There is a Lucius Law which dictates that as soon as the trunks of books are collected for an overseas fair, somebody telephones or emails to order one of the books we have just watched loaded onto the back of a van, not to be seen again until we arrive at our stand at the bookfair, usually about a week later. As each book has its printed description slipped inside and is carefully placed into a bubble bag, I wonder whether this will be the one that we’ll wish we’d decided not to take.
“Hi! Is your copy of Miscellaneous Greek Garden Ornaments still available?”
“Yes, but are you sure you wouldn’t prefer this first edition of Photographs Taken By Bears With IPhones that I can see from my desk?”
“No, I’m pretty keen on Greek Garden Ornaments.”
“Oh, okay. We do still have it, but it is currently en route to a bookfair in Tokyo so I won’t be able to get my hands on it until next Wednesday. Is that going to be all right?”
“Yes, as it is a gift for the Greek ambassador, who is having a garden party on Thursday. Can you get it to me by then?”
The second Law of Lucius is that, when abroad for a bookfair, we must have a farcical Challenge Anneka-style mission to courier a parcel to a customer, so the answer is, of course, Yes, we can get it to you by Thursday.
We once had to send a set of Tolkien firsts from New York to Kansas on an overnight service. Our hotel concierge assured us they would take care of it. We left the parcel at the front desk, took our tracking information and innocently went to the bookfair, whereupon the parcel fell of the edge of the planet. It didn’t show up on the courier’s tracking facility, the hotel had never seen it or heard of it and nobody remembered it being collected. On the hotel CCTV we could see the corner of the parcel one moment, and a time delay later it had disappeared. The hotel maintained their complete disinterest in the face of our rising panic. Realising it must have been stolen, we set about reporting it to the police. James Googled the local police station and phoned them.
An impatient, irritable voice answered: “19th precinct.”
James, faltering: “Um. Hello. My name is James Hallgate. I’d like to report some missing books.”
Pause. More pause. “How did you get this number?”
“Err. Yelp, I think.”
“This is homicide. You don’t call this number.” Click.
The book reappeared on the courier tracking system four days later, the same day the parcel showed up with the customer. Third Law of Lucius came into force: don’t leave parcels with hotel front desks.
Which is how we came to walk twenty blocks through the February sunshine in Santa Monica on Monday morning, looking for a courier we could entrust with our parcel and who could deliver it for less than the price of a return passenger airline ticket. UPS were unable to offer international shipping. Yes, really. Ethan at a shipping brokerage store could offer us many sizes of cardboard box and our body weight in styrofoam peanuts but quoted a shipping price so high he startled even himself with his front. The massiveness of Ethan’s quote softened us up for the only slightly less eye-watering price down the road and we finally got it on its way. It was delivered yesterday, on time. So we are all ready to set up the Oakland fair tomorrow, rocking our Challenge Anneka Lycra bodysuits.