A London evening

On Wednesday evening, I made an impromptu trip to London. Not entirely spontaneous, but only planned on Tuesday – when a very persuasive promotional email arrived in my inbox, telling me that tickets for Hay Fever were cut by more than 50%. Having never sat in one of the best seats in the house before, and having intended to go at some point to see the play, I was only a few clicks away from booking my ticket – and only 24 hours away from hopping on the train and heading over to the Duke of York’s.

Photo: Nobby Clark

I got there a bit early and (shock!) bought some books on Charing Cross Road – but, before I get to that, I really loved Hay Fever. It is, perhaps, not one of Noel Coward’s most sophisticated comedies – it is entirely inconsequential, and the plot is haywire (pun intended) – but it was a complete delight. The plot: Judith Bliss (Felicity Kendal) (!) is a recently retired actress and head of a family, which comprises husband David and grown-up children Simon and Sorrell. All of them have independently invited people to stay with them in their country pile, and nobody has informed anybody else… cue all manner of romantic fiascos and familial squabbles. The Bliss family all live extremely heightened lives, responding to everything with self-indulgent drama. They understand and accept each other perfectly, under the fireworks, but the visitors grow alarmed and weary of the whole thing.

The first gasp from the audience was for the beautiful and brilliant set, designed by Peter McKintosh. It’s just the sort of 1920s house I wish I lived in, and one can excuse the unlikelihood at this family living in what is essentially a hallway. After that, we just laughed our way through the play – particularly the performances by the wonderful Felicity Kendal and the equally wonderful Sara Stewart, who played ageing femme fatale Myra Arundel with delectable wit and glorious facial expressions. It also convinced me that paying enough to be able to see the facial expressions might be an investment I should make again…

Anyway, you should go and see it. Tickets are discounted, and it’s extremely funny.

And those books I bought? Here they are…

June 2015

I always pop into Any Amount of Books and Henry Pordes Books, the only secondhand bookshops on/around Charing Cross Road which are affordable (although one of these books did come from the £2 table outside an otherwise extremely expensive bookshop on a side street). I’m always amazed by how very rude the man serving in Henry Porde Books is. I’ve been in dozens of times, and every time he treats his customers like inconveniences, snapping and grumping at them. Thankfully his colleague, standing next to him, was all laughs and joviality, which made up for it – though when I laughed along, the grumpy man openly glared at me. Which of these two is Henry Pordes, I wonder? Onto the books, before I’m banned from the shop:

The Night Club by Herbert Jenkins – and I was pondering buying it online only earlier that day! I’m currently listening to The Return of Alfred courtesy of Librivox (more on that soon), so I’m on quite a Jenkins kick.

Celia’s Secret by Michael Frayn and David Burke – an intriguing looking book about research that happened while Frayn was writing Copenhagen, as the result of a mysterious letter being sent to him…

Then There Was Fire by Minou Drouet – I’d never heard of Drouet, but apparently she was a child prodigy poet a few decades ago?

Twentieth Century Literature 1901-1940 by A.C. Ward – Ward wrote a very interesting book on 1920s literature (published just after the fact, in 1930), which helped tremendously with my DPhil – so I’m intrigued to read his wider lens on the first 40 years of the 20th century.

Apostate by Forrest Reid – I know nothing about him, but love these little editions. A bit of digging reveals this to be his autobiography, so I shall doubtless find out more about him when I read it!


17 thoughts on “A London evening

  • June 27, 2015 at 2:39 am

    Hay Fever sounds marvelous! Now if only I could get a heavily discounted (like 95%) flight to London…

    • June 28, 2015 at 5:38 pm

      Ah, yes, that might make the difference… and I was complaining about train fares!

