Ant and Susanne, the magnificent Miles from Luxembourg, arrived at Broad Oaks on their bi-annual work detail on a long list of repair and maintenance jobs in the house and garden, crucial as the occupants are incapable of doing the jobs themselves. They left only when almost everything – from making a bonfire and painting doors and walls to karchering the terrace and grouting the bathroom tiles – was done. Such work is incentivising: For my part I triumphantly unblocked a blocked sink. Then it promptly became blocked again, uncovering a house-wide issue for sudden concern featuring blocked pipes and brim-full subterranean tanks, and just as they were leaving. It needed professional assistance, which came promptly in the form of an urgent visit from Happy Drains. I also spent some hours hand-weeding vegetable beds and planting seeds and seedlings, including some potential summer flower seeds to gain preliminary experience for the floral requirement at Jessie and Jurrat’s wedding in July 2023. Ant and Susanne were joined for a few days by their daughter Sophia from London and by Jessie, who also came over for a couple of days to join the working party. Nick’s son Joe and daughter Eve came back to stay around the same time and when Ella, Jurrat and Gwen also came for a sunny Good Friday, the house, terrace, and garden were suddenly thronged with related people, moving determinedly in different directions, looking for missing objects, scrabbling around in old tool boxes, trying to start lawn mowers, pummelling plastic plungers, stacking fridges and larders, and coalescing occasionally for dinner. One evening we all met at Ponds in Brighton for bao buns and chips. On another day, Ant went to Brighton to help Jessie and Jurrat with some jobs there. Our Easter lunch scored a record 15 people around two tables. The month had started with snow and even hail; it continued with bouts of heavy rain, followed by some days of febrile sunshine, ending in grey skies and sudden chills. A typical English April. Nephew Joe celebrated his 21st birthday while Alli suffered for days with unexplained and unwelcome gastro-enteritis. I read Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year which showed that the English have not changed for 350 years in coping with pandemics. And our prime serial liar Johnson still hasn’t resigned despite the obloquy.
One day Jessie and I walked around the wooded edge of Wolstonbury Hill to check a report of plentiful wild garlic and almost fell into an ocean of it. Several other foragers were flecks of spume on the rolling green waves. We carefully took our fill (pulling no roots) and came back to the Jack and Jill pub for a drink with Ant and Susanne, passing several other gatherers on the way. On another local walk I managed at last to see, plain as a pikestaff, the Plumpton Cross. At other times of the year when I have walked the Forge from Streat to Plumpton I have looked south to the Downs trying without success to see this discretely enigmatic hill engraving, a 100-foot cross etched 758 years ago into the northern escarpment by monks to commemorate the fallen dead in the Battle of Lewes in 1264. It is elusive: a revelation only possible at certain times of the year and with the sun in a certain elevation, I referred to it first when I walked this track last year.
I have finished my fourth month on a self-created diet. This has led to a weight loss since the New Year of about 14 kilos (over two stone). My aging collection of wearable shirts and trousers has doubled. I am sleeping well and feel healthier, despite increasingly arthritic knees. And I remained on the wagon for 122 days, until a pint of Harvey’s Best winked at me at the beginning of a long-delayed weekend stay in the fifteenth century pub/hotel, The Woolpack, in Tenterden, Kent, a Christmas 2020 present from our brilliant daughters. It was an inspired choice.
We had a terrific time together, visiting local wineries Biddenden and Chapel Down, and the local bar/brewery Old Dairy; we took the light railway to Bodiam Castle and back, marvelling in the unspoilt, hassocky (and largely untilled) land in between the two. We saw actor Ellen Terry’s marvellous old house with its dramatic paraphernalia and garden, and the equally marvellous but grander Sissinghurst Castle Garden, both with connections to the Bloomsbury Group’s eclectic adventures. We saw a lot of our good friends the Jarvises, who are about to settle down permanently in the village and who already have a copious local knowledge of the area and its culture. A long walk north from the town past the light railway and back by the disused railway line was a particular delight. I had thought that Kent had been fatally sullied in recent years by motorways, high speed rail tracks, lorry parks and the noisy pass-through of impatient visitors to other places. I was wrong to exaggerate this. These problems are far removed from most of rural Kent. It’s bursting with energy and enterprise, and has a great and proud sense of its history and culture. When I moved as a child in 1967 to Pratts Bottom, on the boundary of greater London, it was a rural idyll. I spent my holidays exploring woods and cycling around the Kent countryside, but the adjacent town of Orpington was dull and mock-Tudored. It’s now all studded with additional beltways of snap-same houses and strapped by the M25, described by Chris Rea as ‘the road to hell’.
I am yours with good intentions