With a month of rain interrupted by intermittent leafy days daubed in autumnal gold, our no-go November evensong was spent in devotions, incantations, rapture and scripture; also known as reading, writing, watching TV; and listening to the relentless patter on the windows and the rustle of oak and beech leaves whenever we opened the door. While our liturgy changed little, the day-long roar of the cars on the road outside suggested that this was no lockdown in the springtime sense. Identical days and weeks pass us by without even trying to be different. My travel horizon shrank again to a radius of about five miles encompassing local dog-walking sites. Mostly, we all ate together at dinner but prepared and ate other meals separately. Alli, who does nearly all the cooking, the washing and cleaning, takes the dogs out in the mornings as I keep to an approximate schedule of working through the day with breaks to walk the dogs in the afternoons, and other errands and tasks including the autumn job of digging over and covering the vegetable garden. This drudgery is trudgingly slow as my back complains as soon as the spade cuts the soil. But our last crop of parsnips has been lifted and the tarps are soon to be laid over the beds.
After Jessie and Jurrat exchanged contracts with the seller on their flat in Brighton, I picked up the keys from the estate agents the same day and drove to Gipsy Hill early on the next to help them move out from the flat they have lived in for a year. They hired an excellent removals team of cheerful Kurds who completed their task promptly with hardly a missed step or broken tile. My job was to transport Jessie and Jurrat, some of their bags, their valuable items and their potted plants back to Brighton in the car. The flat is in Kemptown, a district running along the King’s Cliff to Black Rock, a ten minute walk to the Pavilion and a stone’s throw into the sea. The back entrance opens through a very elegant patio onto a car park, where a man in a bulky uniform knocked on my side window minutes after I had parked the car (the only one there) ready to bring in the bags and pot plants. He asked me for my permit, then told me to leave after understanding that I didn’t have one. I had forgotten Brighton’s obsession with paying people to keep cars moving in a repeating circulatory holding pattern around the city. The removal team was luckier than I was. Everything was brought in as efficiently as it had been taken out. Jessie and Jurrat have lost little time in repainting the interiors closer to their taste and within days everything seemed dusted after Nick drove a small van over to Brighton with an old cupboard from Broad Oaks that Jessie and Jurrat had repainted. Following Ella-and-Sam’s move to Burgess Hill a few weeks ago, two thirds of our daughters have now moved near us in a startling reversal of traditional family migrations and settlements. Gwen may even do the same after she finishes college next year in York. These moves, and the prospects they carry for future family opps together, are the best news we have had all year. Already, Alli and I separately but regularly walk with Ella plus dogs in our shared ‘hood, which includes the edgy Ditchling Common, the rough-and-tumble Bedelands Estate, and the frankly worrying Devil’s Dyke. On the last weekend of the month, a family cohort of Jessie, Ella and Sam kept our new tradition of making Christmas wreaths from the garden. Some excellent wreaths were made and dispatched to friends and neighbours. A day later we celebrated Kay’s 82nd birthday with Bollinger and small chop.
The persistent latrinal smell that had hung around our living area and the adjacent garage all year was suddenly gone after a persistent blocked lavatory in our bathroom prompted me to phone for local help, which produced Tony. I made a point of following him around, watching everything he did and plying him with naïve questions. I now have the advantage of knowing where all the drains and person-holes are; how and where the waste flows from the different outlets, and other fascinating information about waste disposal: ideal small talk for dinner parties of the future. Tony mostly does hotels like the Grand and others in Brighton. A selection of Q&As: Q. Which substance blocks toilets the most? A. Excessive toilet paper. Q. How much paper should be used per visit? A. Between 1 and 6 sheets; Q. Which is the best paper to use to avoid blockage? A. The cheapest: 1-ply (folding it if necessary), avoid ‘quilted’, 2-ply, and ‘flushable’ wet wipes; Q. Do men and women do it differently? A. Most women ‘wad’ their paper and most men ‘fold’ their paper; Q. What is the strangest thing you have found in the drains? A. A horse’s leg. This last is worthy of Graham Greene. Unexpectedly, another drain in the house became blocked shortly afterwards. Nick was able to resolve it with a falange of rods and local knowledge – quilted paper and drains architecture were again the cause.
Meanwhile, a complicated interaction with the bots at the Department for Transport at last yielded the renewal of my UK driving licence despite my long years of being foreign. And the world staggers on under a slighter load after the USA proved that true democracies allow majorities to change their minds when the evidence of imminent national self-destruction becomes pikestaff-plain.
Yours from next year’s permanent lorry-park along the M20,