2nd Feb 2023 – Sky on fire

I have become obsessive about two things at the moment – well actually, maybe, three. Firstly, although I am not one to usually make any New Year resolutions – I invariably don’t keep them for very long and it all seems a complete waste of time – this year I have made an exception by making just one! I am going to try and walk an average of 5000 steps each day throughout the year. So far so good! I am achieving my objective which is not very demanding I will concede. So obsessive have I become about the walking I note down my daily score – yes, of course, it is also recorded on my phone! Yesterday was a red letter day – I acceded my target by over 2000 steps! My second obsession is linked with the first – I take a daily walk down the lane and if I am suitably clad and have stick in hand I walk across the fields too, if not I walk to the end of the lane and then on my return journey I walk through the churchyard and back home past the pub. The walk is always taken around sunset and here we come to my second obsession – I take copious photos on my phone of the sunsets. It is not enough to take just one or two. True they are usually dramatic and spectacular. The sun peers through the iron black branches of the trees that border the churchyard as it sinks slowly into the earth. It is reflected in the gently rippling water of the pond, it highlights the rustling fronded seed heads of the bleached reeds gilding them and changing them to precious delicate gold filigree. The purple bruised clouds become scarlet red, shocking pink, rose gold as they hang like a gaudy blanket pressing down on the darkened fields beneath. All of it I have a compulsion to capture – those fleeting moments that will never be the same again. There is a silence and stillness that is only interrupted by the fleeting flight of cawing rooks from the churchyard trees or the screech of seagulls as they head for the shore line in the distance. The sheep graze seemingly unaware of the drama above them. Perhaps they have seen it some many times before. The third obsession is not just mine – I share it with a friend. We are, as some of you will have noted in previous posts, surveying and making a record of the graves in the churchyard at New Romney. We have completed a section of the North side, and we started on the South side before the bad weather set in for winter. There was no way we two “older” persons were going to crawl around in the winter in the churchyard and so we have taken ourselves inside. All across the church floor there are memorial slabs that record the deaths and in many cases details of the lives of the past worthies of this ancient Cinque Port. They are utterly fascinating. They have become the third obsession. We have photographed each of those in the South Aisle, now moved on to the North Aisle and are heading towards the Altar there. Some are partially obscured by pews or the choir stalls, some are badly worn and some just rather enigmatic in the script we can decipher. We are very fortunate to have been given permission by the Church Warden to look at a written record of all of these slabs which was undertaken by NADFAS some years ago. We obsessively photograph the slabs, the entry in the documentation, and then when we return home we each equally obsessively research each individual that we have recorded. Then we share our findings via email – sharing obscure scholarly articles, finds on Ancestry, pictures of the houses, long since gone, that these man and women of parochial standing and some considerable wealth lived in and owned. We get monumentally overexcited about our findings, record as much as we can in notes and data bases and rush off on tangential journeys into strange scholarly byways that have little if anything to do with the individuals concerned. We have managed to learn several “new” computer skills along the way, found out about Cinque Port stuff that we never knew and probably don’t need to know now, tried desperately to decipher Wills that are convoluted and obscure in their language and script, discovered a few quite exciting – to us – facts about those who lived and worked in New Romney. My favourite to date is probably one John Mascall to fitted out seven ships and set himself and his brother and quite possibly his brother in law too as privateers – they all appear to have made it a profitable trade! Others are not backward in coming forward in recording their municipal status in this small community. They take enormous pride in the fact that those who are long gone served as Jurats or Mayors or in one case a gentleman who has had listed on his memorial slab the facts that he was three times Mayor, a Baron of the Cinque Port of New Romney and carried the canopy at the coronation of Charles II, was the Bailiff at the Yarmouth Fair, Captain of the Trained Band and that he died aged 41 in 1669. It is quite sobering to think that he would have known of, and survived, the Plague that ravaged this country in 1665, that he would have heard of the great Fire of London in 1666 and that he lived through the Commonwealth of 1649-1660 and the Civil War (1642-1651) and to see the restoration of the monarchy in 1660. I wonder how these momentous events in our history affected him and his life. Which side did he favour in the Civil War? How did he fare under the rule of the Puritans? I suspect that like so many he would have been pragmatic about the changes – he would have gone along with things but perhaps never giving any firm allegiance to anyone or any cause. I suspect his first concern was himself, his farming business and his family.

I want to tell their stories, I think it is important that they are all recorded and that they never disappear. Why? I have absolutely no idea! But back to the sunsets. Yesterday’s was particularly spectacular. The skies appeared to be on fire. The church was a stumpy silhouette, the trees provided a blackened screen of twigs and branches, the clouds were a fluffy firmament of pinks, reds and purple shades. Below I have put some of my pictures from last evening.

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27th Jan 2023 – sun is shining!

Before I write anything on this post I need to apologise for the last one – I get it sent to my email address so that I can archive each post. I was appalled to see that I had not checked the writing and that the beginnings of sentences lacked capital letters, there were typos everywhere and clearly I had been exceptionally slapdash. Sorry.

It absolutely is shining but anyone who thinks that means it is warmer is in for a sad shock here on Romney Marsh. Never mind, because the wind is blowing quite nicely and there is a mass of washing on the line – fingers crossed it actually gets dry. The cold and cough I had a couple of weeks ago appears to be having something of a revival – well I have got a tickly cough and sneezed a couple of times! Yesterday we received the water bill and strangely it is very good – at least there is one thing that actually seems to cost a little less – are we really using less water – I suppose we must be. If it stays dry and bright I might go into the garden this afternoon and do a bit of pruning.

