London Calling

In the early Twenties, BBC (the radio variety) used the phrase “London calling” as its call sign, informing the world that London was still up and active. During the War, the phrase took on overtones that were both poignant and pugnacious: We’re still here, damn your eyes!

I like London, despite there being far too many people, and even its major streets retain their pre-Great Fire (1666) twisting incomprehensibility, when London was a warren of alleyways.  Monday was particularly bad, and I seemed incapable of figuring out where I stood even with a map in hand.  My publisher’s street—a mews—is not on the London A to Z (pronounced Zed, if you please) which doesn’t help.  And Charing Cross tube stop is a spider’s web of exits, so one stands in the main hall and studies the options of Strand (north) and Strand (south) when what one wants is Charing Cross (library.)

But I found it, if ten minutes late for my meeting with Meg Gardiner, who was polite enough to claim that even after years in England she still gets lost in town.  I didn’t believe her, but we ducked into the Garrick for a quick drink and had a nice chat about covers, titles, offspring, and British plumbing.

Then into the Charing Cross library, where Nicola had set out civilized bottles of both red and white wine, and little cups of pretzels.  She couldn’t do anything about the street noise, other than shut the windows, but the gathered audience sweltered gently and not a one of them dozed off—or if they did, they kept their eyes open.

I was happy to find that the British tendency to reticence was in abeyance, and when Q&A time came, they came up with some good remarks.  And not one of them asked what I, an American, thought I was doing writing about England.

Last night’s event was set up by the estimable Lizzie Hayes of Mystery Women.  Started in the 80s by my friends Michelle Spring (with whom I have a panel in Cambridge next Monday) and Kate Charles, it’s now run by Lizzie (whose mother is very ill, good thoughts in their direction, please) and Ayo Onatade, and on Monday three of the group joined us: Sara Townsend (MW’s London events manager,) author Mary Andrea Clarke, and Kirsty Long.  Mystery Women is a good group, you should think about joining them—especially if you’d like to keep up on UK events.  The annual St Hilda’s mystery conference is heavily attended by members of the group, and if you ever find yourself in Oxford of an August, I urge you to register for that conference, if for no other reason than the..I won’t say pleasure, but experience of living in the dorms.  It was at a St Hilda’s conference that my punting style was given the classification “stately,” meaning “she’s slow but she doesn’t plant the boat in the nettle-covered banks.”

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  1. Laidee Marjorie on September 17, 2009 at 2:08 am

    There’s a mews that is NOT in the London A to Z? Was it the mini A to Z or the full one? I am flabbergasted!!!!

    I am glad you are having such a good time with old friends and old streets. I love Longon very much and I know that she is doing her best for you, even with all those pesky tube exits. At least above ground there is always the London Eye or St. Pauls or the Thames to orient you.

    There’s a very old restaurant there called Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese that I have always wanted to visit (Dickens ate there regularly and both Twain and Doyle were visitors), but people say that it’s impossible to find (even with the A to Z). On my next trip I will be more adventurous (like you are) and go and find it.

    Thanks fur updating us, Laurie.


  2. Chris on September 17, 2009 at 3:30 am

    I have a love hate relationship with London – all those day trips for work, which only ever saw me in taxis, not actually seeing all the places I could hardly recall from twenty years ago. Too many people, all in a rush! I have a weekend there next month to do leisurely things – I aim to be a tourist.:) So pleased all your events are going so well, Laurie, enjoy the rest of your tour.


  3. Anne on September 17, 2009 at 11:34 pm

    I would discount the tale that the Olde Cheshire Cheese is impossible to find: it’s right on Fleet Street, if you walk down that street you’ll fall over it (or take various buses – the 11, the 23 etc – that go past it and stop a few yards down the road at Ludgate Circus). It is interesting to visit, and the area has other entertainments such as the Royal Courts of Justice (about a five minute away) and St Paul’s (five minutes in the opposite direction to the RCJ).

    I do, however, agree that Charing Cross tube is not the most user-friendly when it comes to leaving …

  4. Meredith on September 19, 2009 at 12:08 am

    Hi, Laurie! Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you …(you get the idea and probably the benefit of not hearing my singing). Since it’s absurdly late in Calif on the 18th, it has to be your b’day in London. My niece is getting married in York on this day, obviously auspicious. I had the pleasure of meeting Kate Charles first at something called Murder in Oxford in 1995, a course through Kellogg (extension?) College at Oxford with help from Univ of NC. I don’t think it’s running now and I had heard evil rumo(u)rs that the conference at St. Hilda’s might be passing from us. I hope the latter ain’t so. And good thoughts indeed to Lizzie Hayes and her mum.//Meredith

  5. Carlina on September 19, 2009 at 7:00 am

    Glad you’re having a banging time! Yes, it may be easy to get lost in London from time to time, but you can’t beat the view or the history!

    Enjoy the rest of the tour over there, as well as that rich history, culture, and sights. I’m personally one for getting lost in the countryside, and not because it “breeds crime” as Holmes thought….

    Hope the b-day goes well too!

  6. Strawberry Curls on September 19, 2009 at 7:14 am

    A birthday in England with friends and family sounds like a wonderful time. My wish for you is a day filled with laughter, good food, relaxation and the joy of time spent with those you love. Have a perfect birthday, Laurie.

  7. MAUDE on September 19, 2009 at 9:38 am

    Happy Birthday, Laurie! I have the fun of sharing the day, but not the year. Thank you again for your wonderful books. They are my favorite comfort reads.

  8. Pat Keadle on September 19, 2009 at 11:22 am

    Happy Birthday.

    The last time I was in London we’d booked the Chesterfield just a hop, skip and jump from Park St, New Park St and between Hyde Park Corner and Berkley Square. We did NOT think to hire a taxi, but took a limo provided by our travel agent. I guess that was fortunately unfortunate, because after the aggro of riding over what seemed like a million crooked miles., I said stop and got out my A-Z and pointed it out to him. He’d gotten us to Belgravia by then and I was soooo very tempted to fire him on the spot. However, finally after tea was missed and dinner was but a memory we found it.

    I love your dear books, dear Friend and look forward to the next in the Mary Russell series. May you just keep writing them ’til she reaches 100 and asks someone to put the trunk in the post!


    I would have been a bee on your shoulder to see if you could match this tale.

  9. Hilary on September 20, 2009 at 9:07 am

    I, too, am in London. I’m studying here for the semester, and if I have any of it figures out by the end I will consider it a great achievement. Definitely very confusing.

  10. Meg Gardiner on September 26, 2009 at 12:58 pm

    The day after we met I was scheduled to speak at an arts center in western London. Despite having the address, a map, a Google maps printout, GPS in my car, an iPhone with satellite location, and the actual road sign directly in front of me, I couldn’t find the place. It took me half an hour to figure out that there were TWO Thames Streets in the neighborhood, and I was on the wrong one.

    So you did extremely well to escape from Charing Cross station and find the library in a mere ten minutes.

  11. Merrily on October 6, 2009 at 9:09 am

    I am woefully behind on your blog, but sometime ask Our Alice about the great fun we had trying to find the Sherlock Holmes Pub in the pouring rain, having emerged at Charing Cross Station. Let’s just say that we had a nice tour of that section of London, for quite some time, too!

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