May 12th. 2022.
My mother would have been 100 years old today, as it is she contacts me from wherever she is and tells me she has forgiven me for putting her in a home and finds it incredibly funny that the dawter ate her ashes when we chucked her, thats the mother, into the channel.
Happy Birthday Reeeen.
So today we headed for Hastings. Took the Frant Road, down Bunny Lane and ended up waiting for ten minutes in a traffic queue, Tree cutting. Although the whole of our area is being dug up, built on, and over taken by private developers who think nothing of mowing down ancient woodland, digging up banks of bluebells, fucking up golf courses with nouveau riche conference centres so they can build 3/4/5 bedroom mock Tudor houses. Any way the old wooden sign said 21 miles to Hastings to the left and Scotney Castle to the Right – waving our National Trust cards aloft we drove into Scotney Castle.
Azaleas, Rhododendrons, 300 year old Lime Trees, Oak trees with trunks the size of Viking long boats, and a garden full of Euphorbia amygdaloides or wood spurge greeted us. Down hill to the house we walked passed several people from my generation, wearing hats and trainers. Old men with sweaters slung over their shoulders. Old women with walking sticks and dyed bobs. There were dogs and queues for soup and sandwiches. There was an ice-cream kiosk selling cones and coffee. Several guides in the historic house told us about Roger de Ashburnham from 1378. Edward Hussey III from 1830 and Betty Hussey and her cats. Betty popped her very expensive clogs on 2007 and the Castle and house were gifted to the National Trust.
The antique arm chairs had pine cones placed in the bum dents discouraging us from sitting down. There were shades at the windows keeping the sunlight from destroying ancient settees and shelves of dusty library books. There was the 50’s kitchen with a genuine 50’s Ager and a delicious red polkadot cookery set displayed near the pantry. There was Betty’s bedroom with a screen and a double bed where she actually slept, it felt a little voyeuristic looking at the double bed where she and her husband Christopher had slept and perhaps canoodled. Betty’s dressing table was full of bakelight handled brushes and her bathroom had a cast iron bath, a big Shank’s porcelain sink. The lavatory seat was taped down in case any one was foolish enough to have a wee whilst hundreds of people sauntered past them.
The bathroom depressed me, reminded me of our small washroom when I was growing up, cold and salmon pink, I could smell the damp towels and see the silver fish scampering down the plug hole. Wooden stairs ergonomically perfect, a sitting room with empty bottles of Dubonnet, a Bluthner piano covered with a piece of material and a little device to measure the UV light so the wooden frame didn’t crumble. The first Hussey lot had six children, the subsequence two families had none just cats. The idea of Betty, widowed and all alone with just her pussy, was a reminder that you can’t take it with you.
The queue for lunch was too long so we left to find another eatery. THE VINE in Coulsey Wood looked like just the ticket.
Elaine the landlady was wearing perfectly patterned dungarees and had the quickest of reposts. She was from Mile End, her father a docker and we knew the same dockers leader Jack Dash who gave me purple Quality Street chocolates as a kid and drunk with her father. Himself had a ham and cheese sandwich and a pale ale. I had a prawn sandwich on a black slate plate accompanied by a pint of Guinness. By the time we got home I was asleep in the passenger seat dreaming of moats and geese, wood spurge and pink eiderdowns.
From bluebells to the sacred geometry of dandelion clocks, from tiny Speedwell to yellow Celandine, the country side around my neck of the woods is juicy. Elaine has lived in the area for 11 years, there is no denying the beauty of East Sussex, but sometimes the tight arsed inhabitants who put up fences and avoid eye contact can make the lack of London vibrancy all the more poignant.
I ended up going to buy asparagus from the asparagus farm, and driving round to the organic Cherry Gardens farm shop for me organic onions, beetroots and big leafy spinach.
The dawter lit the fire disc in the front garden, we threw on twigs and little sticks and marvelled at how blessed we were. Heat, water and home grown food. The gratitude that we aren’t holed up in a cellar and that we do, if we’re lucky have a future.
I worked with a woman who lived in Knole, so we thought that next week we would drive backwaters from Hastings and visit one of the National Trusts finest properties. or not, we might just turn the little old car round and speed down to Hastings, have a bag of chips and sit on the long wooden pier.
The world is our oyster, we can do what the Hell we like. – Fucking lucky I say.