Book Launch

Dressed in my slimfits and red bootees I went off to the book reading, walking from Kennington, asking directions from an obliging girl, to Fitzalan St where it took place in the Royal Oak.  David Rix shook my hand and Quentin laid a table with books.  I said Kevin had wanted to come.  “The more the merrier,” quoth Q.  I bought Aiaiglas, his recent book, having him sign it (and Beehive when she arrived, looking lovely but her hair split-ended from too much dyeing.  Outside I advised cutting it short and wearing a wig meanwhile.  She wasn’t having that and jeered at my wearing a tank top in the heat but I was dressed for the whole day and old people have to keep warm.)  I parried with Roseanne, whose launch this primarily was.  I refused a drink then and thereafter didn’t.  Exchange with Ruth on what I’d had published and would.  Ralph shook an introductory hand and adhered to Ruth pretty consistently thereafter.  One could only conjecture why, and one did.  ("Which book did Ralph buy?"  Ralph said what.  "What?"  Quentin told me.  I scanned the titles to see which fitted the strange three syllable sound he'd made best.  'Aiaiglas'.)  Rhys Hughes shook my hand.  (His reading was of an intrusive dame, told through word disassociation.)  I then talked with Richard, a self-proclaimed one-man publicist for David, who himself writes as yet unpublished historical fiction I suggested he make horrible and sleep with Quentin to get published, “a walk on the dark side”.  He shrugged off it would be dark.  “We’re all liberal these days,” I said.  “As we should,” said Richard.  It was, however, Quentin we were talking of.  I took a website from Richard of groups including writing ones, his in Camden.  He thought Dan Brown a bad writer but The Da Vinci Code a page-turner.  Devika also approached and made notes on her phone of my literary credentials as I relayed them and found me on Facebook to request friendship.  “I’ll accept on Monday.”  With both her and Richard I was explaining what I was doing there, not one of the authors on show, how I knew David through Quentin, a fellow founding member of my writing group, who’d published a short story of mine in ‘Dadaoism, An Anthology’ that went down well with the inmates of Wandsworth prison and the MP for Tooting who was attending the reading group there, and through Quentin I’d met Dan who published my poems in Sacrum Regnum 2.  Independently of them I’d another publisher for my book of an archived correspondence with another writer.

Natalie came after Beehive and was technicoloured, her lashes of different hues, the top ones yellow, her hair multi-dyed, blue at the back (bluer than Beehive’s which was fading, as Beehive said, comparing).  I noticed a Japanese girl sitting impassively by and was directing Quentin to speak to her in Japanese when he said, “That’s Isami,” his sister-in-law I’d met before.  “You’re as beautiful as ever,” I wasn’t just being polite either; she is.  She said I didn’t look too bad myself, for my astounding age, coming up eighty.  Once upon a time, yes, I was beautiful, I modestly assented.  She wasn’t convinced beauty deteriorated with age.  It was in the eye of the beholder, “as some poet said,” I added, “Never believe a poet,” but compromised, using pretty Joe as an example whose prettiness was enhanced by a shade of maturity.  I love Joe.  He stroked and petted me when he came in.  A dog can grow attached to whoever rubs the erogenous zone just below the ears as I was periodically doing to the pub’s, not that Joe was doing anything such – it wouldn’t work – but if he blew in them....  This is quite inappropriate since I had no such thought at the time.  It is a deconstructive inauthenticising obtrusion.  Tch!  But I’ll keep it in.  It’s my diary entry and I can do what I like.  “How do you keep fit?” Isami continued.  “I walk fast, if I’m not ill.”  I couldn’t think of anything else.  I remembered the pronunciation of Isami’s name throughout but have forgotten  how as I write and the spelling’s correspondingly gone for a burton but I have it in my more comprehensive diary to look up, always assuming it’s correctly spelled there.  I’m bad at names, also at picking up what other people are saying though they themselves have no such problem.  Naiem arrived though keeping his eyes off me.  Dominika too who’s married Jackson, who,  working, wasn’t.  “She’s always married before I hear about it.”  “You can’t say ‘always’,” said Quentin, “she’s only been married twice.”  She, Isami and I discussed the difficulties posed for her, a Pole, and immigrants generally by Brexit though Europe had pushed hard for its citizens, gaining more than it gave to ours there, unless no final agreement was reached, in which case….  And it wasn’t just Britain.  However economically irrational, there was anti-immigrant populism all over.  Dominika hadn’t stayed continually in the country enough to qualify for rights of residence.  I recognised Leon, Quentin’s brother at the end of the table.  Isami said he was weight lifting and paragliding, and they took several days off a month to go somewhere.  “For variety,” I concluded, “to jazz the relationship up.”

Roseanne read first and last.  Quentin came second last and asked for water.  “He’s a performer,” commented Naiem on Q’s keeping us waiting.  He was the best: unfunny to begin with, droll in the middle and sunk like a stone with a portentous end.  Very good.  He used the word ‘immiscible’ well.  “Like the atmosphere of Jupiter,” I’ve read.  Dan caught the end of it only.  He gave me a hug.  Isami sold a book, while Quentin joined the smokers in the garden.  Natalie said my plant was the moon orchid, which pleased me until I found out Dan along with Joe also was, so it was changed with a picture of my profile on her phone to viper’s bugloss.  Viper’s something.  I’ve looked it up in my book of plants and since the second word wasn’t one syllable ‘bugloss’ it most probably was.  “That’s better.  I am a snake in the grass.  Have you got thinner?” I asked Leon who looked at me shyly.

Dominika was all over Quentin who took it neutrally without knowing exactly what to do with it.  She was too tired to go on with us, proposing she come to Richmond for a walk.  “I’ll take you to Ham Fields where you can watch the poofs disport,” the Greater Spotted and the Lesser.  Ruth was at length excusing Quentin for not selling a lot of books on the grounds he was a better writer than that.  Isami can’t drink alcohol or milk.  When diagnosed coeliac, “That was the first thing I asked: can’t I drink!”  Dandy Dan was going outside.  His shiny cinnamon shirt “matches his hair or his hair it.  Is that Dan’s girlfriend?”  He's wider of beam and thicker of trunk though, since it took me ages to work out he was tall, and I've no conscious remembrance of state of beam and trunk, the comparative might be erroneous, so make that wide and thick merely.

We walked to the Elephant and Castle for food in Mamuska’s.  Natalie was about to lead us the wrong way but Leon and I thought it was in exactly the opposite direction.  It was.  I asked Quentin en route how many books he’d had published.  Sixteen, “sixteen readers for each.”  “I didn’t want to stop Ruth’s flow by saying you wanted to be Dan Brown.”

You order at one counter, pay and collect at another when your number’s up.  I followed Natalie and Beehive's lead.  Natalie apprised me: my number was up and flashing.  “What’s the number on your receipt?”  117.  How did she know it’d be mine?  I had goŁabki and kefir, sitting by Joe who asked how I liked Quentin’s father, who cut down his tree when his mother was the father’s girlfriend, and, Quentin added, did it again.  He was a serial arborophobe.  After twenty years Joe had come to terms with it and bore the father, who’d had a stroke, no ill will.  “I wouldn’t, if it were my tree.”  I’d give him multiple strokes.  Joe was amazed I was coming up eighty, same age as the tree-hater.  I asked why.  It wasn’t because I looked amazing, for my age, just he hadn’t thought it five years since I was seventy-five.

I left before nine.  Found, by asking, the underground and went the wrong way but changed at Kennington to the Northern for Waterloo, catching the Teddington train home.

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the official website for the appreciation of Scottish playwright and poet Betty Clark (Joan Ure)


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