Wednesday, 24 September 2014
On the Christie Trail
A family gathering in Wallingford took me to Oxfordshire for a long week-end, and gave me the chance to explore this pleasant English market town on Saturday afternoon. I'd had my eye on the second hand bookshop there, which has some very interesting books indeed, although I exercised uncharacteristic restraint. What I hadn't expected was to stumble across a local festival celebrating Agatha Christie, or to more or less gatecrash a book signing by Lucy Worsley.
The reason why Wallingford should take a special interest in Christie wasn't anything to do with the publication of Sophie Hannah's new Poirot novel. Christie lived in the town for over 40 years, and the locals have decided to make the most of the connection. And why not? Christie is as popular as ever, and the events seemed to have attracted plenty of people. I was impressed by the local museum, which had an excellent little exhibition, including people's personal memories of Christie. As usual, she was regarded as a quiet but very amiable woman, and there was a rather moving account of her kindness to a young girl who fell ill.
Christie's house backed on to the river, as does the house we were visiting. Her house had its own boathouse, and an enjoyable feature of the family gathering was a walk along the river bank on a wonderful September Sunday, with the sun shining as if it was the height of summer. Christie was very fond of her more famous home, Greenway in Devon, but I can certainly see why she also enjoyed Wallingford.
I stayed in Dorchester on Thames, a pretty village three or four miles away. Some scenes in Midsomer Murders have been shot there, and I did wonder if Christie had it in mind when she wrote about places like St Mary Mead. Suffice to say that this is a quintessentially English part of the world. One of the pleasures of my trip was to be reminded of Dame Agatha's enduring appeal. And incidentally, on the way home, I enjoyed looking round Evesham, and discovering this Victorian hearse. They don't make 'em like they used to...