Friday 23 January 2009

“What has this bugbear, death, to frighten man.” (John Dryden, after Lucretius)

I have never felt so ubiquitous as in the past few days – and yesterday I reached the apogee of my ubiquitousness, having managed somehow to double-book myself for the evening. After quick drinks in Bloomsbury, I whizzed to the Calder Bookshop in Waterloo, where I introduced a very successful reading event with Richard Stokes and Tony Rohr. Then, after the final round of applause and the usual question-and-answer session, I zipped back with Elisabetta to the Galley Club for the printers’ annual Christmas party.

That’s right: a Christmas party on the 22nd of January. You might think that, seeing as three or four major printers have closed down in as many months, this could have been a very early 2009 Christmas party – before the money runs out and we are all credit-crunched into oblivion. But it was only a late 2008 Christmas party, one of the latest I have ever been to, actually – nonetheless outrageously alcoholic and very well attended: wherever there’s free booze, there’s little chance of a poor turn-out.

I sat at a table with J***, the best salesman I have ever met, by a long mile. I am saying this because he confessed – to my dismay – that he has been reading my blog, so there’s a chance he’ll read this post too. But he really is good, and even handsome, and nice, and he always invites me to lunches or nice parties like this. There was also a lovely couple from CompletelyNovel, this interesting new venture which is a kind of one-stop-shop for writers, agents, publishers, book clubs and readers. I wish them all the best, as they are very enthusiastic about what they do.

What is strange about these parties is to discover the Jekyll-and-Hyde natures of many ordinary guys you’ve know for years as the quietest and most reserved people on earth. There’s this priceless guy, another salesman, whom I’ll call D*** out of pity – he came to our table slurring like John Calder after a lunch with Peter Ackroyd and Beryl Bainbridge, and by the end of the night he was trying to convince Elisabetta that there was nothing to worry about, because the worst that could happen was death. It was depressing. And towards the end of the evening, a man wearing a perfectly ironed kilt – whom I’ll also call D*** – tottered to our table with what looked like a jug of bitter and started guessing who all the people round the table were. “Cringing,” you’ll say. Well, I’ll reply “scary”: he appeared to know everybody, although he was known by none. And it was a near-miss when he thought that Elisabetta was in fact Alessandro. When I met him later on the way out, he embraced me and cried “Alessssandrrro”, letting the old “r” roll away before jigging into the ladies’ toilet.

The party was adjourned to a nearby pub, and thence to a place which would serve alcohol until three o’clock in the morning. There’s certainly something decadent about the publishing industry these days.


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