What a delight! Amid the suburban anonymity of Bexleyheath, an oasis of calm and high culture. When William Morris - poet, craftsman, conservationist, socialist - chose this as the spot where his home would be built, it was unsullied Kent countryside. He moved in to the Red House in 1860, and his five years there - he moved out for a mix of personal and professional reasons - are regarded as his happiest.
The building is magical, the interior spellbinding, the grounds spacious and splendid. There's a very friendly cafe - I recommend the St Clement's cake. And the shop inside the Red House, what a nice touch, has a small second-hand selection of books and pamphlets by and about Morris (and yes, I did indulge - glad they accepted cards).
It's a National Trust property, God bless 'em. I'll certainly be going back. I can't think of any public building in London I've enjoyed visiting as much.
The gardens are excellently maintained - a mix of formal, semi-wild, and a well worked vegetable patch graced with this splendid scarecrow.
And if you have a suspicion that the scarecrow is modelled on Mr Morris himself, well, I think you're right.
The scarecrow even has a name badge: 'Will'. Morris would have enjoyed that.
Some of the garden produce - apples, potatoes, damsons, seedlings - is for sale. That is, if you have any money left after the cafe, the postcards, and the books.
'Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful' - William Morris
Prompted by my own recent blog about going to the dogs, that's just what I did last night - for the first time in well over a decade. Down to Wimbledon (Tooting Broadway tube and a bit of a trek) - not a winner in sight - but a decent evening out. It's not exactly glamorous, never was, but the beer flows freely, the Tote's busy, and there are a handful of on course bookies very happy to relieve you of your earnings.
Well, there were three bookies there. Fewer than I remember at Harringay in the old days. The tic-tac men have gone - but at Wimbledon, where there's only one spot where the bookies put up their stands, there wouldn't really be any need for them. (Their job was to relay very quickly changes in the odds - because, say, somebody had put a large amount on an unfancied dog - to the other side of the track).
And of the three bookies, two - what a sign of the times! - had electronic boards displaying the odds. Watching them set up was a little like a roadie preparing for a gig, lots of plugging and unplugging.
There were a few serious gamblers there - not all that many. Quite a lot of young lads on a boozy night out. Couples. Some families with kids. And a brassy hen party intent on having a good time.
When I got back home, the kids were complaining that they would have liked to have seen the dogs race. So another visit is in order before too long, so the whole family can have a chance to lose their shirt on 'Rocky Bay Monica' at 9-4 in a 480 metre dash (Wimbledon track record for that distance, 28.08 seconds).
There's a spot in Highbury, just where Blackstock Road becomes Highbury Park, where charity bookshops face each other on opposite sides of the highway. I popped into them both this afternoon.
This is the more remarkable, more ramshackle, but alas less rewarding to the browser, of the two.
I don't know whether 'A. Wilsher & Son' was always a second-hand bookshop, I rather doubt it, but I haven't been able to find out more.
Across the road is an Animal Aid (or something similar) bookshop, which is well stocked and run. It even has a 'Red Politics' section - though it's not anything like as enticing as the billing might suggest.
That goes broadly for both bookshops and their stock. I suspect the interesting stuff gets siphoned off, as so often happens with charity shops. Most never quiet realise their browsing potential.
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