What I should be doing now is telling you all about my last week in England, as I promised. And since should is the governess of will, to coin a phrase, that’s exactly what I’ll do. It all started off with a visit to the very wonderful Jen and Chris Hamilton-Emery, who publish fantastic books in exquisite editions, making their writers happy and the fortunate readers of those writers even happier. They are, of course, Salt Publishing and without them, and it, the world would be a sadder and less literate place. They also make excellent coffee and gave me a couple of freebies. What I was doing there was meeting them for the first time, which was great, and picking up some pre-publication copies of The Scent of Cinnamon, my new short story collection. And a very lovely thing it is. I think we can all be proud of ourselves.
I then had a walk round Cambridge and discovered that whole tracts of the city are now given over to mobile phone shops. I stumbled into a queue of McFly fans waiting for autographs from two McFlies in HMV. I looked for two books I wanted, neither of them particularly arcane (OK, Edmund White’s My Lives and some stories, any stories, by David Foster Wallace… Satisfied?), found neither at Heffer’s and both at Borders, which came as a shock. Bowes and Bowes is now the CUP bookshop as, of course, you all knew, but I didn’t and was disappointed. I almost had lunch at the Gardenia, in memory of Jonathan Williams (‘street food’), but ended up with a rather miserable (in both senses) king prawn salad, sitting outside a place near the market in the unseasonable heat.
My other reason for being in Cambridge was to go to the annual lecture at my old college, Emmanuel, to give ‘moral support’ (though what qualifies me for this I’m not sure, other than a willingness to be entertained) to Griff Rhys Jones, who lived on the other side of the roof garden in South Court when I was doing drugs and so on for three utterly delightful years. I used to watch him stride up and down in his room at three a.m in search
of whatever was needed to complete his history essay, before he wisely switched to English and could enjoy the opportunities offered by constant leisure. Griff was in fine form, as usual, still striding up and down, though with shorter hair. Dinner followed and was really very good, another marked change from the Cambridge I remember. I met David Lowen, who somehow finds time to run the Emmanuel Society, and agreed to take part in a Literary Day at the college. I’ll keep you informed.
My other (non-personal) reason for being in England last week was to take part in Ride the Word III. Well, I had a great time, reading the final story from the collection, previosuly available only in Dutch translation (and how often can one say that?). Elizabeth Baines and Vanessa Gebbie have both blogged about the event and impartial judgements on my contribution can be found there, but it was a great pleasure to be on the bill
with three such interesting and accomplished poets – Simon Barraclough, Vincent De Souza and Isobel Dixon – and, in particular, with short-story writer, Jay Merill, who was an absolute revelation and a delight. Add to that the opportunity it gave me catch up with old friends and meet new ones – you know who you are – and I couldn’t have been happier. Which brings us back to Salt, without which most dishes would be very dull indeed.