Did you have a favourite Little Chef? I don’t know if there are any left now. I think they have become coffee outlets or adult superstores for the covert admirer of hardcore pornography and vibrating eggs. When my friend Lyndsey and I used to travel to Latitude festival, we were great admirers of the Little Chef in Essex that had a Happy Eater weathervane – a sign of hostile takeover with a lollipop for finishing the deal?
My mum’s favourite Little Chef was on the Tiverton bypass. I’m not sure why she appreciated the omelettes so much or whether it was the joy of knowing we were nearly on our summer holiday. We never got closer to Tiverton than the bypass, but today I cross the boundary to visit Liznojan Books. The shop is a delight; plenty of books, plenty of space for tea and cake.
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This is a place where the owlish and curious feel happy and safe. It is a bit too small for an event, so we travel to a house a few miles away. It is the size of an extravagant vicarage. I can imagine a Victorian lepidopterist scrutinising a Red Admiral’s wing in the front room. The owners, Tara and Nigel, have restored the house while maintaining the shadows and footprints of those who have been before.
In the room I will be talking in, the sharp lines of faded paint show where paintings once hung, leaving an enigmatic space. I admire some paintings that have been brought in. Tara tells me they are works by her grandmother. As with most of my talks, the structure comes from what I find nearby. I have rooted through the shelves which the last owner left behind, the ferryman to the afterlife not having room enough in their boat for an Encyclopaedia of the Occult or Oscar Wilde’s Salome.
Towards the end of the talk, I mention Jean Rhys, the now acclaimed author who spent much of her life forgotten, believed dead. During the questions, Tara tells me more of her grandmother Selma Vaz Dias. It was she who rediscovered Jean Rhys. Vaz Dias was, among other things, an actor in one of my favourite films, Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes, as well as being instrumental to bringing Lorca and Jean Genet to a wider audience. Having read Rhys’s Good Morning, Midnight, a novel of such startling honesty and sadness that the critics appreciated its style but detested its contents, Vaz Dias wanted to adapt it for the radio.