The month featured a lot of wind-sweeping wettish rain, streaming curtain-sleeves large and long. However, at the start of the month, haunting traces of summer hung on desperately rather like liver spots on hands, or an unwanted ex-colleague trying to re-connect even as I laced my bootstraps, felt in pockets for my gloves, and shouldered a heavy coat. In mid-month I was walking out with a light jacket and swapping stories with dog-walkers about how late everyone’s heating would be turned on. The rain again swept down turbulently at the end like an angry regret. Dog-walk options were reduced not just because of the weather but because of the demands of a local housebuilding-750-unit-megasite, with local drivers joining long jams in smaller roads around the abouts to get to our nearest village, barely a mile away. Large signs suggesting that the new settlement ‘Ockley Park’ was ‘Open as Usual’ seemed provocative given the barriers across all the surrounding roads on its behest.
Alli and I went to see Fionnuala and Andrew in Surrey. They were once again perfect hosts. We liked being there so much that we left a suitcase behind which I collected, ignominiously, the next day. The highlight was a visit to St Peter’s Church and its surrounds in Hascombe, following lunch at the outstanding White Horse pub nearby. I recommend the ornate chancel and apse (in the church, not the pub). Betjeman described it as a ‘Tractarian work of art’ by which I think he meant High Church with Oxonian Motion. Alli and I have an unbalanced relationship with our Surrey Hills hosts; we take advantage (on our own initiative) of their hospitality and never return it due to our domestic situation in which our ability to invite others to stay with us is almost non-existent.
In mitigation, my daughters have been inviting me to go out with them to see shows in Brighton and nearby. Hence, with Jessie and Jurrat, I watched two excellent bands in Hassocks, the beleaguered village I referred to earlier. Ashley Campbell and Thor Jensen played with a distinct Django Rheinhardt–swing flavour, and covered songs by Dolly Parton, Keith Mercer, Jimmy Webb, Glen Campbell (Ashley’s father) and others. The supporting band, Our Man in the Field, played vintage Americana and sounded like Ryan Adams in his Firecracker prime. The evening jump-restarted my interest in alt-country music, which clearly continues to be in excellent health in the UK. Later in the month, I had a drink with Jessie in a Kemp Town pub where she introduced me to the old Sussex game of Toad in the Hole.
I also went with Gwen to the Komedia in Brighton to see Sean McLoughlin, a razor-sharp stand-up with an edgy set of furious ranting, philosophy and Weltschmerz. I particularly admired his takedown of the ridiculous WHSmith, the only shop that proclaims its stupidity in its own trademark (although Sean forgot this significant point). Then Ella invited me to a delicious Thai meal at the Eagle in Brighton and to see, also at the Komedia, the new film about David Bowie, Moonage Daydream, which I found compelling. It added to my delayed appreciation of his towering genius as an artist, poet, composer, and performer. Already in awe of his decision to refuse a knighthood years ago, I can believe the well-evidenced theory that my woebegone country can date its tragic national deterioration into boundless corruption, ongoing obloquy, and infinite incompetence from his untimely death in January 2016. Frankly, we were doing just fine before that happened.
This month I managed at last to finish a parkrun. Twice, in fact, and mostly walking, but a finish is a finish, and I have now joined the official network that logs it and proves it. I also went for a second-ever evening visit to Wetherspoons, an establishment I have long boycotted. The first visit was by mistake in York after Gwen’s graduation almost a year ago (I was told I was going to a cool new pub called Spoons). But as I now feel genuinely sorry for those lost souls who voted for Brexit in 2016, I thought it time that I graced the Spoons’ decked halls with my presence, and found myself enjoying my cheap drinks and cheap curry on curry night with my friend Robert and his legendary repartee. I was even polite about the young barman’s eager offer to pour ginger beer into my whisky.
Shortly afterwards, I journeyed by rail up to Barnsley to see Charlie and Liz and their dom-dogs Duke and George. Once again, after Liz had cooked a delicious vegan welcome meal on the first evening, Charlie kindly took me on a well-balanced tour which featured a live Championship football match, pub visits (including the Sheffield Tap, shown above), a trip to the Greystones in Sheffield to see Thea Gilmore in concert, urban walks around Barnsley, Sheffield and Leeds, a tour of the Derwent and Ladybower reservoirs, easy conversation about anything and everything, and a trip to Leeds City Varieties theatre to see Harry Hill and appreciate his unique curate’s-egg comedy.
The opportunity also allowed me also to visit my third cousin, Denis, an avid and precise historian of the Stanbrook and related family trees, who lives with his wife near Leeds. We share great-great-grandparents: Joseph, a coachman in Muswell Hill; and his wife Ann Schleicher, a milliner, whose progeny produced a large crop of primary and secondary Stanbrooks across Muswell Hill and the general area of North London, then little more than fields and woods connecting small villages such as Willesden, Neasden, Harrow, and Wembley. It was fascinating to meet and talk with Denis, who has worked on the family genealogy for at least 25 years and has hundreds of documents that illustrate it. His work is monumental and inspiring; I wish he could have met my father, who also had a keen interest in his ancestry and did a fair bit of pre-internet research himself, telling me fifty years ago of his discovery that his great-grandfather Joseph signed his wedding certificate with a cross. Denis sent me the evidence later as well as dozens of other interesting files. We agreed (I with alacrity) to stay in touch in respect of our common ancestry.
Yours in consanguinity,