The Big Foyles, Charing Cross Road
Books mean chairs. No serious institution would make you flick through a book while standing up. That would be inhumane. Pick up something chunky (perhaps Anthony Beevor’s Stalingrad?), find a chair and leave it in your lap. You’ll need to perfect the chin-down method of snoozing. A hat can be a useful addition for this strategy; that way no one can see you drooling. Plus, there’s a half-decent café at the top of the building.
The BFI Southbank
This is perfect. It’s like a giant concrete cruise ship moored under some dreary train line. You’ll find booths, tables and even snugs. There’s a bar towards the back with so many tables that I doubt even the staff have waited on every single one. No one will ask why you’re there. The BFI is a charity after all. If questioned, say you’re an international film student interested in the work of some obscure Polish director. BFI is one for the long snooze.
Okay, you’ll need a pass. But once you’re in, this warren of Victorian corridors and meeting rooms is ideal. There’s a chair for every occasion. A corridor bench or quiet café corner in which to catch some Zs. According to one insider, the upper press gallery is almost never visited and is choc-a-bloc with empty desks. Lay down your coat, sleepy one. The desk shall be thy heavens.
Then there’s the old infirmary in the basement. It’s where the security guards sleep. There are, according to my mole, around 12 single cast-iron beds. You need to befriend a security guard to gain access. The mattresses are thin; however, fresh linen is provided.
The House of St Barnabas
It’s a private members’ club, but a liberal one. They train up the homeless to work in hospitality. In other words, they’re nice people. Walk up to the desk and say you’re here for Alan. Alan? Alan Yentob, of course! You’re with Netflix, he’s thinking of coming out of retirement. The best BBC commissioning editor of a generation, didn’t you know? Anyway, he said go straight through. Oh, he’s not on the system? Are you sure? I saw him having lunch with the guy from Pulp a few weeks ago. I’ll go and have a look for him now, thanks for your help.
Now head straight for the chapel. It’s a lovely little Oxford Movement number through the garden. Grab a prayer cushion and settle down in one of the curved transepts. No one’s actually going to come to pray in here. It’s a liberal private members’ club after all.
The Royal Courts of Justice
Similar to Parliament, but easier to get into. You just have to get through security. There’s no need to justify your visit. These big institutional buildings are the perfect place to while away an hour. Pretend you’re waiting for a case to start or for your barrister to arrive. The clerks are too busy to bother you. They’re public servants. When they get a moment, they’re probably sleeping in their own secret storage cupboard.
Courts are good places for a kip. Southwark Crown Court specialises in fraud. In other words, it’s an excruciatingly boring place. There’s also Westminster Magistrates’ Court if you’re in north-west London, although it does feel rather like a regional airport: lots of long rows of seating with little in the way of nooks. Be warned, courts shut early, normally around 6pm, so this is one for the afternoon nap.
The British Library
Reading rooms are your friend. Most people are nearly asleep anyway and the shelves provide a good place to hide. There are multiple mezzanine levels in which you can find a corner, or maybe even a municipal banquette on which to prostrate yourself. Noise can be an issue, however.
The London Library
Yes, you’ll need to be a member, but once you’re in you’re unlikely to be challenged. Find a spot in one of the book stacks and a table and chair and you’ll be able to do the old brace position nap. Be warned: one friend says he has been poked awake by a concerned librarian. It’s a possibility. But there are so many places to hide I think it’s unlikely. The clientele is mainly students and oldies, both groups known for their need for sleep. Head into the art section; it’s newly built (i.e. warm) and rarely visited.
The UCL Building
You’ll need to look young, or at least able to pass for a mature student. It’s surprisingly easy to get in. My number one tip: walk confidently past the receptionist/guard. Look them straight in the eye, beaming, and ask ‘How are you?’ We’re friends, you just don’t remember me. A former LSE student tells me there’s a huge room at the top of the government building that is practically overflowing with leather armchairs. Once you’re done napping, make your way to the student bar on the roof. Last time I went I paid £3 for a pint. Just avoid the group loudly discussing Foucault.
The National Theatre
The South Bank is actually a pretty good option. The Festival of Britain’s greatest legacy is these semi-municipal buildings in which access is open. Head to the floor with the highest stalls. These are the cheap seats, they’re used to weirdos up there. Grab a couple of those squishy cube things and settle in. If someone asks, say you were here for a matinee and accidentally fell asleep.
A note on strategy
You might think Exhibition Road is your friend. It is not. There are lots of children. The kind that are excited to be out of the classroom and looking at dinosaurs or Greek statues or whatever. They are loud. They are hyper. They are the enemy of rest. Yes, the Pugin tearoom is lovely, but everyone knows this. Half of the capital’s grannies are queueing to pay £8 for a pot of Lapsang.
If you’re around Kensington, try to get into the Goethe Institute or that funky Mormon church. Whatever you do, avoid the popular museums.
Sofa shops are often a good bet, but they need to be large enough that you can hide from staff. Sadly, the Habitat on Tottenham Court Road has shut down, once the comfiest spot for a 20-minute snooze.