Reunions, weddings and christenings mean two things to me: A trip down memory lane and the chance to visit a distant bookshop.
This week's destination combines two of those events, when a double family christening saw many of us reunited after (in some cases) years apart. It meant excitement at the thought of an evening with my sisters, a welcome opportunity to see my parents and the promise of catching up with my two cousins. I'm ashamed to admit that for once all thoughts of taking in a bookshop at any point during my visit were cast aside.
The cousins – who are sisters and the parents of the two babies in question – are about my age, meaning I got to spend many happy childhood holidays visiting their home in Greater Manchester.
We'd spend our days visiting the local swimming pool, baking cakes with our Nana, playing with their Duplo or watching Annie. Obviously the entertainment changed* as we grew up, but whatever those visits entailed, they were always fun.
Nowadays we only see each other at weddings (theirs) and christenings (their children's). The contact is fleeting and I know very little about lives that were once so closely linked with my own, but rather than making me forget, I appreciate those brief visits all the more – I may not be part of their lives, but I am still a witness to the important moments.
Which is why I was so excited to be returning to the area to meet their latest babies (a girl and a boy) and see the whole family gathered to celebrate them.
After a seven-hour drive I arrived in the Stockport area, shattered but still enthusiastic at all the excitement to come. Then I took a wrong turn (I'll never become a fan of sat nav). In my panic to return to my planned route instinct kicked in and instead of attempting to reach my hotel by a different road I found myself automatically following roads from my childhood. And I accidentally found a bookshop.
Simply Books is in Bramhall, a mere 15 minutes from the former home of the cousins I used to visit. Admittedly, this bookshop probably didn't exist back then, but when I saw the bright, welcoming shop front it no longer mattered that I wasn't pulling up at my hotel.
The first thing I noticed was an invitingly colourful wall of children's books, stretching back to a cafe where I'm sure parents must happily relax for a chat and a cuppa while young readers choose their next book. Opposite this, a large fiction section houses an out of the ordinary collection of recommendations, and a stunning mural leads the way upstairs.
If the ground floor had felt large, the first floor was like a tardis. Finding space for a comfy couch, tables for more cafe visitors, gifts and an extensive selection of non-fiction, everything about the bookshop indicated space, light and happiness.
Despite this calm and relaxing atmosphere, I struggled to find a book. The long drive – plus a few laps of memory lane – had left me exhausted and in need of help. Which is when a friendly bookseller came in handy. Having noted the brilliant selection of recommends (including a shelf of 'books I'm planning to read') I knew I was in safe hands when I asked for 'something light and fun to cancel out the very heavy hardback I'm currently reading'.
Conversation followed, ranging from the subject of the weighty novel, our mutual Kent links and, obviously, books. When the bookseller casually asked what I thought of Jonathan Coe I had to confess ignorance; The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim was swiftly recommended and sold.
A bookshop may only have been an added bonus to a much anticipated weekend, but Simply Books – along with the book that's now a lasting reminder** of that weekend – were a very welcome addition.
228 Moss Lane, Bramhall, Stockport, SK7 1BD
Tel: 0161 4391436
*given the choice I'd still happily lose an afternoon to Duplo
**you don't get that with an e-reader
PS In case you're wondering, the babies were lovely and the catching up, although fleeting, was worth it.