When the alarm told me it was time to get ready to go to London, I was pleased (or as pleased as I'm ever going to be at 7:30 a.m.) to see that the sky was striped in rose, the sun about to rise. By the time I'd showered, the sun was out. I timed my walk to the station just so: 40 minutes there, 5 minutes to get my ticket from the machine, 7 minutes to wait in line for a coffee. I boarded the 9:15 express to Kings Cross at 9:12, took my seat, got out my book. A few minutes after 10, I was on platform 1, striding back to the British Library.
Time works differently when I'm researching. I sat in front of a microfilm machine, transcribing letters from 1893-4, and then reviews from 1893, for four hours straight. Just when I thought the clippings of reviews would never end on the reel, they ended, and I left for my last bits of bookwork, which took so little time that had it not been for the microfilm, I'd have felt silly about going back to the library at all.
Unless, of course, I'd gone on to have the evening I had in the Charing Cross Road bookshops anyway. There's one shop whose whereabouts I've been trying to remember for a long time; I found wonderful Virago editions there in 1999, in a basement full of good-quality, well-priced paperbacks. I thought I'd found the store again earlier in the month, when I went to London with one of my Clevelander students, but the basement in the place we visited was not even slightly very nice.
Henry Pordes Books, on the other hand, is very very nice, and it still has that basement. I left with three more Viragos for my set--and one of them might well be the subject of a piece of writing sometime in the near future. Used bookstores have often been my best research sites.
And then, and then, in Blackwell's, just as I was about to turn and leave, my eye fell on this piece of astonishment. I downgraded my dinner plans immediately and afforded it.
I am chattering tonight because someone I know is facing something difficult, and because I have to write a talk for Tuesday, and because these two things, combined, have me on edge.
The man who sat across from me on the Underground had meticulous fingernails. The boy who'd sat next to me earlier was sending text messages from two phones at a time, one in each hand. I fantasized that he was texting himself, as we hurtled there under the ground.