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!