Sunday, September 18, 2011

Birds, Cars and Wood

Do you like vintage motor cars and wildfowl? Then Bentley Wildfowl and Motor Museum is the place for you.

I can't say I've ever regarded birds and cars as natural bedfellows for a musuem (and the squashed pheasants on the driveway would seem to vindicate this view), but Bentley does have a strange, indefinable charm. If you're in the area and fancy a walk in beautiful surroundings, I'd recommend it.

I took my wife and sons there today to visit a 'wood fair', which was as worthy and middle class as it sounds, but not quite as dull. My youngest son, who began the visit by sitting on the grass and shouting "I HATE WOOD!" gradually perked up once he realised that it could be deployed as a weapon:

There was a slightly menacing, pre-apocalyptic atmosphere at the wood fair, as if people were preparing themselves for an imminent disaster. In addition to the usual selection of fairly hideous garden ornaments and obscure country crafts, I noticed a lot more knives and survival tools.

I can see the temptation to become self-sufficient in an increasingly uncertain world. But if the oil ran out and things kicked off, what would happen? I once asked a man who was a bit of an old hippy and ran a smallholding what he would do. Without hesitating, he replied: "Find the nearest gun shop and get tooled-up".

It wasn't quiet the answer I was expecting.

To add to the surreal atmosphere, at one point I found myself sitting in the carriage of a miniature railway, travelling at 5mph, discussing The Wire with two 11-year-olds.

At the wood fair we met a couple whose son was in the same class as ours. They had recently moved down from Stoke Newington and I found myself wondering if I would ever meet anyone in Lewes who didn't come from north London. I'm convinced that there is some sort of Stargate-style portal in Hackney that sucks middle-class people in once they have children and sends them off to Lewes, Southwold, North Norfolk and Brighton.

Where do all the real Lewes people go?

Actually, I did recently learn that a friend of my wife's came from St Margarets, only a mile or so from where I grew up in SW London. As children we'd been to the same parks, shops and cinemas, travelled on the same buses and, later, drank in the same pubs, but it had taken her years to bother mentioning where she came from.

There was also something else that she took ages to reveal. Occasionally the friend would mention various members of her family, including a step-mother called Beryl. One day last year, she said that she was worried about her half-sister, as Beryl was dying of cancer and the funeral would probably be quite a big 'do' because Beryl had published a few novels and knew lots of people. My wife nodded sympathetically, then suddenly the penny dropped:

"Hang on, do you mean that Beryl?"

It's strange how we can sometimes talk so much about ourselves without revealling things that others would regard as fundamental.

We had a good chat with the couple from Stoke Newington (at least as good as you can have within the context of constantly of being constantly interrupted by children) and at one point the husband asked me how long we'd lived in Lewes. I realised that it was ten years next month.

"Do you feel local?"

I hesitated and surprised myself with the answer: "No. Not quite. It hasn't happened yet."

My wife disagreed. Ten years of standing in playgrounds twice a day has given her a good network of friends and acquaintances. But my days have tended to involve getting in a car and driving somehere 25 miles away. Whenever I had a drink with someone, it usually took place in London.

Perhaps I need to join something, but I'm not quite sure what.

As we drove back to Lewes, I looked at the clouds over the South Downs and couldn't imagine living anywhere else. I may not be a local yet, but it does feel like home.

That must count for something.


lucy joy said...

Nevermind joining something - start your own group; 'Steerforth's book club' (open to fully initiated Lewesians only).
If you love where you live, then it's home. My father is from Burton-on-Trent but loves Wales so much it worries me. My mother hates living in South Wales - she wrongly thinks everyone is narrow-minded, materialistic ans shallow (moves in the wrong circles I guess).

I want my boys to grow up somewhere more inspiring - you've blogged about some lovely days out around 'your' town. We have to go for miles to find gentle, unspoilt places to visit.
I would feel inferior to everyone if I lived somewhere like Lewes though - can't shake off that working-class paranoia, try as I might.
Your sons are lucky to be enjoying a stimulating environment, Lewes definitely seems to be your spiritual home. I'll find mine one day!

