Sunday, 12 October 2014

Books About Town

Around the World in Eighty Days

 I had hoped to bring you the full set of Books About Town, this year’s mascot trail in London.  Sadly due to lack of time we only managed one of the four trails – the other three in the city, along the river and through Greenwich Park did not materialise.  The one we did manage to do, the Bloomsbury Trail, was a wonderful appetiser and we were rather disappointed not to do more.

The Day of the Triffids
The theme of this mascot trail was rather different to the others.  The ‘mascots’ were in fact benches that were shaped like half open books.  These were then decorated in a theme depicting the book or a famous scene from the book.  The books were produced by the same organisation that brought the Rhinos in Southampton, the Gromit Trail and London 2012 trails.  The idea was to raise awareness of reading and the connections of the books to the areas of London in which they were situated.

The Importance of Being Earnest
Bloomsbury is probably the most famous literary part of London and it was therefore rather inevitable that one of the trails should be based there.  We actually had another purpose in London that day as we had a theatre show later in the evening so this was the perfect activity to while away the afternoon while we waited.

From Theatreland and Covent Garden we began our walk by heading over a few streets where we found that our first book bench was inside the Stanford Travel Shop.  Rather unsurprisingly perhaps the first bench we found was ‘Around the World in 80 Days’, an old favourite of mine by Jules Verne.  It was curious that the bench was to be found in the basement floor of the shop but luckily it was sufficiently out of the way that we could inspect it at leisure before moving on.
Mrs Dalloway

The Jules Verne bench was quite an outlier and in a sense it was probably good that we managed to find it first before the girls’ enthusiasm waned.  It did mean that it was quite a walk to the next one, crossing the considerably busy High Holborn and heading along Bloomsbury Street before coming to the next one outside the University of London.  This was to be another favourite of mine, The Day of the Triffids.  I remember being frightened witless by that story when I read it aged about 12.  The design was a suitably stark looking black and white.
Sherlock Holmes

Several of the benches were scattered around the campus of the University of London.  I had never before been to this part of London and was amazed by the size of the University.  Perhaps I shouldn’t have been; after all this is one of the premier universities in the country and it is in the heart of the capital city.  The feeling of learning oozed from every orifice of the building though, even at a time when most of the students were not around.
Mr Tumnus Meets Lucy

Next on the list was The Importance of Being Earnest and a play of huge significance for us as a family for it was written in our home town of Worthing!  Oscar Wilde is possibly one of the most famous people to have lived in the town and the play is arguably the most creative thing the town has ever produced.  The design of the bench wasn’t our favourite though it has to be said.

Far more interesting was the next bench, only about 100 metres away, which was the amazingly colourful 1984.  This book was the one I had to study for my O Level English Literature exam back in that auspicious year.  It was a book I really enjoyed reading and I was particularly fascinated in the design chosen.  It was complete with garish colours and an amazing level of detail, recalling almost every famous subplot and character that I could remember from the book.  Even my girls, who obviously have no knowledge of the book due to their tender years, could not take their eyes off the design.
Jeeves and Wooster

After inspecting for what seemed like ages the next two benches were also not far away, on opposite sides of the road in the central park areas of a couple of crescents of grand town houses for which London is so famous.  On the north side was Mrs Dalloway and on the south Sherlock Holmes.  The latter of course was depicted in the last London mascot trail that we walked around in Regent’s Park.  He was getting quite a lot of attention as you might expect but the less obvious Mrs Dalloway over the road was being almost completely ignored.  I wondered then how many of the people that come to look find the benches by chance and how many actually walk the trail?  Certainly the London ones have tended to be walkable and this is much more satisfying than the Gromit Trail in Bristol and another in Glasgow that we came across using Clydes.  They were all so far apart that it simply wasn’t possible to find them all on foot.

Pride and Prejudice
We headed east from Woburn Square and Gordon Square along Torrington Place crossing seemingly lots of roads before we finally came to the entrance between buildings that we were looking for.  The next bench was one that was eagerly anticipated by the children for it was the Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, one of their favourite books.  It was located in the almost hidden St George’s Gardens and entering seemed like a metaphor for the wardrobe itself.  The gardens could easily pass for Narnia in a child’s imagination…  The bench itself was very eyecatching with a magnificent portrait of Aslan on the back and the meeting of Lucy and Mr Tumnus on the front.  It was definitely worth finding it for the artwork alone.

James Bond
St George’s Gardens was the furthest extent of our walk and we now started to head back towards Covent Garden.  On the way we stopped first at Jeeves and Wooster in a rather utilitarian looking shopping centre.  We weren’t so impressed with the design so we pushed on to Pride and Prejudice in Queen Square.  This had found a very pleasant home overlooked by a number of hospitals and what I took to be a statue of Queen Anne but was in fact Queen Charlotte, the Queen of King George III.
Hercule Poirot and the Greenshore Folly

The pattern of the placement of the books was beginning to become familiar by this stage.  Bloomsbury is charaterised by many squares with green spaces in the middle and very well appointed houses and buildings overlooking them.  So it proved that the last three books on the list were all found in these surroundings.  We found James Bond, Hercule Poirot and Peter Pan all holed up in small central gardens and all three were completely free of visitors – clearly we had either left other walkers behind or there wasn’t anything like as much interest in this trail as others we have previously walked.  Nevertheless we enjoyed this short walk through some of the most well appointed and expensive parts of London.  What a pity we couldn’t have followed this walk up with going to see the others.  The books were all worth seeing!

Peter Pan


  1. Living in London; I was luck to see all the benches although had to make extra trips because some were remove for repairs.

    Next year is Shaun the sheep :-)

    1. Thanks - yes I clocked that about Sean the Sheep. Will have to be a bit more organised for that!