Tuesday, October 21, 2008
One of the great pleasures in life is sitting in a pub, enjoying a pint with someone you've known for years. When I lived in Twickenham, I took it for granted that I would see a particular friend at least once a week and without fail, we'd go through the same routine of drinking five pints of Guinness, followed by minor acts of vandalism towards the unsightly cluster of estate agents' signs that littered the communal garden outside my flat.
(Once I was caught by a policeman, halfway through the act of pulling up a 'For Sale' sign. He beckoned me over and said 'Now sir, we all know that estate agents are the lowest form of life, but I'd still like you to put that sign back.' What a gent)
I assumed that our weekly drink would continue until one of us died, but one day my friend decided to quit his job in the City and move to Kent. Apart from a couple of meetings in London, we saw little of each other and I wondered if we would eventually lose touch.
Then, a couple of years after moving to Lewes, I discovered that if we both left our houses at a similar time and caught trains to Rye, we'd arrive within minutes of each other. Several years on, Rye is now home to our new 'local' and we meet several times a year. I was there yesterday and, several pints later, came perilously close to buying a ukulele in a charity shop.
However, to get to the point...
If you haven't visited Rye, it's worth making a special journey. It is a beautiful, medieval town that is almost completely unspoilt and also has strong literary connections. Henry James spent the last 18 years of his life at Lamb House which, annoyingly, is only open on Thursday and Saturday afternoons. As writers' houses go, it's a little disappointing as so much of the property is off limits, but it is still worth a visit.
However, Lamb House also has other literary associations. EF Benson and his brother lived there in the 1920s and it became Mallards in the Mapp and Lucia novels. I am ashamed to say that I've never read Benson's books, but I watched the brilliant Channel Four adaptation and loved it.
Rumer Godden also lived at Lamb House for a few years, before moving to another part of Rye and set In This House of Brede in the local area. Once again, I haven't read the book, but the film's great. Any movie with the beautiful Judi Bowker and Diana Rigg dressed up as nuns can't be bad.
Rye has also been home to Joan Aiken, Dr Syn author Russel Thorndyke, Radcliffe Hall, Spike Milligan, Macolm Saville ( author of The Gay Dolphin Adventure - now sadly out of print) and Conrad Aiken, father of Joan.
Today, Rye's literary tradition is alive and well. John Ryan, author of the Captain Pugwash books lives and works in Rye. This is apt, as Rye is one of the Cinque Ports and has a strong nautical tradition, even if the town is now several miles from the sea.
However, the greatest writer living in Rye today must be Samuel Youd, aka John Christopher, the author of The Death of Grass (which is being reissued by Penguin next year). He is now 86 and I hope that he will live long enough to witness the resurgence of interest in his novels.
So that's the end of my pitch for Rye. If the local tourist board would like to send me a small token of their appreciation, I am open to offers as long as it doesn't involve those other famous residents of Rye, the Cheeky Girls.