  • June 27, 2015 at 3:18 am

    I have received a bit of gruff treatment on a few trips to Henry Pordes Books, but the stock is quite good and I am willing to forgive stereotypical book dealer rudeness in exchange for good books. The owner of Any Amount of Books had a brilliant book blog called Bookride that featured many amusing posts about the eccentricities and anti-social tendencies of used book dealers. The fictional TV book dealer of “Black Books” is hardly an exaggerated portrait of the type. Those who have only encountered the sort of book shop full of sofas, coffee bars, and smiling staff would be shocked by anything else, but for centuries, antiquarian book selling has attracted many mad misfits who don’t suffer fools among their precious books. Based only on personal experience, I have found that the more rude or eccentric the dealer, the better books I find in the shop(usually). On the other hand, Any Amount of Books has wonderful, friendly staff in the shop in addition to excellent stock.

    • June 28, 2015 at 5:39 pm

      It’s so true, but WHY are so many bookshops staffed by grumpy people? Why? You’d think they’ve be on cloud nine!

      I haven’t heard of Bookride; I’ll have to look that up.

  • June 27, 2015 at 3:54 am

    I am sure I would enjoy that play as you describe it, and how nice you got prime seats.

    • June 28, 2015 at 5:41 pm

      It was certainly extremely enjoyable :)

  • June 27, 2015 at 7:50 am

    What fun Simon – I love the theatre! As for Pordes – I’ve never met with out and out rudeness there. The guy who’s usually at the till is a wee bit po faced but he actually got up and looked round his shelves when I enquired after Beverley Nichols books one time!

    • June 28, 2015 at 5:42 pm

      You are obviously more charming than me, Karen :) I asked about E.M. Delafield books once, and he wrinkled up his nose and said “Oh, no, we don’t stock THAT sort of thing.”

      Maybe he thought I meant Ethel M Dell. Or E.M. Hull!

  • June 27, 2015 at 1:51 pm

    We saw Hay Fever about 30 years ago in Boston. We enjoy Noel Coward’s humorous plays. I think you’ve just made up my mind for me: I’ve been trying to decide if we want to get tickets for tomorrow’s matinee of The Hound of the Baskervilles, a spoof of Sherlock Holmes. I think we will!

    The Henry Pordes bookseller reminds me of the bookseller in Black Books, the British TV comedy. Have you seen it? It’s hilarious. I believe he once ripped a book in half because a customer was quibbling about the price. He hates it when customers come into his shop.

    • June 28, 2015 at 5:43 pm

      Oh, I have indeed seen it, many times! And love it. And I saw Tamsin Grieg in Much Ado About Nothing once, where she was glorious.

    • June 28, 2015 at 5:44 pm

      Darn my hopeless memory! I had entirely forgotten. But I did only have 20 minutes, which perhaps wouldn’t have been enough for finding and exploring a new place.

  • June 27, 2015 at 7:18 pm

    Herbert Jenkins who created the wonderful Patricia Brent? I’m intrigued to known what his other work is like.

    • June 28, 2015 at 5:45 pm

      The very same! Indeed, this book was apparently published first as ‘by the author of Patricia Brent, Spinster’ – I hadn’t realised that was published anonymously at first.

  • June 28, 2015 at 1:02 am

    SO glad you were able to see this, Simon! The set made me want to move right in as well and Felicity was superb – who knew such a tiny woman could ‘growl’ like that?!

    • June 28, 2015 at 5:49 pm

      Of course she was! She is a wonder. And her voice has got SO husky.

  • June 29, 2015 at 3:00 am

    Gorgeous set! It reminds me of the set of Noises Off — have you ever seen that performed? They made a film of it years ago with Michael Caine and Christopher Reeve and Carol Burnett, which is a treasure. A set just like that one, but with an upstairs.

    I’m sniffing jealously at your getting to visit Henry Pordes. I am devoted to Henry Pordes, it is utterly the best of the Charing Cross Road bookshops, not counting Foyles which I also cherish and invariably walk out of with a ridiculous stack of books. Some derangedly high percentage of my Oscar Wilde books came from Henry Pordes originally — that lovely literary biography section they’ve got at the front. (Well, did have. I haven’t been since 2009 ALAS.)

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