Alli and I went to Brussels on the Eurostar from St Pancras to visit our friends Laurence and Claude and to celebrate Laurence’s 60th birthday with their son Corentin, daughter Ambre, and a large group of mutual friends, many of whom have been constant, close, and regular companions for nearly fifty years. It is a remarkable group of people that includes our friends Sophie, Alexis, Anne, and Alli herself, who was brought up largely in Belgium, where we first met in 1987. Meetings and reunions between the group (which includes a fair amount of mutual short- and long-term ‘exes’) are many and various. I sometimes think it could be presented as an expanded Belgian version of the US sitcom ‘Friends’. Saturday night featured a long table, plenty of wine, and loads of home-made love and lasagne. Sunday evening we went out to Miss Kang to sample Asian and Chinese delicacies au bord du lac de Genval, where one of the many topics of conversation of the group was their shared collective teenage experiences of skin-dipping in the lake and crashing fancy parties at the Hotel du Lac.
Alli and I have done some more house-hunting. It has been instructive and often pleasant to visit the ‘highways and byways’ of Sussex. (I still have the book by the celebrated H. V. Morton, one of dozens written about the English countryside in its years of grace in the 1920s). Alli and I had first agreed that we wanted something remote, but we have now seen Sussex remote and frankly it’s ultra; a full-blown escapist panoply of survivalist, off-grid English greensward bush laid bare, brutal, and boot-squelching. I was thinking more of occasional instances of cattle dung on the edges of smaller local roads, and the fleeting fox sighting. Atonally, we are also being hampered by the relatively new practice of agents insisting on the intricate details of potential buyers’ or renters’ financial credentials, credit ratings, secure (as opposed to insecure) income, capital, and life prospects before making decisions. On the plus side I have more work to do and far less time to waste, so I feel moderately more optimistic about the near future. We will rein back on the ‘remote’ requirement. It’s even significant that ‘remote’ now describes something digital that changes TV channels more than a description of a place secreted away in the clustered folds of l’Angleterre profonde. I should post-scribe that we are now focussing our attention on a house that we agree on…
I spent a splendid half-day in London seeing Something rhymes with purple, the staging of a long-running podcast by Susie Dent and Gyles Brandreth at the Fortune Theatre, London, a much appreciated Christmas gift from Ella and Sam. I listened more carefully to Susie Dent’s precise and nervy observations than Brandreth’s easy bluff-bosh repartee. However, the partnership between the unlikely duo worked well and we were entertained. Several words that I had wondered about came up and their etymologies were partially explained (nothing is perfect or certain in this twilight area), but I came away with enough stories for a few imaginary social evenings to come. I did learn that the simple and commendably concise Anglo-Saxon word of abuse, namely a ‘prat’, was originally the name for a single buttock, thus explaining the sensational word ‘pratfall’ which means to fall on your arse. In addition, a rare and appropriate word exists to describe remembering something or someone, but not very well; relevant to many of my generation. This excellent word, long overdue a renaissance, is ‘to rememble’. It removes the need to keep saying: “I vaguely remember…”
Alli and I drove to Surrey to visit our friends Fionnuala, Andrew and Evelyn where we had a most agreeable evening and delicious dinner celebrating Fionnuala’s birthday with other guests and friends Sybil and Clare. We spoiled our copybooks by being the first to retire upstairs to a comfortable bed before midnight, but we had a bracing walk with the dogs the next day around Rodborough Common and returned to Burgess Hill in time to see our daughters Jessie and Gwen at Broad Oaks. The next day Ella and Gwen (photo above) were running the Brighton half marathon, and we joined Jessie and Jurrat to cheer them on from the sea front on cold but clear day. Ella, who was not feeling well, paced Gwen with care, making sure that her sister secured a new personal best time, breaking her previous one by a whopping four minutes. Gwen had raised a lot of sponsorship money for the Alzheimer’s Society in memory of her Grandpa Laurie. We all had baby Bao buns and sundry sides afterwards at the Pond pub where I downed three pints of local brew Bedlam Smokie, which somehow did not assist me in the route-march back to the station.
Yours in perfect rememblance,