Category Archives: Travel

Launching with song

Despite some minor technical issues over photographs, Candy Gourlay’s second launch of Wild Song, online with Nikki Gamble last night, was probably the best ‘zoomy’ event I’ve attended. So, well done! A good event for a good book.

And those photos. Well, they helped. I’m never a great fan of too many pictures like that, but these really opened my eyes to what went on around the last turn of the century, and how they inspired the birth of Wild Song. I’m glad they did. And it seems many of us in the audience were relieved that Candy’s relatively slow writing process – over 15 years – moved the book from being about the birth of hot dogs, to introducing us to an intelligent young Igorot heroine in the Philippines, and her subsequent trip to St Louis.

Sometimes you just want to take things more seriously.

I learned a lot about growing up in the Philippines, both at the time Luki did, and also how it was for Candy.

The fairly large audience chatted in the chat box, and enjoyed finding out more about this book, which I guess many had not had an opportunity to read yet, as it was only published on Thursday. But the thing is, after this chat Candy had with Nikki, everyone wanted to read it.

Having been somewhat sorry not to be able to go to the physical launch in London earlier in the week, it was good to see a short video from that event. It confirmed my long ago impression that Filipino people sing as much as us Swedes. As Candy said, considering what her book was about, it was only right to fill the London launch with local Igorot people, singing and dancing.


Near the end

Not to be alphabetist or anything, but I think I find the letters of the early alphabet more useful. I could have gone on forever about B and D. (I hear you, and I won’t.) I shall march swiftly towards the end.

There was Marshmallow the cat. Very white and very fluffy. He was the boss of another second cousin, somewhere in Toronto. I lost my bearings, so have no idea where.

Quesadillas kept us going. Rather like my first ever meal in England in 1966, a cheese and tomato sandwich at Liverpool Street, the best quesadilla was the one in the middle of the night – GMT – on arrival in San Antonio, when I sat as far away from the window as possible on the 18th floor. Would have been even better had we had a bottle opener (which someone assured me we’d not need), in which case there would have been Mexican cola too. Could it be that the strain of travelling makes the first meal better, or were these in fact tastier than the rest?

Was intrigued to discover that Montréal’s airport code is YUL. Sounds so Christmassy. And they had the three letters plastered over some lovely, snowy posters. Snowy scenery, not posters. I mean, posters of. You know what I mean.

Which brings us to the letter Z. Zips. Our first zip came in the elevator at the New Orleans Hilton, when a fellow passenger, on discovering were were alone for the last bit, asked us to zip her up. She’d dressed beautifully for a Halloween night on the town, but travelling alone she hadn’t managed the last inch at the back. I held her hair while Daughter zipped.

Miss Martha, on the other hand, was our attendant on the Amtrak train from New Orleans to New York. All 36 hours of it. Apparently this paragon sleeps when she gets home each week. She likes it better than the chicken farm she used to run. Anyway, she’s that archetypal motherly person who looks after you, working out what to feed vegetarians when Amtrak’s sole veggie dish is not on board. Not to mention when just outside D.C. the train ‘banged’ and juddered to a rather sudden stop, leaving us standing for an hour, before stopping again. They had tried to repair the broken ‘thingy’ between the cars with duct tape. The second time they went with Miss Martha’s zip ties. She never travels without them. They held, all the way to D.C. itself where proper engineers stood by to offer something longer lasting.

That got us to New York, where the car drivers zip in and out of the traffic all the time. I don’t know how they do it, but it seems to work, and no one appears to suffer zip rage or anything.

Forgot to mention the Alamo on day one. It’s in San Antonio. But you knew that. You probably also know what it is. Quite nice, actually.


Let’s speed that alphabet up, shall we?

French Market or French Quarter? I was sure that for New Orleans Daughter would rate the French Quarter highest, but no, she wanted the market. It was nice. I had a narrow escape, but didn’t actually buy that colourful shoulder bag. I could have. But I sort of realised I’d never use it, and the last thing my bedroom door needs is another bag hanging on the back of it.