Yesterday, late afternoon, I went for a walk down the lane, not across the fields because I had “proper” boots on and the fields are a quagmire. The sun was setting but not in one of those spectacular sunsets we have been seeing. It looked bright but the breeze was bitingly cold and hands and face were soon tinglingly chilly. Part way down the lane a willow tree has fallen foul of the harsh weather we have had this month and a large limb has split away from the main tree. Probably hastened in its demise by the swathes of ivy that encase much of the tree. Although it now lies prone across the verge the tips of the twigs have tiny white buds for the pussy willow catkins that herald the coming of Spring. None of my daffodils have buds yet but a solitary one is in bloom in the churchyard I noticed. On my walk I chanced upon a neighbour and we stopped and had a bit of a chat. I described to her how myself and a friend are doing what we are pleased to call “grave yarding” or more accurately are trying to survey and record all of the graves in the churchyard and church at New Romney. As we laughed at the picture of two “older” ladies crawling about in a grassy churchyard trying desperately to decipher worn inscriptions and then note down their findings she suggested that we put ourselves on Tic Toc – not even sure that is how you spell it yet alone being able to put stuff on it! I have struggled with being on Twitter and laterally on Facebook – let alone having a go at anything else! Social media seems to be a tremendous time waster in many ways but I am hoping that a plea I have put out might just bring forth some helpful results. I am going to put the same plea on here too in the hope that one of my regular readers can help. Incidentally, a very big thank you to all of you who have loyally continued to read my rants and ramblings. I am most grateful and especially so if I get a comment from you. Now for my plea. As a result of our graveyard surveying activities we quite urgently need a copy of a particular “booklet” written by a past church warden of St Nicholas Church, New Romney. Entitled “An Inventory of the Memorials within the Church of St. Nicholas” it was written by Walter R Somers and was published in 1989. If you have a copy or know someone who does I would be very grateful if I could borrow it or buy it. I have put out pleas on Twitter and Facebook but to no avail so far – I still have my fingers crossed – Kent Libraries do not have a copy either.

Meanwhile as I write the constant hum of power tools is coming from the garden – a neighbour is helping me out with cutting down the brambles. Once rid of them the garden should be much easier to manage. Below are a couple of photos from yesterday – a glorious complete rainbow and the sunset.

23rd Jan 2023 – Cloudy and Dull

I think it is the 23rd but to be fair I cant be bothered to get up and check! It certainly is cloudy and dull out there and although it isn’t freezing it is damp in the air and it feels quite raw cold. I have been for my quick walk down the lane and it was so different from a day to two ago. then it was crisply cold, the pond was frozen over and above a great dome of sapphire blue skies. Today an oppressive blanket of dirty grey clouds bears down on the entire landscape – the pond is black rippling water and the branch that someone had thrown on to the ice has disappeared in to the depths. The sheep still silently graze the field oblivious of parsers by while a lone Crow making his mournful cry flies low across the muddy water logged wheat field. in the distance, across towards the hills, a plume of bonfire smoke lazily dissipates in the chilly air. I have the lane and the fields to myself until I hear the sound of a tractor in the yard.

Today I got the quote for the work on the window and the ceiling in the spare room. not too bad I suppose considering I have to pay for scaffolding to get up to the top floor. An expense I could have done without though. In more exciting news I popped along to the Hall to see how the demolition was going – I am happy to report that the kitchen and toilets are no more. in their stead sits a pile of rubble. That will be removed in the next day or two and we will have a blank area ready for the rebuild. Of course then the serious fund raising will need to begin. We do have some other Sales etc planned but it is difficult to see how they alone will bring forth the monies needed. on the question of money I was somewhat horrified to see that the Church of England is going to expend vast sums of money to make reparations for the Church’s involvement in slavery. Whilst it is important for the Church to acknowledge its misdemeanours of the past I was amazed that they could find such vast sums yet they are not willing to financially support small rural communities and parishes. I know that there in the village the three ladies that make up the PCC spend much of their year working hard to pay the insurance, heating and lighting bills as well as being required to pay the “parish share”. I note the Rev Marcus Walker of Save Our Parish remarked that it is surprising what the Church Commisioners have been able to find “down the back of the sofa”. In the same article it was revealed that the same Church Commissioners are responsible for administering a fund of approximately 10 billion pounds. A hefty sum in anyones estimation. Our Hall sits across the road from our Church and is the only indoor space available to our small isolated community. We are classed as a deprived isolated community, We have a fair number of elderly residents many of whom have serious health issues and who do not have any way of getting to the nearest town. We have a bus once a week and that will cease in February we are reliably informed. The Church’s answer to the “problem” of the Hall was that it should be sold – no offer of help has ever been forthcoming and when I looked on the Church Commisioners site to see if they administered any charitable giving for rural communities there was none. Instead there was a list of ways in which we could raise money ourselves. I found this annoying, distressing and above all inexplicable. Why would the Church think we would be supportive when they do nothing to encourage the very attitudes and behaviours that they preach.

Enough of my ranting. In other news I think I may have enlisted some help with getting rid of the brambles in the garden. I must stop and get some supper. What to have? There is a piece of chicken in the fridge and plenty of veg I think!

