In my school holidays, over fifty years ago, I used to cycle from our family home into Guildford to visit the second-hand bookshops. At the top of the High Street was the vast and wonderful emporium of Thomas Thorp, where the heavily laden bookshelves looked as though they might topple over in a cloud of dust at any minute. In Quarry Street, by contrast, was the magisterial bookshop of Charles Traylen who was described in his obituary in The Times as ‘the last of a breed of grandees of the antiquarian book trade’. Situated in Castle House it was a place in which to browse and to dream, and it was here that I spent much of my time.
Our home was in the village of Worplesdon. It stood in an ancient garden where, as a member of the Home Guard, my father had performed lookout duty during the war from a crow’s nest built high up in an oak tree and from which he could see for miles around. The owners at that time were three spinster sisters, each of them called Miss Thompson. My father bought the house from them in 1947. They were cousins of P. G. Wodehouse and he used to stay there with them before the war. No doubt this accounts for the character known as Lord Worplesdon who, it will be recalled, was the husband of Aunt Agatha and once chased a young Bertie Wooster ‘a mile across difficult terrain with a hunting crop’ for smoking one of his special cigars.
The Thompsons had performed their patriotic duty during the war by growing vegetables in the garden and my parents now set about restoring it to its former glory. One of its main features was a pair of herbaceous borders separated by a lawn some six feet wide that was covered in white frost on cold mornings. It intrigued me that spiders were able during the night to spin their silky aerial skeins across the lawn from the delphiniums on one side to the phlox and hollyhocks on the other – a minimum distance of eight feet ‒ without any intermediate support. It was probably this glimpse
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