Edit: I realized that the original post was born of muzzy thinking and unnecessarily detailed, so I cropped it a bit. The original is under the comment tab, but I wouldn’t really wish it on anybody.

This morning was terrible. I’m not going to go into the gory details, but it did include me standing outside of a smoky room with a guard and backup listening to the following 3:30am conversation:

“What’s that smell?”
“Incense.”
“Can we see it?”
“What, is it illegal to smoke incense? I mean, burn incense?”
“Ooh, you’ve been smoking incense? that’s dangerous, you know.”

In retrospect it’s almost too cliche to be true, and much more amusing than at the time.

Despite that, yesterday was absolutely brilliant. First off, I got my hands on Tolkien’s new book, which was more of a journey than I had bargained for. I’m not sure if I should apply for a position in the Fellowship or on the Enterprise. The initial plan was to take my  normal route, hit the Waterstones at the corner of Waterloo Bridge Rd. and The Cut, then head off to study. As it turns out, though, the oval-ringed ‘W’ logo on the corner shop is subscripted by a ‘B’ and belongs to the Waterloo Brasserie rather than the more appetizing Waterstones Booksellers. Well, there’s a Foyles branch right beneath the Charing Cross footbridge (about 7 minutes away), so I wasn’t too put out. Walking through the doors there, however, I was struck by the conspicuous absence of the book from the New Releases shelves. The staff were very helpful, once we had ironed out a few differences of accent (/tolkin/ vs /tɔkiŋ/ vs /tɔlkiŋ/), and found that only the main Foyles branch had copies. Apparently this release really hasn’t generated the excitement locally that it has on booksellers’ websites.

So I set out across the bridge into Charing Cross Station, thinking that Foyles Charing Cross would be, if not in the station, then at least nearby. As loyal Foyles customers (and probably a good portion of non-literary commuters) know, Foyles is not in the station, and the station does not, in fact, lie on Charing Cross Road at all. On my asking for directions, the information man waved eastward up the Strand and said, “‘s all the way ‘tother end of Charing Cross Road – about fifdeen minits’ walk or take the tube.” That seemed a bit of a trek when one of the main Waterstones branches was 2 minutes away, so I traipsed on down there and was met with a harried young cashier who didn’t know who Tolkien was, much less that there was a new release due. Given the hype on their website, it was pretty disappointing to see an entire “new releases” shelf of Stephanie Meyer and no Tolkien in sight. So, Foyles it would be, provided I could find it.

For once the bus station maps were entirely unhelpful, and I just wandered up the Strand, searching for promising street signs, until I came to the Strand campus, where I could get lunch and internet. Apparently the information man had gotten his directions about 90º off, but armed with a full stomach and a blurry mental photograph of the map, I made it to Foyles and was amazed. That place is everything a good bookstore should be! Labyrinthine shelves, multiple stories, extensive stock, helpful staff, a fish tank, a cafe, the entire Tintin and Asterix collections…Honesty, it’s a miracle I returned to write this. That was an epic quest with ample reward.

On the way home, my initially blind route took me past the Lyceum, and I ended up getting a ticket to that night’s Lion King production. That’s the nice thing about being a student: you get £30 off the regular price. The performance, too, was fantastic in every sense of the word. The cast was mixed in ability, but the real stars made up for that, and the costumes and set design outdid everything else. Bicycle antelopes, giraffe stilts, moving stage, and sheer brilliance of technical and artistic execution. Man! I want to do stuff like that when I grow up! If you ever, ever get a chance to see that show, do not pass it up.

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