21st Jan 2023 – Sunsets etc

With the lovely but rather cold sparkling weather we have been having the last few days I have become more than slightly obsessed with sunsets across the Marsh, or more especially the sunsets that I can see from the lane or across from the playing field in the village. I now have countless pictures. In my last foray along the lane and across the field was yesterday just after 4 o’clock. Passing the sheep field the last rays of the golden fiery light made each and every Romney Marsh sheep the wearer of the Golden Fleece. They were sublimely unaware of the their gilded status but Jason and his Argonauts would have been hard pressed to find the “real” Golden Fleece! Past the pond that lay still and silent in its blackness – ominous and eerie in its extent and depth. Since it was dug deeper last summer to try and find water for the sheep in the very dry weather I have become how deep it actually is in the middle when it is full of the rains of winter. Yesterday it was filmed over with a paper thin sheet of ice that gave a silvered sheen to the blackness of the icy water beneath. I have no idea why but as I watched the surface of the water I was reminded of the Anglo Saxon Beowulf and perhaps lurking beneath that icy waste was a monster of Grendell type proportions – certainly there was something primeval and ancient about the place and the expanse of water. But I had no time to waste for the golden orb was fast falling slowly and inextricably into the earth below taking the last of the light with it. I snapped away with my phone camera walking a little down the lane as I did so. The trees, black iron skeletons crafted by some unseen hand, were lit as though ablaze as gradually the gold turned to crimson and the bruised purple clouds darkened but were slashed with striated courses of gilded silver.

It was silent and calm in the near frosty air but also bracing. Above Rooks wheeled and whirled and sped off to their roosts in the trees around the churchyard. From the edge of the field I could look back to the village and see the last of the sun with the church tower squat and silhouetted among the trees as it must have stood for so many years. How many others have stood where I stood and wondered at the expanse of the world around them, seen the birds heading homeward and trudged back towards the village? I think that most likely when Gray wrote his Elegy in a Country Churchyard it was in summer but the first stanza could easily apply to me on this winter day. No there wasn’t a ploughman making his weary way home – not even a tractor trundling along the road but the world was being left to me as the sunset turned to twilight and the darkness of evening.

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day, 

         The lowing herd wind slowly o’er the lea, 

The plowman homeward plods his weary way, 

         And leaves the world to darkness and to me.

In more prosaic news I am reading the last published book of that countryside writer so much admired by all those who have followed him – Ronald Blythe. I first found his work when I was a school girl and my mother acquired a copy of Akenfield from a book club. I read it and have never regretted that read where the characters were carbon copies of those I knew and loved. His last book – published shortly before Christmas – does not disappoint. I am enjoying it tremendously. I have just finished the latest of Lewis-Stempels works too – Nightwalking. It is a thin volume but also well worth a read. I am not one for New Year resolutions but I have, sort of, made one this year. I have promised myself that I will up my activity levels and have set the modest goal of walking 5,000 steps on average every day. As I am a fine weather walker I have some way to go! There will need to be more than a few long walks in fine weather since the many days of rain have curtailed my activity somewhat.

I must stop for the fire needs stocking and refuelling, the supper needs getting and I need to do some ironing as well as adding to my database of the memorial grave slabs in New Romney church. My “grave yarding” activities with a friend have moved inside for the winter and suffice it to say there is more than enough material to keep us busy for some long time! All fascinating and with many a story to tell. Meanwhile I will leave you with a few pictures of that sunset last evening.

17th Jan 2023 – Yesterday

An interesting day to say the least and probably one I could have done without. Part way through the morning I remembered I had put a towel on the radiator in the spare bedroom – it was slightly damp and the radiator in there is always quite warm. Then I saw the huge wet patch on the carpet beside the window. Instinctively I looked up at the ceiling – water was dripping down from two of the beams and the panels between them were soggily wet whilst one was sagging down a little too. A hasty text message to the builder who reassured me he would pop down in the afternoon. Old towels festooned across the carpet and plastic bowls, buckets etc placed under the dripping as I waited for the builder. Then I thought about the living room ceiling directly underneath. Thankfully the carpet and underlay had absorbed the water and there was no evidence of it on the ceiling downstairs.

The builder duly arrived and inspected the damage. Once before we had had a slightly similar incident and the culprit had been the window in the room above – our bedroom in fact. The builder had to crawl into the attic space to find out where and how the water was getting in. The bad news was that it was getting in around the window and travelling down a rafter to the floor below. I have clearly been taken for a massive ride by various builders in the past. The one that put the window in was one of them it seems. The window will have to come out, a new “lead tray” needs fitting, tiles need to come off and last but not least to do this work I will need scaffolding erected. Of course I am having it done but it isn’t going to be cheap I suspect. The builder also informed. me that he now knows why the new conservatory had a leak too – there is a similar window above that too and it has the same problems. The builder who fitted the window had just sealed up any gaps with silicon – not an outdoor variety but one that should be used in bathrooms!!! The silicon had perished and the gaps were ready for the large scale ingress of rain water! So bad is it in one place that I found I could get my fingers under the window sill and into the space. It will be fixed in a couple of weeks I hope meanwhile there are plastic containers across the spare room floor and towels etc spread out too.

Just as I was finishing the arrangements in the spare room I noticed the beginnings of the sunset. It promised to be spectacular. I needed to get some pictures. Luckily there was nobody about in the lane as I did my version of running – more of a shamble at some speed really – and I managed to get some truly lovely and above all quite dramatic pictures. Across from the hills a purple bruised giant cloud mass ominously made its way, peachy burnt orange on its extremities it gradually bore down on the land below. Across the sheep field behind the skeletal iron black trees the burning orb of the sun gradually sank into the earth setting fire to the skies as it did so. The fields are more flooded than I have ever seen them. Where there were once ditches they have now returned and expanded across the margins of the field. The pond is enormous with tiny waves gently lapping towards the road each one edged with a glow pinky red as the water reflects the sinking sun. The sheep are sublimely unaware of the drama of the sunset and continue to graze silently. Above me the rooks wheel and turn croaking out their rasping call. Otherwise all is silent as the land prepares to sleep the night away. I trudge back home in the growing darkness and chill – the house which seemed only slightly warm when I left now seems cosy and welcoming with its warmth.

