Late in July we drove down to Bayfield, in Alice Munro’s Huron County.
After Stratford the car knows the way… through Sebringville (Ontario’s longest hamlet, I’m told) then Mitchell (former home of Orlo Miller, who wrote Death To the Donnellys for me) then Dublin (home of “The Liffey Drain”) then Seaforth. Here we took a turn south, wrenching the car wheel away from the traditional route on to Clinton and then Goderich, to go straight to Bayfield. Along the way we saw the Bannockburn Bridge (worth a photo shoot, since I’m organising a Bannockburn reunion next June, the 700th anniversary of the 1314 battle, where Robert The Bruce defeated Edward The Second-Rate) with the next village, appropriately, named Brucefield.
Bayfield is a place well known to Alice. She once did a “Long Pen ” signing event there , as a favour to her friend the bookseller and her friend Margaret Atwood, the Long Pen’s inventor. We know it, too. In fact my wife Jane is a former resident. When she was based in London, working as a Speech Therapist at the old Victoria Hospital, she and her first husband had a summer place in Bayfield, so we’re always glad to have an excuse to head for “Ontario’s West Coast”.
After wandering around the busy Main Street (on a summer Sunday it’s as crowded with strollers as Yonge Street) we settled in at The Little Inn. In the evening we met Mary Brown, the brave bookseller who organised the event, at the Town Hall, an old church built in 1882. There were the usual technical difficulties before the show, but it all worked out well, with me performing my act at floor level, in front of the stage, and introducing my “lovely and talented assistant”, Jane, who would be changing the slides for me. We even had a Q. and A. session , which was fun, including a woman with memories of being hailed as a fellow “stubblejumper” by W.O. Mitchell.
Among the audience were old friends of mine , lost for 30 years, and a number of Alice’s friends, from Goderich, Clinton, and even Blyth including one lady who once shared waitressing duties with her. There was a flash of Huron County understatement when one woman told me she was at the show because a friend had seen my show in Stratford and had reported that it was ( I swelled, expecting superlatives, although she was really too old for “awesome”) it was … um … “quite interesting.”
When we visited Alice at home in Clinton the next day, she liked that story, and matched it with a story from some years ago when she was visiting a bookstore and offered to sign the pile of copies of her latest book. The bookseller refused the offer… “because then I couldn’t return them if they didn’t sell.”