Hastings came up – it’s Thursday – so we went to the ‘SOUTH COAST’ book, my co-habité closed his eyes and flicked the pages until I shouted STOOOOP.
It stopped on page 73 – Ditchling ‘The Arts and Crafts Museum’, a mere 30 minutes away. So after a walk round the houses, where we talked to Mr.Farmer, the stonewall brick layer who is rebuilding the wall that was blown down in the storm, about his wife and mother who were both school cooks in the dawters school, we set off in my car.
We would have gone in the newld ( thats my elided word for new and old) car, but the old git put petrol in the Diesel engine. It’s now sitting outside the garage waiting for the boys to wash out the petrol. It’ll cost us more than a return flight to Java, but we’ve pooled resources which is cheaper than a divorce. The ‘oosbind put £50 of petrol in the newld car, which of course was lost because they have to flush it out. We went to the garage to fill up my car. I counted as the price gauge reached twenty but timed it wrong and ended up with £20.01, fucking irritating.
I put Ditchling in my sat-nav and the old git put Ditchling in his. According to Norman our navigator the computer said NO CHANCE. Apparently the museum has closed for good. It didn’t say that on the Northerners sat-nav but we didn’t want to take any chances. Opposite Ditchling on Page 72 there was a picture of a pub in Fletching. THE GRIFFIN INN a legendary Hotel Pub in the Heart of Sussex. ‘The Griffin is a 16th-century inn overlooking the Ouse valley in Fletching, a village with a lovely Norman church and old, beamed buildings. Simon de Montfort prayed for victory in the church before the Battle of Lewes in 1264. He won.’
We knew nothing of The Griffin, that the Pullen family had been running it since 1979, or that it had seven chefs, or that all the produce is locally sourced, or that the food is totally home made, including the bread that this week was focaccia, or that it won PUB OF THE YEAR for 2022. We just set off under a grey sky. Drove towards Hastings then took a right towards Piltdown. The grass a dry golden brown, the air heavy, and the anticipation of a pub lunch worming its way round may brain.
We turned off to Fletching, a big sign said ROAD CLOSED. I rarely believe them and I was right not to. We drove under heavily boughed Oak trees, into the tiny village of Fletching and into the car park of The Griffin. The closed road was elsewhere.
The saloon bar, where the boss and his team were discussing the menu, was wooden and softly furnished. The bar led out into the dining area. Tables and plants, lights and wooden furniture, clipped accents, pretty waitresses and public school boys waiting tables.
‘A bottle of local fizzy wine is £69’ said the drinker
‘Really. Is that a bottle or a glass?’
The menu was lavish and rich, as were the other diners.
Four elderly people with white hair and well stocked pension pots, were drinking local ale and laughing gutturally.
There was nothing I wanted to spend my inheritance on so I ordered a cup of cappuccino, a pot of olives and two bags of peanuts – dry roasted and salted – the old git ordered a strong black coffee and sat back in his chair.
What were we to talk about for an hour?
We’ve been together since the Pullens’ bought the pub, just what do you talk about over white linen when you’ve only ordered peanuts. Plates of sizzling grilled squid passed our table, the delicious aroma of buttered prawns wafted round the dining room. What can you possibly say to each other as the other diners filled up on smokey hunks of meat and bowls of lascivious pasta? The smell of old Jerusalem with its crackling street food filled the air in Fletching.
I looked at my Northern companion, who was contentedly sipping his Americano, and was transported back to Barbados. Our first and last expensive holiday. We ran out of dosh, there was a microwave in our wedding suite, a room that had been given to us arbitrarily we were not wed then. We bought two big potatoes and a packet of pea and ham soup.
We laid the table on the balcony, and silently ate. The hotel was next to a fancy restaurant; the noise of cutlery on big white platters, the tinkling of laughter, soft music and the glug-glug-glug of pouring wine, was the sound track to our meal. It was surprisingly romantic. Whilst the residents dined on five star cuisine we slurped our soup and munched on our microwaved spuds. Not dissimilar to the nibbling of peanuts in the pub of the year.
But all was not lost. I had recently read a quote by Friedrich Nietzsch: ‘When marrying ask yourself this question: Do you believe that you will be able to converse well with this person into your old age? Everything else in marriage is transitory.’
I looked at my ageing husband in his blue shirt and fancy, linen jacket, I watched him sip his coffee and I asked him what he felt about getting old. As the first courses were cleared away, and I popped the last of the dry roasted peanuts, we talked. As the second courses arrived and my salted peanuts went the way of the dry roasted we continued the conversation. As fancy desserts arrived I ate the last of the Kalamata olives, and swallowed the last sip of cappuccino and we were still talking about life and the art of surviving. As the other diners left we were still at it. Nietzsch, the old bastard, was right. Never mind that we hadn’t experienced the seven chefs, never mind that the newld car was going to clean us out, never mind that money’s too tight to mention, chatting with the old git at The Griffin was one of the more edifying experiences of July.
Maybe next time we’ll eat proper.
Next week Hastings?