Slightly controversial start to Wednesday. Stayed overnight at the Randolph in Oxford – The First Lady had coyly admitted it was a long unfulfilled ambition. But at breakfast, the waitress simply poured out the tea without so much as a by-your-leave. Yes, just poured it out – offending all known protocols involving English ladies and their absolute command of the teapot. “Never, in my life …”, began The First Lady.
I quietly slope off to visit Blackwell’s before a full-scale diplomatic incident ensues. Blackwell’s – and how the weight of memory descends. It was surely here, as a student, forty or more years ago, that I first saw genuinely old books nakedly and unashamedly exposed for sale. A window-display of seventeenth-century plays, unless my memory is amiss. Fell in love there and then. By my last year in Oxford I had moved in with a young woman who worked there. Where it all began. Still a fabulous bookshop. Delighted to see Andrew Hunter there now, up on the second floor. A talk about books and dongles. Young Derek Walker has a wifi idea for Olympia. Buy some books – and saunter down to Sanders of Oxford on the High.
A charming young lady swiftly produces a folder of unusual and uncommon London prints. I swoop up a bundle of them, but hit the first really embarrassing moment of the tour when presidential credit card fails to rise to the occasion. But swiftly sorted out, and onwards we go.
We call in on Karen Thomson, who has gone out of her way to lay on a little lunch in her garden.
And Susanne Schulz-Falster turns up as well – and this is a perfect summer’s day. Desultory talk of the ideal bookfair, but then Karen and The First Lady declare in unison that it’s too hot and steamy for books and book-talk – they are going ‘wild swimming’.
‘Wild swimming’ – when did that phrase enter the language? What happened to reticence? To reserve? To restraint? What happened to understatement? Girls, this is the Evenlode, not the Amazon. This is what we used to call ‘going for a dip’.
Anyway – a lovely drive through Oxfordshire villages to Karen’s secret spot – her paradise on the river. Name and co-ordinates withheld. Shame I can’t upload the pictures, but these candid shots are perhaps more suitable for one of those tasteful celebrity magazines. [Photographs later uploaded].
Now too late in the day for more bookshops. We meander across sunlit evening country to Malmesbury and The Old Bell. The day has been hijacked – but they were right. It’s not just about books.