First of all, let me give heartfelt thanks to all the ABA members who clubbed together at the end of my presidency to send Anne and myself away on holiday. “We’d like you to go as far away as possible”, was how one of them put it. Another chipped in with the advice that the money be handed over to Anne immediately to prevent it disappearing into the black fiscal hole of the finances of Ash Rare Books. All sound – and as it should be. A really splendid present – we thank you.
Anne soon took charge of the arrangements – we are off to old haunts in Gerald Durrell Land in the unspoilt north of Corfu. Out of the way fishing village in the lee of the mountains, tiny harbour, very occasional boat, a shop, a taverna or two, long lunches at Agatha’s right on the sea. Far, far, from electronic communication – so there will be no post next week.
All ideal – a complete rest. “Are you all prepared?”, said Anne on Monday. “As prepared as I need to be”, I cheerily replied – “No, you’re not”, she said – “You have nothing to wear”. “Isn’t it you that should be saying you have nothing to wear”, I asked hopefully – but no, it was my wardrobe that was being called into question. “The only thing you’ve got is shirts – you’re profligate with shirts”, she added.
I struggled with this concept – “profligate with shirts” – what does that mean? I surveyed my wardrobe. Two or three sombre (black or charcoal) business suits; a few pairs of the thick black socks I favour; a tweedy winter-weight jacket and some heavy grey flannels; a few chunky winter-weight jumpers not wholly moth-eaten; two rather leaky pairs of black shoes. But – save the aforementioned array of shirts – nothing whatsoever remotely suitable for a holiday in the sun.
I can see how it’s come about of course – I don’t really do those sun, sea, sand and whatever the other thing is or was holidays. I really don’t care for hot weather. Can’t ever get comfortable on a beach. It’s years since I’ve even attempted such a thing. I don’t like shopping either (other than in bookshops, obviously). Especially I loathe and abhor shopping for clothes with all its attendant humiliations and miseries – apart from shirts of course, which are easy to buy, don’t need trying on, and last for years – but are also easy to give. On analysis, most of these shirts have in fact been given to me. I deny profligacy.
But the facts were there – the wardrobe needed replenishing. But what exactly does a chap wear on a Mediterranean holiday? You don’t particularly want to look like tourist. Still less, I imagine, would you want to look like a native – and what would a native look like anyway? Above all, you wouldn’t want to look – dare I say it – ‘common’. Something simply comfortable. Something easy. I’ve always rather inclined to the Earl of Chesterfield’s view that the well-dressed man is the one whose clothes you never notice – “Take great care always to be dressed like the reasonable people of your own age, in the place where you are; whose dress is never spoken of one way or another, as either too negligent or too much studied”.
But then again, he also said, “Buy good books, and read them; the best books are the commonest, and the last editions are always the best, if the editors are not blockheads”, which is sound enough, but not particularly a useful sentiment for a dealer in rare and first editions.
I digress. As it turned out, I didn’t really matter at all what I might or might not have liked. Two large Oxford Street emporia appeared to have between them about three summer jackets, but not a single pair of suitable (or even unsuitable) trousers that would fit me. One stick-thin and somewhat limp young chap with a blond flop of hair almost fainted when my waist-size was whispered – he didn’t even have jackets that big.
I didn’t waste any more time searching hopefully but in vain in the next shop along. I just went in asked rather loudly if they had any trousers for fat blokes. Tall, fat blokes, actually – because these things are all in proportion and there was plenty for short fat blokes. Commendably, they took this as a challenge and couldn’t have been more helpful. I came out the proud new possessor of an old-fashioned linen suit – a Somerset Maughamy, Graham Greeney, sort of thing, I rather fancied. Some new shoes the colour of old calf to go with it.
I presented my new ensemble for Anne’s inspection. “You can’t possibly wear that on holiday”, she said, “it’s far too good. You’ll have to keep it for best”.
Thank you again for your kindness. Time to pack. Holiday snaps in a fortnight.