My daughter is on her knees next to the sofa, fringe hanging over her book as she sings a little song to her soft penguin. Rain spears resolutely past the windows outside. Inside, my wife and I are bickering. Me because its half term, her because she’s back at work tomorrow. It’s the usual holiday problem. I am leaving the childcare to my wife a bit too much and she wants to spend the time together. My wife and daughter tend to gang up on me. It’s not their fault. They love being together. But there’s an exclusivity to it. “I want mummy” my daughter wails when mummy’s at work and she is tired or has barked a knee. “Mummyyy!!” is the call first thing in the morning. When I’m telling her off she wrinkles her face and puts an arm out towards mummy. “But she was sticking her fork into the table!” I say. “Oh well” my wife says. “It’s a bank holiday”.
Since it’s a bank holiday I drive hundreds of miles to Hay on Wye to meet one of my literary heroes, Dave Eggers, author of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. If only he knew the risks I had taken to be there. It is a beautiful journey in the sunshine but in the rain the motorways are deathly skidpans – water lies everywhere and the car wobbles when it hits. I acquaplane crazily from lane to lane. My wipers don’t seem to have a high enough speed to cope.
At Hay everywhere is muddy and everyone walks around with the Guardian and Guardian festival bags. I’m in the Eggers queue, near the front, because I know how to loiter just before the authors arrive. What do I say? “It’s my favourite book!” No, it’s not my favourite after all. It’s one of my favourites, along with the Nabokovs and the DeLillos and the Faulkners and the Prousts. But “It’s one of my favourite books” sounds slightly begrudging. “I’m a writer too, and...” NO! It’s just journalism and a blog.
In the end I smile and say please and thank you and he looks up after signing the book with an absent-minded “Thank you” of his own, as his agent leans down and whispers in his ear, clandestinely. I trudge out of the tent into the wind and mud and buy a punnet of strawberries from a bedgraggled farmer in wellingtons, pleased to find someone who looks more miserable than me. Inside Dave Eggers is grinning at the next customer, warm and desired and with the prospect of a nice meal in the authors’ tent with attentive agents and publishers.
I walk to my car in the charity car park, veering sideways in the wind, Guardian bag flapping, wondering just where it all went so right for him.