Friday, March 21, 2014

OLD SCHOOL TIES

Nostalgia kicked in the moment my foot touched the platform. My journey from East Surrey to Berkhamsted had been almost seamless; a simple change at Clapham Junction and a through train which did away with the need to travel across central London. Berkhamsted station is not far from its ruined castle, where history records William the Conqueror accepted the crown of England from the defeated Saxons. On the other side of the tracks is the Grand Junction Canal, once an important waterway link between London and Birmingham. Certainly the smart canal-side residences weren't there when I was last, but that's more years ago than I care to record. Enjoying the early Spring sunshine, I set off for the short walk to the town centre, up Lower King's Road. Somehow it seemed much shorter than I remembered, but I was not weighed down by a bulging satchel nor a scruffy sports bag, lacrosse stick or other schoolgirl accoutrements. I had timed my arrival to allow me enough time to find somewhere for lunch before my afternoon appointment. The advertisement hoarding which faced me as I alighted from my train announced that 'HERE - Berkhamsted' was a wine bar/bistro/all-round sounding good place for refreshment. And so it proved. Full marks for serving local food, freshly cooked, a decent glass of wine followed by delectable Earl Grey. At 3 pm I rendezvous at the Public Library at the bottom of King's Road with Mandy; she tells me she's school librarian. We travel the short distance up the hill to Berkhamsted Prep School. When I joined Berkhamsted School for Girls, the junior school was known as 'The Beeches' after the house in which it was based. Now that old house is unrecognisable, transformed into a lively, modern prep, where children of both sexes embark upon their scholastic careers. Mandy points me in the direction of reception, where, inevitably, I have to sign in and receive my visitor's badge. They have a book fair in progress and soon parents and children are eagerly thronging around the displays. But I am here at the invitation of Sophie Evans, who runs the after-school book club. She happened upon the copy of 'The Adventures of Tilly Twinkle' which I sent as a donation to the junior school library, and has been reading it in instalments to her club. Realising that the author is a (very) old girl, she wasted no time in making contact and issuing the invitation which I accepted without hesitation. Mandy takes me to Mrs Evans' classroom and in due course my audience arrives. It's been a games afternoon, so the little girls are rosy-cheeked and glowing from their netball, the boys from football. We eventually are all assembled and the question and answer session begins. I've been primed with some of their questions so answering them isn't too difficult. We discuss our favourite authors and, not surprisingly, Roald Dahl tops the list. The girls are unanimous in citing 'Matilda' as their favourite book. Hands shoot up every time I ask a question and it is becoming obvious I am in the company of a very lively bunch. The time passes much too quickly but everyone buys a copy of 'Tilly', inscribed and signed of course. We've agreed a special price; I'm not bothered about the proceeds, which I donate the next day to Barnado's. It's been a memorable experience for me and I shall treasure the memory of my first book signing. As for Claudia, Katie, Eliza, Isabella, Genevieve, Nathaniel and the rest, I hope they enjoy my fairy story and look forward to their feedback. © MWD 2014

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