sgwd Clun-Gwyn

Sgwd Clun-Gwyn, near Ystradfellte

By yesterday spring was over and it was winter again – misty, wet and cold. No problem, we thought, for today we have the pleasures of Hay-on-Wye, Wales’s own Book Town, in store.

On our journey to Hay we took two very short detours. The first was to visit the Maesyronnen Chapel. Fortuitously, the adjoining former minister’s house is now a Landmark Trust property.


Here is an extract from the History page from the LT’s webpage for Maesyronnen Chapel:

“A Chapel Founded just after The Act of Toleration

Here we have taken on the neat and tiny cottage, built before 1750 onto the end of one of Wales’s shrines of Nonconformity, the Maesyronnen chapel. This chapel, converted from a barn in 1696, dates from Nonconformity’s earliest days, when any suitable building was made use of for enthusiastic worship. It was probably used for secret meetings even before the Act of Toleration legalised such gatherings in 1689, which explains its isolated position. Services are still held in the chapel, which is cared for by Trustees, who asked for our help. By taking a lease on the cottage we hope we have helped give both buildings a future.”

Kilvert Memorial Clyro

Francis Kilvert Memorial in Clyro Parish Church

St Michael's Clyro

St Michael’s Church, Clyro

From Maesyronnen it was a short drive to Clyro and the former home of the Reverend Francis Kilvert famous for diaries recording his daily life and walks in the area. Kilvert was curate at Clyro when he began writing his diaries but he only lived there between 1865 and 1872. He lived at Ashbrook House which, until recently, had been an art gallery but currently the garden looks rather overgrown and unloved. Two plaques on the wall of the house record the fact that Kilvert lived here.

Ashbrook House, Clyro

Ashbrook House, Clyro

Kilvert lived here 1

Kilvert lived here 2

Read an interesting article here about Kilvert, the man, and his diaries.

It ends : “Sadly, it’s difficult to find copies of Kilvert in bookshops today. The one-volume abridgement, published by Penguin, and subsequently by Pimlico, has fallen out of print, while Plomer’s three-volume edition has long been unavailable. To celebrate the 70th anniversary, Cape should consider authorising a critical edition of the diary, drawing on the surviving manuscripts, as well as on the background information amassed by the Kilvert Society in the years since its foundation in 1948. That way we might have the opportunity to gaze afresh on the radiant, picturesque world of the Rev Kilvert.”

Kilvert's diary 2

Kilvert's diary

Well, all that has changed and we saw several versions of the diaries in Hay book shops in the full 3 volume format (for around £130+) as well as reissues of the abridged version, above.

Baskerville Arms, Clyro

Clyro is also the location of the Jacobean-style mansion built by Sir Thomas Mynors Baskerville a friend of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who borrowed his friend’s name when writing The Hound of the Baskervilles. The house is now a hotel and needless to say there is also a pub of the same name.

Prep for Hay

And so on to Hay itself. Despite planning in advance which shops to visit and preparing lists and so on I found that I was rather overwhelmed with choice. I realised that I am so dedicated a library user these days that I have less and less need to actually own books. It also seemed to me that in each shop we visited the value of each book was known and there was very little chance of a real bargain. However, that said, it’s an extremely pleasant way of spending a cold, damp Wednesday afternoon in March.

Hay Castle

Hay Castle

Richard Booth's Hay

Richard Booth’s Books

Inside Addyman's Hay

Inside Addyman’s Books at Hay on Wye

Honesty Bookshop Hay

The Honesty Bookshop, Hay

I bought only one title and that was from the Honesty Book Shop in the Castle precincts – all hardbacks £1 and all paperbacks 50p. It is a hardback copy of The Nutmeg Tree by Margery Sharp. It’s in pretty good condition and I’m pleased with it.

The Bernese Bears and the Saturday Food Market

I’ve written about Bern and its bears here once before, about a year ago, when an article in the Independent prompted me to wander down Memory Lane not knowing, at the time, when I’d next make a visit there.

Bern Market cook book

The Old City of Bern is classed as a UNESCO World Heritage site and this is not surprising when you see it. It’s a beautiful city with lovely cobbled streets, beautiful architecture, famous shopping arcades with delightful, mostly ‘one-off’, shops but very far from being a museum-piece. It hosts lively markets and is busy and bustling. I love it.

Choosing bread

Choosing breads

B had finally finished work for the week and early on Saturday we walked to the Old Town to shop at the market, have a coffee and walk along the arcaded streets down to the new ‘Bear Pits’ – or Garden, really – on the opposite bank of the River Aare. It was freezing cold and snowing but this didn’t stop anyone going about their business and the market (although very much bigger and busier in the summer months) was thriving.

Cheese stall

Cheese stall

Meat stall

Meat stall

B knew all the best stalls for buying our commissions: cheese and dried meats for our Raclette evening meal, vegetables and breads. In order to defrost we nipped into the Einstein Cafe – a popular, currently trendy, cafe just by the market and under the (not open in February) Einstein House Museum. [I discovered on this visit that Einstein also lived for some time in the same street as B but as it was dark on Saturday evening I was unable to take a decent picture – next time!]

Tea at Einstein

Tea at Cafe Einstein – relatively the best

Warmed, we left the cafe to visit the bookshop over the street. Naturally, we browsed and chatted about the books and authors we saw and B ended up buying a book, which, had it been in English, I too would have succumbed to buying. Translated the title is “On the track of Byron and Tolstoy: a literary hike from Montreux to Meiringen”. I’m hoping that in the spring B and P may put this reading into action and participate in at least some of this week-long hike and report back to me on its progress.

Byron Tolstoy book

From here we walked through arcades until we finally had a view of the Bernese bears new ‘garden’ no longer a pit but a very open area alongside the river – much more pleasant for both bears and visitors. Of course, the bears were sleeping so we didn’t catch sight of any.

Bear Garden

The new Bear Garden in Bern

You won’t be surprised to see that bears turn up everywhere in the city and Canton of Berne.

Bern signMuseum bear

Bear postcards