Which?

oxfam BLOG

 

The Oxfam secondhand bookshop in London’s Portobello Road is one of my favourite haunts. It has a great stock of books on a variety of topics and the people who work there are very friendly.

Recently, I entered the shop ad headed towards the ‘History’ shelves. Near them, there was a male customer speaking with a female shop assistant. They were standing next to a cardboard box filled with dictionaries.

“Which of these dictionaries do you reccommend?” the customer asked, “the Collins or the Oxford?”

“It’s a a matter of taste. Both are good.”

“But which do you prefer?” asked the customer.

“I prefer Oxford.”

“But why?”

“I have always used Oxford. I like its approach to spelling. I used it a lot when I used to work in a publishing house,” responded the lady, edging away to escape her persistent questioner. He turned to me.

“Which do you prefer?” he asked me.

“Oxford.”

“And why do prefer that?”

“No good reason, ” I replied,”it was the first dictionary we were given at school. Maybe, that’s something to do with my preference.”

“And which authors do you think are good?” he asked me, adding, “I have just given away my television.”

I could not reccommend the books I have written, as that would be immodest and likely to prolong this conversation.

“Thomas Love Peacock,” was the first author’s name that entered my head.

“And?”

“You could also try John Buchan. You know the chap who wrote the Thirty-Nine Steps,” I suggested.

“Never heard of him.”

“Balzac is also good in translation,” I added.

“Hmm. What about this one?” the customer asked me, holding a novel by George Orwell.

“He’s also good.”

At that point, I was ‘saved by the bell’. My fellow customer’s mobile ‘phone began ringing at a very high volume. It sounded as if a fire alarm had gone off. He rushed out of the shop.

I went to the cash desk to pay for my latest purchase. When I had finished, my new acquaintance came back into the shop, and said to me:

“Sorry about that. You are real gent. It was nice talking with you.”

I left the shop and will probably not visit again for a long time as viral considerations are forcing it to close indefinitely.

Shrinking cabbages

 

Golborne Road intersects London’s famous Portobello Road. I practised dentistry in a clinic on Golborne Road between 1995 and 2001. In those days, Golborne was far less chic than it is today. Every day I used to pass E Price and Sons, a vegetable shop on Golborne.

The shop had a disorderly display of vegetables outside it and was run by a very old couple. I never entered their shop because it seemed to be impenetrable.

On the rare occasions that I purchased anything there, either the old lady or the old man would hurl the produce onto the scales and hardly waited to see the true weight. Then, they would mention a price, always adding the word ‘alright’, pronouncing it as if they were asking the question “is that alright?” They said the word ‘alright’ in such a way that suggested that something was not alright.

My lasting memory of this vegetable shop is of watching either of the man or woman sitting outside the shop removing withered outer leaves from the cabbages. Every day, I noticed that the cabbages on display got smaller and smaller; they seemed to be shrinking.

The shop closed a few years ago, and was later reopened by younger members of the Price family. Sadly, their lovely shop went out of business and the premises are awaiting their new reincarnation.

Ten places…

Big Ben_240

 

The Internet is full of sites listing places you must see before you die, and so on. There are also some lists of places worth missing.  All of these listings are usually subjective, as is my current list (in no particular order) of 10 or so places worth avoiding in London north of the River Thames:

1 CAMDEN TOWN

2 BRENT CROSS

3 KILBURN HIGH ROAD

4 OXFORD STREET

5 WESTFIELD AT SHEPHERDS BUSH

6 CAMDEN LOCK MARKET (OR BOROUGH MARKET)

7 PORTOBELLO ROAD ON SATURDAYS

8 COVENT GARDEN

9 KENTISH TOWN

10 WEST KENSINGTON (or KENTON)

I will not explain why any of these is on my list, and I do not expect that all of you will agree with me, but I hope that no one is offended by any of my dislikes!

Just in case this all sounds a bit negative, here is my current list (in  no particular order) of 10 or so places worth visiting in London  north of the River Thames:

1 KENWOOD HOUSE AND GARDENS

2 THE SOANE MUSEUM IN LINCOLNS INN FIELDS

3 THE VICTORIA AND ALBERT MUSEUM

4 THE BRIDGE THEATRE

5 TEMPLE CHURCH (OR ST BRIDES CHURCH)

6 LEIGHTON HOUSE

7 BRICK LANE

8 KINGS CROSS STATION CONCOURSE

9 TATE BRITAIN (but avoid eating there)

10 HIGHGATE CEMETERY (or BUNHILL FIELDS)