Tuesday, 16 September 2014

A.N. Wilson at the Chiswick Book Festival - proof that manners, and a certain kind of Englishman, still exist

I was not at my sparkling best this weekend, and consequently missed the whole of the fifth Chiswick Book Festival, an annual event which is rapidly establishing itself as the urban/suburban version of the rather overblown Haye-on-Wye bunfight. There was something for everyone – A.N. Wilson discussing his new book on Queen Victoria, Peter Oborne on the history of the Pakistan cricket team, Bryony Gordon on her memoirs, The Wrong Knickers, historian Edward Young discussing Disraeli, DJ Simon Mayo on his children’s character Itch, Earl Spencer (who is either an American jazz pianist or the brother of the late Diana, Princess of Wales) on the fate of the men responsible for the execution of Charles I, and my brother’s favourite political commentator, Toby Young, on how to make sure your child gets the best out of primary school.

I apologise for not publicising it beforehand, and promise to do so vigorously next year, when I will be in attendance, even if I have to be wheeled around in a bath-chair being injected with vitamins by a team of medical experts. My only contribution this time round was a literary quiz about WWI – ironic, seeing as I’ve been moaning about a surfeit of First World War coverage on the BBC. It’s a fairly fiendish quiz, but that’s fair enough, given that the prize is The Great World War – A History, in nine volumes, published by Gresham, general editor Frank Mumby, c 1920, donated by Fosters’ Bookshop, 183 Chiswick High Road.

My wife – who was in charge of the information booth – tells me that the event, which takes place mainly at our local church, St. Michael and All Angels, Bedford Park, was a great success. And, for the second year in a row, Mrs. G. created the individual author gifts, consisting of a box made to look like a hardcover book which, when opened, turns out to be stuffed with bespoke chocolates. These seem to go down a treat (the pseudo-book and the chocolates). One author later tweeted:

Could there be a nicer speaker's gift?! MT @W4BookFest @LibertyLndnGirl yr gift book (see pic) full of @divinechocolate

Another writer, having had my wife pointed out to her as the creator of her thank-you present, actually came over and hugged her!

Here’s what any author foolish enough to turn down the invitation to attend missed out on:


One of my numerous sisters-in-law stayed with us at the weekend in order to attend the event. She has lived in India for many decades, but has been staying in Amersham looking after her grandson while her daughter is away on business in Dubai. At the end of A.N. Wilson’s apparently rivetting talk Sunday, my wife’s sister bought a copy of his book (Queen Victoria: A Life) and took it up be signed. The author engaged her in a lively conversation about India, and then made an allusion to the meaning of her name, (“joy” in Latin), in his inscription. She was absolutely delighted, and will return to the rather remote village in India where her retired surgeon husband ran a clinic for many years convinced that a certain type of Englishman – educated, civilised, infinitely well-mannered, charming, witty and kind - still exists.

A.N. Wilson and (somewhere) my sister-in-law at the Chiswick Book Festival


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