Monday, 14 June 2010

Campus Bookstore, Haverford, PA.

In Norfolk for the weekend, in Wells next the Sea when LO! there is reception and the phone goes ding, ding.

I leave Luke standing with the over sixties in Costcutter where he is cutting costs by buying the components of a picnic lunch, his sunburnt forehead glistening sulphurously like the tip of an unlit match - just an England shirt and a neck tattoo away from looking inconspicuous, and go outside to check it.  At least, that's my excuse.

It's from my friend Alex, aka Karl for the purposed of fiction, who, together with his 'over-exercised Jockess wife, teaches at a liberal arts college in Pennsylvania' and who has been browsing in the bookshop of said liberal arts college and come across my book.  I'm delirious, and unlike Luke, not just because I've got incipient sunstroke.  Though I haven't heard a thing since it came out with all the fanfare of a chair being drawn out from under a table in a remote cabin in the middle of an untamed wilderness - there it is, looking elegant on a table, in a real, live bookstore in a real live town (well the 'live' bit is maybe something of an exaggeration).

I rush back to show Luke as he finally emerges from the store bringing the sunshine with him on his glowing head and casting Costcutter into a shadowy gloom.

'Look Luke!'  I say holding up the phone with a microscopic picture of me face up on a table.

'Hello precious girl,' he says as I bound towards him, but alas he's talking to a large yellow labrador with fur that appears to have been tumble dried and whose only skill seems to be panting, which he stoops to stroke, causing a minor eclipse of the sun as his head disappears into shade.

'It's from Alex,'  I persist...

He looks momentarily interested.  Alex is also the name of his daughter.

'Alex, you know - Karl in the book...'

His interest wanes.  'I can't remember.  I don't remember much about books after I've read them'.

He carries on patting the dog, whispering endearments and giving it the sort of blonde attention that should be mine.

Turns out there are an awful lot of people with dogs in Norfolk, and a great many of them walking across Holkham Sands, each of whom (dogs, of course not people, silly) are patted enthusiastically as I trail after him for miles and miles and miles and, only just managing to avoid having my head blown off by the gale force wind coming off the sea that makes keeping your eyes open difficult and standing upright only possible because your sand-soaked shoes and jeans act as ballast.  Eventually we shelter from the wind in a hollow of the dunes.  Bliss.  I lie back in the powdery sand that sprinkles across my factor 500 face like fairy dust, and smile contentedly.  Luke lays down beside me and rests his head on my chest.


I stroke sand into his gelled hair.

'That's lovely,' he whispers and I'm just about to murmur my agreement when he moves slowly across my body and prostrates himself inches from a little clump of grass.  This is more like it...  I wriggle accommodatingly. 

'Oh, look, it's a cinnamon moth...'  He whispers.

Frankly, the only way I'm going to get any affection is if I either grow wings or a tail.

Eight miles, one cream tea, an ice cream, half an baguette, a cheese and onion pasty and a slice of birthday cake later, we're back at the hotel.  I'm prostrate on the bed, in pretty much the same position as my book is on the table of the Haverford Bookstore, and with half the energy and about 5 percent of the allure.  Apparently.  Luke however is curtain twitching and scanning the flat fields hopefully.  With binoculars.

'The guy downstairs said there are a lot of hares around here. It's famous for them. It would just have been perfect if a hare had jumped across the path.  If only I had managed to see one.'

Outside the barley is rippling to and fro but no obliging jackrabbit appears.  Anywhere.   It has been a very long day.  I reach for his hand and try to urge him to lie down, shut the f*** up about hares and make the weekend somewhat less clinical than an episode of  Great Surgical Disasters.

'Oh, I'd love to see a hare...'  He rests his forehead on the glass pensively causing a slight hissing sound and the faintest smell of burning.  I wonder if now would be a good time to give him the England temporary tattoo that came in a packet with wafers of pink-as-a-two-week holiday in Torremolinos bubble gums at Nobby's for Value.  Instead I ask to borrow his Swiss Army knife, pick up a couple of leaflets for The World Wildlife Trust and go into the bathroom.

Tellingly he shows absolutely no curiosity.

Three seconds later I come back out wearing somewhat fewer clothes and a pair of long cut-out ears advertising conservation areas balanced lopsidedly on my head.

'Look, stand back and squint.  Now you've seen a sodding hare, okay?  So switch the ruddy light off and come to bed.'

He obliges.

The room remains floodlit.

I sigh wearily.

'Wait a minute.  I've got you a little present,'  I say and reach for the temporary tattoo.

Friday, 4 June 2010


I wasn't at the launch below but at a dinner for our other author Maureen Gibbon whose uncompromising book 'Thief' is also published this month.  I was one of the early champions of the novel which divided our office quite starkly between those who shrank from its no holds barred look at sexuality, and desire and those for whom it struck a chord - or in my case, a whole organ recital.

It's a disturbing book, hard to read and difficult to put down and Maureen, whose real-life events inspired the novel, has been doing the rounds of radio and newspaper interviews that most authors would give a kidney for.  It makes my afternoon at the East Tilbury library look fairly shoddy.  If you remembered that the most famous thing about East Tilbury is that there was a Bata shoe factory there once upon a time, you might think that my previous sentence was a pun.  Indeed not.  There are no puns in East Tilbury - only punishment.  Not that Maureen has been given an easy ride by all her interviewers, but to hell with them.  The arsy one was a man and what do they know about what goes on inside a woman's head?

Granted, not that much happening in mine that particular evening.  Giving my best impression of airhead, honed from years of practice, I sat at the table with Maureen, Jenni Murray from Women's Hour whose every velvetty sentence seemed to herald a really interesting 'coming up next' introduction which kept one constantly in thrall, Maureen's New York based agent who looks all of seventeen but is actually closer to my age than most women would acknowledge outside of a border crossing- though if I looked like her I'd cheerfully confess to being a serial killer, and some clever woman from the FT with a handshake like having your fingers caught in the doors of an elevator. 

Mr T sat amongst us nine women managing not to look like a Russian gangster.  I drank too much, too quickly and left early, therefore missing the ensuing fun that seemed to have gone on until four am and included a transvestite banjo player.

Ah life, I'm always somewhere else when it happens.

Michael Ridpath's Launch