I’m sure that I’m the last person in Little Britain to have noticed that tea shops and coffee houses are replacing traditional pubs throughout town and country as social centres and meeting places. I even wonder if the British pub can survive much longer in its present form. It’s yet another British institution now threatened by social change or political malice. But I suspect that only a minority will survive in the near future, and primarily as restaurants and cafes. Moreover, online research has corrected my long-held assumption that there were many pubs called The Prospect of Whitby in Britain. My brain had re-assembled my appreciation for one pub with that name into an assumption that there were many such pubs. The name of the Prospect of Whitby on the Thames in Wapping was adopted from a coal-boat that was once moored there, and a hangman’s noose dangled from the back over the river. I realised that I had visited the pub a couple of times over 20 years ago in the excellent company of my friend John. He died nearly five years ago. I miss his company and friendship.
After my woodland foraging course in the spring with Jessie under the guidance of local pickler and bushcraftperson Mike Cutting, I joined Jessie, Jurrat, Katie and Ella for a second foraging course on the chalky cliff-paths and sea shore of picturesque Seaford, where we again identified a wealth of plants, seaweed, and beautiful views, such as the classic one from Cuckmere Haven of the Seven Sisters (I always expect to see a Spitfire in the sky). On the beach we found and ate samphire, which brought back memories of collecting it forty years ago on the beaches of north Norfolk. After a snack of pickled and fried wild plants in the car park we went back to Jessie’s flat in Brighton in a 4th July celebration with hamburgers and hot dogs. Jurrat played a blinder at the barbecue and there were some tasty side dishes. We also went to Ella’s house twice to watch the England football team, the second time with niece Sophia and nephew Oliver, each of whom moved to London this month. Sam joined us for England’s game against Ukraine, but he managed to buy a ticket for the final and attended the match at Wembley, getting pinged shortly afterwards. Ella and Sam had their birthdays this month, with celebrations delayed (a night in Richmond) until the end of Sam’s quarantine.
Gwen’s job with Pelicano Coffee has now been confirmed and contracted. She spent some days ordering equipment and stocking a new kitchen to her specifications and is now employed five days a week as the head baker of the company, making traybakes of several different varieties for the Pelicano cafes in Brighton. On one day recently she made, incredibly, 20 traybakes and 15 3-tiered cakes of different types. My friends Fionnuala, Andrew and Evelyn came to Brighton and we walked around the North Laine, stopping at the Pelicano in Sydney Street to order some bakes before having lunch at Coppa in the Lanes. I had spent the previous night chez Jessie and Jurrat, where I had a delicious meal featuring fresh crabmeat. At the end of the month we had the great pleasure of a visit from my cousins Clif and Marjorie, who came for tea and a chat, as well as to see Laurie, with whom Clif had been at the same class in school 70 years ago in Chigwell.
Our old lady Bonnie was not well for several days after surgery for a growth on her tongue and for warts on her body, but she recovered and is almost as mischievous as ever. It has been an expensive month dog-wise with Bonnie’s bill at over £500 plus a dental bill for the removal of Max’s canine teeth at an orally painful £900.
The beleaguered vegetable garden has provided potatoes, lettuce, chard, spinach and French beans for our dinner table. I still fight off large whites as their progeny destroys what remain of the Brussels sprouts. One morning, I spent some time carefully adorning one of the beds with a large net I found in the garage. Proud of my labour, I relaxed while watching a large white flutter straight through and land contentedly on the ravaged leaves. The pigeons, having picked my seedlings earlier, are now more occupied with each other, practising their flap-flap-dive-swoop routines around the trees like random racing drivers doing dummy celebration flaps. Strong end-month winds have destroyed the pop-up greenhouse for a fourth time. Fatal damage was done to the tubular structure. I accepted the inevitable and dedicated the debris to the God of false economies, having lost several more plants and paraphernalia.
I have been reading 1599: A year in the life of William Shakespeare by James Shapiro; The return: fathers, sons and the land in between by Hisham Matar; and The midnight library by Matt Haig. 1599 described one year in the life of Shakespeare and his environment. It was elegant, copious, and informative, bringing him to life, which many such biographies are not and did not. Hisham Matar’s harrowing account of the lives of his family living under the dictator General Gaddafi was written with sensitivity and precision; Matt Haig’s novel was based on the idea of imagining the millions of diverse lives that anyone could have had according to their key choices, decisions and opportunities, but somehow between the idea and its development the novel fell flat. The idea may have been better expressed in philosophy and by Jorge Luis Borges in his short story El jardin de senderos que se bifurcan.