One of the inmates living on our road opened her garden to the public for charity.
I was the 100th to enter her little wooden gate. The old git gave me a fiver and I handed it to Colin who was sitting with the cash box.
We arrived late having attempted to get to Hastings.
With the lid down on our little grey car we set off in the baking sun which was shining on the old mans bald pate. Down Bunny Lane and we were held up in a traffic jam, cars and vans driving to the ‘Black Deer’ festival which culminates today with Van Morrison singing ‘They’ll be Days Like This’ to the inhabitants of Royal Tunbridge Wells and surrounding environs.
After fifteen minutes of tapping the steering wheel and arguing about why we didn’t go through Rotherfield and Wadhurst, the traffic started moving and my expletives evaporated in the 25º heat.
Chit chatting our way through Frant and Bells Yew Green we decided to turn left after the big pub on the corner leaving Hastings to the heaving tourists twenty miles behind us.
Through Lamberhurst where thirty years ago Paul Reizin filmed the vineyard. I remember him saying he was in the heart of the garden of England and me thinking blimey that’s where I live now. Coming from Aldgate, the East End flowing through my veins, I had to come to terms with the reality that I had left jellied eels behind and was now in mock Tudor country. Sadly the brilliant Reizin died last year and the vineyard is now being possessed by the wretched land developers. Life is rapidly changing before our very eyes.
Into Goudhurst, where years ago I filmed in The Church of St. Mary the Virgin, a 13th-century Anglican pile. It’s a Grade I listed building and stands on a hill. If you’re up in the tower the fantastic Kent countryside is laid out before you. I don’t remember why we filmed there but I do remember flower displays and the smell of polish.
So there we were whizzing through Goudhurst towards Sissinghurst our National trust cards at the ready. The last time I drove to Sissinghurst I was gunned down by a man with a speed camera and nicked for travelling at 38 miles an hour in a 30 mile an hour limit. Yup I got three points and a dent in my pride.
‘This is not twenty minutes away’ said the irritable Northerner.
‘I admit it’s further than I thought’. The conversation stopped there.
We finally arrived at Sissinghurst castle and gardens. Down a windy windy track where a woman in a hut handed us a map and told us to go to reception to get signed in.We parked the car and walked through buttercups and grasses. Followed the trail and got signed in, handed paper bracelets – like they give you in hospital – used the facilities and set off for our away day.
It was hot, not too crowded and the realisation that the Sackville West family owned this gaff as well as Knole set me off, just how many castles does a gal need? We turned left at the buggy station where parents could pick up pushchairs, past the Priests House and into the vegetable garden.
Ok, so we’ve got runner beans, courgettes, spring onions, leeks and broccoli nestled in our newly composted earth, I thought that was impressive, but when we opened the gate to Sissinghursts vegetable plot it put our efforts to shame. There was greenery as far as the eye could see.
Rows of loganberries and raspberries, rows off fennel and resplendent artichokes. Companiable nasturtiums and marigolds keeping the flies off and rows of courgettes, mange tout, squashes and pumpkins. The bees buzzed and the flies flew and the newly overturned earth calmed the soul and soil.
We wandered round heading to the exit when the old git heard a sound. Electricity he thought, he stopped and bent his head over the strawberries and listened. He finally realised that the sound he could hear was the rain on his Tilly hat. He had confused the pitter patter of summer rain on his head with the splitting of the plastic covering the poly tunnels.
‘Yeah. Lovely.’ I said
‘The roofs down.’
‘It might not.’
Reluctantly we turned tail and walked back, uphill, to the car park.
‘Dya wanna go home?’ I enquired
And without hesitation the Northerner, eyes wide with anticipation said
‘Why do you?”
The excitement that we may not have to walk around yet another fucking castle was too much for him so I got in the driving seat and we put the roof up. As it turned out the rain got heavier.
We drove into Goudhurst, parked the car and visited an old friend who plied us with coffee and home made cheesy biscuits.
I’d put the settee covers into wash, that was our excuse to leave before the thunder came, if we left in time we could hang the upholstery out on the washing line.
We arrived home in time for me to catch the last hour of the open garden. I took the ‘oosbind’s hard earned money and he went home to peg out the settee in the weakening sun.
I took my sandals off and walked through the grass paths, past the Japanese garden and Eucalyptus, past the sage green Shepherds hut, past strawberries and a massive brown oak, through the orange, yellow, red and pink roses. Past the purple Veronica and the silver green thistles. On and on went the garden of secrets. I had a hug with Juliette and her ma who were sitting on the bench by the pond and then wonder of wonders tables had been set for tea, with a bevy of energetic bints serving up home made cakes and chewy flapjacks which I grabbed.
Many of the locals asked me whether I had sobered up after the jubilee, laughing at my drunken swagger. None of them believed me when I said I thought I was drinking pop.
‘Pull the other one’ said Paul.
I had Earl Grey tea and sat with the mummy from the house opposite the gardens who told me her news and then pointed me to the very Juliette I had hugged, who is studying to be a Reiki Master.
I sat and listened to tails of energy and intuition, of the Middle East, and America. I offered myself up for be Reikied so that she can have 75 people under her belt before she takes the third part of her course in Tonbridge. And then the rain came and we all went home. The geezer from the cottage round the bend asked me whether I could make it home or was I still tipsy. I am now known as the septuanagerian up the hill who can’t hold her drink.
When I got back the helpful husband had gone shopping and I had to unpeg the soaking wet sofa covers. I then spent two hours down in the cellar ironing and drying off the crispy clean furnishings so we could settle down for the night.
At 10.30p.m. the thunder cracked and the lighting split the sky, and so ended another day of unusual travelling experiences which Kurt Vonnegut calls dancing lessons from God.