It was warm. Sunny. At least the market was shaded. And at the café Du Monde it was practically windy, by which I mean it was open to all sides and there was a welcome breeze. We sat at the table next to where they sat in the first episode of NCIS:New Orleans. Because of course we were there because of it. We even walked past the brick wall with the door in it that was ‘home’ to the NOLA federal agents. The French Quarter was quaint. Interesting. But hot.

We had some grilled cheese, in what was a beautifully cool café. Temperature wise, I mean. There was plenty of grilled cheese during our three weeks. Sometimes a witch has to live off bread/stodge with cheese.

At the Guggenheim they thought we were Glaswegians! Which was sweet of them. Tried telling the nice man in the gift shop that there is more to Scotland than Glasgow, but… He was clearly a learned man, because he knew about Louisiana. The art museum in Denmark, not the state. The weird thing was that we had talked about it just the previous day. And yes, my walls are white.

The one place we had no need for grilled cheese was in Montréal. Cultured people with really good food; not all of it meat, either. Let me recommend the Gandhi. I didn’t think there would be a decent Indian restaurant somewhere like that, but there was. Their Tarka Dal was so excellent I had to have it a second time (in two days), and the naan leftover I spirited away in my own doggy bag, tasted fantastic even 24 hours later when I was safely back at Bookwitch Towers and shouldn’t have needed any emergency reserve food. Couldn’t resist the Ras Malai for dessert, having just read about it in Vaseem Khan’s The Lost Man of Bombay.

The hotel room in San Antonio had a surprisingly versatile coffee machine, which when cleaned up made passable water for tea. Brought our own teabags, and after sending the Resident IT Consultant out for milk, life was almost perfect. He went to H-E-B, which I believe is a local chain of grocery shops. I sent along a M&S carrier bag, because one is green (and so is the bag). Then I got annoyed with him because that meant he didn’t buy one of their gorgeous Halloween bags!

This was rectified the next evening when the bridal party handed them out as goody bags in the bar where we hung out. So all was fine.

So, Halloween. It’s big over there, isn’t it? And where better to spend it than in New Orleans? Even flying there was different. The flight attendants had dressed up. The staff member on the gate was dressed as Waldo (as in ‘Where’s Waldo?’). The ‘bag lady’ at check-in wore the craziest gaudy outfit.

Pumpkins and skulls and cobwebs everywhere, and this is just the airport. New Orleans itself was heavily decorated.

But this is the thing; the next morning all the formerly orange lamp posts wore Christmas garlands. Those elves had been busy.

Elevators. Again.

I prefer elevators not to take me to the 17th floor. I mean, I prefer for me not to need them to do this. Elevators are obviously a better solution than walking all the way up. First hotel I was given a room on floor 17. I closed my eyes, prayed and survived the night, before going downstairs and begging to get something a little further down. I even arranged my facial features into a semblance of a smile, to look friendlier and maybe be more successful. Five was the lowest they go. I was happy with five. But still needed to use the elevator to get there. The ones they had clanked like wooden boxes being dragged up manually by someone.

Elevators continued being an issue, but always a new issue in each place. Next hotel had five lifts, unless you stayed on 16 or above, in which case there were faster ones to get you started. But it would have helped if all were in operation. Two lifts for the period when hundreds of new guests arrive is a little frugal. It took us half an hour to go down four floors, get cups of tea, and travel back four floors.

By Toronto there were more elevators than customers.

Elton John was there. In San Antonio. On his farewell tour we hit town on the same date. We had the wedding, he had his 65 000 fans. But somehow we all fitted into the same elevators.

It’s generally a nice thing to see real people when you’re away, so for New York I had arranged to meet blogger Monica Edinger, who has been writing Educating Alice. I’ve been aware of Monica for years, with some direct contact, and knew she lives in Manhattan. In fact, she lives in what I would term the archetypal New York apartment block. Very New York, in other words. As was her little dog, Ruby. We talked picture books and travelling, and Daughter turned out to be best versed and kept me afloat. (They’ve been to the same places.)