Below are some of the pictures I took yesterday evening.

The Trees are Down – 1st Nov 2022

I have written on this blog a few times about the Yard that abuts my drive. Usually it has been because the Magpies have their nest in the tall trees or because the leaves have fallen on to the drive at this time of the year and carpeted it in gold, bronze and copper that crunches underfoot or squelches after rain. Sometimes it is because I have seen a fox emerge from the Yard and make its way into the drive and cross my garden. Other times I have posted pictures of the moonlight through the tall trees that have sprung up on this derelict piece of land, or shown you the changing seasons with pictures of the trees and taken autumn pictures of the black silhouetted bare branches against a darkening sky. I have a sort of love hate relationship with the Yard. I can’t make up my mind if I like it overgrown and wild or not. When we first moved into the house the yard was clear of undergrowth with only brambles growing on the very outer perimeter against the tall block walls. The blackberries were juicy and succulent and I would pick them every year. The barns on either side of the gateway were and still are full of agricultural debris – rolls of sheep wire, old wooden gates, bits of fencing, feed troughs, sheets of corrugated tin and sundry other items that might once have “come in useful”. The floor of one of them is old and paved in some kind of brick work – I love it and covet it. A hole has formed in one wall where the old stones have come loose and tumbled to earth. It makes for a wonderful spy hole onto another world of days past. Through it on one sunny winter day I espied a large dog fox curled up in among the strands of encroaching bramble – a splash of coppery russet in among the darkness of the barn. A special moment for me. I have watched the magpies carefully build their nests in the very tops of the trees – weaving twigs inland out to form what appears to be a precarious platform that miraculously lasts from year to year. I have seen thick encrustations of snow clinging to the twigs and branches of the trees in the Yard forming a winter wonderland of mystery and magic. I have seen the trees with a background of a starry night sky or silhouetted against pewter purpled clouds full of rain, against azure blue cloudless skies with beating ferocious sun or against dull dirty featureless greyness with the wind blowing a gale and the trees bending and thrashing perilously as the remaining leaves tumble to earth. I have heard the breeze whispering in the summer trees, envied the shade they cast in the Yard on blistering hot days but above all I have grown to take the Yard in all the seasons for granted.

Yesterday everything changed. The weather was not the best and for most of the day I was indoors. A persistent whining drone – like a chain saw – interrupted the quiet and I couldn’t place where it was coming from – close by for certain and probably not from my neighbours over the road I thought. It seemed to be coming from down the lane but there are few trees there, just beyond the Yard perhaps. It didn’t occur to me that it might have been in the Yard until I went to deliver a note to a neighbour and then I heard it and saw it. The gate of the Yard, heavy and made of rusting iron, was propped against the barn wall, A pick up truck, florescent blue and incongruous in this green environment stood parked in the entrance to the Yard. Beyond, on the side of the lane, was an enormous JCB and its transporter. The noise was earsplitting as trees and bushes were being obliterated. I didn’t venture to look until I returned from my errand and by then the men had gone and all was silent again. I strolled into the Yard -across the cleared concrete entrance, past the sides of the barns, into a wide-open cleared space. On the periphery, around the walls, tall piles of debris, trees and branches piled high forming an internal barrier. The brambles had been uprooted and a wisp of smoke rose from a bonfire in the far corner where the men had been burning the twigs and brambles I suppose. I liked the open space – and a big space it is too. There is much left to do – the tall trees that border my drive are still there the piles of debris will need dealing and the ivy that is creeping across walls and fences, buildings and roofs will also need removing if the Yard is to be used again. Today I have glanced out of my upstairs window and the massive JCB is ripping out trees by their roots, tearing up undergrowth and casting it aside making the piles of foliage and wood even higher. In one way I want them to take down the Sycamore, Ash and other tall trees that border my drive – they cut the light out, they stop me seeing across the Marsh to the hills and they spread leaves all over the drive but in another I want them to stay. I especially would like to keep the Silver Birch and the Hawthorn – the Ash can go – although strangely it has never succumbed to the “die back” that others have been destroyed by – Sycamore I am no lover of and so that can go too. My kitchen is already much lighter and if they go it will be even better. On the other hand I have a certain sadness to see this microcosm of an environment that was almost certainly home to a wide variety of wild life destroyed. I also wonder if I should be wary of what I wish for with regard to the Yard. What will take the place of the trees, brambles and undergrowth, foxes, rats, magpies etc? I might regain my views for awhile but will there be building in there – I really don’t want that. Will it be used for machinery etc – I don’t mind if it is. Will it be used as a Yard for stock? That would be OK with me although I think my elderly “townie” neighbours over the road and Himself – also a townie – might not be too pleased. I would rather like to see sheep in there for lambing or even some bullocks – it would be a nostalgic reminder of my childhood. My father always admired the Yard – leaning on the gate he would state “that’s a real good Yard that is. Just right for bullocks. Good floor and a bit of shelter, strong walls and plenty of space.” I can but agree with him but I am afeared that its days for that use have long gone in these days of industrial farming – I am fearful for what I wish for. Himself not so much – he thinks it is “exciting”. I am not so sure!

Added to which I found out the other day that my house was first built in 1681 – it has changed and been extended rather a lot since then but it was a farm house and no doubt looked out onto the Yard that is now being changed for ever. A sobering thought.

