By general agreement Alli’s birthday this year was more of a birtholiday. We had first visited the sceptred Isle of Wight 25 years ago and I am the only one to remember any of the key details which included a magical day in Blackgang Chine. This time Alli and I started by looking around the impressive but denatured Carisbrooke Castle, where Charles I was imprisoned, a visitor’s video guide makes fun of its history, and donkeys now tread the mills for the tourists who also inspect the new Princess Beatrice Garden. Then Ella and, surprise, surprise, Jessie arrived at our rented house in St Helens on the next day. Jessie swam each day in the bracing Channel sea in St Helens, Bembridge and Shanklin (Ella and I also, but less often). We did a lot of walking, exploring ancient Steyne Woods, Bembridge Beach, Culver Down, Brading Down, Newtown Nature Reserve, the very old-fashioned Shanklin Chine, several stretches of coastal path, and the tropical Botanic Garden (‘Britain’s hottest garden’) in Ventnor. We had a birthday brunch in Ryde then Ella and Alli beautified themselves at the serene Lakeside Park Hotel before we visited the Newtown Nature Reserve and had a celebratory dinner at Ryde’s Heron restaurant. I discovered Wight Squirrel ale and Jessie rediscovered Mermaid gin. A propos, an article on Jessie’s painterly skills in the Brighton flat was published to online acclaim.
Ella started a new job this month at KP Snacks as communications manager. It would normally require a long commute, driving to and from Slough from Burgess Hill, but most working days seem likely to be spent at home. We came together again for a wine tasting locally at the Artelium vineyard in mid-month, organised by Ella, who led her sisters in a 40-minute route march across Ditchling Common and the Blackbrook woods to get there, while Alli and I represented the older generation by driving. The affable owner guided us through three of his best wines, a sparkling Chardonnay, a Pinot Gris, and a Meunier, providing yet more evidence of the Sussex wine revolution. In the meadow of a converted dairy farm near Streat, framed by the long, rolling ridge of the Downs, the al fresco tasting gave perfect relief after my daughters and I had all been on a park run in Haywards Heath.
All good historians should be committed walkers and ramblers, the easier to chance upon history long neglected but restored thanks to the commemorative work of local historians. It is how I came upon a panel on the straight track between Streat and Plumpton (near the racecourse) which drew attention to the Plumpton Cross etched nearly 760 years ago into the side of the Downs by the monks of St Pancras Abbey, Southover. The cross was dug in memory of those who fell during the Battle of Lewes in 1264, between the forces of King Henry III and the Barons, who sought to limit the assumed powers of the monarch. However, the text awarded to Simon de Montfort the accolade of bringing democracy to Britain. He was no democrat and fought to transfer political power from the King to the Barons (mostly him), but no further. I could not see the cross in the mist and failing light. A passing walker told me that it can be seen on particular clear evenings in the high summer when the moving shadows from the sun lengthen along the downland. I thanked him and decided to ignore the fact that the man had originally thought Max to be a sheep.
I made a fourth visit of the year to Yorkshire by car when Alli, Gwen and I went up to York for Gwen’s graduation ceremony, held in the Minster itself, a numinous building with an immense history. Gwen’s BSc rewards all the hard work she did for three years on canine (and feline) behaviour and training. Her name was called out in the place where Kings of England have also had their names called, many with far less reason for the calling. We celebrated with others in a pub with a draught from the open doors, where pints were £2, and a man was wandering around checking IDs. One of our number looked about 13 but was in fact 26. I have happily forgotten the name of the pub as I have a reputation to maintain but locals called it the ‘Spoons’.
The next day we went on a car journey up and down dales in the East Riding, past villages with names such as Ugglebarnby, Land of Nod, and Wetwang, to the precious coastal jewel that is Whitby, where God, who owns the whole county, will most probably be retiring soon to a blue beach hut. Whitby is a glorious town. We were there for Gwen to see her boyfriend Lawrance and to meet his father Paul. We all had dinner together in nearby Staithes, where Captain James Cook, master sailor, surveyor and cartographer, the first European to discover Australia and Canada, got his first job. He was commemorated in the name of the restaurant where we ate and in Whitby on a prominent position in its harbour by a statue and a pair of whale jawbones. We all got on very well and Alli and I were very happy with our visit. We had a good hotel with a generous bedside view of the big wide glittering bay of Whitby. We even saw a frolicking dolphin. The bright and sunny day gave us the chance also to explore the town with Lawrance and to climb the 199 steps to the enthralling Abbey, home of England’s earliest recognised poet Caedmon. I was then rewarded with good beer at the Whitby brewery sited improbably between the Abbey and a vast and ancient graveyard with the town’s best and highest view of the sea.
We came back the next day to Burgess Hill after a long and difficult drive. There were no queues at any of the petrol stations until we got south of Watford, providing one provisional result of this nation’s monthly intelligence test. The next day, since we are a foodie family, we all attended the Foodies Festival in Preston Park. The increasing incidence of such events makes me think that England is becoming more like France every year, with its fine wine production, craft ales, village fairs, and festivals of locally produced food, drink and live music. I walked about with daughters and friends sampling and eating with scarce a care in the world.
As the month ended Jessie and Jurrat were overjoyed to locate and acquire a dog from a Kent rescue home. Jax is a black 3-year-old Staffie with a calm temperament and a loving nature; also very excitable when happy. Jessie and Jurrat were able to collect him just four days after they first applied. All involved are delighted, and Maisie (Ella and Sam’s Rottweiler from Battersea) will now have another energetic play-mate. I drove him to his new home with J & J in Brighton and he trotted in with them proudly as if he had lived there for years. He is already inseparable from his new owners. Adopting a bereaved or separated dog from a rescue home just must be one of life’s biggest win-wins.
with canine regards all round,