Last but not least there was Cousin E, who lives near Cousin C. She’s often more tied up with ‘life’, so it was a special bonus to visit Cousin E for a chilly but sunny afternoon tea in her garden. This was because of concern over Covid, but as I said, we have had two winters of cold meals outside, and we’d love to sit in her garden. It’s a nice garden, too. While one can sometimes conjure up what houses might look like, I had not been able to imagine the outside. E’s husband D had been baking, which was very kind of him. Also briefly saw their son J, so that was three new face-to-face moments. Well worth the efforts of getting to Canada.

There’s more to D

than how you dress.

Dogs for instance. New York in particular seemed to be full of them. Dog parks. Dog enclosures, where dogs met their doggy friends.

Doormen. You read in books how they whistle for a cab for you. I always wondered how they could be heard above the general din of traffic. Or distance. They have whistles… Very loud ones at that.

The drivers would have to be deaf not to hear them. We only used one taxi. That was the one where the driver took us to the wrong hotel. All the rest of the time we used Ubers. Which, if you’d told me this some years ago, I would not have believed I’d be doing. But they work. You don’t have to speak the language and you don’t need to have ready money to pay in cash. And no need for whistling.

With my dodgy knees I wouldn’t have wanted to venture into the subway, or run after any buses. So cars it was. And, you see a lot from a vehicle, saving you having to walk to experience. We saw more of mid-Texas and of New York by being driven. Sometimes in what felt like the middle of nowhere, or actually on Fifth Avenue.

Drugs… At risk of running out of paracetamol, I ventured out in Toronto to the conveniently placed pharmacy opposite the hotel. They were very nice in there, and very helpful. They also sold me the most expensive paracetamol I’ve ever encountered. But as I said, they were nice, and they didn’t try to cheat me out of my cream cheese or anything.

Drinking… That wasn’t always easy. Our Amtrak compartments were positively awash with bottles of water, and the attendants brought drinks – almost – day and night. But this needing to remember to ask for hot tea, and then to ask for milk with it, and get cream. Dragging ourselves to the nearest Starbucks in New York and finding it closed! We were thirsty! Empty fridges where you could put your own beverages. The full Deco fridge with overpriced alcohol.

Oh well. I moan a lot, don’t I?

Diners. They were fun. Tom’s Diner on Broadway stands out. Could have gone to many more, but there wasn’t time.

D.C. The train took us through the middle of D.C. although rather a lot of it was in a tunnel. But we craned our necks and saw a few snippets of famous landmarks, so we felt like we’d almost been.

The train in Canada brought us close to where Cousin Dahlia lives. We sort of waved as we passed, because she was unable to meet us. But it helps having seen her ‘neighbourhood’.

And you don’t want to be disabled. I know that’s obvious, but we were taken aback when arriving in Montréal to find they don’t have an elevator from the platform. They did have a charming member of staff who, when he saw us, waved us through a side door and then stopped everyone else crowding onto the up escalator and sent us up first… Was it that we looked particularly classy, or just infirm? He even had a man at the top pulling us off the escalator, luggage and all.

On dressing

Dress you must. Especially for a wedding. The request was for Indian style clothes. Something colourful.

There was much agonising.

Having plain tastes I was afraid of overdressing. When we got there (some woods in the middle of Texas) we looked around and could see that overdressing was not something we needed to concern ourselves with. For us, the amount of gold and embroidery was more than ‘usual’. The rest of the guests were so elegant and colourful that we began to understand the basic idea of Indian weddings.

But we were comfortable. Even the Resident IT Consultant felt fine in his outfit, which can be described as an embroidered ‘dress.’ Dodo always looks beautiful, and the gold was fine on her. She also managed the ‘scarf thing’ by which I mean the dupatta over one shoulder. I went with the elderly lady ‘drape over shoulders’ look and Daughter wore a most colourful dupatta. Unnecessarily warm for 26 degrees, but nice. Son went with crazy colours, because that’s how I brought him up.

