Is she running or isn't she? Should she run or shouldn't she? And why has she travelled "across the pond" to bring Hard Choices to the fore on English soil? And why here, why now? These were the questions we pondered as we queued outside Waterstones' flagship store at Piccadilly, on a humid, warmish morning last Thursday. The number of young people (young to me, meaning 20's, 30's or 40's) was noteworthy. Almost all with whom I spoke were solid Hillary fans who would not otherwise be prepared to pay the full £20 for the book, sans the discount available at other unnamed retailers.
Women do love her; the glass ceiling and all that. I personally wanted to gain a sense of the human being behind the legend. There is always a human there, isn't there? I wondered if she is tired of it all, or not tired at all. I wondered if the book is pre-empting a graceful farewell to the political maelstrom, or a bid for the ultimate position on the planet. I wondered, woman to woman, if she wouldn't just like to have a bit of a normal life, and spend time with the grandchild. Or is the pressure too great, the expectations too high that she alone can crack that glass ceiling first and for all? I wondered.
There is never much chance to fill out the wondering with fulsome insights at book signings. Whoosh and it's over. But this time we were in a good position to gaze upon her for some time as we inched forward on aching feet, noting the protocol: Small talk, handshake, no photos, book signed (no names, please), move on. She looked in spanking good health; radiant, I would say.
I admired her hair as I suffer from the same affliction of frequent "bad hair days" caused by, well, having just too few strands of hair. I told her she looked beautiful. Was that too forward? I thought, if there is a human being there behind the legend, everyone likes to hear they look good, don't they? We were suitably impressed, not only with her presence, but her cool, calm and in-control demeanour.
Equally noteworthy was the large retinue of Secret Service in attendance. I had to talk with them, the men with the wire. They were so polite, so sturdy, so noticeable, yet happy to make small talk with us ordinaries.
"How long are you here for; how do you like England?"
"Only here for the day, but your people are very nice, very polite".
"Yes, this is a very polite, nice country. And safe!" Why did I say that??
Well, seriously, did he need to fly here for the day? The super security seemed extraneous in the luxurious and genteel setting of Waterstones, Piccadilly: no bags allowed, even handbags checked. Hence, no phones, no cameras, no makeup, no mirror, no tissues, no paracetamol, no anything for hours, except a sweaty receipt clutched in every hand. I felt naked, bagless, all my valuables secure in some secret room below. "Is it safe?" I asked, as I checked it. Typical New Yorker. "Of course". Well, of course it is. And how is it that men always manage to get their phones past security, spending the waiting hours happily scrolling and taking the forbidden photos? Pockets, I was told. We obedient females entertained ourselves with those rare objects: books. They were everywhere, and we could read them. When we tired of that we partook of the other most rare and unusual British pastime: we spoke to each other. Why don't we do this more often? Read books and speak to each other. How civilized.
And that's what it was like, meeting the possibly-first-female-and-next-President of the United States: impressive and civilized. Waterstones has to be commended for laying on a most orderly and indeed pleasant book-signing event. The helpful and kind, courteous staff offered water from trays to the faint and weary, adding to this perfect British idyll. Well done, Waterstones and well done, Hillary. It was great to meet the woman and the legend. I hope you do and get whatever you want. You've certainly worked hard enough for it.