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Sometimes I think I'm living in a parallel universe. (Distant chorus: "You are!") About forty years ago the designer John Gorham was commissioned by the Sunday Times Magazine to illustrate an article in their 'Sacred Cows' series. I've no idea what it was about now (something to do with butchers or meat I expect) but I cut it out and stuck it in my scrapbook. A little while later I was drinking in a Covent Garden pub with John and I asked him how long it took him to paint the bucolic scene of cattle and sheep. "I'm a designer Pete" he said "I found a stock carrier bag, took the lettering off it and put in generic 'Family Butcher' typography". You can see the superb result on page 151 of that book English Allsorts. And for all that time I wondered if I'd ever find an original bag.
You know what's coming next don't you? The book has just come out and yesterday, for the first time in months, I go to the market in Market Harborough. As I say to the boys after I haven't been for a while "Something's calling me". So I present myself at my favourite stall and just as I look up from a 1938 Bartholomew's map of Wharfedale I see the owner sifting through a pile of things he'd just been given for sale. In a fraction of a second I saw the above. "Hang on" I heard myself saying hoarsely.
Not only is it the same stock butcher's bag (with slightly different folds on the cows and sheep) it's from a place I've only quite recently discovered, also mentioned in the book. Wimbleton's isn't there any more, but if it's food you're after in Porthleven's Fore Street then there's The Corner Deli, Top Chippy and Twisted Currant.
It all seems so long ago now. A cold lunchtime in late January, with us coming out of a very French wine bar just off the Charing Cross Road and me blinking at the light as I watched my publisher cycle quickly off into the traffic. Leaving me wondering "What have I done?". You see, it was January this year and somewhere between one libation and the next I'd said "Of course I can do it by the end of July". But I did, and I have to say that amongst all my books this is the one I've enjoyed putting together the most. And it's out today.
Everything became a pleasure. Pouring over Ordnance maps to find ruined Norfolk churches, talking to a very attractive driver of a new Heatherwick Routemaster in Victoria, having deep meaningful conversations with the Tiptree Jam people, polishing-up a Hornby O Gauge Fyffes Banana truck, turning up in a back street of Abingdon at a couldn't-be-bettered moment, remembering unprovoked attacks made on me by a chicken, attempting to whittle a list down to just three James Ravilious photographs, lying on a shingle beach in Aldeburgh thinking about my first pint of Adnams.
And the kindness of people. Edward Milward Oliver for sending me fantastic stills of Raymond Hawkey film titles, Tony Meeuwissen for sending me gorgeous examples of his outstanding work, Tom Harris for letting me crawl all over his newly-restored 1952 Jaguar XK120. Clive Aslet for writing such an insightful preface, Richard Gregory for meticulously and patiently making sure the whole thing got printed satisfactorily- which it was, by the exceptional Conti Tipocolor in Florence. And the inimitable David Campbell (the Charing Cross Road peddler) for well, another brilliant lunch, making it all happen and then just letting me get on with it. So many incredible people helped, I do hope I remembered you all in my 'thanks' bit at the back.
Your local bookshop will of course at this very minute be putting shed loads in their windows, but in any case you can read more here.