How many people are shopping in Covent Garden?
It goes without saying that this has been a strange year. For us, we were already working remotely so in theory it should have been minimal change, but in fact we only recently started meeting up again. The last time we met out in the real world, with shops and cafes and people, was back in March, when we were tentatively looking at a new Stationery Walk. Even though there was trouble in the air, little did we know that it would be the last time Nanosphere would get out and about for 5 months.
Now others, Jo included, have been doing the public transport/central London thing for a while now, but for various reasons it hasn’t happened for me. So this felt like a big step, the first time even on a train let alone browsing shops in the West End in almost half a year. We decided to get Nanosphere back on the road though, to see what stationery shops had on offer and to experience the West End in this post-Covid world.
So first things first, it meant using public transport. In my case this meant a train into Waterloo followed by a walk across the river to Covent Garden. I was surprised how empty the trains were even for 10am on a midweek morning. I pretty much had the carriage to myself, if not most of the train. Now I am not that anxious about Covid and public spaces, although I obviously observed all social distancing measures, but it was quite nice to enjoy such tranquility. The walk across Waterloo Bridge was equally quiet, although sadly the homeless problem seems anecdotally to have become a lot worse since I last visited.
As for the stationery, well we started as all good Stationery Walks should start, with a coffee and pastry. In the last few days of the eat out discount this was a nice and affordable treat. We chose Arket on Long Acre as it has a nice Swedish café with good coffee and a cinnamon pastry.
Fuelled up and ready to go, Covent Garden offers a good selection to browse, from more mainstream offerings like Muji, Foyles and the London Graphic Centre to the quirky originals like Choosing Keeping. All were suitably quiet – not dead by any means but not humming with people either. It is hard to know whether it actually was quieter, or we were just looking for that as the answer.
As for the actual stationery, well Muji is always a treasure trove of tempting little bits you know you need. Beautifully smooth notebooks, pots and pots of coloured pens as well as enough storage solutions to keep you wondering how to justify buying up a bag full of pots, jars and boxes. I restricted myself to a spare copy of my new favourite notebook and pen. More of that at a later date.
The London Graphic Centre has enough stationery to keep you browsing for ages. From everyday notebooks to gorgeous mini packs of mini erasers, from every art and graphic need you might have to a luxury tin of Paul Smith branded Caran d’Ache pencils. Truly a must on any tour of the area.
Choosing Keeping is about as good as it gets when it comes to stationery – stunning notebooks alongside everyday Lamy pens, but somehow a humble Lamy Safari pen looks so much better in CK than anywhere else.
Lastly we took in Foyles on Charing Cross Road. A bookshop (and a good one at that) with a very nice stationery section by the front door. It might not be worth a trip on its own, but I certainly worth stopping by.
All in all it is certainly worth making the effort. Not only is there a world of tempting stationery out there, but you get to enjoy it without the crowds plus you are helping shops. I don’t know how they survive but our world will be a sadder place if the likes of these shops disappear. Online is not the same.
Our day was not done, even if we drifted out of the stationery world at this point. We wandered Soho (busy-ish), Mayfair (quiet but that’s maybe how it always is), and back through Piccadilly Circus (felt quiet) into Chinatown (surprisingly busy) and then called it a day. On the way we stumbled upon the most unlikely of discoveries though, and one with no stationery connection at all. On Old Bond Street you will find every high-end brand from Cartier and Tiffany to Rolex and Gucci. It is fair to say that this is not the normal stamping ground for a Nanosphere walk. And yet we found ourselves invited in to look at a show in the Alexander McQueen store.
Quite unexpected, not one I would have chosen to go to and yet maybe the most enjoyable point of the day. Everyone was so nice – let’s just say my expectation of how my slightly scruffy look would go down was not that high – and more than willing to explain what was on show (which was a collection of the most unusual dresses from the past 20 or so years together with what looked like workings and notes on the wall). I even got told off for touching one of the dresses in the most polite and effective ways possible (they were really so tempting to touch though).