On a single day in London in December 2016, the written word and time formed an interesting theme for our tourist travels. The first port of call for my daughter and myself was the British Museum which was founded in 1753 (according to britishmuseum.org this museum was the first national public one in the world).
The museum’s clocks and watches gallery was for us a fascinating account of the development of timepieces. I was amazed that this one (see picture), dating from as long ago as 1763, ‘goes for one month on a single wind’, and has a ‘central disc that rotates back and forth throughout the year to show true solar minutes (sundial time)’. The aperture at the top shows the date.
Next, a free tour of the Ancient Iran (Mesopotamia) section of the museum revealed a culture, sadly unlike today, that had centuries of peace and therefore the continuity to develop a rich cultural life. This picture below shows a section of an ancient stone library which, thanks to the translation of cuneiform, is now able to be read.
From the British Museum we walked ten minutes to Charing Cross Road. This road houses a number of book stores. (I noticed elsewhere the practice of putting similar stores together in one place; in Southgate for instance I walked along a whole section of road full of dentists and orthodontists; and in one part of the East End was a supply of hairdressers and barber shops [see this one below in the famed Jack the Ripper area]).
Of the five shops we visited in Charing Cross Road my favourite was ‘Henry Pordes Books’. Displayed in the window was the book 84 Charing Cross Road. This delightful book comprises a series of letters written between American writer Helene Hanff and an English bookseller. The story captures the nostalgia of the 1940-1950s era and is well worth a read. When I asked the book enthusiasts in Henry Pordes Books if this store was the original number 84, they replied in the negative. The ‘real’ site was now – gasp – a McDonald’s. But Henry Pordes was most like the original they claimed. Whatever, the shop was full of ancient editions, first editions, books I remember from my childhood (such as Beatrix Potter), and a whole section of J R R Tolkien books I didn’t even know existed.
As the sun set before 4pm on the eve of the winter solstice I pocketed some of the books I had felt compelled to purchase. I was delighted with the feeling that I had stepped into 84 Charing Cross Road itself, and into my childhood memories. What a wonderful time we had enjoyed.
All photos by Brenda Daniels.