We have seen our daughters together thrice this month, the first time with their partners Jurrat and Sam, when Alli, Gwen and I drove to meet them all in Tooting Bec Common in south London. Relaxed, informal, friendly, the tooting common welcomed us to a spot near the shade of an oak tree at least 100 years old. Reassuringly, oaks and other similar trees are aged by their girth – a calibration that would make me older than I am. We ate what we each had brought, making a very tasty spread of finger food, including Gwen’s vegan caramel brownies and Jessie’s gruyere and wild garlic swirls.
A week later, on Father’s Day, we met at the Brentford Gate of Kew Gardens on a warm day with a light breeze. Ella had walked over from Richmond, and Jessie had cycled up from Gipsy Hill, a half-marathon of a journey that took her over 90 minutes. The girls brought cards and presents for Fathers’ Day, a bookmark, a book on good bike rides in southern England by Jack Thurston, two cans of Gipsy Hill Brewery beer and the latest Dylan album: excellent choices all. My first memory of Kew Gardens was at around the age of about five pleading with my mother not to take me there because, as I confided, I didn’t want to wait around in a queue all day. There was a short queue at the gate but entry was quick. Although the main glasshouses and buildings were all closed, there was plenty to see as we walked around the gardens, with a huge variety in their 14,000 trees, especially the oaks and planes. We stopped to eat sandwiches at a popular spot with a view of Syon House across the Thames. On the way back we admired the Sackler Crossing bridge, and an audio-visual installation – The Hive, representing a swarm of bees.
Family at Kew Gardens, June 2020
The following week, Ella, Jessie and Jurrat came down to Broad Oaks by train and we spent the day together including a leisurely lunch on the terrace. While Ella left in the evening, Jessie and Jurrat stayed on for two more days camping in the garden. They brought pale ale from the Gipsy Hill brewery and unusual gins to taste (Hendricks Midsummer Solstice gin, Black tomato gin, and Opyos citrus and elderflower gin from Luxembourg). Equally unusual tonics also arrived by special deliveries in their wake. They were joined by Alli’s brother Anthony, whose journey had been prompted by the need to deliver his daughter Sophia (who made a brief pit stop with us) to Brighton and to pick up industrial quantities of best British sausages from the local farm shop to take back to Luxembourg. He also brought an excellent bottle of Talisker which featured large on the first evening’s unexpectedly rotund drinking session. After a sweltering hot first day, the weather suddenly changed its mind and became irritable and thundery. Rain swept the dark garden overnight and shook the shaky tents.
The previous day I had driven Gwen up to York to help her move into her new flat. She had been living with us for three months during the lockdown and her intended holiday in Australia had unfortunately been cancelled, so she was very excited to move into the flat that she chose last year with a friend. After we bought some provisions from a palatial hypermarket nearby, she took me on a sun-drenched walking tour around the historic centre of the city. I was particularly pleased for the first time to see York Minster, Northern Europe’s largest medieval Gothic cathedral, built between 1220 and 1472, and an enduring touchstone of English mediaeval history. York struck me as quiet, dignified, and unassuming, and with a lot of personalised number plates on cars.
The news from the vegetable garden is that I have an excess of Little Gems, Salad Bowl and Lollo Russos. My strategic vegetable production planning has been frankly appalling and I have around 150 lettuces of three different varieties coming good at the same time. My marketing has therefore been fine-tuned to offering lettuces to everyone I can think of, including daily gifts to neighbours, friends, passing delivery people and other handy people. Next week I will be chucking them at passing cars and at Mums in the Waitrose queue. We are also just coming into a glut of potatoes, courgettes, beans and carrots. My family, especially Jessie, are doing their best to support me by ordering big; my daily diet has effortlessly moved to a 99% salad composition. Please come and pick it up from Burgess Hill. NB May contain slugs.
Have you noticed that hardly any Ordnance Survey folding maps have reference to their dates of publication? I went on a longer cycle ride than originally intended when I took an unusual back road via Wivelsfield in the pouring rain to collect a bank card from Haywards Heath. The changes of the past 25 years became brutally clear when the increasingly untended road transformed into a grassy lane then a narrow bramble-strewn footpath. I tried to find another way indicated by my map, but it didn’t exist on the ground. Instead I found myself in a strange and bewitching new housing estate where the gardens were prim and the houses trim, twee and tiny. Although some curtains seemed silently to twitch, nothing stirred and no birds sang. I was palely loitering and feared that I was trapped in some sort of Wealden triangle. I had already gone in a perfect closed circle between gaunt carriageway and rough-hewn underpass and was woe-begone from the rain. Once I found the exit and collected my card in the town, I cycled cautiously back via Wivelsfield’s old church. It wasn’t an elfin grot but the quiet religious calm of its graveyard delivered me back to health, sanity and safety.
Yours without pity,