Tuesday 20 September 2011

Londoning (a many varied post...)

I'm back to what will hopefully become normal schedule now - and several busy days in London to report! This picture is a sneak preview of what I will talk about...

As I mentioned in my last post, I've been attending a Middlebrow Conference called The Popular Imagination and the Dawn of Modernism, and very enjoyable it was too. (Hello to the people I met there, if you're now reading this!) Well, it was enjoyable tinged with nerves, unsurprisingly, since this was my first time presenting outside of a graduate conference in Oxford. My paper was called (laboured pun alert) The Love Child, The Witch and The Spinster: The Fantastic Middlebrow in Two 1920s Novels. Those novels were The Love Child by Edith Olivier and Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner - both, incidentally, very good indeed - although even at a Middlebrow Conference, where names like E.M. Delafield, Elizabeth von Arnim, and E.H. Young were thrown around confidently, nobody had read The Love Child...

I was on a wonderfully cohesive panel, all of talking about 1920s spinsters, including a paper on E.H. Young's Miss Mole and The Missess Mallett, which delighted me. In the interests of keeping their research private, I'd better not share too much - and, indeed, with some vague notion of Intellectual Property I shan't post my paper on here, but I'm happy to email it to anybody who fancies reading 3000 words on those novels. Just email me, or mention it in the comments. Oh, and while I was there I had the very great pleasure of meeting Tanya - we'd pre-arranged to meet up, and it was so lovely to have someone I 'knew' at the event.

Rather than any intellectual recap here, then, I shall instead relate the hilarious train journey I had on the Thursday, sitting opposite a delightful mother-and-daughter pair. The daughter, I quickly learnt, was almost seven years old, and called Megan. They were on their way to Disneyland - accompanied, I should add, by a singing Zac Efron doll ('Can I Have This Dance?' from High School Musical 3, since you ask) and a non-singing Justin Bieber doll. Megan was convinced that Justin had cellulitis (how on EARTH does she know this word?) and ignored her mother's correction that she meant laryngitis. After a while of silently laughing to myself, I started to scribble down their conversation... it makes the mother sound a bit mean, but you should know that she was clearly joking throughout. It was evident that they had an amazing mother/daughter relationship, and just being near them brightened up my day. And it might brighten up yours...

Megan: What are you getting me for my birthday, Mum?

Mum: The trip to Disneyland is for your birthday! What more do you want from me, blood?

Megan: Daddy's getting me a necklace, and Nanna's giving me money. Will Auntie Michelle get me Barbies?

Mum: No love, honestly, she won't get you Barbies, I promise you.

Megan: Why not?

Mum: She hates them, love. She thinks Barbies oppress women.

Megan: [pause] I want a Barbie!

Mum: You can buy one with your own money, I'm not buying you one. Seven year olds don't need Barbies.

Megan: I love Barbies! I'd play with them more, only I've got all my homework to do.

Mum: Oh yes! Is that before or after I make you scrub the kitchen floor? And clean the toilet with a toothbrush?

And on it went, putting me into a great frame of mind for the conference. But my three days of conferencing did not lead to a well-earned rest in Oxford on Sunday. No, it saw me back on the good old Oxford-to-Paddington train. This time with unadulterated bookish fun in mind...

I met up with not one, not two, but three delightful bloggers on Sunday. Guest of honour was Darlene, over from Canada, and also very honourable were Mary and Rachel. (Mary isn't fond of being in photographs, so she was chief-in-charge photographer.) I arrived shortly after them at the cafe of the National Gallery, and from then on we spent the next five or so hours chatting nineteen-to-the-dozen, buying armfuls of books, eating quantities of cake, and following the Virginia Woolf Guided Walk (before sloping off to, er, eat cake).

I'll devote another post to the books I bought, but they were several - from the shops on Charing Cross Road. In Henry Porde Books there were dozens of our-sort-of-novels (Delafield, Arnim, and Young all featured here too) most of which had one lady's name inside them. I can't remember it now... Muriel Nicholas, maybe? Sadly my tastes were rather *too* close to this fine lady's, since our libraries overlapped somewhat too much. I rather riled Rachel by the number of times my response, to proffered books, was "I've got it." Not, of course "I've read it"...

