Today I turned 38. We’ve only just arrived in London — our flight landed at 7:15 on the morning of the 10th — and we’re staying in temporary housing. One of our cats has caught a cold (we think, hoping the vet tomorrow will confirm it’s nothing worse) and is sneezing a bunch; the other is much chattier than normal. But today is my day, and Austin has booked us a tea. And not just any tea; a tea with cats.
People who know me know that if it involves cats, sweets, or books, then I’m all in. Afternoon tea with cats checks two of those boxes, so I know it is going to be good.
And it is. The food is tasty, but the decor is even better. The theme is Alice in Wonderland, although the names of the cats don’t seem to fully follow that convention. However, in the downstairs of the cafe, the space has been transformed into a little forest. There are trees with cats in them, red roses, playing cards, and twinkly lights. We aren’t to disturb the cats when they’re sleeping or eating, but otherwise we can play with them, snuggle them, let them crawl into our laps. We’re there during lunchtime, so all of the cats eventually make their way over to dishes of food.
After tea, Austin leaves it up to me as to where we go next. This is my old neighborhood; when I went to graduate school I lived just a few blocks from Brick Lane, and would traverse it in search of movies at Rich Mix late night bagels, curries, or the occasional pub trivia (we came in second once!). It’s changed a bit over the past eight years, but it’s still familiar.
Then, we stumble upon Brick Lane Bookshop It is tiny, but I can tell from the displays that it is my kind of shop. Up front, Austin and I stop to flip through some London-themed books. He chooses one on drinking in the UK (I know our friends who will visit over the next few years will be thankful of that purchase); I choose one on London bookshops. We also find a couple of cards to send to family back home.
Because it’s a Sunday (the big market day), the small shop is packed. I don’t want to take up loads of space when we’ve already found books to purchase, so we pay and hurry outside. I already know I’ll return sometime soon; this shop has a history of over 40 years, starting as the Tower Hamlets Art Project. I’m sad I didn’t know about it when I lived here in 2010, but I know about it now.
And, thanks to Brick Lane Bookshop, I’m also prepared to explore more of what London has to offer for those who love to read. I don’t have loads of disposable income, but I do have a lot of free time at the moment, so I’m going to make the most of it and see what other gems I can find.
When I had been living in New York for just a couple of months, my sister and her boyfriend came to visit. After I played tour guide for a weekend, this boyfriend commented that I seemed to really know my way around the desserts and sweets of NYC.
Perhaps the next time my sister visits, bringing her partner with her, he will comment that I really know my way around the bookshops of London.