23 November 2011

Charles Lamb once told Coleridge he was especially fond of books containing traces of buttered muffins.

The literary quarterly magazine I work for (the one seven floors up with the panoramic skyscape of London's landmarks and an office dog with a better hairdo than any human I have ever seen) had a readers' day at the lovely Art Workers Guild in the heart of Bloomsbury on Saturday. The building is run by a woman in a matronly smock who is the spitting image of Clarissa Dickson Wright, though, I think, rather more attentive and with a shinier, healthier glow. Almost one hundred subscribers, white of hair and keen of mind, flocked to be shown where to put their coats and where the loos were by a rather excitable me. I had got the bus in first thing with my eyes all swollen and uglified, which was so not cool for the likes of Penelope Lively and her distinctive specs. I thought I may look pained and fragile, which would be appropriate for the talk on the Romantics later. But it turned out that Sue Gee was rather in awe of my outfit, using hand gestures and open-mouthed silent expressions to make this known to me at the sidelines of the Great Hall. She asked where I had got such such pretty things, to which I was forced to admit in mumbles that all items were from charity shops...

The day was a success of lots of tea cups and copious hot tea, overcoming dodgy slides of beautiful wood engravings that illustrate Victorian classics, the Romantics abroad with their reveries in Lake Geneva, perching on steps at the edges of a very red room plastered to the rafters with portraits of the great and good, anecdotes aplenty about all of Graham Greene's fascinating relatives, and the most amazing cakes piles high on a gingham tablecloth. Oh my, the cakes.

Frances Donnelly is a writer, an expert on the aforementioned Greene, a contributor to the quarterly review and works for BBC Radio 4 (!). She also happens to make beautiful, rustic, masterpieces of cakes by the delicious, and hefty, batch. She loaded the heaving table with coffee and walnut rounds, Victoria sponges sandwiched with fresh home-made raspberry jam, chocolate buttercream slabs, apple crumble wedges, gluten-free orange slices, a monstrous four-tiered lemon curd cake and sugar-dusted lemon drizzle squares while wearing her pinny, covered in icing sugar, hair wild and eyes bright. Then she removed the pinny, put on her spectacles, and sat down with her notes to prepare the rather compelling talk she was going to give to the seated mass. She is a dream wonderwoman. And she smiles. I want to be her when I grow up.

The metaphorical cherry on the top. Masterpiece.

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