(Should there ever be another such wedding, we will go to town. Probably.)

My shoelaces were much admired. I mean, laughed at.

The Cs have it

We felt safe with the idea of Canada. We went to see the Canadian branch of the family, because we were so ‘close’, being on the right side of the Atlantic.

Cousin C and her husband ‘No. 27’ picked us up and drove for a very long time so we could see where they live (along with Cousin E; more of whom later). Who’d have thought Toronto was so large and so full of traffic? When Son first went, he made it sound like it was like driving through Småland…

Anyway, it was lovely to see their small town and their house and the rather gorgeous and exotic looking birds they have in their garden. We also drove through C-town which boasts at least one Swede. I know, because this woman once phoned Son to let him know her organisation was going to give him money. (Which is always nice.) She said she lived in a small Canadian town he wouldn’t have heard of. ‘I know C-town’ he said, ‘my cousin runs the quilting shop there, and I’ve visited.’ Small world.

And then our second visit to C’s home was curtailed by Covid. For health reasons, the cousins required us to test. The second test was only negative for me, so some bed rest followed while we checked out the country’s Covid rules. But the view over Lake Ontario was nice. Just wish Tim Hortons hadn’t ‘forgotten’ the cream cheese.

We came to Canada not only to visit the cousins, but for Daughter to see a former colleague of hers. Meeting up ‘for a cup of tea’ is much more work with an ocean in between.

Languages can be difficult, especially for non-French speakers like your Bookwitch. Montréal is a lot more French than I had imagined. Our Uber driver listed his languages as French, Spanish and Creole. He apologised profusely for not speaking better English.

But he drove us to the airport, where I was tickled to find the cannabis disposal bin.

Beignets and bagels

Breakfast was late. That was the first breakfast, which due to jet lag was supposed to feed me round about two in the afternoon, but because of [their] lateness was almost three. Or nine, over there. Apart from our empty tummies, the wait was pleasant enough, in the early morning sunshine on the terrace next to the San Antonio Riverwalk. I ordered a churro waffle with cream and strawberries. Start as I didn’t mean to go on, kind of thing. Very American.

It was downhill all the way from there on. The waiter at the next hotel assured me that three pancakes would be enough. One and a half and I was ready to burst. (In my defense, I had imagined much smaller pancakes.) Via blueberry muffins I arrived at bagels with cream cheese, to bagels with cream cheese where the cream cheese got forgotten. (Both times. Thank you Tim Hortons.) Finally there was the hotel receptionist who assured ‘madam’ that the breakfast was there. In fact, she could see it. (The wonders of CCTV…) They placed breakfast baskets outside the rooms. And clearly Bookwitch madam was stupid beyond belief in not finding hers, despite me saying this was my third morning and I’d managed just fine the first two. In the end her ‘did you say room 205?’ made me realise she had been seeing the wrong breakfast. The one outside room 206…)

As well as pancakes New Orleans offered beignets. They are little deep fried things with two kilos of icing sugar on top, and come with their own sweeper-upper of the surplus sugar.

Boats played their part, from the Día de los Muertos floats in San Antonio, the old style Mississippi steamer, the ferries on New York’s East River, smaller boats in the marina on Lake Ontario to something larger on the St Lawrence. I like water fronts.

There being a wedding involved, we mustn’t forget the baraat, where the groom was danced towards his bride, assisted by his family. I’d read up on this, and was a little disappointed there was no horse. But dancing is fine too.


Which is hardest to get into, the United States, or a UK book festival?

This is not a trick question. It must be quite obvious that US Immigration is easier to navigate than a gatekeeper at a literary festival.

