Readers of Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy will already be familiar with the alternative reality Jericho, the canal basin where the Gyptians live in Northern Lights. In real life Pullman has been an advocate in support of the residential boaters fight to save the Castlemill Boatyard in the actual Jericho from property developers. It’s that bohemian, formerly working class quarter of Oxford, bounded by the Oxford Canal, Worcester College, Walton Street and Walton Well Road. On Sunday it was host to the Jericho Book Fair, the very first post-lockdown book fair in the country, the organisers claimed. I went along.
Though raining on the way up and an absolute storm on the way back to London, Jericho itself was dry and plenty of people came out. There were lots of interesting stalls (I managed to buy as many books as I sold, including a 1956 Penguin Classics original edition of The Kraken Wakes by John Wyndham and a more recent volume of Euripides). Oxford University Press were there, Blackwell’s Books and several other presses, as well as the Oxford Indie Book Fair.
I was on the Claret Press stand, which was also manned by fellow author Steve Sheppard, (below) writer of one of my favourite comedy spy novels A Very Important Teapot. Steve lives in nearby Bampton and has just finished writing the sequel, Bored to Death in the Baltics, which involves herring, apparently and will be published in September. He had foregone the pleasure of umpiring for his local cricket team to come along and talk about books. Sylvia Vetta, another Claret author, was on the Oxford Indie Book Festival stand (she is one of its organisers) but we had time for a chat. Sylvia’s most recent novel Sculpting the Elephant is set, in part, in Jericho where one of the main characters has an antiques business.
The band started up which got the place buzzing, a regular ‘coffee run’ to a local hostelry was established and, as lunchtime approached, various purveyors of food arrived. We, on the other hand, headed off along the canal towpath to walk to Wolvercote and The Plough Inn, a walk of about an hour. We had worked up quite an appetite before we came upon a sign to our destination thoughtfully provided for folk doing just as we were. The Plough is an unusual pub in that it has its own library, which seemed very appropriate, (as well as providing good pub grub at modest prices and real ale). We sat outside, eating, drinking and watching the muntjac playing before returning to the Fair, where things were in full swing.
Karen, the young lady from Ghana doing work experience with Claret Press, looked like she was enjoying herself and sales were being made as people were swaying along to a set by a quartet playing guitar, banjo, mouth organ and drums. There was much chat about books, what people liked to read, what they were reading at the moment and what could be found on the other book stalls at the Fair. I did a final swing around the other stalls (spending even more money. but buying only useful things, of course) before it was time to start packing everything away and heading off to the little village of Kennington for an early supper.
Well fortified with curry and wine (save for our driver) we eventually set off, leaving the city of dreaming spires behind, to return to the Great Wen. It was on the outskirts of north London that we encountered a torrential storm, with cars aquaplaning across the traffic lanes and drivers electing to drive in single file around roundabouts. Anyone familiar with London drivers will realise just how severe the weather conditions must have been to prompt such behaviour. Nonetheless, I arrived home, tired but happy, as they say, and only a little wet from my dash to the front door. I look forward to repeating the experience next year, when I want to go inside St Barnabas Church and explore the area rather more.
You can find all the Claret Press books on their website where they are available for purchase here .