We had the pleasure and honour of welcoming Rory Stewart, MP, to Sandoe’s this week, to give a talk about his new book, The Marches. He was precise, articulate, funny, thoughtful, more concerned as an author to tell us what he thinks than what he feels, and to allow his encounters and experiences to speak for themselves.
His book is mostly – but far from only – a memoir about his late father, an account of their walks together, over many years, from the Great Wall of China to Hadrian’s. There is nothing sentimental here, but the glimpses of the physical spaces they share – for instance the hours spent in endless bed and breakfasts, the evidence of their diet of oat cakes and Boursin on the table – do allow the reader a sense of a particular intimacy. Rory’s kaleidoscopic historical knowledge constantly allows him to shift focal length, moving from what is directly in front of him to the Roman occupation of Britain via Afghanistan (and back again) in a couple of well-crafted sentences.
The ensuing days brought excitements of other kinds – huge quantities of new books arriving (such as Salley Vicker’s excellent new novel, Cousins – more of this one anon no doubt; a book quite as gorgeous as fascinating on the Islamic world called Art, Trade and Culture in the Islamic World and Beyond: from the Fatimids to the Mughals, edited by J M Rogers, Alison Ohta and Rosalind Wade Haddon; Marella Caraccciolo Chia’s glossy coffee table book Domus: A Journey into Italy’s Most Creative Interiors…her book on Marella Agnelli, The Last Swan, also published by Rizzoli, was a great hit a couple of years ago).
But perhaps the most startling incident was a customer who came in with not one – or two, for that matter – but three mobile telephones in her handbag. All three rang repeatedly, occasionally simultaneously, and were handled and answered with the tenacity of a juggler. One had as its ringtone the bark of a very large and alarming dog… Many books were purchased at the same time, and several also rejected – or were the calls rejected? Tranquility flooded back upon her departure, leaving us and a Wodehouse-loving regular feeling a little demented.
There are no biscuits here this afternoon – there aren’t any as a rule, but recently there has been such an unexpected spate of them that today’s lack is a little dejecting. But we were – and no doubt you will soon be too – cheered and uplifted (if a little surprised) at hearing that Suleiman the Magnificent, that great prince, is restored to life and gleaming health.
Suleiman, probably on his seventh life, lives in appropriate luxury on the island of Ibiza, and is an adored Brown Burmese cat who suffered – how chivalrous – a hunting accident. His owner buys him many books on jewelry and we hope that he is adorned with peridots to match his eyes, described today on the telephone as “the colour of chartreuse”…