About three million years ago, Edward paid a few guineas and we ran off to Spetses, an island which I think is somewhere off the Greek coast, most famous for not allowing cars and forcing poor hot tourists to get off the hydrofoil and pile their stuff on picturesque but slow donkeys.
While we were there, it was Black Wednesday. Edward spent a lot of time reading days-old Daily Mails (pre-pre-internet, in fact pre-mobile phone) to work out if we could even afford to get home as clearly the global money markets had waited for the second we left London to go into freefall.
We had an apartment above a wicked old East End chap who was clearly on the run. He was walnutty brown and wrinkly and had a filthy temper. He lay in the shade grumbling endlessly about the sodding heat and the dirty Greek germs. We played Scrabble on the wrought iron balcony above him, shamelessly and gleefully eavesdropping on him barking angrily at the busty bird with him. 'Ave yer washed them tea-tahls aht yet? I don't wanna catch nuffink nasty. Get us a cuppa if you got time to lie abaht in the bloody sun all day.' We concocted a gloriously violent and blood-soaked history for him, scaring ourselves stupid. When the Scrabble tiles fell down onto his terrace, we shot into the shadows of our room, eyes huge and hands clapped to our faces, listening to the stream of furious sweary threats he directed at the source of clattering alphabetical rain. We didn't dare ask for them back.
I also read AS Byatt's Possession that holiday; cold glasses of rose washing down salads made of great mis-shapen tomatoes, pale creamy clouds of taramasalata piled on thick sweet bread and warty, intensely-flavoured cucumbers. I struck up so many conversations about the book; everyone seemed to be reading it or just finished. Impromptu book groups sprang up on the jetty; we women swooning over the clever parallel love stories and sumptuous descriptions of Victorian mourning jet jewellery. Overhead, lines of squid and octopi dried and the English men watched the wiry Greek fishermen slither their catches onto the cobbles, choosing what they would eat when the sun went down.
It was an odd juxtaposition, but a strangely pleasing one, and when, years later, I ended up living in Richmond a few roads away from where a crucial 19th century denoument took place in the book, it seemed a logical and fitting reason to re-read it, this time across smoky autumn twilit afternoons. I highly recommend it, sun or gloom, and mention it because I am now reading her The Children's Book and have been suddenly reminded of the fabulousness of her writing. Never condescending, always scholarly, her stories combine credible Victorians and a dense domestic detail that draws you deftly in to witness coversations, fires, meals of long-ago times. There are also several wonderful secrets and glimpses into the Victorian cellars and storage areas of the V&A museum, one of the most wonderful places on earth. I am revelling in it.