All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes, to make it possible.
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom
Thomas Edward Lawrence
Located at 23 Rathbone Place in the heart of the Fitzrovia district of London is a bookshop with a recessed doorway and a magnificent mosaic detailed in veined black and white marble. The shop front is ageing wood painted white with frosted glass windows on both sides bearing the simple legend Books. Two tall doors with battered brass kick plates stand open in all weathers, its always warm inside despite that so you might miss the sign in the door which reads. Ceci n'est pas un bibliothèque.
The shop is long rather than wide, with imposing wooden bookshelves down both sides, right the way to the back where the offices are. A counter bearing a mechanical cash register and sheafs of blank paper and pens surrounds an iron staircase that spirals down into the basement. At the back of the shop hidden by the counter is a huge circular table, surrounded by five high backed chairs for the customers use, although you will usually find one of the staff reading a book with a pot of tea and a spare mug.
Two glass doors right at the back enclose pokey little offices for the two brothers who run the bookshop, one constantly occupied by the chain smoking 'Fred' who likes to keep a low profile and the other permanently unoccupied by the silent partner of the operation, it usually gets used by whoever is running the shop for Frederick these days. Both have great old desks and rickety new revolving office chairs and pile upon pile of books.
The first person you are likely to meet is one of the shops younger staff who will ask if you are looking for anything in particular and then leave you alone, the rule is ask once but don't harass the customer. You can find almost anything you would expect in a good bookshop with an emphasis on the classics rather than mass produced promotional material. They purport to be able to find anything given half a chance, in fact they send books all over the world at a customers whim.
The spiral staircase is a talking point which usually gets mentioned sooner or later and the highlight of just about any visit is being invited to peruse the by invitation only stock downstairs and descend that wonderful iron construction into the bowels of the building. Here you will find a quiet oasis of calm with leather chairs and even older bookshelves bearing wares for all the most esoteric tastes, books on magic and making it happen, lost books and books to find, books on the real history of this and that other worlds and books on everything you can imagine.§I did mention they could procure anything?
Down here you will also find a tiny little kitchen, basically just a room with a sink and a selection of teas and coffees for the discerning tippler. That holiest among holies when it comes to being caught short in the middle of a chapter is a toilet beneath the pavement with little glass blocks the size of a fist through which you can see the pedestrians hurrying by overhead. And right at the back past these doors, under the street is a passageway, which leads even further into The Great Library.