Caroline Rance's book launch in Great Missenden was a great excuse to spend a weekend in a part of the country I haven't visited before. I've been to Oxford and the Cotswolds, but not the Chilterns. I booked us into a Travelodge in Bicester.
The sun shone on sloping downs, chestnut trees in bloom and cows grazing in pasture. We followed footpaths through shady bluebell woods and buttercup meadows before lunching at the Roald Dahl Museum Cafe in Great Missenden. It was called 'Twits' and the emphasis was on the twee. I remember once teaching a collection of his disturbing short stories. As someone remarked at the the launch, Caroline must have breathed in some of the literary air, but to my mind it was the murkier elements. Her novel, 'Kill-Grief', high-lights eighteenth century gin-addiction.
The room inside the modern library room was buzzing with affable chat. Caroline's family and well-wishers were out in force, many connected by church membership. ' One never knows how these things will go', said a happy reading development officer, one of five in Buckinghamshire, where reading groups are popular. We'd swapped experiences of library reading groups, myself from a consumer's point of view. Things were going with a swing when we left, me clutching a signed copy and the miniature bottle of gin that came with it.
Afterwards we drove to Oxford, where students in evening dress were queueing outside Magdalen College as if it were a West End night club. We had a meal in a tiny pub and listened to three undergraduates at our elbow. One was describing the ingredients of 'toad in the hole' to his companion, who then related an anecdote about his mother and a girl-friend from South London she'd disapproved of. I nearly told him that Croydon, where the girl came from, wasn't South London but R was frowning at me.
On Sunday R was all for another walk and I'd picked out Hughenden Manor near High Wycombe because there's a manor house in a novel I'm writing. Hughenden has acres of land around it - they usually do - and, as a bonus, a church in the grounds. Benjamin Disraeli used to own the house, which had the best garden I've seen for a while. A Prime Minister and ladies' man who charmed Queen Victoria, he believed that England should be ruled by the great landowners.
About Caroline's book: http://www.carolinerance.co.uk/
Roald Dahl Museum: http://www.roalddahlmuseum.org/
Hughenden Manor: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-hughendenmanor