Monday 13 April 2015

The Crusty Exterior in London

The Crusty Exterior is a group of friends, united in their love for the horror genre, books and, of course, a good curry.  The core of the group - James Everington, Phil Sloman, Steve Harris and me - met up for the first time at Andromeda Con in 2013 (see my report here), though Steve & I go back much further, first corresponding in the late 90s when he ran a newsletter called The Inner Circle.
At the Southbank Book Market - James, Phil, Steve and me
At Edge-Lit 3 last year (see my report here), we were talking about how good it was to see one another again and made plans to meet up at some point nearer to Christmas, though with Mrs Sloman and Mrs Everington giving birth as the year drew to a close, those plans were put back to 2015.  And so, on Saturday, The Crusty Exterior met for the first time, organised by Phil, to tour 2nd hand bookshops (and other places of culture, obviously) in our wonderful capital city.
In Covent Garden - Phil & I are NOT goosing the Highlander
I caught the 9.26 down, had the last seat in cattle-class before the 1st Class section and the blokes in the next seat (on the kebabs and beer already) played their music on a speaker for the whole journey.  I didn’t mind (it was 80s stuff), I had my own Walkman plus “The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon” but I was glad I hadn’t paid double the train fare to move one seat down and travel all posh!

From St Pancras, I tubed to Embankment and met Phil Sloman at the station there, we hugged and walked across Hungerford Bridge, running through the plans for the day.  At the Southbank, we met Steve Harris, who’d driven down and all quickly caught up, perusing the stalls, pointing books out to each other and marvelling over some of our finds.  James then arrived, more greetings and after taking an author pic for Steve (against a graffiti covered concrete stanchion, for Punk-Lit), we headed back to Charing Cross station.  It was great to see everyone, it was great to be back together and it’s always a pleasure to spend time with fellow writers, talking about projects and finds and not having to explain our conversational topics.

Since Steve had never been to Covent Garden, we took him through there (and I pointed out the location where Barry Foster brings out the body in the spud bag in “Frenzy”) and then walked along to Charing Cross Road/Leicester Square where we had lunch from the deli (and it was bloody lovely) on the corner.  Eating and chatting, we walked up Charing Cross and explored several bookshops, before cutting through to Shaftesbury Avenue (past the theatre showing ‘The Mousetrap’ - “I wonder,” I asked, “if they ever get people outside saying, if you don’t give me a tenner, I’ll tell you whodunit”) where I introduced the boys to The Cinema Store.
Outside The Mousetrap - both James and Phil made
a 'shush' noise as I took the photo...
After, we headed up Monmouth Street, past the Seven Dials (all the times I’ve crossed there, I never knew that was what it was called, so thanks for that Phil!) and picked up a drink from a newsagents and stood in the street, as London life went on around us, talking genre and books and people and it was a wonderful half an hour.  It even included a sighting of Mark Gatiss, who crossed the road into Forbidden Planet, spent a minute or so in there and then disappeared back the way he came.  When a tourist blocked the road taking pictures of a street sign, curiosity broke up our conversation and we all went to see what he’d been photographing.  The sign said “humps” and that was enough to have us thinking of schoolboy-humour-level jokes as we went into Forbidden Planet.  Spent some time (and money) in there, then walked to the Bloomsbury Tavern for a couple of drinks and more chat.  Well, I say drink - we took a table that had recently been vacated, with James & I clearing off the previous patrons dirty plates and one suspiciously full pint glass of clear liquid.  As we sat down and started talking, Phil & James sipped their pints, I sipped my Diet Coke and Steve sipped… nothing.  “Where’s my lemonade?” he asked.  Erm…

In the Bloomsbury Tavern - pint of lemonade definitely not pictured (I wonder where it went...?)
After a couple of pints - and several wonderful, tangent filled conversations - we headed towards Bloomsbury, passing ‘London’s Best Fish & Chip Shop’ on the way.  “Ah, London,” said James, “that well known seaside resort.”  “Smells like Skeggy,” I said and that set us off on a brief, but initially enthusiastic, idea of setting the next gathering there before good sense prevailed and we filled Steve in on why Mablethorpe wasn’t worth seeing.  We visited Skoob books (great cellar bookshop, filled to the rafters - quite literally), saw some blue plaques, nipped into another bookshop before calling into the Norfolk Arms for another drink and a conversation at the outside tables which encompassed critiques, what to do if you read a friends story and it’s not good and ruminations on genre.  After a lovely (and very reasonable) dinner at the Tavistock Tandoori, the day was up.  Steve & Phil were heading back across London, James & I were heading for St Pancras, so we said our goodbyes and wandered off.  We got into the station just in time, caught the 7.29 and talked the whole way back to Kettering, where I got off.
Ah, curry.  In the Tavistock Tandoori - we don't know why the waiter chose to cut most of Steve off...
As inaugural meetings go, it was brilliant - it was great to see everyone again, the conversation, humour and laughs flowed easily, we all picked up some decent book stashes and, most importantly, we had a good time.

Provisional plans have been made for the next Crusty gathering to be in Brum towards the end of the year, notwithstanding seeing one another at Edge-Lit and FantasyCon and I, for one, can’t wait.
In a Charing Cross bookshop cellar.
 p.s.  Membership of The Crusty Exterior is liquid, with several members unable to make this meeting, thus making it - in Steve's words - a "mini-con".

p.p.s. Just in case you were wondering, the name of the group comes from an off-hand comment made at Edge-Lit.  We were sitting in the cafe comparing scars (or, more to the point, the worst rejection letters we'd ever received) and, following Steve's newsletter, someone (we can't remember who now) said "we're not the Inner Circle, more like The Crusty Exterior".  That made us all laugh and when Phil set up an FB group to organise the meeting, that's what he called it.
My stash from the day


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