In other news the car is still not fixed and we are marooned here. Could be a lot worse. The latest is that it is definitely something to do with the computer but they don’t know what. I have been having some problems with my keyless entry and start fob and the garage have “fixed” it countless times but now they are wondering if the present situation has something to do with the “key”. Today they have collected the spare key to see if that will make the car work. Fingers crossed it does because then I will just need new keys – yes it will take a while to get them but it will be a proper fix I guess and meanwhile I should be able to use the key that is not faulty. I await a phone call from the garage!

What a Day!!

Well yesterday turned out to be a bit of a day. I had a day planned – it didn’t work out quite to plan. At 9.30 I set out around the lanes to Hythe to do some food shopping. I still quite often order online but yesterday I decided that a trip to the shop might be quite nice for a change. It would have been but it didn’t get off to the most auspicious start. As I began to turn out of my lane into the main road through the village – not really a main road just a slightly wider lane really – I was met by a funeral cortege that blocked the whole road. Not wishing to cause any kind of problem for the mourners I sped off in the opposite direction. This would mean a lengthy detour and part way I changed my mind, turned in a field gate and went back through the village – the funeral cortege had moved on by this time. On to the supermarket through various traffic snarl ups, temporary traffic lights and sundry other delays I eventually parked and did my shopping, had a lovely chat with the Till lady and started off home. Successfully negotiated the traffic jams again and turned into the lanes towards the village. The final lane is called Donkey Street and it twists and turns its way across the Marsh past fields and the occasional house eventually taking me into the village and of course home. I began my journey along this lane as per usual, nothing strange, nothing amiss. Then suddenly the car stopped working. I hear you say what do you mean? Well actually what I say – it just stopped and the engine ceased, random messages came up on the display screen and the car refused to start. Luckily I was on a short straight stretch of the road – so hazard warning lights on and a call to the AA. Also a call to Himself so that he didn’t worry about where I was. The AA took a few details including the fact that I was on my own in a not too safe place with a car that wouldn’t move and then told me it would be at least an hour before anyone arrived. A gentleman from a house down the road worked out that there was something wrong and popped over to see if he could help. Sadly he couldn’t. Eventually, after an hour the AA man arrived. He plugged in some gizmo and got nowhere, he tinkered under the bonnet and got nowhere, he admitted defeat and said he needed to call a recovery vehicle. Another hour wait for it to arrive meanwhile the AA man had disappeared to rescue someone else! Kindly, the gentleman from down the road and his wife got me a cup of tea and chatted for awhile so that I wasn’t all on my own surrounded by fields etc. and eventually the recovery vehicle arrived and the car and me were taken to a garage in Folkestone. The garage staff were excellent and very kind. They provided me with a lift home along with my shopping and the gentleman that drove me home even brought my bags of shopping into the house. If you need garage services in Folkestone I can highly recommend KAP. I had left home at 9.30 and arrived back just before 3.30 having had one bowl of cereal and one cup of tea. I was not a happy bunny!

Then before I could eat or drink anything I needed to ring the AA to give them my permission to speak directly to the garage. I have paid for several years for the top price/quality cover from the AA for just such an eventuality. After approx half an hour hanging on I got through to the correct department. I gave them the details and told them that they had my permission to speak directly to the garage only to be told that the car couldn’t stay there because it wasn’t “one of their garages”! It is fair to say that a minor but rather explosive meltdown on my part ensued. The lady at the other end of the phone sounded slightly taken aback and asked me to hang on – when she returned miraculously they would deal with the garage and I was given a number for the garage to phone when they had diagnosed the problem. The number has been duly communicated to the garage and if it is a computer fault I might, just might, have the car back by the end of Monday. Everything crossed but it is fair to say I am not overly impressed with the customer service at the AA.

On a far more cheery note we have now raised £9000 for the Hall renovation and now that a “push bar” has been fitted to the door we can use the Hall for Sales etc. We shall be holding a Christmas Sale on the 10th December 1-4pm in the village Hall, Burmarsh. Watch this space and my Twitter posts for more details. There will be Books, Cakes and Christmassy things as well as a Tombola and Lucky Dip etc. Among the things on sale will be Lavender Hearts made by me – see picture below. After much research and thought I think I shall sell them for £2 each. We have also been selling Apples in the church so if you are passing and fancy some Apples please feel free to pop in and put your monies in the box on the wall – more kinds of produce will appear according to the season and availability etc. I have got to stop now because I have to take an Invoice for works completed to the Treasurer.

Pictures below of a sunset a couple of days ago.

15th Oct 2022 – Learnt a lesson

Why have I put the date at the top of this post? Because I have, at last, learnt a lesson rather late in the day so to speak. I have spent sometime putting together the daily entries I wrote throughout the first year of the Covid pandemic and much to my horror many of them are not dated. This has made compiling them into some coherent whole a tedious arduous task. All my own fault of course but none the better for that. I am, slowly, getting there but if only I had done this basic task when I wrote the pieces my task now would be much less boring.

Today the painter was supposed to come and complete the outside painting that the previous painter didn’t complete last year – mainly because he ran out of good enough weather. He has now changed his work and so I have had to ask my usual builder to do the task. He hasn’t come because we had a downpour first thing and it continued on and off for part of the morning. Annoyingly it is now bright sunshine and blue skies but the painter has other things to do – he will try and come tomorrow. Puddles had formed on the drive and silver beads of moisture sit suspended on rose leaves, windows were smudged with cascading water and the ‘new’ water butts were overflowing.

