31 March 2009

The Book I Read

I used to watch the BBC TV adaptation of All Creatures Great and Small, which ran from 1978 to 1990, though I don't recall when I stopped watching it: no doubt there would have been a hiatus from 1980, when I moved to London and was free of television for some time. Anyway, if anyone had told me back in the late seventies that in 2009 I would be chasing the leading actress round an Oxford college, I would have been rather surprised.

I've been to the Oxford Literary Festival today, doing minding duties (looking after speakers) and the second of the three events I covered was ex-actress, now olive farmer, Carol Drinkwater. I preceded that by "minding" James Woudhuysen and Joe Kaplinsky, whose book Energise! is a searing polemic (James's words, I think) about energy and climate change - challenging what has become conventional thinking thanks to Bono and Al Gore. This seems to involve disparaging hippies: on p42 there's a photo of what look to me like a bunch of ordinary guys installing a solar panel, but the caption insists, unnecessarily, that they are "hippies". In fact, I learn, they are the publisher and a couple of his mates. A very interesting session which I must blog some more later (not tonight!).

One thing that came out of that session is the unsurprising news that the amount of water we have on earth is constant: the ojnly problem with it is that it's not always where ideally it should be. That chimed with the fact that Carol's new book deals, along with everything else you could reasonably want to know about olive trees, with "diminishing water reserves", giving me a great hook on which to hang the brief introduction I had to give to her talk, which (along with the other two I did) I failed to make the most of. I was conscious of the fact that the audience had paid to hear the speaker, not me, but that didn't excuse me making a mess of it.

After I had seen Joe on the way to the station, and found a cash machine so I could buy a copy of their book which James then signed for me (and he had uttered the immortal, and quite irrelevant, parting words: "Don't forget intellectual property is intellectual, and most importantly it's property" or something like that, and I had retorted that it was a bad thing, with which he agreed) I found myself chasing Carol, eventually catching her in the venue for her talk with only a couple of minutes to spare. Her talk was charming and interesting, and I couldn't resist getting a copy of her book too (also, of course, signed): and I particularly enjoyed chatting about running with a journalist who had interviewed the speaker several times and was meeting her for the firs time. How, in a room containing nearly a hundred people (I guess) can I find the runner (or she find me)?

I escorted Carol and her agent to where a taxi was waiting for them. The college proctor or porter or whatever he's called on the gate seemed as keen to wish me a safe journey as the two ladies: I explained that I wasn't leaving, that I had more duties to perform, and we chatted briefly about All Creatures Greaat and Small as the taxi drove off.

Finally, I was to introduce Gillian Slovo, but there was no sign of her in the Green Room. The lady in charge offered me a glass of wine, but I was anxious to find my speaker and we thought she might have gone straight to the venue, Blackwells - a decent walk from Christ Church (running, of course, being out of the question in St Aldates for me). We decided that if she didn't appear in the Green Room by the time I had finished the glass, she would surely be at Blackwells - and so she was. Meantime, I made the acquaintances of several more interesting people - of which, perhaps, more anon.

Gilian was delightful, and her talk a revealing insight into her creative process as well as the subject matter of her newest novel, Black Orchids. She benefitted from the presence in the audicence of a book group which had read it, and their obvious enthusiasm for it meant that for the third time today I dound myself lining up to get a copy of a book signed.

Walking back to the car park, outside Christ Church I passed my interlocutor from earlier in the afternoon, now wearing a cap in place of his official bowler hat. I only realised it was him when he greeted me: not bad going to recognise me, after so short an acquaintance, although I suppose my best striped shirt and bright red tie might have helped.

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