Jurrat, Jessie, and Jaxon (J3) came to Uckfield for a Sunday roast on their first visit since we moved into our new house. Alli cooked a pork belly with cracking crackling, which was pronounced delicious by all who had it. At the end of the month I joined Jessie and Jurrat, Ella, and Gwen for dinner at Brighton’s very cool Moshimo for a tasty vegan bento box with kimchi and miso soup. A visit to Brussels with my sister-in-law Julia started and ended in high winds and rain, although the Eurostar was punctual and efficient both ways. I returned to broken windows and a garden shed door wrenched off its hinges by a Sussex whirlwind. The shed needed repairing or replacing anyway, but the locks on our house needed attention more urgently, for which a locksmith was quickly available.
We have had yet more deliveries and visits as we encourage the complementary addictions of Amazon and other deliveries: firewood, coal, and kindling, pots and plants, and visits from the locksmith, insurance assessor, painter, hangman*, and carpenter. There is a distinct coating of old fashion over Uckfield’s routines and habits. The London-bound train is slow, rickety, scarce (hourly), and often delayed or cancelled. An air of fatalism surrounds the railway station. Maybe this is because Uckfield is not a commuter town. A sense of community is intensified by a self-perception of isolation and magnified by social media. Here, curtains twitch much more often online than off.
We followed a six-day narrative search for Rossi the lost spaniel, with news updates followed by hundreds. Rossi was miraculously found around some farmyard bins after straying for miles. There are daily pleas to help find cats, sell a camper van, wonder if Tesco’s is open, bemoan a scratched car, or restore a wrongly delivered package. Unfortunately, the quality of grammar and spelling is poor, but I resist posting corrections to the worst examples, among which are found (or not found) the wily apostrophe. Creative spelling is fine, but the AP rule to remove the possessive “s” from singular words or names ending with an “s” (“Chris’ cats”) remains a grotesque catapostrophe.
Intimidated by mortality, I joined the local Uckfield Leisure Centre to use the gym on a recommended programme, and attend a weekly fitness group in Haywards Heath. Alli and I have applied to join the chummy Uckfield Social Club and I the bookish Uckfield Library and Writers’ Group. The last of these meets twice a month in the Alma Arms, a pub with soul, only three minutes’ walk away. We went there one Saturday evening for a drink or two and found a hospitable atmosphere and an appealing background hum of conversation. The local Book Club seems too much like an English A-level crash-course for my taste; bringing wine, for example, isn’t even mentioned. Alli and I have changed our doctor, and now share one located at the hospital, a few steps further on from the pub. Our constituency is different but remains preserved by the corruptories but when the time comes I will vote early and often to kick them out. In my lofty winter workspace, I am often distracted by the wide view of Bird-in-eye Hill and its big sky, flanked by the placid contours of Ridgewood. More prosaically, I had to complete our tax returns, which I did.
We drove to Folkestone for a weekend with my cousins Richard and Madeleine. I have seldom visited Folkestone and had never walked or toured around it before. It’s a welcoming place with plenty to see and do. Richard showed us around the imaginatively restored port area, station and harbour, as well as across the chalk ups and downs that roll around it, perfect for hang-gliders, foragers, and hikers.
We were very impressed by Madeleine’s relationship with the fauna around the house, especially in the garden. She has persuaded all her neighbours to create a hedgehog protection area, with small holes in all the fences to allow them to roam as their nature demands. Our dogs immediately felt at home in the house and treated it as their own in every sense. We even saw a very aristocratic fox much at ease, looking thoughtfully, even rather scornfully, at us from his seat on the neighbour’s doorstep. His expression was genuinely that of the satisfied proprietor of the house.
Madeleine also feeds a one-legged seagull that scans her garden every day from a seated position on a neighbouring roof. When she goes into the garden, the seagull swoops in and awkwardly crash-lands on the grass, ready for food. Madeleine discourages other seagulls that gather and hop around pretending also to be unilateral. So, if you ever see a seated seagull, be aware that it has probably lost a leg. We had excellent food all through the Folkestone weekend, but especially on Saturday night when a dozen local friends came over for a Scandinavian sing-song. We consumed a large variety of fresh fish with wine and vodka, which helped us lustily to sing old Scandinavian drinking songs in their original languages. All the songs concluded with a loud shout of ‘Skol’ and a sharp shot of vodka.
We could easily singalongaskol thanks to a handy phonetic pronunciation guide, but none of the songs made any sense until Madeleine told us that the lyrics were too smutty for translation into English.
By God you should have seen us,
*of pictures on the wall