|Photo: Stonegate Night bw by Ravensthorpe.|
Reproduced under a Creative Commons licence.
Back in the 1980s student life at the University of York was uninterrupted by social media. The internet was in its infancy and computer science students booked their hour-long sessions in the computer block just down from the Library (where we searched for books on microfiche). For entertainment, there were TV sets in the common rooms. We hunkered down in front of The Young Ones and had all-night horror movie sessions, mesmerised by the special effects in American Werewolf in London. The JB Morrell was closed on Sundays. Some of us (whisper it) read books for fun. We read alone. We didn't talk about it. There were no book clubs, nor did we spend much time recommending to our friends. It wouldn't occur to us to do so.
Tales of the City was just six years old when first I discovered a copy in Godfreys bookshop in Stonegate. A story of a naive young assistant moving from sleepy Cleveland to wide awake, loud and colourful San Francisco was the peak of exotic adventure to a student from North Yorkshire. The girl on the (cord) phone on the cover looked so glamorous. Standing at the back of the shop I read 25 pages (to 'Edgar blows up') and that was it. Hooked. 60p a paperback. In the days when we extracted five pound notes from the cash points in Heslington to last a whole weekend, this purchase was a little luxury.
I loved Mary Ann Singleton. She was embarking on a whole new life adventure. (In later episodes, when Maupin turned his sharp pen to harden her character, I am momentarily saddened, but for now she was the girl I wanted to be.) After the weekend, I headed back into town, back to Godfreys to discover there were sequels - More Tales of the City, Further Tales of the City and one, deliciously entitled Babycakes. I read and reread, tracing every nuance, every development, laughing and weeping, but all alone. It never crossed my mind to share my love of these books. We just didn't, then.
Glide forward seven years and there I am, standing at the airport arrivals hall, holding my copy of Maybe the Moon. Feeling a little nervous, a little excited.
Alison Claire Barrow was twenty-one years old when quietly she discovered Armistead Maupin for the first time. Seven years later she is meeting him at Heathrow to accompany him on his UK book tour. Twenty nine years later (pinch me, where did that time go?) she is his long-term UK publicist and proudly out there and loud about it in this, her first ever blog, in the media, in events - and relentlessly on social media. How lucky am I? And still, in my head, sometimes I'm the girl back in Derwent College, flat out on the thin mattress of my bed on the second floor of A block, lit by the angle poise, reading and discovering Barbary Lane for the first time.
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