David Bouchier

Back in the long forgotten pre-Amazon era, I spent some happy years working in a big university bookstore opposite Trinity College in Cambridge – the old Cambridge, not the new one by the Charles River. The bookstore was a kind of warren of knowledge, with sections for Greek and Latin books, mathematics, art, literature, the sciences, philosophy, and an enormous history department. It was a happy hunting ground for professors, and for the more dedicated students, and we liked to think that it was in some sense the intellectual heart of the university.

Jane Austen died in 1817. She wrote brilliantly about a world that was psychologically and socially a million miles away from present-day America, in the kind of stately, exact English that nobody speaks or writes any more. She seems an unlikely candidate for media celebrity in the twittering age, yet her works are still enormously popular. Some people have even read the books, but the real boost to her celebrity has come from a flood of movies and TV specials.

There's no emergency like a water emergency. It brings out our most primitive fears. We inevitably think about Noah's flood and the final deluge. When water runs out of control indoors, we have the worst kind of domestic crisis. When the plumbing fails, we panic.

It was 60 years ago that I bought my first motorcycle, and it felt like a liberation. For many years after that I rode a series of unsteady and unreliable machines all over Europe, and somehow survived. In the end I bowed to family pressure and common sense and bought a car. But my last motorcycle, a splendid and powerful machine called Triumph Trophy, lingered in my mind. Sometimes I imagined that it was still lurking in the back of the garage under a tarpaulin, and that I could bring it out for one last ride. Motorcycles have that effect on some people.

Summers used to last forever. It’s a cliché, so it must be true. People of a certain age can actually remember those endless summers, which were abolished sometime in the early 1960s. Our modern summers are much shorter, and much busier. Labor Day seems to arrive almost immediately after Memorial Day, and most of us are exhausted by the time we get here.