Friday, 9 October 2009

The best laid schemes …

… o' mice an' men gang aft agley and so they did for me, this sunny day.

Yesterday I'd found that a book I needed to read before next week's tutorial was not available in the university library but that, as it's by a popular historian (Christopher Hibbert), it is kept in the county reserve stock in Aylesbury and they said that I could come in and collect it.

Julia was due to go to Twickenham today for a luncheon for old Richmond neighbours, with a quick visit to a friend of even longer standing in Hammersmith, so I suggested that I drive to Aylesbury this morning and that she take the car on to London while I return to Buckingham by bus. Off we went, I stop a stone's throw from the stock room, put the brake on and get out with the engine still running for Julia to take over and drive south. I get the book, catch the hourly Buckingham bus with only a short wait (passed quickly by beginning to read it) and get back home without a care until …

… until I put my hand in my pocket for the front door key and felt the presence of the starter gizmo, the thing that our new Renault has instead of an ignition key which merely needs to be on your person rather than in the car. I rush indoors: the other gizmo is in its normal place, not in Julia's bag. I look at the answering machine: it's flashing: there are messages from her saying that she's in Hammersmith but of course she can't restart the car and would I prefer her to get it taken to a garage or come down myself with the spare gizmo? From a cost point of view that's a no-brainer, so I phone her to tell her to go to Twickenham by public transport, I'll collect the car from Hammersmith and then pick her up at three o'clock after lunch.

So, bang go my plans for the day.

Coach, coach, tube, bus, car: I arrive twenty five minutes late, lunchless and, despite being able to read on the coach, a bit miffed. Christopher, not Julia's hostess Tina, opens the door. "Come in," he says "the ladies are still chin-wagging over coffee upstairs". He gives me a slice of what little was left of the delectable fish pie and a tumbler of wine: I quickly feel better. We talk easily and intimately, as old friends do. I tell him about the course I am doing: he tells me, because of our overlap of interest, of the obituary he has recently written of a colleague of his when he was running the RSA.

"They didn't at first want to run an obituary on him", he continued, "so I had a word with Fiona McCartney, who's got a lot of pull at the Guardian and that quickly sorted things out."

"You mean, the person who did that remarkable biography of Eric Gill?"

"Yes, and of Byron and William Morris: she's working on Burne-Jones at the moment."

I quickly outline my wish to interview prominent biographers to get their personal statements about how new technology has changed the way they work and ask "Could you get me an introduction?"

The auguries are good.

It's an ill wind that blows no good.

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