The first thing my radio tells me this morning is that travel conditions are ‘unfavourable’. Talk about rubbing it in. Discounting the odd walk beyond the city limits, I’ve left Oxford twice in the past ten months, and without being one of life’s vagabonds, even I’m finding things a little static. All our horizons have shrunk; our destinies have been squeezed.
Because I have a new book out, I would, if not for the virus, be on the road now, which is a glamorous way of saying I’d be visiting bookshops, talking to readers, signing books… When I see my calendar furring up with these events, I experience anxiety pangs; routine-bound, I find disruption a wrench. But this doesn’t usually last longer than it takes to lock the door behind me, and I happily surrender to an itinerary once on a train or a plane. The truth is that I enjoy meeting readers and spending evenings in bookshops and libraries. Being surrounded by books has a calming effect, which helps counteract the alarm of facing an audience, itself only mildly less alarming than the prospect of there being no audience at all. Besides, those who attend such events are almost invariably warm and generous, mistakenly believing themselves to be the privileged parties to the encounter. A few want to give you their self-published novels, true, but a good moderator will usually see them off.
Sometimes book events involve overnight stays, which means a hotel breakfast, to which I take a Homer Simpson-like approach. And heading home by morning light has a skiving-off feel to it, which is a bonus. But there’ll always be times when I’m hurrying for an evening train just as I’m