Ever since I got back into London, my internet access has been iffy.

Had more than enough trouble trying to just download my emails and didn’t have time to blog.

But now, finally, I have a moment–and more importantly internet access!

The last few days have been amazing!

Like I said, I have been astonished at the hospitality and generosity of the people in London!

When I first sent out the word that I was coming, I was contacted by a lovely lady on an academic children’s literature listserve that I belong to offering to host me!

Wow! I thought. And at first I declined. (I don’t like imposing! When I go visit relatives out of town I don’t even stay with them!) But she insisted it would be no bother, and I ended up taking her up on her generous offer.

In fact I’m writing this from her upstairs sitting room or parlour (not sure what they would call it!). A fire is burning in the grate (it’s gas–but still cosy!) and their cat Potcha (sp?) is lying asleep on the Persian rug in front of it with an expression of extreme contentment on her face.

The room is lined floor to ceiling with books! Almost all the rooms of the house are similary festooned! Outside of a library I’ve never seen such a selection!

They’re mostly science fiction and fantasy, the lady, Farah, is a professor at Middlesex university and her husband, Edward is a charming gentleman in the process of retiring from his post as a university medieval history professor in Dublin.

Talk about fascinating conversations! I’ve been picking both their brains on subjects from the civil wars in the seventeenth century to the idea that King John wasn’t so bad after all, as well as science fiction and fantasy of course.

I have dabbled in reading basically most genres of children’s books, and that included a phase in science fiction and fantasy. I think what turned me off science fiction, eventually, was the idea that all the books I read assumed that the people who survived into the future, and explored and colonized space and all that, were destined to be white and Judeo-Christian. What? Were they the only ones who were going to survive???

It was a turn off, and it was interesting that Farah had noticed it too. She suggested we write a paper together about the subject, and I’m really tempted to do it despite all the other stuff I have on my plate.

It seems that God meant me to stay with these lovely people (obviously since He allowed it to happen) and I’m learning as much as I can while I’ve got the opportunity. It’s been much more interesting than if I’d stayed at a hotel, so there’s definitely something to be said for billeting!

And quite honestly, I think I do get a bit lonesome in hotel rooms.

The biggest worry I had was how to manage the privacy issue, but they’ve been completely accommodating. Islamically I’m not supposed to be alone with any male who isn’t my mehrem (my husband, father, brother or other close male relative). They were talking about Edward leaving the house while Farah was out and I told them, no, that if there was any reason for that, I’d be the one to step out!

I can’t imagine kicking a man out of his own home like that!

I was trying to think of a good gifts to thank them for their generosity besides, of course taking them out to dinner. I figured that Farah, being a science fiction and fantasy expert, would perhaps enjoy having something peculiar that’s been sitting among my prized possessions for years.

Way back in 2000 I guess, J.K. Rowling had been invited to Toronto to a special fund-raising event for the Osborne Collection. The Osborne collection, for those of you who don’t know, is a special collection of very old children’s books that all kind of academics come to check out for research purposes. They had invited J.K. and she had accepted, and the event included a ‘reading’ at the skydome and then a more intimate ‘celebrity’ event that included a few dozen Canadian authors and HER to participate.

I was one of the ‘celebrity’ authors chosen. I sat at a table with people who’d paid a good amount of money to be there, but seemed decidedly disappointed not be seated with her J.K. Rowling.

As giveaways I had donated some copies of my current novel at the time Dahling if You Luv Me Would You Please Please  Smile and we each got a copy of J.K.’s latest book Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and it was signed!

Well, it had sat on my shelf ever since. I had considered selling it on ebay, but couldn’t bring myself to do it.

I wouldn’t read it either because, I don’t know, as I’ve gotten older, I just can’t read fantasy any more, it seems more and more sacriligious and it makes me uncomfortable.

Magic is considered a big sin in Islam, and many fantasy novels deal with attributing powers and authority that we believe belongs to God, to inanimate or sometimes animate things, and that’s a big no-no for us. I used to just ignore all that and read the stories anyway but it’s gotten increasingly hard for me to do that. Hence, the reason that I never have been able to get into the Potter books (plus I didn’t find them actually that well written).

But, I thought, Farah might like having it. It was definitely a valuable gift. But I wanted to find out if she even liked Harry Potter, so I went on her website and read most of her articles.

The fact that I couldn’t find any reference to HP made me think that she didn’t view them too highly!

Plus I wondered if she already had a set.

I made a pathetic attempt to find out by asking her a very stupid question in an email as to whether I could pick up a signed copy for a niece who was a big fan while in London. She told me that she couldn’t help me with that.

Well, on Friday night, I finally presented her with the gift. I watched her face carefully while she tore off the yellow tissue paper and undid the white ribbon.

“Oh!” she said, as she saw what it was. I told her to open it.

I had been imagining the scene in my head for a while now and in my head it had ended in so many different ways and yet nothing prepared me for what happened next.

I said, (dramatically), “It’s signed.”

“Oh,” she said again.

Then she put it up on the mantelpiece and I fell back to my plan B. I said, “You’re free to regift it, or do whatever you like with it.”

And she said something that really made me happy. She said that it would probably end up in a really good charity auction!  She’d wait for a really good cause. And I thought alhamdu lillah! That was just perfect.

Then I took out my other gift for her, three copies of my books: Wanting Mor, The Roses in My Carpets, and Many Windows.

That’s when her face lit up!

I told her that I hadn’t signed them yet, because I thought she might want me to sign them for someone else as gifts and I assured her that if she wanted to regift them she was free to do so. Not at all, she assured me, she would cherish them.

It was very touching!

It ended so wonderfully!

Then yesterday I went to Stonehenge. Caught the sightseeing bus from Victoria station (wow, what a bustling area!), we drove two hours (past Harrod’s department store with its window displays of white women mannequins that were growing branches and turning into trees) and past Kensington and other parts of west London I hadn’t seen on the tour bus, all the way down to Amesbury.

Got to Stonehenge just before 3 pm. I will post pictures when I can.

It occurred to me that it really isn’t as impressive as it appears on T.V.

So much of it is about angles and presentation. It’s a bunch of big rocks in a field, most of which have keeled over.

And yet it’s also more.

I’ll write more about it later. This is getting way too long.

Suffice it to say, I’m having a fabulous time with Farah and Edward. They’re taking me to lunch in Brick Lane which apparantly used to be heavily Jewish (Farah’s Jewish) and is now THE spot in London to get the best curry!

Oh, and speaking of Indian food, we had the most scrumptious dinner of Sri Lankan food (halal) on Friday night, and there was enough left over for dinner last night. Farah had some amazing Indian lime pickle that just went down so well with it! Yum!

Signing off.