Yesterday I spent several hours scooping the old compost out of the pots on the patio in preparation for replanting with new bulbs. It was back breaking work not least because I needed to move some large hefty pots back to their position near the conservatory. I also found that I have an amazing number of pots – far too many some would say! I still have several to go and a number of questions re a few have to be answered. Do I give all pots a sort of over haul? Even those with giant Agapanthus in? In all honesty they could do with new compost and probably splitting too but they are in massive pots and seriously pot bound. Not only that but the pots are the type that come in at the top thus making the removal of a pot bound plant exceedingly difficult if not impossible without breaking the pot. Monty Don has some sort of cutting ‘thingy’ that might be useful but I don’t have one! Would a spade cut through them? The problem then is that I will almost inevitably break the pot or chip it at the very least. Perhaps I will take the VERY easy way out and scrap off the top soil and top dress with new compost etc.

I have grand and all encompassing plans for the garden but to achieve them I would probably have to work every day throughout the Autumn and Winter and even well into the Spring. Not impossible but jolly hard work and I have my graveyard survey commitments that are proving not only exciting but super interesting too. We have, so far, completed the north side of the church along side the church itself – next week we start on the south side. As these graves are close to the church they are proving to be the oldest and reading the inscriptions is often a struggle or perhaps more accurately an exercise in detective work, guesswork and physically crawling about on damp grass squinting at the stones from various different angles. Any and all information that we glean has then to be verified, researched and generally worked on using genealogical sites and records of various types. Sometimes we have to admit defeat but other times we come across really exciting things – Wills and other facts that give us a true insight into the lives of those who lived in a small south east coastal town three hundred years ago. Their squabbles, relationships, jobs and professions, their standing in this small isolated society and much, much more. On other occasions we are frustrated by there being several people with the same name – sons, fathers, brothers, cousins, uncles but which is which and who is where in the Churchyard?

From the grey, wet, dripping overcast beginning to the day it is now bright and breezy. A vast clear blue dome covers the Marsh with not a cloud in sight. A gentle wafting wind moves the remaining flowers and a last rose loses another petal as it silently falls to earth. The leaves have begun to change to gold, copper and bronze. Each bush and tree with brazen iron branches and twigs festooned with coins. Soon the paths and drive will be clothed in rustling dried crunchiness as I kick my way through the fallen debris.

Lunchtime calls and I must stop – the garden shall have my attention for at least an hour this afternoon. I have a mountain of bulbs to plant in pots – I ordered what I thought at the time was a reasonable amount. When they arrived it was in a giant cardboard box crammed with Tulips, crocuses and daffodils of sundry varieties and as if that wasn’t enough I also bought some Allium bulbs in the supermarket – I just couldn’t resist!!!!!

Autumn – Oct 12th 2022

Well, certainly Autumn is well and truly upon us. Today the weather has been more cloudy than the previous few days. Nevertheless I managed top do some gardening this afternoon. At one point it was quite warm as I worked away in one corner running amok with a hedge trimmer. Previous readers of this blog will be well aware of my great liking for a power tool and this one is a very particular favourite – a cordless one that has a quite long lasting battery. Like most other people I imagine I am more than happy to chop away at ivy, roses, clematis and the like with a flourish and aplomb but when it comes to tidying up the clippings I certainly not so keen! Nevertheless I have tidied up behind myself – well more or less although there are still some clippings wilting on one of the borders! There is a mass of work to do and I try to do at least a full hour each day at the very least. Once I had “tidied up” I popped indoors for a cup of tea and a sneaky biscuit and then I went for a walk down the lane.

Is was lured out by a quick glimpse of the hedgerow and its glorious colours. Plodding along with a tapping stick reminiscent of blind Pugh in “Treasure Island” I disturbed a pigeon that was hiding in the foliage – it flapped its way noisily and with some hysteria out across the field. The rooks in the churchyard trees were whirling around loudly cawing like cranky rusty machinery. Their circling flight away from the trees across the sheep field and then home again seemed purposeless to a mere human firmly rooted to the ground but I rather suspect they were on a serious mission. I don’t know what species the trees are that form the hedgerow to the cultivated field but they have some splendid autumn reds, golds and copper leaves. Like resplendent ancient metal jewellery they hang in all their glory from pewter grey twigs and branches forming a frame to a view of the field beyond. I am, at times, a slightly nervous walker when I am out on the path alone and far from habitation and I see a fellow walker following me. Just such an occurrence happened today and in retrospect I am sure the gentleman in question was someone out for a walk to enjoy the beauty of the Marsh but something made me nervous. I used my stick to balance myself and I crossed the dry ditch into the field at the back of my house. In the lockdowns I had walked this field, knowing full well that I would meet no other person and so it was today. I my quiet solitude I enjoyed the views and a different perspective on the landscape. At the back of my garden there is a yard – overgrown and full of trees, bushes and in essence a tiny wilderness much enjoyed’ I suspect by a wide variety of wildlife. Certainly I have seen foxes emerge from there, magpies nest in the trees, small birds flit in and out of the undergrowth and rats have been known to skitter across the lane, to say nothing of sundry mice etc. Likewise the trees are mixed and self sown. A large Ash has not succumbed to die back, a Sycamore grows ever taller, Silver Birch and Hawthorn flourish and brambles form an impenetrable undergrowth. The back wall of the yard borders the field and there I saw a magnificent display of haws and hips. Blood red and dripping from the copper leafed twigs they hang weighty and luscious, ready for the birds to feed on when the weather turns truly cold. An Ash tree has grown in its languid way, with drooping branches, to form a frame for the sheep field and wider Marsh vista beyond. The domed skies are a soft dove grey streaked with the palest of pale blue and piles of dirty white clouds that build above the hills.

