Every so often you do a reading that's really different and off beat. John and I are in Wales at the moment, and the week before last I did a reading in the tiny Oren restaurant in Caernarfon which Gert Vos runs, providing a different, and always exciting, set menu each week. Occasionally on a Thursday, Gert will put on some kind of entertainment for diners, and he had invited me on this particular Thursday to read between courses.
With a necessarily small and select audience mellowed by wine and the most delicious food, it was probably one of the nicest, cosiest readings I've ever done, rather like reading round the dinner-table at home to a group of friends - not that I've ever done that! Gert had decided to do a Welsh menu for the evening, and there was a choice of starters, but then the way we all ordered made him suggest that we all sample some of each, and everyone agreed with delight. So before I began reading I was already almost too full to do so with mackerel salad, battered courgettes (with flowers intact) and Welsh vegetable spring soup. When everyone had finished the first course, those on the ground floor swung their chairs around to face me and those upstairs came down, and I read. I had decided to read food- and restaurant-related pieces, and at this point I read 'Condensed Metaphysics' from Balancing on the Edge of the World, which though set in a very different kind of restaurant from Gert's - a pizza takeway on Manchester's Oxford Road - features a set of customers relating and chatting in just the way we were already doing. And indeed, as Gert served up the next course - Anglesey lamb for carnivores and delicious Welsh goat's cheese with broadbeans and homemade oatcakes for us veggies - there was chat about some of the issues in the story, and about writing. People also asked me about 'Compass and Torch' (because it's on the AQA GCSE syllabus), which I had in fact considered reading, as it was the area above Caernarfon at the start of the Nantlle ridge that had inspired it. After the main course I read a section from The Birth Machine with its strong theme of cooking and witches' brews and spells, and then finally we all went quite quiet as we tucked into one of the most delicious puddings I've ever tasted (I think maybe puddings are Gert's specialty): summer fruit crumble with Caerphilly cheese.
It was an evening I'll remember for a long time: such a friendly, interested audience - in spite of the distraction of the food! - and they even asked to buy books, which I hadn't really expected!
Here's a photo of an earlier meal I had at Gert's: the starter for the Danish summer menu: