Another opportunity for a day out in central London, and another clutch of vintage-inspired venues to visit – and all free to enter…

We began our wanderings at the Royal Institute of British Architects at 66 Portland Place, just up the road from the BBC’s Broadcasting House. RIBA is always worth a visit in its own right as it’s a gorgeous art deco building (as the home of all that’s good in British architecture, so it should be), where it’s good to drop in for a coffee and take in the surroundings, but we were drawn there on this occasion by an exhibition of work by Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the practice he worked for in Glasgow. Focussing on the buildings themselves, rather than the interior design or furniture for which Mackintosh is rightly renowned, the exhibition featured a wealth of architectural drawings that must qualify as artworks in their own right, completed and lettered by hand in period style. Alongside the buildings still standing and those sadly lost, there were a number of fascinating designs for houses and buildings unbuilt, either because Mackintosh’s practice failed to win the competition, or because they were speculative in the first place. A wallow in his art nouveau world was followed by a browse in the massive RIBA bookshop where, amongst the volumes aimed at aspiring architects, the vintage homeowner can find a range of books on period home design – just the thing for getting the look just right.

I can't beat Viv's own images, so here's one!

I can’t beat Viv’s own images, so here’s one!

A spot of lunch in Great Portland Street, and onto the tube for Holloway Road and a call into Vivien of Holloway’s shop at No 294. Viv is one of those talented individuals from the rock’n’roll scene who, after years of running stalls dealing in increasingly hard-to-find originals alongside her own reproductions, took the plunge in commissioning reproduction and 1950s-inspired pieces for those frustrated by the endless search for the right garment in the right size and colour at a price that meant they could actually dare to wear it without the risk of destroying a rare item! The shop and stock are designed to appeal not just to those dedicated to vintage wear, but also those trying out the look or blending modern and classic styles; indeed, she’s been successful enough to launch a pop-up shop just down the road offering seconds, ends of line and vintage originals. The irony for Mrs Midcentury was that the pedal-pushers she wanted were out of stock so, while the wee beastie gained herself a new pair of converse-style sneakers, and I walked out with a nice big pot of Royal Crown hair pomade (just the type Elvis used in the early days), madam’s shopping bag stayed empty.

A plaque marks 304 Holloway Road

Still, being in the Holloway Road gave us the chance to stroll a few doors up to No 304, which in the 1960s housed Joe Meek and his ground-breaking recording studio. I can’t do justice to Meek’s story in just a few lines – John Repsch’s excellent book ‘The Legendary Joe Meek: the Telstar Man’ and equally good 2008 film ‘Telstar’ do that too well to need repeating here – but it was great to stand outside the building itself (very accurately recreated in the film) and imagine and irate Joe Meek’s typewriter flying out of the window, narrowly missing drummer Clem Cattini of the Outlaws (who, along with a clutch of other ‘originals’, appears in the movie). Having last year paid a visit to Joe’s grave in his home town of Newent, it felt as if we’d completed a pilgrimage in the steps of this mercurial 1960s British pop innovator.

Last call of the day was to an eccentric little attraction we’d spotted in one of the free papers. Tucked away in a side street between Holborn and Clerkenwell lies Novelty Automation, a bizarre collection of decidedly off-beat slot machines. Fancy a foreign holiday without leaving the comfort of an armchair? Microbreak – the fast, efficient holiday can provide it in exchange for just 2 tokens. Want to achieve instant weightloss? Our next machine can change the body you see in the mirror. From the wondrous new Auto-Frisk machine, to the Money Laundering crane game, to Divorce: a game for fractured families – these home-built gems of automation from the worrying surreal minds of enthusiast engineers will get you giggling, howling and shrieking in turn. £8 buys you 10 tokens, but half the fun comes from sharing in the delight or discomfort of others; it costs nothing to get in, but I’ll wager you can’t resist having a go yourself, or venturing into the unique Expressive Photobooth for a souvenir of your visit. Novelty Automation can be found at 1A Princeton Street, just 5 minutes walk from Holborn tube station, in an off-the-beaten track area worthy of a wander in itself.

Can’t wait ‘til we have another day to kill in the Smoke – got any recommendations?