When I meet up with bloggers, it never feels like I'm meeting a stranger. I know their voices so well from their blogs, and (especially with people like Darlene) feel a very real warmth and affection from them - even when I have never heard their voice or seen their face. As we traipsed through bookshops and along streets, Darlene and I bonded over our shared inability to navigate ourselves out of a dead-end street. Darlene also brought us all some lovely maple Canadian candies in a Canadian tin - I love tins and boxes for stationery and so forth, and (it goes without saying) I love sweets. Serendipitously, Rachel and Darlene had won my giveaway of As It Was by Helen Thomas, so I was able to hand out those too. I just felt bad not to have anything to press into Mary's hands!

It was such a wonderful day. Really one to remember. Here's a final picture, us showing off our spoils from Bea's of Bloomsbury - and Rachel looking sad because she'd bravely decided to save her cupcakes for her mum and sister, and couldn't join in our icing-consumption. Oh, how I do love all the joys of blogging!


  1. What a great trip, and I love that conversation between mom and daughter. Too funny. I would feel very similarly about Barbie - so go mom and aunt for not indulging! :)

  2. Oh what fun you had -- sounds like a brilliant afternoon. One day I will make it to one of these bloggers get-togethers...
    The two books you gave your paper on sound great -- have you ever reviewed them on here? I'd be really interested to read the paper if you want to email it to me.

  3. Cakes and books my favourite things!
    That conversation would have made me smile - did you end up talking to them? I loved Lolly Willowes (I've not read The Love child) and I'd be interested to read your paper too if you are happy to send it to me? And maybe we can have some tea and cake when I'm next in Oxford as I'd love to catch up and hear more about the conference :)

  4. Reeling from the sight of all those cakes, Simon! So glad to hear you had such a wonderful time; I'm envious. Love 'Lolly Willows' although I haven't read it for years, but thanks to reading your blog, I have now read 'The Love Child'. What a haunting novel.

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  6. Virginia Woolf and cake - now that's my kind of day out!

  7. Just GREEN with envy over this post! The Cakes! The Conference! The Paper! The Book Snob! Oh how I'd give my right eye to be you right now...

    And your paper sounds absolutely brilliant. As soon as you combined 1920's with spinster I nearly had a heartattack. I'd love to have a read if you'd be willing to share it...

  8. Me too! Me too! I'd love to read your paper too Simon: two books I like very much and I bet you have lots of interesting things to say about them.

    I expect I'll be that mother in a few years, without the good humour. I'm dreading the Barbie age.

  9. What a wonderful jaunt! And such great company! It was lovely to see you and Rachel together. I don't know the other lady's blog, but will remedy this after I've posted this.

    I loved the conversation between Megan and her mother. Well done in copying it down!

    I'd be very interested to read your essay/talk on Miss Mole and the Misses Mallet. Miss Mole is one of my all-time favourite books, but I haven't read the other yet (though, of course, it's sitting waiting on the Virago shelf...)

    Yes, that's the trouble when you visit a bookshop and find that all the books you'd like to buy, you already own! But it's cheaper that way!

  10. Great pictures, Simon. I'm glad I managed to get the teabags in!
    It was lovely to meet you. So nice to go book-browsing with tall friends! Now I realise why you and Rachel come across so many great finds.
    And I was thrilled when you pointed out Vera Brittain's house.

  11. Fabulous to meet up with fellow book-lovers - I always always look forward to reading through your detailed posts - always brimming with enthusiasm, verve, and just the right dash of sarcasm sprinkled here and there. Hahaha. And yes, I echo all the other comments - I enjoyed the mother-daughter conversation - reminds me a little bit of my mundane, day-to-day one with my nine year old daughter (who by the way, does not like barbies, but has an entire collection of zac efron and justin bieber dolls - she prefers the male dolls, thankyouverymuch). :)

  12. Oh Simon, meeting you, Rachel, Mary and Claire has been the highlight of my trip! Love the photos by the way, hope you don't mind if I swipe them since I was too busy talking and eating to whip out my camera.

  13. What a week you are having - both with events and blogger meet-ups! Thanks for sharing it with us.

  14. Such fun!! I LOVED meeting gorgeous Darlene and seeing you and Mary again, even though you had ALL the books in the entire shop! I didn't see you sneak that Edith Wharton into your hands...if I had I would have wrestled it off you!

    What a lovely time we had. We should do it more often!!


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