I was reading – in the Bookseller – in the disability edition in October, about the author who walks with the help of crutches and therefore can’t always stand for long periods. She asked for a ‘queue-jump pass’ – I didn’t even know they existed! – but discovered that without ‘proof of benefits’ she couldn’t be given special treatment.

Well, I’m glad they defend those book festivals.

I don’t stand well either. This is one of my major problems. Not that I am impatient, just that the standing feels like it could be the end of me.

It might have become obvious to you that the Bookwitch family travelled recently. We had a wedding in Texas to attend, and between you and me, Texas was not high on my list of expected places to end up in. But why not? We booked a flight to Austin.

But then the mother of the bride warned how long they had had to queue, arriving off the same flight. Two hours! I couldn’t do that!

After much panicking I did what the airline suggested and contacted them for help. I said I didn’t need a wheelchair, nor did I want to be assisted all the way. I just wanted a swift way through immigration. (Don’t we all?) They said they could do this [and was there anything else I needed?], and said for me to look for my waiting helper when disembarking. That was a little hard, as there were so many of them, all with wheelchairs. I tugged the shirt of the last one in line and asked him to leave his wheelchair behind and come with me.

So, maybe his trousers could have been better attached, but he chatted nicely about weddings as we walked, allowed us a visit to the restroom and single-handedly identified our suitcases off the conveyor belt. (That’s something the Resident IT Consultant would find difficult.) And then he nodded in a friendly manner to all officials and they nodded back and ushered us through, because we were with him. The immigration officer was nothing like I had been led to expect. He couldn’t have been lovelier or friendlier or more helpful as I was fingerprinted. He greeted Daughter like a friend, because she’d been before [not in Austin].

And then we were out. Or in, as it were.

Meeting Budge

I was sad to discover that Budge Wilson died last year. It felt as though this Canadian children’s author could, would, outlast us all. It’s been nearly fifteen years since we met, but I still have her address in my address book – both her summer address and the regular one – in case I might want to look her up if I ever get to Canada, and more specifically, Nova Scotia. These days of course, I live in the old Scotia.

“Meeting Budge Wilson was rather like meeting a long lost Canadian aunt, if only I had one. I met Budge at her London hotel during her whirlwind British publicity tour for her book Before Green Gables. Things at the hotel weren’t working out very well, so Jodie from Puffin had some complaining to do, before we were given somewhere to talk. Once the practicalities were sorted and a number of confused hotel employees had got their act together with pots of tea and endless bottles of water, we were fine.

Budge looked lovely in a pink top and matching pink lipstick, which is the kind of colour co-ordinating I like. When I said that she looked just as she does in her photographs, she wondered if I’d also been able to see how short she is. To start with Budge is concerned because she’s not feeling a hundred percent well, but she perks up during the interview.

The meeting-my-aunt feeling continues when Budge starts off by interviewing me, which is very sweet, and I just wish I had more important information to share. I confess that I’m worried because I know very little about Budge, but she says “it’s lovely for me”. Being so well known in Canada, and particularly so in her native Nova Scotia, she has got tired of being asked the same thing over and over again.

Still feeling guilty about the insularity of the British book scene, where we tend to know far too little of even English language books from the rest of the world, I tell her that I Googled her the previous day, and was surprised to find my own review of Before Green Gables on the first page. If Budge hadn’t made a point of telling me her age, I wouldn’t have known she’ll be 81 in May. It makes the travelling to publicise a book much more impressive, and I’m amazed at her stamina.

I ask whether she has been to Britain before, and Budge tells me of the trip the family made in the late sixties when the children were young, touring the length of the country in a dormobile during five weeks. She describes it as “a fate worse than death”, which I suspect was more because it was tiring, than that this country was particularly horrible. It was a “hard, hard trip and I remember very little”, she says with a rueful smile.

This time, having left snow behind in Canada, Budge and her husband Alan really noticed the green fields of England as their plane came in to land. “All so tidy. I’m not used to tidy countryside. Like Prince Edward Island, with the hedgerows, like a child’s drawing.” Budge had time to study the London suburbs as the traffic crawled on their way in to central London, especially the architecture and people’s homes; “the stick-together houses” made from different materials than she’s used to.

