My ideal area is one with plenty of nice cafes and a few bookshops. If the cafes are independents, and the bookshops of the second hand variety, so much the better.
"I know", said Elaine. "Why don't we try Hampstead? There's a bookshop there. I read about it in a blog post about London bookshops."
Hampstead. The last time I went there was to see Night of the Living Dead. I thought it would be my last night ever because I was laughing so much at one point. One of the police officers asks the zombie expert (?!) why the zombies walk so slowly, to which he replies, "Well, they're dead."
I had more or less recovered from this when I made the mistake of looking across at my friend. He was bent right over the seat in front of him with tears cascading down his face.
When we left the cinema, every time we walked around a corner we came across a group of people who had obviously just seen the film because they were walking like zombies.
The previous occasion I'd visited the area was some years before, with my then girlfriend. At 10pm one Saturday night we announced to her father that we going to head off to Hampstead for a coffee.
"But why?" he said. "We've got coffee here."
As Hampstead held a few happy memories for me, it sounded like a great idea to go there. We went to Hampstead Heath station, turned left and left again, and then were not sure where to go. Fortunately, there was a girl standing with a tray of bread samples. We asked her directions to the Keith Fawkes bookshop, and she obliged.
I felt guilty about only asking her for directions when the reason for her being there was to offer people bread. So I asked her about it. She pointed to the bakery, and told us they were all baked on the premises.
"Fancy a coffee?" I asked Elaine. "And maybe a bite to eat?"
I looked at the menu. "Tell me about the three cheese toastie please", I said to the lady at the counter. By the time she'd finished telling me about how the butter is drizzled into the fresh-baked New York sourdough bread, and three hard cheeses melted onto the base, my cholesterol had risen by five points.
It was delicious. I should have taken a photo, but here's a decent one: three cheese toastie.
After our visits to two bookshops, we decided to head home. As we neared Karma bread, Elaine said, "Fancy a coffee first?", something she almost never does at the end of a tiring day. (To get from Karma Bread to the Keith Fawkes bookshop you have to walk about a mile uphill: no wonder everyone in Hampstead looks so slim.)
"Just think", I said as we were sipping our coffees. "It was good that that girl was there with a tray of breads, or we might not have discovered this place."
"So what did you like best," she replied. "Eating the bread, or meeting the girl?"
I smiled. "Both." I said.
So what of the books? I didn't find anything of interest in Keith Fawkes but it had loads of unusual books. Elaine found one all about different kinds of bees, which was useful because we have several varieties in our garden.
There's also an Oxfam bookshop in London, and there I discovered a collection of articles from a magazine called The Believer, which I'd never heard of before. It sounds like a religious affair but it is an eclectic mix of essays. I'll write about the book in another article.
I also came across a self-publishing book. Just from my brief dipping in I found it refreshing. I've recently started publishing Kindle books, and all the 'gurus' say that you have to write only books that people want to read. This has blocked me a bit, because what I really want to do is write books that I would wish to read, and ones I'd like to write just for the pleasure of expressing my thoughts on virtual paper.
Well, this book says write what you like, because all books have potential readers. Obvious, really, but sometimes it's good to be told something obvious just for the sake of feeling reassured. I'll write about that book in another article too.
All in all, a very successful day: nice coffee, delicious food and good books. As Pop Larkin would have put it: 'Perfick'.