Hijacked by Wild Swimmers

Karen and Anne

Karen and Anne

Slightly controversial start to Wednesday.  Stayed overnight at the Randolph in Oxford – The First Lady had coyly admitted it was a long unfulfilled ambition. But at breakfast, the waitress simply poured out the tea without so much as a by-your-leave. Yes, just poured it out – offending all known protocols involving English ladies and their absolute command of the teapot. “Never, in my life …”, began The First Lady.

blackwellsI quietly slope off to visit Blackwell’s before a full-scale diplomatic incident ensues. Blackwell’s – and how the weight of memory descends. It was surely here, as a student, forty or more years ago, that I first saw genuinely old books nakedly and unashamedly exposed for sale. A window-display of seventeenth-century plays, unless my memory is amiss. Fell in love there and then. By my last year in Oxford I had  moved in with a young woman who worked there. Where it all began. Still a fabulous bookshop. Delighted to see Andrew Hunter there now, up on the second floor. A talk about books and dongles. Young Derek Walker has a wifi idea for Olympia. Buy some books – and saunter down to Sanders of Oxford on the High.

sandersA charming young lady swiftly produces a folder of unusual and uncommon London prints. I swoop up a bundle of them, but hit the first really embarrassing moment of the tour when presidential credit card fails to rise to the occasion. But swiftly sorted out, and onwards we go.

We call in on Karen Thomson, who has gone out of her way to lay on a little lunch in her garden.

Susanne Schulz-Falster

Susanne Schulz-Falster

And Susanne Schulz-Falster turns up as well – and this is a perfect summer’s day. Desultory talk of the ideal bookfair, but then Karen and The First Lady declare in unison that it’s too hot and steamy for books and book-talk – they are going ‘wild swimming’.

‘Wild swimming’ – when did that phrase enter the language? What happened to reticence? To reserve? To restraint? What happened to understatement? Girls, this is the Evenlode, not the Amazon. This is what we used to call ‘going for a dip’.

Karen Thomson

Karen Thomson

Anyway – a lovely drive through Oxfordshire villages to Karen’s secret spot – her paradise on the river.  Name and co-ordinates withheld. Shame I can’t upload the pictures, but these candid shots are perhaps more suitable for one of those tasteful celebrity magazines. [Photographs later uploaded].

The First Lady Swims Wild

The First Lady Swims Wild

Now too late in the day for more bookshops. We meander across sunlit evening country to Malmesbury and The Old Bell. The day has been hijacked – but they were right. It’s not just about books.

About Laurence Worms - Ash Rare Books

Laurence Worms has owned and run Ash Rare Books since 1971. He represented the antiquarian book trade on the (British) National Book Committee from 1993 to 2002 and has been six times an elected member of the Council of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association. He was largely responsible for drafting the Association’s Code of Good Practice first introduced in 1997 (and its recent update), served as Honorary Secretary of the Association from 1998 to 2001 and as President from 2011 to 2013. He is a former member of the Council of the Bibliographical Society and continues to serve on the Council of the London Topographical Society. He writes and lectures on various aspects of the history of the book and map trades, and has lectured at the universities of Cambridge, London, Reading and Sheffield, as well as at the Bibliographical Society, the Royal Geographical Society, the Warburg Institute, the National Library of Scotland and at Gresham College and Stationers' Hall. Published work includes the compilation of fourteen ‘lives’ for the “Oxford Dictionary of National Biography”, a number of articles for “The Oxford Companion to the Book” and the chapter on early English maps and atlases for the fourth volume of “The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain”. Essays on the British map trade are also appearing in “The History of Cartography” published by the University of Chicago Press. His long-awaited “British Map Engravers”, co-written with Ashley Baynton-Williams, was published to critical acclaim in 2011. He also contributed the numerous biographical notes to Peter Barber’s hugely successful “London : A History in Maps”, co-published by the British Library and the London Topographical Society in 2012.
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2 Responses to Hijacked by Wild Swimmers

  1. Tim Bryars says:

    Thanks for the Progress report Laurence, and sorry if I ever doubted you: only dodgy Wi-Fi could have delayed your posts! Tell the First Lady that I agree with her about the Randolph – it does seem to be getting complacent. My poor wife had to send back a Bellini made with warm, flat Champagne instead of chilled Prosecco! A cocktail-hour horror only surpassed by a mixture of Archer’s Peach Schnapps and Champagne – if you can imagine such a thing – but that was offered on a traffic island outside Nuneaton. As far as the books & booksellers are concerned, it’s too easy to dwell on the passing of Oxford bookshops which were a welcome distraction from getting any proper work done (Waterfield’s, Thornton’s, Titles etc.) and it’s refreshing to be reminded that one can still go there and buy good books.


  2. garethjames says:

    Flat champagne! It’s off the list!!


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