My strongest memories of the god- or science-inspired extremes of the British weather have come from British seaside resorts such as Brighton, Blackpool, Bournemouth, Amlwch, Whitby, and several others. High winds not only happen in Jamaica. Hardly ever depicted in those eponymous seaside postcards is that buffeting, blustering weather, bilious as billy-o, the kind that slaps your cheek, knocks your head back, pummels out your breath, and bundles you towards cliff edges as if you are being forcibly carried away by several riot policemen.
I was in J3’s flat in Brighton, a town accustomed equally to the quiet complacency of a cloud-puff Indian summer and a choppy, spume-flecked, rain-spattered ground-trawling wind that sleigh-races with the waves and sends seabirds soaring high into the sky. I had just texted Jessie that it was sunny and that Jaxon and I were in the back terrace warming ourselves. Minutes later I was texting her that we had been forced to retreat back into the flat due to sudden rain and wind – both of which had seemed to come out of the blue. Or perhaps it was wilful AI? The night before, with Jurrat, I had eaten bao buns and kimchi chips at the excellent Pond pub, and watched The Creator, a futuristic film about artificial intelligence as a self-determined political influence in the world decades hence. With an ambitious plot, the film was a concertina summary of three or four real-time films; on the Hobbit scale perhaps nine or ten. It was entertaining but too breathless to be inspiring. I’ll be back for the director’s cut, when the dystopian vision may be reality, or when we are all being massacred by foreign government armies defending their countries, or both.
I went with Jessie to see, for the second time in a year (her birthday present to me), the newly confident Thea Gilmore with her band at the awesome Union Chapel in Islington. Built in 1799 by a group of ‘radical activist’ nonconformists (Islington was ever thus), the North London venue is solemn and sepulchral but inspiring, with stern pillars, a million bricks, and a legacy of friendly non-conformism.
Alli and I had an overnight stay at the Rathfinny Wine Estate in Alfriston, near Eastbourne, a birthday present to Alli from our daughters. The setting was glorious, the dinner exceptional, and my starter of sautéed Jerusalem artichokes with garlic, grated truffles and aioli hay smoke cream was a major culinary discovery. Yes, hay smoke. Our bedroom was the attic of a converted barn with wide views over the surrounding vines, although you had to bend down to see them. Established only in 2010, the estate is already – as all must be – ‘award-winning’. We both enjoyed the main dry white wine, Cradle Valley.
Gwen remains in Thailand in the final stage of her extended visit to south east Asia. She is volunteering at a rescue centre for dogs and cats and clearly enjoying the experience, having already holidayed with different friends across Sri Lanka, Vietnam and Bali. Ella and Sam travelled up to Newcastle for Ella to participate in the Great North Run, the biggest half-marathon in the world, with at least 60,000 participants. More recently, Sam accompanied Ella in his first major race since his knee injury, in the scenic ten-mile Twickenham Cabbage Patch race. Not to be outdone, Sam’s parents flew to Chicago for the iconic marathon there.
After almost eight months of fumble, fluster, and muster, we have exchanged contracts on a house, and will move there with our long-lost belongings in November. The house, semi-detached and Edwardian, is in Uckfield, East Sussex, close to the station and the river Uck, a tributary of the Ouse. We are enormously relieved to be finally moving to our own house of our own choice after our scrambled and untimely exit from France four years ago.
I went to a conference in Exeter on publishing organised by the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, staying overnight on the way in Abbotsbury with cousins Tim and Sue, who cooked a great dinner, and their son Adam. On the next day I drove into Exeter and had a good lunch and chat with other family cousins Clifton and Marjorie. After the conference, which has reignited my interest in publishing, I drove to Ilfracombe on the north Dorset coast to stay for a few days with my friend Richard, who put me up and guided me around the town and surroundings in a most exemplary and appropriate fashion. We had an unusual lunch at Comyn Farm, where no less than six plates of vegetables accompanied the main course, and where the proprietor forced us into multiple tastings of robust red wines from the 1960s with torn or no labels. We walked to the spectacular and dominating statue in the town harbour, Verity, by Damien Hirst. We visited the Valley of the Rocks and the towns of Lynmouth and Lynton, and travelled between the two in a 500-foot fully water-powered funicular railway, one of only three such in the world. We drank lots of beer and talked a lot. I ran out of time to visit others in the south west but I was shocked by the sudden news that my old friend and boss of the Advertising Association, Andrew Brown, had died at his home in Cornwall. I worked with him very closely for most of the 1990s. We had stayed in touch regularly since then. I will sorely miss our chats and his intellect and learning, his coherence, kindness, and tolerance.
I returned via the north Devon coast road, passing through towns and landscapes redolent of my mother’s descriptions of her family holidays there in the 1920s to 1940s. Exmoor was Lorna Doonesque, eerie, and misty, and I stopped briefly in Porlock, Minehead and the much demystified Smuggler’s Inn at Blue Anchor, before returning to Burgess Hill via Salisbury, although Stonehenge was closed off for the change back to Greenwich Mean Time.
Spring forward, fall back…