A beautiful day - a tantalising glimpse of the summer we never had. I don't know if it's anything to do with global warming, but the English summer now seems to take place in April and May, with a monsoon season in July and August. It's very odd.
I had to drive to a farm to drop off a cheque for the deposit and first month's rent for Steerforth Books. I had no idea where I was going, but had been given a postcode for the satnav and blindly followed directions which took me onto increasingly narrower and emptier roads. I'd forgotten how sinister the English countryside can be (I blame this on watching reruns of the Avengers).
I ended up driving for miles along a deserted lane, wondering if I was going to end up in a ditch with the satnav lady announcing "You have now reached your destination", whilst some grinning toothless locals began untying the string around their trousers. Fortunately this is Sussex, not the Appalachians.
The farm turned out to be a beautiful, large Georgian house, with breathtaking views of the South Downs. I handed the cheque over and felt a pang of remorse for the fact that I will probably never be able to afford to live somewhere like this.
Driving to the next destination, I listened to a podcast of 'Broadcasting House'. Francesca 'Horrid Henry' Simon, Tori Amos and a bloke whose name I never caught were talking about being in New York on 9/11. More recent events like the invasion of Iraq have faded into the recesses of my memory, but I remember September 11th as if it was yesterday.
I arrived at Steerforth Books. Peter, the gentleman farmer, was out on his tractor doing agricultural things, but another man handed me the key and at last I was able to take possession of the new unit:
It's not big, but if I'm clever about it I think I can get around 8,000 books in this room, which should be enough to generate a reasonable income. I won't get rich - most of the books won't sell - but hopefully the children will have shoes on their feet. The main challenge will be to find enough stock to reach this magic figure. I have a few potential sources.
So Steerforth Books is almost a reality. I have a business account, domain name (com and co.uk), office unit and even a little bit of stock. I can't say that I'm looking forward to the sheer, unmitigated tedium of building 46 feet of shelving (and given my track record in DIY, it will probably collapse at some point), but without it there will be no Steerforth Books.
In the meantime I'm still going into work, three days a week, getting things ready for my successor. It feels strange going through the motions of the working day, making decisions about a future that I won't be part of. I will be glad to leave the world of '9 to 5', but I'll also miss several people more than they probably realise.
In some ways it feels like a very early retirement, leaving the 'real' world of work for a John Bull Printing Set fantasy. But work can simply be work. We don't have to be part of an organisation: commuting, attending meetings and working in open plan offices. Paunches and stomach ulcers are optional, not compulsory.
But whilst a part of me relishes the idea of leaving office life behind, another part feels a deep sense of loss.
No more talking about last night's telly. No more "Did you see the quiz night Phil?", followed by detailed postmortems of 'University Challenge' and 'Only Connect'. I have met some good people through work.
I apologise if this blog has lost its 'mojo' at the moment. The amusing covers and photographs have been thin on the ground recently. I had hoped to publish one final installment of the Derek diaries, but - and you'll have to take my word for this - they are mostly very dull and I have struggled to find any more material that is worth publishing. I haven't completely given up.
So until Steerforth Books is fully established, this blog will limp along like a consumptive war veteran, looking back to better days, hoping (perhaps unrealistically), for better times ahead.
Finally, as far as a Steerforth Books logo is concerned, I have been particularly dim. When I first visited my new farm unit last week, I need only have turned my head 45 degrees to have seen one of the most striking 'logos' of all time:
Nobody knows how old the possibly prehistoric Long Man of Wilmington is, or indeed why it's there, but in theory you can't miss it. I did.
But then one September in 1995, I managed to spend a whole day travelling around Manhattan without noticing the twin towers of the World Trade Centre. The next morning I caught an American Airlines flight from Boston to Los Angeles, blissfully ignorant of what the future held.