The aroma of filter coffee fills the sunlit kitchen. I sit with Steve and Barry at the old wooden table. They’re talking about the All Blacks match at Twickenham this afternoon. And they’ve got tickets. And what’s going through my mind? I want to buy a book down at Blackwell’s on the High street. A scraping of chairs and they’re off. The coffee cups left for your’s truly.
I clear the cups, put them on the drainer for later. Wipe the table and rinse the flask of the coffee filter before putting it back in the machine. The kitchen darkens as a cloud passes over and gets momentarily colder.
Coat, handbag and keys. I’m not good in the morning anyway. My bike chain clanks as it falls from its moorings around the garden railings. Lock it onto my bike and wipe the seat clean of raindrops.
Down on the busy High street it feels somehow unfamiliar. Look up and down past the busy cars. It’s pretty, unlike some parts of this city. The lights flash amber and then green, engines noisier as the traffic moves again. This noise isn’t a “Blackwell’s noise”. I cycle further down, it’s familiar but not right.
I told you I’m not a morning girl.
Puzzled I turn and go the other way, beyond Carfax but still it’s not right. Stop, unmount and stop a pedestrian. She looks at my scarf with outright disdain. I know the type. I should have gone to Somerville like proper girls.
“Can you tell me the way to Blackwell’s Bookshop, please?”
Her face softens into a smile. “You’re looking for Broad street, miss” A flash as my memories are annealed to reality. “Thanks” I say, beaming. Turn my bike through the bustling traffic and head up the other way. Up the shadowy back streets where the most ancient of colleges lurk. Turn right into the bright – and quieter – Broad street. The sun is shining, the smell of mown grass.
Pushing open the door, inhale bookshop. Look around at shelves lined with enticing volumes. Luther’s Middle Years. Its weight alone is one of a book’s pleasures. Its pale purple jacket another. Skim through the pictures of a life long still. Choosing a page at random, read. The prose is adequate, not ornate and not engaging. It’s a book you read. It’s not a prose to lose yourself in like Thomas Hardy’s Trumpet Major. I can still smell the scenes, the hedgerows and tumbledown cottages. I put the dull volume back in its place, look around the shop.
To the front of the shop by the door is the art section. Amply lit from the window. Kneel on the thin carpeting, I see it. Draw the thin volume from its lair. A paper cover, not the hard back from the library.
Anyway, a paperback is all I can afford as a student. Opening it randomly, it’s jammed with pen sketches of ancient carved patterns. Men with strange beards and birds with intertwined necks. Evoking a feeling of security and excitement at the same time. My imagination takes a leap beyond and into the pictures coloured and flowing.
It’s a treasured book to this day. It lies to my left as I write this thirty years later.