In the early Twenties, BBC (the radio variety) used the phrase “London calling” as its call sign, informing the world that London was still up and active. During the War, the phrase took on overtones that were both poignant and pugnacious: We’re still here, damn your eyes!
I like London, despite there being far too many people, and even its major streets retain their pre-Great Fire (1666) twisting incomprehensibility, when London was a warren of alleyways. Monday was particularly bad, and I seemed incapable of figuring out where I stood even with a map in hand. My publisher’s street—a mews—is not on the London A to Z (pronounced Zed, if you please) which doesn’t help. And Charing Cross tube stop is a spider’s web of exits, so one stands in the main hall and studies the options of Strand (north) and Strand (south) when what one wants is Charing Cross (library.)
But I found it, if ten minutes late for my meeting with Meg Gardiner, who was polite enough to claim that even after years in England she still gets lost in town. I didn’t believe her, but we ducked into the Garrick for a quick drink and had a nice chat about covers, titles, offspring, and British plumbing.
Then into the Charing Cross library, where Nicola had set out civilized bottles of both red and white wine, and little cups of pretzels. She couldn’t do anything about the street noise, other than shut the windows, but the gathered audience sweltered gently and not a one of them dozed off—or if they did, they kept their eyes open.
I was happy to find that the British tendency to reticence was in abeyance, and when Q&A time came, they came up with some good remarks. And not one of them asked what I, an American, thought I was doing writing about England.
Last night’s event was set up by the estimable Lizzie Hayes of Mystery Women. Started in the 80s by my friends Michelle Spring (with whom I have a panel in Cambridge next Monday) and Kate Charles, it’s now run by Lizzie (whose mother is very ill, good thoughts in their direction, please) and Ayo Onatade, and on Monday three of the group joined us: Sara Townsend (MW’s London events manager,) author Mary Andrea Clarke, and Kirsty Long. Mystery Women is a good group, you should think about joining them—especially if you’d like to keep up on UK events. The annual St Hilda’s mystery conference is heavily attended by members of the group, and if you ever find yourself in Oxford of an August, I urge you to register for that conference, if for no other reason than the..I won’t say pleasure, but experience of living in the dorms. It was at a St Hilda’s conference that my punting style was given the classification “stately,” meaning “she’s slow but she doesn’t plant the boat in the nettle-covered banks.”