As I admit to understanding the Canadian style wooden houses, on account of them being similar to Swedish ones, Budge reminisces about a trip she once made to Finland. It “was so like Nova Scotia you wouldn’t believe it”. She feels rather guilty over placing Anne Shirley in the middle of the woods in Nova Scotia, and says if she could write the book all over again she wouldn’t. But we discuss this, as there is obviously a need for Anne to have lived somewhere very different to Prince Edward Island, which strikes Anne as paradise.

It was L M Montgomery who gave Anne’s past a day trip to the seaside, and this forced Budge to give her somewhere inland to live. She spent days driving round trying to find where to place Bolingbroke and Marysville and “up the river”. She had to settle on a fictional area after finding red soil somewhere, which meant that it wouldn’t do for Anne, who had never seen that colour soil before coming to PEI. Budge reckons Bolingbroke might have been Truro, as it fits the description given by Montgomery.

“Prince Edward Island has so many Japanese in the summer, it’s surprising the island doesn’t sink”, says Budge, adding that she feels she has “short changed my province”. I suggest that she couldn’t very well write her Green Gables prequel with an eye to the tourist industry.

I’d read somewhere that Budge had been reluctant to take on the task of writing about Anne’s early years when she was approached and offered the job. “I didn’t want to write it”, she says. “I said I’ll think about it. I thought about it for two months”. One reason was that Budge had another book on the go, a collection of poems for the Swiss Air disaster near Halifax ten years ago. Being two thirds of the way through this, she knew she couldn’t both finish it and write the Green Gables prequel. And “I was concerned L M Montgomery might not want me to do this”.

Budge was also fully aware of the strong feelings she would incur by writing the book. There are many Canadians “whose hearts beat so strongly for Anne, they’d not want me to do this”. After she had decided to do it, Budge found that when it was announced to people, there were a few who didn’t have time to “fix their faces” on hearing about it. On the whole, though, reviews have been favourable, with only “one that did tear me to shreds”.

As she approached the task, Budge found it was “a puzzle to solve, with a heroine not of my making”. Here was a girl who had suffered verbal abuse, there was physical abuse that she was seeing, drunkenness, postnatal depression, and so on. Budge had never written anything historical before, so that was another challenge. She likes to do her “research by asking human beings”.

I ask if Budge knows when Anne was born, and whereas she had thought it might be in 1876, careful counting backwards from when Anne’s son Jem joins World War I, puts her year of birth as 1866. This meant Budge had to be careful and “never mention the date”, and she had to stay vague to avoid inconsistencies. Budge considered bare light bulbs for the orphanage, but was told not to “touch electricity”, which is wise advice in more ways than one. Other problem areas are clothes and how people work, where both safety pins and assembly lines needed avoiding. For those readers who remembers Anne’s puffed sleeves, it seems that L M Montgomery got that wrong, but Budge guesses she just wanted to use them, and so she did.

As Budge talks about the process of getting started, she waves her arms about, indicating Penguin to the right and the Montgomery family and law firm on her left. She first had to provide sample chapters, as well as a long outline of what she would write.

To her astonishment, Budge loved writing Before Green Gables. “I tend to write the first draft extremely quickly”, and she wrote a chapter a day, in 71, non-consecutive, days, finishing on her 80th birthday.

Usually Budge likes to take a long time over “the lovely editing process”, sitting in her bed, with all her papers spread out, and writing by hand. This time she had a deadline to meet, so had to rush things rather more. Penguin originally wanted 300 pages and Budge’s reaction to this was that she couldn’t possibly write that much. The finished book is 465 pages, and that’s after some of the pruning Budge had to do. She tried very hard and managed to cut about 2000 words, initially. The Americans wanted her to cut another 32,000 words, but all she felt able to prune was another 4000. The scenes between Anne and Mr Thomas were some of the ones they suggested removing, but Budge stuck to her guns and kept those passages.

