It was quite the fairytale of a book fair. In the spiffy Victorian palace of consumerism that is Kensington Olympia, the Literary Translation Centre hid round the back, its face streaked with cinders from keeping the fires of international literary transfer burning. With the fat cats away buying and selling rights et cetera, the mice played and played in what seemed like more space than usual, although chairs were at a premium. But we had our own little stage and nice toilets not nearly as frequented as at any other book fair I have ever attended. I didn't have to queue a single time, I kid you not. There was much socializing, some gossiping and some mourning of colleagues lost this past year, the occasional actual meeting – just the typical hard work to which the kitchen maids of the publishing world are accustomed.
And then came the big night. Our heroine had packed a party gown in a nutshell, so as to change out of her rags for the big ball. Heads turned as she made her entrance, conversations lulled and the like, but then Eugen Ruge distracted everyone at the ambassador's ball by talking about politics, literature and families pre- and post-89. There followed the usual spread of hazelnut-encrusted treats on trays, when lo and behold, three fairy godmothers in the guise of foreign rights ladies whisked our heroine away in a shiny black coach to an establishment in an Earl's Court basement.
There was a band playing, a raggle-taggle group of beasts who had escaped, at least temporarily, from the publishing industry and set out to play music and find something better than death. And that they did. There was some excellent guitar and a saxophone played so enthusiastically that its clip-on microphone fell off twice over. And the singing! The magic fairy dust apparently sprinkled in the ambassador's lemonade prompted our heroine to be a tiny bit over-critical when talking to one of the amazing singers in the break. What she meant to say was, please play more soul and blues and less Fleetwood Mac, because you really rock the soul and blues with your amazing vocals and I don't like Fleetwood Mac but I am having a bizarre but lovely time nonetheless. Tragically, though, our tongue-tied heroine heard the clock striking eleven. Eleven, you say? To which I reply: eleven, if you happen to be staying with your mum at the very end of the Central Line and then have to catch a bus from the station. The noble partygoers no doubt whispered amongst themselves, wondering who the mysterious unknown woman in the vintage-look Belgian dress was who had to leave so suddenly and smiled so beatifically when the barman tried to short-change her.
As she tripped outside, our heroine found her shiny black carriage had vanished and so she stumbled onto a Picadilly Line train. The night was so late that it even stopped at Turnham Green, followed by a trundling bus journey edging her further and further away from the dizzying lights of the international publishing industry cover band, past scores of fried chicken retailers puzzlingly restyled as "Peri Peri chicken" shops and the all-night supermarket that boasts Halal meat and Polish bread under one roof, surely something found in neither Warsaw nor Medina.
Oddly, our heroine didn't lose her shoe until two days later, at which point a friendly ice-cream man at Marble Arch magically produced a tube of superglue to stick the heel back on. But he wasn't much of a prince and she had a birthday party to go to.