.. and I answered the call over three days this week.
The talk at the Persephone Bookshop (Mothers and Children in Persephone Books) happened on Wednesday, to a very appreciative audience full of friendly faces who looked engrossed each time I glanced up, so I am hoping it all lived up to expectations. It can be hard to know how and where to pitch any talk, but I had taken a particular line with this one and just hoped it would all make sense and hold together. The transcripts of both halves (before and after lunch) will be on here this coming week in a series of posts, one for each of the four books, so those who weren't there can share in the event and maybe add to the interesting discussion that we had over delicious salads and fruit compotes.
I have to say a few thank yous for great kindnesses...
...to Persephone for inviting me and for sending me away with six free books in a lovely bag which I wasn't expecting.
...to those of you who read here and who came. It was lovely to meet and chat with everyone.
....to Curzon who gave me a bed, supper and wonderful conversation the night before, as well as guiding me back across London to Lamb's Conduit Street, thus saving the 4am start and the worry about signal failures, flood defence works and other delaying hazards that seem to have beset the trains this last few weeks.
...to Maggie and John who travelled from Liverpool with one of their wonderful and well-fed fruitcakes aboard and which was devoured within nano seconds by everyone.
...to Rowena who handed me a box of Hummingbird Bakery cupcakes which made it all the way home and were enjoyed with Bookhound and the Tinker over coffee.
...to everyone who said really encouraging things about the talk afterwards and stayed to chat, lovely to meet Gill who comments here, and Jane too, Adele Geras and Carol and I am sure several more.
I had also been booked to talk about dovegreyreader at a Chairman's Lunch the next day at the University Women's Club in Mayfair, as well as having dinner and meeting the club's book group and staying over on the Wednesday evening. I might only have been to Mayfair via the Monopoly board in the past so this was another treat, more of which soon, especially about the club, a fascinating and well-kept secret but one which they would love more people to know of. Established in 1883, and a very warm, friendly and welcoming place, the club's history is fascinating to say nothing of a Dorothy L. Sayers connection.
Finally on my way home I visited the new exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, Anarchy and Beauty - William Morris and His Legacy 1860-1960 on its opening day. Look at the dates...the legacy aspect was fascinating and revealed plenty of craftspeople I had never heard of, so lots of lives to explore and much more about all that soon too. The hardback catalogue, not yet published but available to buy at the gallery for £30. I shall wait for You Know Where.
I also have to thank Carol S who very kindly e mailed me the number of a very reliable cab company in London, journeys pre-booked at a very reasonable fixed price, no meters clocking up at the speed of light whilst the traffic around you is travelling sub-snail...this ultimately proved to be a Very Good Thing.
Wouldn't it be a treat to travel in style for once I thought and there was my cab waiting to take me from South Audley Street to the National Portrait Gallery, delivering me safely at the door for £11, luggage then safely stowed in the cloakroom for a suggested but not compulsory donation of £1 per item (yet another very useful thing to know if you are in London) and off I went.
Finding the cab as I emerged was slightly trickier but achieved because the driver kindly rang my mobile and directed me to where he was parked. It was 4.30pm, my train was at 6pm, the cab company had thought that this would be plenty of time, but what we hadn't bargained for was London on the Tavistock equivalent of Market Day with added road-works in The Square. Gridlock, complete and utter gridlock, and as we crawled along, stopped, inched along a little more the minutes ticked on....and on.
The driver, Indian I think, was absolutely brilliant comparing the chaos to that on tube-strike days as he wove in and out, changing the route in the hope of avoiding the chaos, pushing his way into solid streams of determined and relentless taxis whose drivers all had that look of nonchalent menace.
'Shall I get out and hop on the tube,' I kept asking.
'No Madam I will get you there...'
I can still get on the tube...'
'We are only five minutes away Madam, don't worry I will get you there...'
Eventually, at 5.35pm and at a complete standstill it became clear that getting me there on time was not going to happen.
Distraught, the driver pulled up at the entrance to Portland Square tube, two stops from Paddington, I leapt out, he had my suitcase out, handle up, ready for the dash and I paid him the full agreed price plus a tip.
'No Madam , I have failed you, you must take at least half of this back.'
There then followed that ridiculous thing of money being pushed one to the other while the traffic honked and hooted around us (doubtless other people trying to catch the 6pm Paddington to Penzance) ..
'No, I said, please keep it, I am really grateful, you have tried your best, this isn't your fault,' and off I ran.
I should probably apologise to all the people I mowed down on the way, but the Train Fairy was on my team and I reached Paddington with five minutes to spare, breathing deeply though with my blood pressure possibly in orbit, and lord knows how my Hummingbird Bakery cup cakes were feeling about it all.
The train was heaving and I learned later that the signals had been down and trains out of Paddington had only just returned to normal, perhaps that partially explained the road chaos, but I collapsed into my seat and immediately rang the cab driver.
'Hello, it's me, your last passenger, I'm on the train, I'm fine...'
'Oh Madam, I am so very sorry, I have been so worried about you, I have only moved fifty yards since I dropped you off. I'm going home now, I've had enough but it will take me hours.'
'Have a good evening and thank you again,' I said before thinking what a stupid thing for me to say.
It has to be people like that who keep London going round doesn't it, what a star. It replenishes any dwindling love I might have had for a city that seemed to have gained about a million more people since my last visit. I seriously think the iPhone has slowed London (and everywhere else) down too. I love to walk, but don't ask me how many times I almost tripped over people ambling along texting and talking on their phones.
So relieved was I to be on the train and heading home that I didn't even worry about the quadrophonic surround sound of a thousand crisp packets (when did crisp packets get so noisy?) from people who had planned all this better than me and had time to buy food.
Nor was I in the least bit envious of the chap across the aisle who made a protracted palava about peeling off the cellophane lid from his delicious looking chinese meal, which he then proceeded to eat with chopsticks as the train lurched on its way.
And no I wasn't concealing a smirk when it all dropped onto his tie.
Or what about the man eating the Macdonald chips.
Envious me...no way.
Nor was I that bothered about the gigantic designer Great Dane splayed and snoring its head off in the aisle which needed to be negotiated (tip toeing inbetween giant paws and elongated tail) on every toilet or buffet trip.
Nor was I even that bothered that the buffet queue when I finally reached it was half-way down the carriage and consequently I didn't get my hot chocolate (beyond food by this point) until Bristol.
Nor was I worried for the author of the phD being commented on by his advisor (I assume) on a laptop screen in the seat in front of me. It was in red, how could I help but read that whilst there was some that was quite pleasing in this there was concern over the referencing of secondary sources and things will need to improve.
Nope, none of that bothered me in the slightest, because all I could think of was that lovely cab driver. I probably arrived home before he did.