As I type in my conservatory a tiny Wren has flown across to the roses that are in great need of pruning but which provide a safe perch. The vegetable bed has been cleared except for some Leeks and Carrots and much to my surprise I spotted new Runner Bean plants emerging and a positive plethora of small Courgettes. The nettles and brambles are having a splendid time trying to conquer all cultivated areas and it certainly has turned into a war of attrition as I fight a slightly losing battle to get them under control – as I clear one part they take over another apparently defying me to truly be rid of them. Of course I shall never be rid of them.

Although in so many ways I like Autumn I do also find it a somewhat melancholy season. Perhaps it is because it leads to the cold, deadness of dark winter or perhaps it is just the drawing in of the nights and the shortening days. Last night I was walking home through the village from a Parish Council meeting when I stopped in the dark lane, turned off my torch and stood in wonder staring at the stars and the moon. All was silent and still and the silvered light provided all the illumination I needed. Pinpricks of stars festooned the heavens – magical.

I have included below some of the pictures from today’s walk and one of the moon – not very good I am afraid.

Part 2 – Rye Arts Festival Talk.

The Long Weekend – 1920s & 30s Writers of Rye and Romney Marsh.

I am afraid I am going to take something of a liberty with  the geography of Romney Marsh – I have extended its perimeter to take in Small Hythe. I apologise to those of you who live on Romney Marsh proper.

The writers that are perhaps most associated with Romney Marsh and Rye at this time are, in the main, little known today and they certainly did not form a cohesive group in any way, but nevertheless they knew each other and socialised together, they were friends, they argued and fell out among themselves but they also had all been affected to a lesser or greater degree by the War and this influenced their writing and their lives.  Many of these writers, particularly the women, turned to Catholicism and most chose to address the problems of their times in their work. Their work was political in the widest sense. Among this circle were Radclyffe Hall, Sheila Kaye-Smith, Noel Coward, Edith Craig, E F Benson and Russell Thorndike. For the women among them the War had given them a freedom to be who they wanted to be, allowed them to work and lead their lives in a far less restricted way. Once the War was over the restraints of the pre war years could not be reimposed – these people lived in an irrevocably  changed world.

Hall first came to Rye just after the notorious court case in 1928. Hall’s novel  “The Well of Loneliness” was published in 1928 and it details the  relationship between two women but it was in its essentials a semi autobiographical ‘war novel’. The novel  became well known when the editor of the Sunday Express branded it obscene and a court case ensued in which the book was banned. Throughout the case Hall was supported each day at the proceedings by many of her fellow writers including  Sheila Kaye-Smith who attended the trial every day. The sales of copies printed in Paris rocketed as a result of the case proving the adage that “all publicity is good publicity”. Hall was a lesbian although she referred to herself as an “invert”. Her appearance and dress was distinctive with a very short hair cut, collar and tie and tailored jacket – giving her a  somewhat masculine appearance and she was referred to as John. She and her partner bought their clothes from theatrical costumiers or had them bespoke made.  After the court case Hall and her life long partner Una Troubridge came to Rye. At first they lived in a house on Huxsteps Row off Church Square but subsequently lived in a variety of places around Rye until they settled in The Black Boy on the High Street. Well known around Rye the pair never raised eyebrows for in Rye Hall and Troubridge were perceived as a respectable married couple.  Hall was a devout Roman Catholic and in the late 1920s the Catholic Church in Watchbell Street was a new building. Hall donated considerable funds for the roof, the pews, stations of the cross, the rood screen and to pay outstanding debts. By the mid 1930s they had moved back to The Forecastle in Huxsteps Row but this time as owners. Troubridge said that they “loved the marsh” and certainly that love of Rye and the Marsh is evident in “The Sixth Beatitude” pub 1936 and set in Huxsteps Row. Just as in “The Well of Loneliness” Hall had addressed the issue of same sex relationships so in this novel she, by implication, is critical of the poverty that pervaded areas of society in the post war years. Her heroine, a poor working class woman, personifies the “purity of heart” of the sixth beatitude, and it is through her that we see Rye and the Marsh. She stares seaward from Rye across … “more than two miles of  greyish-green marsh with … sheep and strong steers”… the Marsh had been “magicked by some hidden hand” it looked an “unearthly green, and the river and dykes unearthly blue”. Hall provides us with closely observed pictures of the natural world of the Marsh – “A heron …heavy powerful wings beating with dignity, slender powerful legs stretched out stiffly behind him … Plovers circled and screamed above their young; moor-hens paddled in and out of the rushes; larks dropped like plummets then soared up and up, seeming to shatter themselves with singing; while the thorn trees … were so heavy with blossom that their boughs were hidden” Likewise she had a clear understanding of the down-to-earth hard working class life of those who worked on the Marsh – in July her heroine is thistle spudding. (Explain) “An army of thistles, an army of spudders” – “The hot sun beat down on the spudders’ heads, on their work-roughened hands and on their shoulders”. The Marsh is not without its romance though – “an August moon silvered the quiet water of the dykes … a patch of pale marsh mist lay like a ghost of the vanished sea”. 

Hall and Troubridge’s lives were not without their problems when they lived in Rye; Troubridge noted that they found solace on the Marsh – they would drive “along to Appledore by the side of the Military Canal, to Tenterden and then home again through Smallhythe” … thinking and saying “we could never leave Rye”. 

Kaye-Smith and her husband visited Hall and Troubridge in Rye and they were always referred to as “the small Frys” (Fry being SKS married surname and both she and her husband being rather short of stature). The friendship came to a rather unseemly end when Troubridge took against Kaye-Smith. Hall’s latest novel was being promoted at an event and Kaye-Smith saw fit to mention her own new novel thus taking away some of the limelight from Hall. Subsequently Kaye-Smith was ostracised by the couple. 

