This is the time of year when thoughts turn to love, and when we reach for our copy of Betty James’ wonderful 1968 book, London For Lovers.
In chapters with the headings Get Found, Get Lost, Get Fed, Get You, she details who you can expect to meet where, and how best you might ensnare them. Ms James offers practical advice and pulls no punches, even when talking about herself: ’I will start by explaining that I was chosen to write this book because after fifty years, two marriages (both defunct), one child of my own, and eight immaculate conceptions, it was assumed I might know what I was talking about… my own great age, on the other hand, permits me to lay claim to much useful experience gleaned since the 1930s when it was I who was raving.’ In tones acerbic, weary, hectoring and kind, she navigates the tricky terrain of romance, circa 1968. We include some of our favourite passages below.
‘Less contrived conversations, though also leading to friendship and love, are struck up on hot summer days around the narrow doorway of Guys ‘N Dolls in the King’s Road, Chelsea. This sandwich-and-salad bar exerts a peculiar fascination, possibly emanated by the hot salt beef.’
‘I am told you can do unthinkable things in a doorway near Lennox Gardens, which is just around the corner from the church. But I should warn you that a Charles Adams’ clock in the house behind you will loudly boom the quarter-hours. Those unwarned might risk a stricture.’
‘On entering [Tandoorie] this Indian Emporium of the Oriental Culinary Arts at 153 Fulham Road, SW3, lovers will feel they have stepped straight into the middle of the Kama Sutra (page 28 in my copy). A perfumed vision of punkahs and dhobies and general Indian scrimshaw-work delights the dazzled gaze. It is a disappointment not to find a Holy Cow lurking in the beckoning shadows. Expressions of astonishment such as ‘By all the Fruits of Tantalus!’ on breeching the portals are perfectly sensible as expecting to wash in unguents before breaking bread. The comfort, the luxury, the softly but firmly tugging joss-stickery, the sorrow of the wailing temples, the Tandoorie Chicken baked in a special Tandoorie oven in mud flown from India, the Royal Pasinda… all these conspire to make one feel like a Maharajah and his Moll. Or like rending your garments and embracing fit to char the woodwork.’
‘Some people find the 200 acres of Battersea Park good for the odd frisson, especially by the lake where you may hire a boat and row yourself around a weeping willow.’
‘Stopping lifts between floors used to be tot’s play when I was a child. But it isn’t safe to assume that just any lift will do it now if you just press (a) all the buttons at once or (b) the Emergency Button twice. You’ll have to practice a bit on one or two lifts before you can find an infallible one. Older type lifts are best, though not really the antediluvian ones with see-through bars to spoil the fun. And don’t do it more than a couple of times. Once for practice and once for real. You can get arrested for making a habit of it.’
‘Wendy, aged 21, says, ‘The all-night “freak-out” UFO Club used to be good when it was in Tottenham Court Road, but it got a bad name (wrongly) and was moved to the Round House at Chalk Farm which is really less convenient to get to.” So it is quite obvious that freaking-out requires a certain amount of travel. Particularly, I imagine, when you’re trying to freak in again.’
There is advice too. ‘A huge display of bottles in your passion-pad may encourage some witherers on the virgin thorn to think you’re frightfully rich. Most of them will, however, correctly draw the conclusion that you’re a lecherous brute.’
We leave the final words of caution to Betty: ‘And now, my duty done, I can state that, although alcohol is not (as popularly supposed) an aphrodisiac, it is – administered in sufficient quantity – guaranteed to make you forget what you meant not to do when you left wherever you were when you meant not to do it. Or, contrapuntally, it stops you not having done what you knew perfectly well you wouldn’t until you discovered you already had.’
As for Valentine’s 2013, may we suggest our own Clandestine London, a discreet guide to the city, available from our shop for just £4.