Wednesday was a beautiful day in London, if a bit warm. It made a difference from the grey skies and drizzle over Wales. I stayed in for much of the morning, getting up late and doing washing. I think nearly all of my clothes ended up on the line, and it was a bit of a novelty to have them dry in the sun.
I didn’t have anything planned until the evening, when I would be going to see the Monty Python Live (almost) show, however, having a day free was great as it meant I could go and check out the books-as-benches around London, put on by Books About Town.
Prior to leaving Toronto, I’d seen an article about these park benches that were designed to look like books and had been decorated/painted as such. They were in four main areas in London – City, Riverside, Greenwich and Bloomsbury – and there were maps for each of them. I set off about lunch time to check out as many as I could, except those in Greenwich.
First stop was Russell Square to check out the Bloomsbury books. The maps had pinpointed all the books with excellent accuracy so they were easy to find, and the distances they were spaced weren’t too far so it wasn’t a slog.
The great thing about this campaign was that I got to see parts and things of London that I’d never seen before, and probably never would have. My first book was The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe in St George’s Gardens. It’s a park with gravestones in it, and, because of the beautiful weather, lots of live people soaking up the sunshine.
That was a bit of a theme of the day. Every green space I went to (and most of the benches were in parks) was heaving with people. I was staggered. Didn’t they have jobs and homes to be going to? They were all just lounging around, eating, drinking, laughing. And this was the middle of the day. (Ok, maybe they were on their lunch breaks.)
From there I saw a myriad of other books, stumbling across a giant cathedral (Christ the King I think) that had The Importance of Being Ernest in front of it. Only one bench that I looked for wasn’t there and that was 1984. It was out front of a university and had been damaged so was off for repair. Oh the irony.
A few of the benches were occupied with people but I asked everyone if I could have a photo and they moved. There were two I didn’t bother with: one with a breast feeding woman on it and the other surrounded by school children. I got photos of the backs of the benches though.
I found the act of asking people to move good for building confidence. When I got to the Riverside ones, there were quite a few occupied benches and I thought I’d leave them but fought that drive to run and so went ahead and asked. Everyone moved which was nice.
I really enjoyed checking out the sights on Riverside, many of which were around the city hall building, something I’d only seen from afar. The precinct surrounding it is well designed, with great views, excellent sculpture, and a water fountain play area. If I hadn’t gone to find the benches, it’s likely I never would have come here.
The last bench I saw was Paddington Bear, something that for me is so quintessentially English. I first read a Paddington Bear book when I was seven years old and we were here at Christmas. We were staying at Joanna’s and she had the books. That year I received a compendium of Paddington Bear books, which I loved. Then, when I came to England at 19, I stumbled across the Paddington Bear sculpture at Paddington station, so he’s always been a bit special to me.
I sat on his bench (one of only two I actually sat on, the other being one of the Peter Pan benches at St Paul’s) and asked another bench-hunter to take my photo. And that ended my search for benches.
There are still a few I didn’t see, apart from those in Greenwich, as they were a bit further out from where I was and I didn’t have a big affinity with those books/stories. If anyone’s in London while this is going on, I encourage you to keep an eye out for them. Some people had no idea they were sitting on books.
By the time I finished, I was worn out. The heat had gotten to me and I had a headache. The rides through the tube were torturous because the ones I was on were not air conditioned and there were a lot of bodies. I’d planned to meet Richard at his hotel at 5pm (he was coming to the Monty Python show with me) but I got there early and sat in the hotel bar, charging my phone, having a drink and cooling down. It was a nice way to end the day.