Sometimes I run out of patience and often I run out of things to say. We occasionally run out of food items, thanks to Brexit’s damage to reliable food supplies. My account is running a deficit, which makes me run scared of running dry or on empty. I have run a fever and I can run a piss-up in a brewery. I once ran for election to the European Parliament and once to the local council. On the employment front I appear to have run out of luck. So one way or another I do a lot of running but it has been a couple of years since I ran properly and consecutively, for example around a park. I started the first steps to put that right when I went on my first Park Run in Haywards Heath, encouraged by Ella and Sam who ran the full course of course. They been running regularly for as many years as I haven’t. The chance to walk/run in a large and supportive group was difficult to refuse. I did not complete the full course but managed most of it partly running and partly walking. Subsequently I marginally improved my pace and distance and lots of people congratulated me during and afterwards without a trace of irony.
The weather has been awful in the past two months, even by British standards. This doesn’t mean that there have been no sunny days but it does mean that each day couldn’t be trusted when it broke. Mr Day would appear bright, promise to be fine, reliable and trustworthy then break his promise before noon then wetly deny having made any promise at all during the afternoon. Fionnuala, Andrew and Evelyn came to lunch on the first Sunday of the month and with Ella we all sat together warily on the terrace under an indeterminate sun, which made sly cameo appearances for the duration of their visit. Since the morning’s rain stopped just before they arrived, we even managed a shaky post-prandial game of croquet before the rain started once again and they left. By the evening we had switched on the heating in the house and were shaking our fists at the lowering curtain of the sky. One day I went with Ella and Sam to walk around the centre of Lewes and its fine castle. Even this modest initiative was harassed by varying degrees of rain. We found a great basement coffee shop in Cliffe, themed as 1920s Alsace but with a disappointing musical background of inappropriate 70s classics with baselines rocking steady with the rain. Yes, John Fogerty, I have seen the bloody rain.
It has been another good month for dog walks. I found a circular walk between and among the vines, horses and sheep of Albourne, close to the vineyard where Jessie and her best friend Jenny went to celebrate the latter’s 31st birthday under a starry evening sky at a posh fish and fizz pop-up. The Albourne Estate is one of several other local vineyards near us, including the well known Ridgeview, and the newest, the Artelium in Plumpton, which I chanced upon a couple of months ago. Sussex’s limestone chalk soils, similar to those of the Champagne region in France, make it the top wine-producing county in the country. We have more vineyards within walking distance living in the UK than when we lived in France or Switzerland. Plenty of wine was drunk the next evening when Gwen, Alli and I joined Jessie and Jurrat at Jenny’s much-postponed birthday party (with husband Darren turning 40). The evening featured an excellent covers band and a rare sight of Alli dancing. I couldn’t be tempted to the floor. A weekend later, Ella and Sam went to (different) pre-wedding parties, and the family took turns to accompany and amuse Maisie, according to precise guidance from Ella. A rota for looking after Maisie during Ella and Sam’s absences has now been established and shared around the family. I kicked this off on Bank Holiday Monday for a few hours of dog-sitting and came back with a partially gnawed right shoe – Maisie’s penalty for not playing with her all the time I was there. Later, I travelled with Jessie and Ella by car to Purley in order to worship at the shrine of the nearest Ikea. Again I wasn’t tempted to the floor but stayed in the café while my daughters shopped, and where we later had the ikonic Ikea meatballs and gravy.
We were visited for a few days by Uncle Ant (‘Tankety’) and Auntie Susanne who drove here from Luxembourg to work on a list of jobs in the house and garden that had been left undone by its present occupants for months. Their visit and whirlwind work doing what had to be done brightened up the house and infected the whole place with a sense of can-do industry, as their considerable gardening and manual skills resolved many hitherto intractable problems such as preparing and wallpapering a bedroom and levelling the ground by removing the brick wall base in the vegetable garden, ready for a new greenhouse. As Ant said: ‘there are only solutions’.
I met my second cousin Kate’s ex-husband and partner Tom twice in a week after not seeing each other for ten years: in London for lunch at Mildreds near Kings Cross; and in Sussex walking with the dogs on Devil’s Dyke and dining in Brighton with Jessie and Jurrat, who had just previously held an excellent party in pre-Covid style for their neighbours and friends (we stayed overnight – such a luxury!) I also went with Jessie to visit the impressive Scotney Castle in Lamberhurst and to Bateman’s in Burwash. Visiting Bateman’s was a personal and long-desired lifetime first. Rudyard Kipling became famous, popular, controversial, misunderstood and wealthy from writing enormous quantities of prose and verse and stories for children. The mystical and imaginative tales from the Just So Stories and the Jungle Books completely enchanted my very earliest reading and listening. I saw his study and felt that I too could live and write there (although I would have removed the wolverine skin). Kipling disliked typewriters because ‘they can’t spell’. However, one was on a side desk, which showed his recognition of their looming necessity even then, and his desk symbolism, a strangely neglected sub-section of public affairs. My desk features three spectacle cases, pills, elastic bands, masks, local maps, stones with holes, spent batteries, plugs, chargers, shoe laces and a suede brush. Whatever could all that jumble signify?
Yours from the escritoire,