My vegetables are being pilfered and pillaged. Every time I go to the garden, at least five fat pigeons disengage themselves from the already skeletal broccoli, beans and courgettes, and flap unhurriedly up to reclaim their posts in the surrounding trees. Last year there were hardly any of these flying rats. I would rather they flapped off back to London to resume their diet of fallen chips, ice cream and leftover pizza. After all, that’s why seagulls largely stay in Brighton. Still, the year bowls itself ever faster forward and my daily activity rate improved as I spent at least the sunny mornings wandering around in the garden, taking plenty of time to do each task. I moved according to a Brownian locomotion that had a diaphanous dandelion thread (my intermittent memory), accommodating all distractions and guaranteeing endless, unpaid, but relaxing employment. How to show support for the slow food movement? Obviously by adopting the practice of slow gardening. Although not conducive to any fast-paced working environment it can be productive on its own terms, involving rich periods of extrospective and creative thought between each task. It has produced, for example, a mended gatepost, a new tomato bed, the precise sorting by length of bamboo poles, and a pumpkin patch beyond the pale of the wicket fence, previously consisting of the wood-chipped detritus of a fallen tree. I carried away half of the chippings to line the compost bins and vaccinated the other half with burgeoning yellow courgettes and butternut squash seedlings. These were eliminated within ten days by the bloody pigeons. Lettuce and tomato plants will likely be the sole survivors of my original brainbreeze.
The local Council is upgrading the rural footpaths so that they are accessible to all, shod, wheeled or sticked. Normally I would applaud this, but the work is removing most of what was interesting about the older tracks. They are now neat, paved with pink soft-core and edged with thin wooden strips. As an antidote I walked with Jessie and Jurrat from Devil’s Dyke to West Hill, a small section of their two-day route along the South Downs Way from Beeding Hill to Southease on the Ouse. My two hours of walking knackered me and the dogs more than two long days did Jurrat and Jessie.
I went with Jessie and Ella to Brighton one evening to see schoolfriend and comedian Charmian deliver a confident and funny stand-up routine – a creative monologue and sometime love-diary based on the 1965 film She (feat. Ursula Andress) and the Colossal Squid of the Te Papa museum in Wellington, New Zealand, to a restricted audience in the Catherine of Brunswick. In tow to Charmian was her young husband Harry, a popular magician and London City guide (whose latest virtual tour, about the historical oddities of Fleet Street, was compelling), and their handsome chocolate labrador Frankie, who dogged the limelight post-show.
Alli and I have been out on a rare dinner together out at the Bull in Ditchling, an anniversary present from Jessie and Jurrat. A couple of weeks later we went to Ella and Sam’s house down the road for a barbecue perfectly executed and a viewing of England’s first football match in the ‘2020’ Euros. It was a perfect summer’s day in their garden and we enjoyed a rare taste of Pimm’s. I was back for the match against Germany and for dinner but I saw most of the match with a limited view of the screen, since Maisie the Rottweiler stood heavily on my lap and licked my face for the full 90 minutes. In mid-month Laurie and Kay celebrated their diamond wedding anniversary. Those of the family not otherwise engaged gathered in Broad Oaks in uncertain weather for a barbecue. Sam, Jessie and I performed cooking duties under a canopy outside with fresh fish brought by Jessie and meat from the local farm. The table was set indoors as we didn’t want to be sitting in an English garden waiting for the rain, which came but thankfully after the parade.
The next day we drove to York to share Gwen’s last weekend there, even as the rain chased us north but left us at Peterborough. Entering York there was dappled sunshine: shapely sunbathers luxuriated, the sky a blue dome. Our weekend was satisfying, with visits to the instructive and inspiring Viking museum and city centre, a boat trip on York’s Ouse, walking the city wall and a healthy quota of historical and foodie interest at various stops in the city. We also met Lawrance, Gwen’s boyfriend, for the first time and we had galettes together in the Shambles before we drove back with most of the rest of Gwen’s belongings, while Gwen followed us the next day by train. Down south it was still raining.
It’s been a massive month for our brilliant daughters. Following the cancellation of the Brighton half-marathon, all three, who are dedicated and regular runners, decided that they would run it anyway in Brighton on the cancelled day. They all ran well, finished the course, and raised money for the Alzheimers Society and Refuge. Ella has a new job starting next month as communications manager at KP Snacks; Gwen has started her first post-college job as Head Baker of the ultra-cool Pelicano cafes in Brighton. She also gained an impressive 2.1 honours degree in canine and feline behaviour and training from York’s premier tertiary institution, Askham Bryan College. This gives me the enviable record of being outclassed in my own academic qualifications by all three of my daughters. Jessie continues to fly high at the Ministry of Justice, effortlessly coordinating and directing multiple Zoom and Microsoft Group meetings with sober functionaries and worthy regulators, while I continue haphazardly to spray my job applications around a dry and unresponsive parkland of competence by rote. But better than this: my delight in the achievements of my daughters is limitless.
The UK’s £37bn Track and Trace Thingy has finally proved that it exists beyond a dodgy web site, a national data scam and fathomless corruption. After scanning my exciting social environment for months it tipped me off that I had been close to someone who had tested positive sometime up to ten days previously. It told me to isolate for three days, during which time I tested myself thrice – all negative and retching. The copious but doubtless flawed national data contained in this monumental crapshoot has obviously been sold or rented to others less interested in our health or the NHS than in our wallets and political affiliations. But despite all the scandals and outrage, the Will of the People seems securely locked in for the UK’s joyride to dereliction and dictatorship. But I was recently told by my friend Lionel who is in the know: Johnson is a winner and so will not lead the Conservative party into an election he thinks he will not win. John Dryden, England’s first poet laureate, accurately observed in the 1660s: ‘Nor is the people’s judgement always true. The most may err as grossly as the few’.
Yours in better judgement for better times,