Kaye-Smith was also a great lover of Romney Marsh. Her best selling novel “Joanna Godden” was set entirely on Romney Marsh and other works feature the marsh. While in “Joanna Godden” she shows the reader the Marsh in all of its moods and seasons in two other of her novels written in this period we can see her documenting the changes in society that followed the War. “The End of the House of Alard” tells of the effects of the immediate aftermath of the War on a landed family, while its sequel “The Ploughman’s Progress” follows one man and his family as the agricultural slump causes an upheaval in rural life. As with Hall, Kaye-Smith highlights poverty but this time it is in the farming community. 

A local farmer explains how his life has been reduced to poverty. “During the War I got ninety shillings a quarter (for corn). Then after the War prices dropped to nothing and I gave it up. I kept stock instead and got good prices for that till 1928 or thereabouts; I’d get … forty shillings for a Kent ewe – same as I’ve sold for a shilling today”. But just as in “The Sixth Beatitude” the working class protagonist – in this case the out of work ploughman of the title – sees the beauty in the natural world. “The sunlight poured after him down the field and lit up the pattern of ridges under the knotty, weed-choked grass, and sent his shadow heeling down to the wood’s edge … Then the sun dipped behind the hedge and the shadows were lost in twilight”. 

Noel Coward had written what amounted to a fan letter to Kaye-Smith and in the early 1920s they became good friends. Kaye-Smith was living in London for a while after the War and was a regular attendee at Noel Coward’s parties in Ebury Street.  Coward came to know of this area through her work and when he and a friend stayed in Dymchurch for a holiday bicycling around the Marsh. He subsequently rented a small cottage beside the Star Inn in St.Mary’s in the Marsh. On fine days he could be seen sitting in the churchyard with his back leaning against a tomb stone, writing. Coward knew Hall and she saw fit to fictionalise him in “The Well of Loneliness” as a close friend of her lesbian protagonist. A few years later Coward moved to Aldington – to a house that looked out across the wide expanse of Romney Marsh and here he would write facing that expansive view. The Marsh and Rye do not feature in his work. 

Hall, Coward and Kaye-Smith were all on very friendly terms with Edith Craig and her two female companions who lived at Small Hythe Place. (Sackville West referred to Craig as “the most tearing old lesbian”). Craig was the daughter of Ellen Terry the famous actress and it was the theatre that brought Craig into contact with some of the writers who lived on or around Romney Marsh. Craig’s companions at Small Hythe were Clare Atwood – a painter – known as Tony and Christabel Marshall who called herself Christopher St John – she had changed her name when she converted to Roman Catholicism. St.John was the writer of the trio and among her works was a lesbian novel published in 1915 entitled “Hungerheart” – thus pre dating Hall’s by more than a decade. Hall referred to this menage a trois as “the boys” and she and Una were frequent visitors. In memory of her mother Craig converted the large barn into a theatre and in 1929, as one of the first productions in the theatre, Craig produced and directed a Nativity play, “The Child Born at the Plough”, written by Kaye-Smith. Kaye-Smith visited Small Hythe and described the “conscientiousness” of Craig as a director. Sometimes described as “revolutionary” these three women were described as a “family” by Kaye-Smith full of “activity to the point of urgency” – “always something being done and done quickly”. Nativity plays were popular in those years after the War and Kaye-Smith set hers in the area around Rye. Visitors to the baby Jesus “thundered over the roads” of all three marshes of “Walland, Dunge and Romney” where “already the pale gleam is on the dykes of the Marsh”. In a description of Rye at night Kaye-Smith catches something of the essence of the place. The scene is a street and “a few stars prick the sky above the gables…The pascal moon is in the heavens, and her light pours down upon the pavements and the cobblestones, almost as bright as day”.  Out on the Marsh “the reeds stand high in the dykes, upright in the windless air”. This was not the only Nativity play that Craig produced locally. In 1918 she directed a Nativity play at the Monastery in Rye which had been organised by Lady Maud Warrender as a charity event and in which St John played the part of Herod. (After the death of her husband Warrender lived with her female companion at Leasam House). 

As one commentator commented – “Rye was accepting, English and eccentric. These friends wrote books, painted pictures, worshipped the Lord and pottered in their gardens”. 

Among these friends were E F Benson of “Mapp and Lucia” fame and Francis Yeats-Brown who wrote his autobiography – “The Lives of a Bengal Lancer” in 1930.  

The theatrical connection also extended to Russell Thorndike and his Dr Syn novels – smuggling tales set on Romney Marsh. Thorndike was an actor and writer who had spent many holidays of his childhood with his, more arguably famous sister, Sybil Thorndike, at Dymchurch. (Sybil acted at the Barn Theatre and they both knew Craig). Supposedly the exciting tales of daring do and smuggling came about as a distraction when the pair were in New York and someone was murdered outside their hotel. The original “Dr Syn” was that story. Written in 1915 there is little descriptive writing of the Marsh but the eerie atmosphere of the Marsh at night is amply conveyed when on a “weird night” – “Everything was vivid – either very dark or very light. Such grass as they came to was black grass; such roadways as they crossed were white roads; the sky was brightly starlit, but the mountainous clouds were black; the edges of the great dyke sluices were pitch black, but the water and thin mud were silver steel, reflecting the light of the sky”.  

Thank you to all those of you who have been reading my recent blog posts and here is another book to add to the reading list.

Winchelsea – Alex Preston.