Booked into the Avon Gorge Hotel in Bristol – well, Clifton, really – on Tuesday. Room with a view over the Gorge turned out to be a standing-on-one-leg and seriously neck-craning affair – but a quiet (if forceful ) word from the First Lady soon saw us upgraded to a suite with a thrilling view of the Isambard Kingdom Brunel suspension bridge (see correction to this statement in the comments from Julia Elton) – his last major work before forging the Olympic rings the other night.
Good to be back in Bristol – one of the great cities, architecturally and in every other way. Anne was a student there – familiar haunts for her – and, yes, she was that legendary barmaid at the Coronation Tap. Cream tea on the terrace in blazing sunshine. Exquisite.
Brief doze, then off to Bishopston to meet up with ABA stalwart Steve Liddle (and Kath). Rachel Lee (Rachel Lee Rare Books) had come over from Warmley – how kind of her and how nice to see her again. Handsomely greeted and treated at Steve’s local restaurant, Delmonico’s. Excellent meal. Heard more about Steve’s early days as a rock star (catch a glimpse as his drums power the driving rhythm of Fischer-Z’s So Long – video link to the right). Reminisced with Rachel about the ILAB Congress in Tokyo where we first met all those years ago. Delightful evening – although the freshly-charged camera battery was somehow not charged at all – no pictures. Sorry to all.
Back to Steve’s the following morning to hunt down some books (carefully skirting the drum-kits). Nice little pile of some quirky and out-of-the-way books – and you can all look forward to his offering some books from comedian Ronnie Barker’s library sometime soon – including a wonderfully funny spoof family album. Too hot by lunchtime to do anything much but retire to a shady spot on the hotel terrace (Anne had found the wonderful Bristol Lido – the country’s oldest). Later on a quiet cider or two in the Coronation Tap for old times’ sake.
A train to Bath Spa on Thursday morning could only mean a visit to Bayntun’s. Forty years since my first visit there – an equally hot day I seem to recall. Jeremy Peters has been there about that long – and so good to see him still pacing this most elegant and handsome of bookshops. And here’s the boss himself, Ed Bayntun-Coward, hustling up a coffee. The true story of that delicate pale green paint which always adorns the Bayntun interior.
Pre-war government surplus, taken out of service when its oh-so-soothing colour was found actually to agitate patients in mental hospitals. Brief chat about book-trade matters. But far too many books to look at to dawdle. A very handsome pile soon emerges – can’t wait for the parcels to arrive.
Off to Freshford for lunch with Janet Clarke. The train follows the Avon through rolling hills and wonderful country. Another gorgeous day. A glass of wine or two in the garden. Janet specialises in cookery books – and it shows, it really does. A superb lunch – a beetroot cup to start, salmon with Janet’s famous khaki sauce (capers, cornichons and secrets – see the Tamasin Day-Lewis interview in the Blogroll to the right). A delicious last-of-the-raspberries concoction to follow. And Janet entertains us the while with tales of fly-fishing (her other passion) – and some trenchant views on book-trade matters. A glorious afternoon – and the hospitality not yet done. We are sent on our way with a box of wonderful eggs from prize-winning chickens, as well as Janet’s home-made quince-jelly, redcurrant-jelly, blackcurrant-jelly, marmalade and Lord knows what else.
Thank you, Janet. Thank you, all. Splendid couple of days – good books, fine company, warm welcomes. We’ll be back. (And, you know, they are all very happy to sell books to other people too – give it a try).
Oh dear, oh dear. I know I’m nit-picking (boring bibliographical habit) but actually the Clifton Suspension bridge which we see is actually designed by John Hawkshaw and William Barlow to quite a different design to IKB’s original, notably with a steeper catenary (hence funny tops on the piers), different design of deck, more chains etc. etc. The only bits which are by IKB are the masonry piers and the enormous brick abutment on the Leigh Woods side, which is what swallowed up the money and left the bridge incomplete throughout IKB’s lifetime. It remained in this state until 1865 (6 years after IKB’s death!). It’s still a nice bridge though! Sorry, lecture over!
Standing in corner with dunce’s cap on. Actually knew that Brunel didn’t complete it (although I thought the chains from Hungerford were his) – but the Olympic Opening Ceremony connection seemed too good to miss.
Yes, the Hungerford chains were used but only as a relatively small chunk and of course it was completed in IKB’s honour. In fact, it is likely that if IKB had completed it with the materials technology available to him in the 1830s, it would have been reconstructed, as was the Menai suspension bridge in the 1930s. Anyway, this all goes to show that I do read your blog!