It was probably the first thing I brought when I arrived in London and eight years later it has all the tattered hallmarks of a transitional object marking the change from tourist to local. With its pages annotated with highlighter marks, circled destinations and quickly written addresses, it has proved an unfailing aid de memoir to my love affair with London.
The story behind London A-Z could also be viewed as a love affair with all the drama and intrigue of a publication that literally maps a city, capturing its streets and thoroughfares. First published in 1936, as a book it is synonymous with its creator - Phyllis Pearsall. Daughter of a cartographer, Phyllis was prompted to update existing maps of London, when her plans to attend a party in Belgravia went awry because she couldn't find the address. She established the now famous publishing house - Geographers' Map Company and began her 3000 mile ode to London that saw Phyllis walking the city's then 23,000 streets.
Now like any good love story, there is always a twist - hurdles to be surmounted, tragedy, a dark secret. Of the first edition known as The A-Z Atlas and Guide to London and Suburbs, only 250 were sold through W.H.Smith. During the war, all production of maps was stopped for reasons of national security. And for the greatest intrigue, there are some that question the true originals of the directory claiming that Phyllis simply updated existing maps, no doubt seeking out councils to include London's newer suburbs.
For someone who carries the AZ everywhere, I care little for "the truth" of its history remaining appreciative of one of the most useful and iconic objects of London. Simply say my A-Z and people will know immediately what you mean.
Maps are always more than markings on a page, sources for getting from A to Z; without getting lost they are how we psychologically map a city, make it our own, how we map ourselves onto a labyrinthine of streets until we can call it home.
Next week: we start with A. So A is for Acton, Ally Pally, Anspach & Hobday, Archway, Angel, Alley, Arcade and Avenue. What will we find as we create a food version of the AZ London.