Rain fell in solid chapters and the sun shone in free verse through the first merry half of May, although the unwelcome drizzle on Coronation day was light, occasional, and parade-friendly. Ella and Gwen joined us in watching the colourful regalia on TV. Alli made the official Royal quiche, following most of the official recipe, although changing the listed rosemary for the available sage didn’t seem an arrows-red straight swap. The recipe’s inclusion of broad beans was a trifle unnecessary, even as a vegetarian sop. The infant quiche will not yet be supplanting the septuagenarian chicken. Alli also made an amazing mushroom pate, dips, and sandwiches, which disappeared too quickly, even for me.
Jessie and I gathered wild garlic by the foot of the Downs in Poynings, and I collected armfuls of it from the old Hassocks golf course in its last despairing phase of rural survival before it gets carpeted by new houses, tarmac drives, and hankie lawns. An ancient, haunted, and mostly straight track through the course was part of the old road from Brighton to London, essentially the medieval version of the A23. I always hear the plodding and clopping of past wayfarers when I walk this path and many others.
The late spring has delayed the annual Sussex woodland flowerings which started with snowdrops and crocuses, yielded to celandine and wood anemone, and finally waved in bluebells and wild garlic. The late but widespread appearance of all these this year proved that they are urgent and impatient plants, intent on annual multiplication and invasion into all nature’s nooks and country crannies. Almost half the world’s bluebells grow in the UK – they’re fairly rare elsewhere. Hyacinthoides non-scripta bluebells are native to the UK but they have recently been joined by the sturdier non-native Spanish bluebell, Hyacinthoides hispanica, introduced in Britain around the 17th century. After staying inside private gardens for 200 years, in just the last 30 years the Spanish bluebells have jumped over the box hedges to mix with the native species in common, lusty, and glorious miscegenation.
We were all surprised that the cutlery in Broad Oaks suddenly and dramatically changed colour overnight to a dirty-drab green-grey. No one gave permission for this to happen and no one initially knew why it had happened but it was silver-coated and had consequently tarnished spontaneously and collectively. I sat down one Sunday morning and vigorously polished all the knives, forks and spoons until they gleamed as new. Continuing the butler-cutler theme, a week later, a blocked toilet had me with a full set of drainage rods probing, poking, pushing, pulling, and finally unblocking with a whumping whoosh a stubborn blockage in the large intestine of the house latrine. A couple of days later, Nick was doing the same for a blockage in another part of the digestive system. Jurrat had previously cleared the drains in J3’s* Brighton flat and noted the keen sense of catharsis inherent in such activity. These simple but irregular and muscular actions, cleaning the cutlery at the fore end or unblocking the drains at the rear end, offer rare moments of wholesome pride in their completion. This is not to pass over the regular Herculean tasks by Alli in the house’s Augean quarters, among which this month were dismantling and cleaning the hob fan filter, and persecuting the pervasive black-spot mould in the bathroom.
On the day before Jessie’s 32nd birthday, I drove into Brighton to pick up J3* and took them back to Broad Oaks where they spent much of the day. Jessie and Ella took out Kay for lunch at the local vineyard and Jessie and Jurrat did some shopping in Burgess Hill. Jaxon ran urgently around the garden all day, abetted by Jurrat and later by me, using Jaxon’s favourite toy, a large heavy black snooker-type ball. I took them all back in the late afternoon as a spray of rain set in for the evening. Jessie organised and prepared an amazing Eurovision evening for friends and cousins who had brought several specialty national dishes with them. Some days earlier I had spent the evening discussing religions, magic, and mysteries over dinner with Jurrat in Brighton at Planet India, a most appropriate place to do so.
La Hune, our family house in the rural southwest of France, to which Brexit has limited my recent visits, has had its first paying guests courtesy of Airbnb. A large French group of over 20 from Brittany, gave a five-star review: “a refreshing gem in a quiet little village… The house and surroundings are perfect for a vacation for groups…” A few days later, I drove down through France to share in the excellent company of my daughters, their discerning partners Jurrat and Sam, and cousin Sophia. The weather started doldrum-dull, but it improved considerably for Jessie’s four-day bachelorette party, at which her sisters and some of her most dedicated girlfriends arrived to co-celebrate her last days of spinsterhood in a programme designed and managed by Ella, helped by Gwen, Sophia, and others. A profusion of happy pictures have emerged. Disconcertingly, Jurrat appears in many as an inflatable doll-boy in budgie-smugglers.
I left for England as the bachelorette party began – I wanted to stay, but that would have been weird – so I meandered northwards, visiting places I had always wished to see, and overnighting in rudimentary lodgings. I explored Brive and sauntered around devilish Loudun. I stayed on a horse farm near Orleans, raced through Le Mans, and tramped like a pilgrim in Normandy on the final mile from the village to Mont St Michel (with shoes on). I inspected the original and magnificent 1000-year old Bayeux tapestry, and finally arrived for the ferry in Dieppe via Deauville, chock-full of shiny black bumper-cars.
In fulsome praise of the open road,
*J3 = Jessie, Jurrat, and Jackson.