Last Sunday, my sister Jenny and I went to the British Library's exhibit on comic books. Despite having a limited number of tickets available for each time slot, it was quite busy, and I was a little frustrated a few times when people stopped in front of the displays I was trying to look at, and have a natter. But the museum was very interesting, providing a history of comic books as a medium, starting with the stories of Mr Punch, and exploring themes of diversity and representation, politics and sexuality as explored through the format of comic books and graphic novels. It certainly provided me with a long list of other books I'd like to read in the near future, as I still consider myself a newbie when it comes to the genre.
I headed off to the new Foyles store on Charing Cross Road (next door to the old shop, and even bigger and shinier than before.) Jenny, knowing what I am like in bookshops, left me at this point, and I spent a happy hour mooching around the fiction, fantasy and childrens' sections, among others. While browsing Fantasy, I overheard a customer asking the bookseller for Neverwhere, but there wasn't a copy on the shelves. But I had seen a nice yellow stack of the book on one of the tables and butted in, raving about the book and the radio adaptation. I felt a bit bad for doing the bookseller's job for him. I'm sure he'd have found it eventually but I did not want the customer to miss out on my favourite book. (Foyles ought to give me a job as I made some nice money for them that day.)
As for my own purchases, I finally bought Watchmen, which had only been for sale in hardback at the British Library, for £30. It's not that I don't think books are worth paying for, but £12.99 was much more of a Katie-friendly price. I also bought a science fiction novel called Terra, which I have had my eye on for a long time, and a new book called That's Not A Feeling about a teenager at a school/mental health facility, which could be either funny or depressing - probably both.
I did not buy any of the beautiful beautiful Anne Of Green Gables books in the children's section. I have three already: A massive hardback which I was given for my 8th birthday, the 100th Anniversary paperback, for reading when I'm out and about, and the standard Puffin edition, for when I don't want to damage either of my other editions, such as reading in the bath or camping or while having a barbecue. Any more, and I'll have to start actually collecting ALL OF THE ANNES, like a certain other blogger does with Pride and Prejudice. (I would like to replace my Windy Willows and Ingleside, as I've just got shabby TV-tie-in editions of those, but sadly Foyles did not have those in stock.)
I love Oxford. A city with centuries of academia, I feel as though my IQ goes up just from being there. The students have an air to them: the boys have a cockiness, a confidence in their own intelligence, but not in an arrogant sort of way - they were very polite, chivalrous. And the girls had an earnest, studious look, an old-fashioned, wholesome prettiness. When I passed Christ Church College, I saw two men (not sure whether they were students or staff) standing on the balcony of the old building, one in shirtsleeves and braces, propped up against the wall and looking exactly as if he belonged in Brideshead Revisited. But there was a marked contrast between "town and gown." There was a lot of poverty amidst the prosperity and ambition and the "dreaming spires."
At the Oxford University Press bookshop I found several volumes of the journals of Lucy Maud Montgomery - author of the aforementioned Anne of Green Gables. I had the option of buying the first two volumes of the "complete journals," at £25 per volume, but instead I went for the second volume of "selected journals," (the first was out of stock) which don't appear to have omitted much. It's a fascinating read for an Anne devotee, as interesting as some of her novels - and more so than others - and really helps to ground the beloved stories in place and time.
I returned to the Peak District after Oxford, where I once more stayed at the Sheriff Lodge guesthouse in Matlock. I visited Bakewell, had a lovely morning browsing the shops, and came away from the Bakewell Bookshop with a collection of Haruki Murakami's short stories entitled The Elephant Vanishes. I thought that while I was in town I ought to visit Ellie's old shop, which has been sold to a charity, but I felt a certain reluctance to go in. It wouldn't be the same now. I dreaded going in to find what had been a wonderful sanctuary for book lovers, run by book lovers, might be no more than a charity bookshop, visibly the same but lacking its former heart. And of course Ellie wouldn't be there. (I had hoped to meet up with her while I was in the Peak District, but she happened to be on holiday abroad the same week I was in her part of the world.) As it so happened, that decision of whether or not to go into the shop was made for me, by the shop being closed that day.
One of the guesthouse owners had printed out directions for a walk along the river to Haddon Hall, and back, but somehow I managed to turn this into a walk through the woods and back along the road, occasionally crossing paths with the river before it wound away from the path again. I'm not quite sure how I got so hopelessly lost, but I ended up back where I started, which was the main thing.
I also visited Buxton, where I went "over hill and under hill," into Poole's Cavern and then wandering through Buxton Country Park. There were so many little hills (left over from limestone burning, I believe) which looked like they ought to have hobbit-holes carved out of them. I came to the conclusion that the Peak District is the real Middle-Earth, no matter what New Zealand might think.
Back in the town, I wandered through the arcade of little independent shops, where I found a vintagey, retroey shop with plenty of pretty polka-dot dresses. I have a gorgeous polka-dot dress which I am forced to conclude is too small for me to wear for any long stretch of time, and as there was a 10% off sale that day, I decided to try on some potential replacements. Of the three dresses I tried on - all size 12 from different brands - the first dress was too big, the second was too small, but, feeling like Goldilocks, I found that the third dress I tried on was just right. Naturally I bought it.
Travelling back through London on Friday was not a lot of fun. I was dragging a heavy suitcase on wheels, and carrying a bag of cakes, and trying very hard not to lose anything or run over anyone's toes. A bus journey I had expected to take ten or fifteen minutes took more like three quarters of an hour, and when we arrived at the station, we discovered that the trains were not running to my sister's little town on the outskirts of London, so we ended up taking the Underground to Wimbledon, and a taxi from there. All very fun, as you can imagine.
But all in all, it's been a good week, and I feel mostly rested and glad to be home, if not to be going back to work next week. It's weird having to remember how to interact with people, though. It's been really nice not having to wear the fake cheeriness. I would like to go away more often, maybe abroad. One of my colleagues thought that I was "really brave" for holidaying alone, but I found the only scary thing about it is the fear that people might think I have no friends. When I decided it doesn't matter what people think, and that they probably don't think that at all, I found it really peaceful and relaxing, a good chance to sort my head out away from the bustle of "real life."