The weather this past month has been ridiculous even by English standards, a confusing farrago of passive aggression and bipolarity. For several days it was just damply dismal; then it slowly brightened up in a faltering, febrile way, before becoming positively neo-African at its zenith for a couple of days; then suddenly sank back into storm-swept spring-blown cheek-slapping English, and finally to blustering buffeting Jutland hey-ho. On one day we had decided that the weather was going to be so hot that the dogs should not have a walk that afternoon. As it turned out they did not, not because of the heat but because it was pouring with rain of the wet, windy, and cold type. That day ended in an electric thunderstorm and torrential pounding on the tiles and us with notions of electric blankets. Despite all this I did discover some exciting new walks with the dogs in the general direction of Hove: notably, the Green Ridge at the south end of the Downs; Waterhall Fields next to the A27; and Hove Park. But many walks were needled by drizzle one way or another. From the top of the Downs the angry marauding fronts of rain could often be seen charging across the Sussex Weald like vandals.
My return from France crash-landed me into the Platinum Jubilee celebrations, about which I had completely forgotten. Alli and I went to Ella and Sam’s house for a very convivial party with scant bunting but copious tasty food and plentiful drink in their sunny back garden with Sam’s family as well as the rest of ours (Jessie, Jurrat and Gwen). A couple of days later we could be found at Tun-Tun café in Brighton with Jessie, Jurrat, Gwen, and her new flatmate Caitlin, all tucking into a special buffet organised for a Bangladeshi charity raising funds for disabled children. A day or two later I was happily able at short notice to replace the temporarily ill Jurrat in accompanying Jessie to an excellent Japanese dinner at Moshimo in Brighton. Jessie was then ill for the following week, which was the stand-out hot week of the month and a substantial part of her already crowded social diary had to be cancelled. Later in the month she and Jurrat held a Sunday afternoon barbecue featuring freshly caught sea bream and grey mullet as the centrepieces of a delicious spread of food, with me and Alli, Ella and Sam’s mother Lynne, and family friend Sam and his partner in fortunate attendance, also in full sunshine. Earlier, Ella had invited me over to finish watching Peter Jackson’s ‘Let it Be’ over dinner, and the next day we went together to the Hove Park Run, which started chill and windy but finished hot and sunny. We had a cup of tea afterwards at the popular beach café, the Flour Pot. The following week I stood in as a Marshall helping the friendly Clair Park Run in Haywards Heath.
I have spent several hours determinedly and comprehensively weeding the vegetable garden, finding viable seedlings underneath all the cluttered green under-cluster. Whatever I planted in April had been utterly overwhelmed by a tidal green wave of weed, hedge, thorn, swell, and undertow. Meanwhile, the neat lines of lettuce and rocket left visible were nibbled to their stalks within a few days by pigeons, who contemptuously left their feathery calling cards as they lazily flapped out of the garden upon my approach. They have become like the weasels in Toad Hall, luxuriating in their louche plump debauchery. Alli made some reflective twirly winking windmills which she stuck into the beds at appropriate intervals. I must say I have seen fewer pigeons in the garden since then, and the lettuces look slightly less ravaged. Our greenhouse and external tomatoes seem to be doing better this year after their total failure last year. There will be plenty of potatoes, because many have re-seeded and come up in random places, unexpectedly robust and fertile. There should also be beans, spinach, chili, onions, and broccoli. Of the flowers, only a fine cornflower and a luscious golden marigold crop has survived, the latter because it was replanted outdoors in good time, and also because it is butch, hardy and determined, capable of facing down the common slug, of which I haven’t seen many so far this year either (except inside the annex).
I drove up to Yorkshire to stay for a few days with Debbie and Fi in Wetherby. The stay included the controversial highlight of taking Debbie to a distant family funeral in Copt Hewick, north of Ripon. Rather than attend the solemn affair myself, and having forgotten my nearby cousin’s phone number, I grasped the small window of opportunity to visit and walk around the glorious ruins of Fountains Abbey, which started as a rebel community of monks. Following a riot (always a good start for anything creative) in 1132 at a Benedictine abbey in York, 13 monks were expelled by the Benedictines but protected by the Archbishop of York, who gave them land with all the features needed to build a monastery, including stone, timber, strong arms, and a supply of running water. There may have been plenty of saintly people there, but carpenters and stonemasons were probably prioritised. The monks soon signed for the Cistercians, and Fountains became the second Cistercian house in northern England. The abbey prospered then survived, just about, until the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry the Appalling. The place is enormous: it took me over an hour to walk around the ruins and the lake in Studley Royal. I later met with Debbie at the reception held in a pub nearby, a jolly affair, but not being in the family I misread all the signals so I concentrated on the cheese straws and tempered my social ambitions. Back in Wetherby, I inspected Debbie’s new house, knee deep in earnest workmen, upended sofas, and slow-drying white paint.
I also spent a morning walking around York’s utterly extraordinary city centre, taking a pot of tea at Bailey’s and visiting the newly renovated Clifford’s Tower, built by William the Conqueror in 1068 as part of York Castle. The tower witnessed a 13th century massacre and mass suicide of the local Jewish community, surrounded by a raging mob of hate-filled royalists. The Jews calmly decided to kill each other before they were killed by the mob, whose promises of safety they rightly didn’t believe. It is an integral, continuing, and highly instructive part of the tragic, malign, and violent history of an England that loved royalty and sovereignty and hated, rejected and abused foreigners. My visit was enriched by an excellent audio history and a roof platform yielding a thrilling new perspective on the skyline of York. Oh, and I must report a legion of drunken Roman soldiers in full theatrical armour, effing and blinding their way to the Minster via the Shambles. It was all somehow tres anglais.
The month ended with a lightning visit to Brussels on the Eurostar, as the travelling guest of my belle soeur Julia, to collect some items essential for the christening of her latest grandchild, Raphael, the following week in London. I went a night earlier to stay with Adam and Angela in Charing Cross Road and to have an amusing and sociable dinner in Brook Street with a select group of old public school friends, most of whom I hadn’t seen in nearly forty years. In Brussels I had dinner and an entertaining chinwag with Belgian friends Laurence and Claude, discerning as ever, in an evening featuring excellent food and wine and at an impeccable restaurant of their choice.
Yours on an auspicious day, celebrating the far-sighted decision of the USA to be the first but not last country to detach itself from British hegemony,