It’s Thursday so it must be Hastings.
I climbed into the car wearing trainers over Peter the Rigger’s socks. He loaned them to me yesterday when I got frost bite in my toes. I pulled up my heavy duty blue dungarees and pulled over a thick blue woollen sweater, over which was my trusty old sleeveless puffa. Nothing, especially the cold, was going to inhibit my day.
We drove down Bunny Lane, Norman put on his best voice and guided us past garden centres and pubs. Oaks and ash, plain trees and sycamore formed a cathedral high ceiling of russet and golden leaves. The sun shone and the colours changed from golden to Sable Brown to a smokey quartz grey. By the time we reached 1066 Country there was a display of copper bronze the colour of a hares back.
And then we saw the sign posts for Hastings
But not today my friends I had a mind to make a detour to Winchelsea. Norman, using his best inflection sent us down Merriments Lane, and through several ‘Bredes’, an archaic word for something braided or entwined, I suspect it was the ancient hedgerows braided and entwined with hazel and hawthorn. The hedge trimmers had been out so the Brede West and Brede East high woods walks were visible through the trees.
Norman directed us through loadsa Hursts – an archaic term for a hillock, knoll, or mound. Under the canopy of wrinkled, crinkled leaves we bypassed Wadhurst and Ticehurst and round Goudhurst and Sandhurst.
Norman sent us down Dumb Woman Lane and up Dog Hill Road, not necessarily in that order. But in less than an hour we arrived in Winchelsea and St.Thomas the Martyr’s Church, a wonderful crumbly 13th Century pile. We parked the trusty car and went looking for Spike Milligan’s grave. The old git is friends with Mr. Milligan’s daughter; they have worked together many times; she told him that the family had chosen the church because it was a quiet peaceful spot and was suggested by one of his poems; “Bury me under a tree, somewhere where a horse will graze over me.” Sir Spike wanted, ‘I told you I was ill’ written on the gravestone but the authorities wouldn’t allow it, so the family had it written in Gaelic. The simple Celtic Cross sits under a plain tree, surrounded by beautiful old monuments to the young and old of the district. We made a little film and I slipped on the grass. Crows cawed and Seagulls scriked. I thought about my friend who had moved to Winchelsea 7 months ago. I wondered where she was in relationship to Mr. Milligan.
And then, before you could say ‘I’m walking backwards to Christmas’ a geezer walked forwards towards me. He looked like a pin up from the Kings Road in the 60’s. He was limping and dragging a delicious hairy dog with him. We locked eyes and bugger me if it wasn’t the very husband of my newly relocated friend.
‘Where do you live?’
‘Over there.’ And he pointed to the right of the graveyard. They lived within howling distance of the Irish genius.
‘I’ll go and knock to surprise her.
‘Shes at an auction in Battle.’
So the ‘oosbind and I drove down German Street and headed towards the coast.
We had an assignation with another friend but she was unable to make it so we walked the pebbles alone.
We saw the ubiquitous convoy of yellow Caterpillars flattening the pebbles and building up the defences. We parked opposite pre-fabs and newly erected wooden houses. Fancier than Pevensey and less bleak. The air was as clean as a deeply inhaled breath and the sun shone low and strong, but walking into the sun was blinding, so we turned round and let our shadows lead us towards the wind turbines. Then the phone went and the the friend who lived next to the graveyard had returned from buying a chest of drawers and invited us back for lunch, brunch or coffee.
We turned up Dog Hill Road and parked next to Spike.
Into her new home, pregnant with possibilities, and three dogs we sat in the kitchen with its new stove, rolls of curtain material and a big table ready for our coffee.
Into her new pantry she went and fished out four antique blue and white bone china cups. Onto the table was placed a cafetière of delicious coffee and a plate of home made brownies supplied by the new neighbours, welcoming them into the community.
Coffee and chocolate, the warm stove, hugs and conversation, all overseen by the presence of spike but a stones throw away. As the gulls croaked you could almost here the comic bard squawking at us.
‘I must go down to the sea again
To the lonely sea and the sky
I left my socks and knickers there
Hanging out to dry.’
We hugged on her new doorstep and bade out farewells. We waved goodbye to the Goon and turned Norman on and, to quote Greta, he told us to ‘Drive south west – blah blah blah.’
We bumbled along as the sky turned to grey, hanging over us like badly laundered sheets. Norman got us back safely and we arrived in time for me to get the dawter to the station for the 16.09 train to London Bridge.
I bought a sympathy card for a grieving relative and a second hand sweater from the charity shop ready for our next trip to Hastings.
As synchronicity goes, today was one of the best. But only a couple of days ago I was talking about Pete Waterman and his collection of steam trains. Came in to put the kettle on, turned on the box and there was Pete himself standing in front of one of his chuffas.
Either I am in touch with the universe or the universe is in touch with me, woteva!
Next week Hastings.