While writing, her “saddest moment was when Anne gave the teddy to Noah”, and she muses over the fact that as the author she could have changed this, but felt she shouldn’t. Anne couldn’t have kept the teddy when she got to the orphanage anyway. I ask how much research Budge did as regards what orphanages were like. She looked into things very carefully, and found to her astonishment that whereas Canada had laws about the humane treatment of animals, the humane treatment of children came later, in the 1900s.

We discuss the dead men in Anne’s life; Mr Thomas and Mr Hammond, as well as Matthew. I admit to a fondness for the Eggman, and Budge says how “very crucial” he is, and how she had to delay things in the plot to prevent it being possible for Anne to be adopted. In all, there were so many possible good outcomes for Anne, and it was heartbreaking that Budge needed to “keep” Anne for Matthew and Marilla.

Something that had puzzled me when reading Budge’s book, was what age it’s intended for. Somewhere I’ve seen 8+, but whereas it’s about a young girl, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s suited for that age group. And I wouldn’t say Budge’s style is difficult, but it’s not dumbed down, either. Budge herself feels it’s very much a book for all ages, but it seems that most readers are adults.

Once Budge had finished Before Green Gables, she had a lesson in saying nothing in interviews, as the publisher wanted nothing given away too early. Budge says her blood pressure shot up, until she learnt to talk without saying very much. Unlike with me, where Budge suddenly starts worrying that she’s talking too much. She gets out a copy of my review of her book and asks me about the Ipecac. She felt it had to be included in the book, but she was so uncertain about whether it was safe, and Budge was intrigued to find I had used it. That brings us on to homeopathy in general, and then I feel it is I who talk too much.

We get chatting about book covers, and Budge shows me the Canadian cover. Under the dust wrapper the Canadian edition is really very attractive, with an old style faded look. I ask how the book is selling, and in Canada it’s “selling extremely well”, and had sold out before the launch. The launch, incidentally, was held on a day with a blizzard, which caused most of her family to be late for the event, although they arrived safely in the end.

Budge gets out her bag to show me. Her daughter made it specially for this trip, and although it’s not Budge’s usual colours, she really likes it. So do I. It’s a beautiful green fabric, with BGG appliquéd in orange on one side and the name Budge on the other. The handles are plaited in orange wool, and they are of course Anne’s hair. It’s the perfect Anne bag. Budge had expected the British to be so sophisticated that they wouldn’t appreciate a hand sewn bag, but everyone has liked it.

I say that people here have less time to make things, and Budge has noticed how much “everyone is rushing”. Apparently a sure sign of a Nova Scotian is that they stand still on escalators. I wonder what that makes me?

I ask Budge to sign my copy of her book, and I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone consider so carefully what to write. When I read it, it’s an invitation to come to Nova Scotia, and that’s definitely a first. Budge has described her home province so vividly, that I don’t think she needs to be concerned that she’s not “selling it”. Their “springs are very grim” and Budge says she never makes school visits outside town in April, because it’s “ a hideous month”. She tells me to come in September to see their “magnificent fall”. I get the impression that autumn colours are better in Nova Scotia than anywhere else. And her description of the varying seascapes near her home, almost has me on the first plane to Halifax.

The next day, Good Friday, Budge and her husband Alan are going to Oxford to visit old friends. She’s brought a book to give them. Not Before Green Gables, but something else. Budge starts to tell me something to do with this, and then forgets what she was going to say. “Don’t you feel that the things you lose are always the ones you think are the most interesting?”

It’s an unkind thought, but I’m almost grateful for the migraine that cancelled Budge’s next interview, which gave us twice as long to talk. Had it not been for my train home, I may well have been there for much longer still. We find our way out, and Budge grabs the large, almost full, bottle of water, and says she’ll take it to her room. I admire someone who is sensible and thrifty.”

(This interview was first published in March 2008.)