The weather is clear today, even sunny at moments. This encouraged me to make a foray into town.
The reason for my trip was that I had run out of books in French to read and had found nothing new to interest me in either the local Oxfam bookshop or the public library. The remaining alternative was to buy a new book at one of the bookshops that stocks books in foreign languages. As the title indicates, I decided to try Foyles.
The bus stop in St John Street
The easy way to reach Foyles bookshop in Charing Cross Road is to take a number 19 or number 38 bus to the stop at Cambridge Circus. I went to the bus stop in St John Street and waited.
The wait seemed rather long. Usually, there are 19s and 38s every few minutes… but not today. Stranger still, the bus app on my phone showed no buses, just the sulky message “Nothing expected”.
Then came that light bulb moment: could today be a day when bus crews are on strike? A quick look on the Internet (whatever would we do now if our mobile phones no longer worked!?) showed that today was indeed a strike day.
I was about to give up and go for a local walk instead when… I saw a number 19 bus! So, at least some buses are running. I hesitated to board the bus in case, having reached Foyles, I couldn’t find a bus to take me home. I decided to risk it and jumped aboard.
Aboard the 19
The journey into town was annoyingly slow. London’s streets are narrow and congested and have traffic lights every few yards. Adding to the misery are road works which close lanes and cause buses to divert, adding to the misery. I have a theory that if you recorded how much time the average London bus spends moving and not moving, you would find that it spends the greater part of its time standing still.
Charing Cross Road
The main branch of Foyles is in Charing Cross Road, a street that is famous for, among other things, its bookshops, particularly those selling vintage and secondhand books.
Foyles used to have the reputation of being quirkily unfriendly from the customer’s point of view. For example, they shelved their books by publisher rather than by subject, making it hard to find books on a specific topic. Next, having found your book, you had to engage with the arcane payment system. First you presented your book at the nearby desk. Here, the assistant issued you with an invoice and carefully put the book away under the desk. Next, you went to one of the payment booths where you tendered the invoice and your money. In return, the assistant stamped your invoice “Paid” and gave it back to you. Thirdly, you would take your invoice back to the first assistant who would give you your receipt and – yes, at last! – your book! I’m glad to say that all that has changed and Foyles is today like – well, almost like – a normal bookshop.
Foyles, Charing Cross Road
I left the bus at its stop at Cambridge Circus and walked back along Charing Cross Road to what must surely be that street’s most famous inhabitant. (Actually, although Foyles has always been in Charing Cross Road, it was not always at this address. Some years ago, it moved here from what I am tempted to call its historic premises for reasons unknown to me.)
Part of the French language section
Foreign languages are on the fourth floor of Foyles. I was lazy and took the lift, promising myself to walk down the stairs afterwards!
There is an impressive display of books in French and it would be very easy to go a little mad and spend a small fortune. If you compare the publisher’s price in euros with the sterling price, the latter is significantly higher. No surprises there, then.
Books by Georges Simenon
I could have spent all day here without being able to make a choice but, fortunately, I had an idea in mind. I wanted a book or books by Belgian novelist Georges Simenon, writer of the Maigret detective books. I had checked what was available on Foyles’s website but it turned out that they didn’t have any of the books I had picked out.
The staircase at Foyles
I made my choice and paid, glad to be able to do this as one single operation, unlike in the old days. Then, keeping my promise to myself, I walked down the staircase to the exit.
Usefully, there is a bus stop just outside Foyles but would there be any buses on this, supposedly a strike day?
Aboard the 19
Yes, there would! I had not too long to wait before a number 19 bus appeared and I clambered aboard. All that remained now was the tedious journey of delays back to the Angel.
We made the usual halting progress through the streets, at one point stopping beside these road works which narrowed the carriageway, causing holdups.
Sadler’s Wells Theatre
As I had ridden the buses instead of taking my daily walk, I left the bus at Sadler’s Wells Theatre and walked home from there. It may not have been far but it was at uphill which must count for something, surely 🙂
I visited the pub vine in Myddelton Passage and it is looking very sparse now. It still has green foliage but for how long?
Myddelton Square and St Marks
I walked up through Myddelton Square, keeping to the sunny side of the street, and was soon home.
Tout Maigret, vol 10
In case you are wondering what book I bought, here it is: volume 10 of Tout Maigret, the collected stories of Simenon’s famous detective.
Simenon’s Maigret stroies comprise both full-length novels and ahorter pieces classed as nouvelles (short stories). This volume,costing £39.99 contains 28 nouvelles which works out at about £1.43 each. Well worth it, in my view.
Revised and reformatted on November 24th 2022.