Wednesday, 20 August 2014

I'm In London, What Should I Do?

I lived in London for several years, and in the UK for about ten years all told, so I know my England reasonably well. Many of you who end up playing, or being Keeper, in a Bookhounds game may not be so lucky. Then the fatal day arrives: by luck, or thanks to work commitments, you have a day or two to kill in London. What should you do? Are there things you could be spending your hard earned money on?

Yes, of course there are. Books are always worth spending dosh on, and there are some things worth looking out for. The Historical London A-Z is something you should definitely seek out, whether Keeper or player. It makes for an excellent prop, and since it's an accurate reproduction, you can add your own notes for extra authenticity. Anything Liza Picard writes is worth reading, and her London series is brilliant, but from a period perspective the best is her Victorian London. It's slightly out of period for a Bookhounds game, but you get a real sense of the City as it used to be, as well as a glimpse of what it was becoming. Finally, the Shire Library has an excellent series of short historical books, about everything from the London Underground to maps of pre-War London, and more. The A-Z and Picard's books can be found almost anywhere, but Shire Library's work is harder to find. The British Library has an excellent bookshop that stocks them, and many museums will have them too.

Speaking of Museums, by all means go to the British Museum if you like, but make sure to go early. It's on every tourist's must-do list, and London is flooded with tourists year round. However if you want something a little more London-specific I recommend three: the Museum of the City of London, the Docklands Museum, and the Geffrye. All are brilliant in their own way, but if you want to understand what makes London tick, you need to see the first two. The Docklands is, to my mind, slightly better, but that may be because it's never as crowded. The London Museum covers the whole nine yards, from prehistoric settlement to modern city, whereas the Docklands Museum just covers London's Docklands. The Geffrye is a design museum, and I admit this is on my must-do because I enjoy design, but its chief advantage is that it demonstrates how people would have lived, once upon a time, by showing you the rooms, furniture and accessories they would have lived in or owned. It is a little out of the way, so feel free to skip it if you're short on time or have no sense of direction and are afraid of getting lost!

As for things to do, go to a pub. It's not difficult to find one, and it is the quintessential English way of spending time, but if you're after a pub with a historic flavor, try one of the Sam Smith's. Samuel Smith's is a brewery chain that specializes in historic premises, and one of the best examples of a pub as it would have been in the 1930s is the Princess Louise, out near Cannon Street tube.  If you've just been to the British Museum, it's a stone's throw away. A little closer to the museum is another Sam Smith's, the Crown, useful if all you want is a pint after being crushed to death by Japanese tourists and English schoolchildren. Word of advice: nobody goes to a Sam Smith's for the food. It's not awful, just profoundly uninspired. Beer's good though, and pretty cheap for London. Oh, and the Crown's within easy walking distance of Forbidden Planet and the Orc's Nest, which you're probably going to want to visit at some point.

But you want something non alcoholic to do, I hear you ask. God knows why, but you do. In that event, I recommend the Thames Water Taxi. Not only is it a brilliant way of seeing the city, it also gives you a real sense of what London would have looked like to all those ships that once made it their home, when London was still a significant port. It's also an easy way to get to Greenwich, which is worth seeing in its own right, and not just for the Meridian. The park's a joy to walk round, and the weekend market's always busy. Besides if you've made it that far you can stop at the Old Brewery for a pint, always a worthwhile endeavor.  


Edit: I'm adding the London Transport Museum to the list, with a couple caveats. The chief caveat is, for the love of God, don't go on the weekend. The museum's brilliant, and I think you can guess what it's about from the name, but it's located at Covent Garden, which is an absolute nightmare on the weekends, particularly in the summer. While there is a nearby tube, you may find it easier on your sanity to go one station beyond, or stop one station prior, and walk the rest of the way.The place is absolutely swarming with people, worse than the British Museum by far, and the tube stop is like an ant mound after someone's pissed off the ants.

The other caveat is, I'm mainly recommending this for its bookstore. The museum's great - a little dry, perhaps, if trains and buses don't fill you with awe - but the bookstore's remarkably good, for a museum, and you don't have to go through the museum to get to the bookstore. There's also a good selection of period-reproduction posters, if you want to add that extra bit of authenticity to your gaming night.

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