I am not really the world’s worst timekeeper, I am simply on a book tour that has now been in progress for over two months - and being a travel warrior tends to mess with my sense of which day of the week it is. It’s Friday evening and I’m late because I was en-route to Austin and ... so it goes on.
I’m here for the Texas Book Festival where tomorrow the amazing Kate Atkinson and I will be the panelists for a session entitled: Solving The Case of the British Mystery. Seeing as neither of us write what could be called a “typical” British mystery, I think the cat might end up among the pigeons. And at the time of writing, I am already more than a little intimidated at the thought of sharing the stage with Kate (Memo to self: Observe and learn, observe and learn).
I’ll also be racing to the House Chamber at the Capitol building tomorrow morning, to listen to Barack Obama, who is will be making the opening address and also talking about his new book, The Audacity of Hope. I have a coveted red wristband to get me into his session.
Of course, while at the festival I will be shackled with guilt. On Saturday, October 28th, my Dad (the man who still takes my Mum dancing three or four nights a week) will celebrate his 80th birthday. Actually, he is celebrating it this evening – a big party with all their dancing pals, followed by celebrations throughout the weekend. For the actual birthday tomorrow, I have arranged for my parents to have dinner in the Pullman carriage of a local restored steam train service (you can read more about that on my website: http://jacquelinewinspear.com/essay_railway.htm), and tomorrow’s “theme” is the Sherlock Holmes mystery, complete with a murder on board and a sleuth on the case. This will be my mother’s excuse to tell everyone else that her daughter is a mystery writer – Patty, my mother is just like yours!
You may ask why I am not there – ah, well, what can I say? My presence here at the festival was a signed, sealed, done deal before I realized what had happened, and when I broke the news to my Dad he simply said, “Not to worry, Love – all this birthday lark is just for the card companies to make money anyway.” But next Sunday, as soon as my last event for the tour is over, I am flying to the UK to make them celebrate all over again – and I can’t wait.
My dad’s attitude to individuality has been one of his greatest gifts to my brother and I. He was saying “Think Different” long before Apple. In fact, when I was a child I found his army demobilization papers, and in a final report his commanding officer wrote about my father’s achievements, but couldn’t help commenting upon his tendency to do things in a rather individual manner. The fact was that my Dad hated the army, because he couldn’t stand being in any institution where everyone had to dress in the same clothes.
I remember when I was about twelve years old, I was enthralled by the up-to-the-minute clothes worn by my very hip cousin, Celia, who was fifteen at the time. She wore dresses by Mary Quant, she had the “Twiggy dress,” which was an A-line shift with a sort of empire line and three bows at the front. She had a lovely little suit from Clobber by Jeff Banks, and of course, she had clothes by Biba – oh, does anyone else remember Biba? These were all big British names in the 60’s. For a short time it became the “in thing” to wear a t-shirt with your initial taped on the front – and the key was to do the initialization yourself. You bought a plain white t-shirt, some colored tape and then you either sewed or (if you bought the more expensive self-adhesive tape) ironed it into place. Well as soon as I saw Celia, the Dedicated Follower Of Fashion, sporting her bright white t-shirt with the big “C” on the front, I was bound and determined to have one with a great big “J” on the front. And this was something I could afford! So, I took my earnings from babysitting and bought the required white t-shirt, and then purchased a yard and a half of red tape. My father walked into the house after work as I was wrangling the tape into a J while brandishing a hot iron at the same time – I’d decided to go all the way and pay extra not to have to sew.
“What’re you doing, Jack?”
“Um, trying to get this tape to stick.” I probably mumbled. At twelve girls start to mumble when their parents speak to them, even though they can talk for ages to their friends.
“What’s the design?”
“The what?” J looks up, waving hot iron.
“Design. Pattern. Have you designed a pattern?”
(This is the bit where I probably rolled my eyes thinking I hadn’t been seen)
“No, I’m doing my initial. J.”
“Because EVERYONE’s doing it.”
(Now, just to let you know, the words “EVERYONE’S DOING IT” were like a red rag to a bull for my Dad.)
“Why on earth do you want to do something that everyone else is doing?”
No answer from suddenly speechless twelve-year-old crosspatch.
“Come on, let’s go and buy some more tape, then we’ll get some paper and you can design something different, something with your initial, but not like everyone else. Make it a bit individual, a bit interesting. You don’t want to be just like everyone else, do you, love?”
And even though I knew that being the same as everyone else was easier (heck, who wants to be different at twelve?) there was something about my father’s challenge that touched my imagination, even though I was scared stiff when I first wore that t-shirt with its multi-colored loopy design with a J at the center.
So, to my dad, the amateur astronomer (I still remember him waking my brother and I – aged 4 and 8 respectively – in the early hours of the morning to watch a comet cross the sky), the wine-maker (his blackberry liqueur is gorgeous, the orange wine is lethal, as is the wheatgerm and raisin), the dancer, the western afficionado, follower of Bonanza, Rawhide and Gunsmoke, and avid reader of National Geographic: Happy, Happy, Happy Birthday.