Sometimes our academic wanderings take us to places which we would perhaps not discover on our own. Last Friday I attended a conference on Thomas Bewick of whom I must admit my complete ignorance. (I just happened to be in Newcastle for something else). The conference reminded me of my days on the Board of the Swedish Selma Lagerlöf Society, with annual meetings attended by her passionate admirers who knew every line and semicolon by heart. The Bewick scholars were discussing the subtle difference between first and second editions of Bewick's illustrated Aesop's fables and influences from earlier engravers, and the audience had questions that demostrated their full knowledge of the subject. I always view such occasions as further education. Not directly relevant, but widening horizons. 18th century has never been my strong side.
Then I got an unexpected bonus. The programme announced a contemporary illustrator of Aesop, my ignorance of whom felt worse than my ignorance of Bewick, until the moderator mentioned his most famous picturebook, just reprinted. And warm memories of my youth came over me. The Giant Jam Sandwich! I read it forty years ago, as a beginning children's literature scholar and translator behind the iron curtain, one of those completely random books that made their way to Moscow and that we, hungry for any English children's books we could get hold of, read it with delight. I can recite it even now. And here was the author, large as life. If A A Milne had turned up at that conference, I wouldn't have been half as surprised.