Steerforth said...

I had a drunken conversation with my mother-in-law the other night during which she mentioned that her friend is in four book groups. I said I could never join one because "I don't give a toss what someone else thinks about a book." She agreed in equally vociferous terms.

So maybe not a book group, unless it was one run by Bernard Black.

How Welsh has your dad become? I used to know a few English people who ended up joining Plaid, changing their names (Pete to Pedr) and speaking fluent Welsh. On the other hand, I also knew Welsh people who were violently against the 'Gogs' trying to impose the Welsh langauge on them.

I've never shaken off my working class paranoia, but the people I meet in Lewes aren't at all snobby, even though I'm a terrible under-achiever compared to most of the people I come across.

It sounds as if you have a rich life where you live, even if some of the people frustrate you.

Brett said...

"Find the nearest gun shop and get tooled-up."

Yes, in case of zombies.

Nice post, thanks.

Grey Area said...

I lived in Brighton for 7 years - in all that time I only met one person who was actually 'from' Brighton - my Barker, Mike - who I became firm friends with, although he had gone to great effort to cultivate a South London accent "'cos the punters like it"

lucy joy said...

My father hasn't lost his midlands accent completely, even after 40 years, with infrequent home visits. As a child, he used to tell me to "book my ideas up" - it was years before I learned it was 'buck'.
He embraces the language (pronunciation needs work though), defends Wales passionately whenever needed, and despite travelling to sovcme beautiful countries over the past 15 years, still maintains the best country walks are to he had here.
I suppose he chose to leave his past behind and start again in Wales. Lucrative work on the gas exchange drew him here.

Sarah said...

I love Wales too. My mother is Welsh, born and brought up in Mumbles, went to Swansea High School for Girls and goes back every summer for a 'fix'. I've also taken the boys there - we stay in a little cottage normally and they love it - the beaches especially.

Not sure where my spiritual home is. I think it depends on how I'm feeling. It's not where I was born and brought up - Hornchurch - that's for sure!

Martin said...

I sometimes wonder if our sense of belonging is largely beyond our control. Somehow, for me, a place just feels right, or it doesn't.

As for 'working class paranoia', I've never experienced it. But then, I'm not particularly class-conscious either.

Your day out at Bentley sounds like a fun way to spend time with your family.

Anonymous said...

oops... *Barber*

(from a dyslexic Grey Area )

Steerforth said...

Martin - I agree. It's as elusive as falling in love, but in hindsight it's easier to see how and why the attraction began. As far as the working class thing goes, it's a funny business. I am, to all intents and purposes, middle class. People often assume that I went to public school because of my accent. But I feel like a house built on sand because I spent my formative years in a completely different environment.

Sarah - I spend quite a lot of time in Essex, as that's where my wife comes from, but I've never had any desire to move there (and she doesn't seem in a hurry to move back). I love Wales, but I could never live there as I'd always feel like an outsider (even more than I do now!).

The bike shed said...

Caught up with your blog via some mutual readers - enjoyed what I've found. Particularly liked 'jumped the shark'

Could bore you senseless about selling books - work for large distributor but that's a different story. Is it second hand you're selling? Went to worst second hand book shop ever yesterday; if you want a lesson in how not to do it try Laugharne in Cardiganshire.

Took me more than ten years to feel any affinity with Wiltshire perhaps because I only live here some of the time. The rest of the time I live in Wales and regard it as home even when I'm away for months

Anonymous said...

Getting tooled up at a gun-shop is a staple event in nearly every end of the world novel I've read (e.g. Death of Grass).

Like you and North Londoners, I come from Croydon and everywhere I go I find escapees, except when I lived in Great Yarmouth for 3 yrs - never felt at home there - obviously wasn't long enough, but I wasn't going to stay. Now I'm in Abingdon - with a great Mums network, and lots of bookish things to do - and I do really feel at home. Though it's only 10 miles from Oxford, it is definitely not Oxford and I like that a lot. I wish it was closer to the sea though ...

Unknown said...

I follow you from California. Almost no one who lives in California is from California. I was born near Memphis Tenn. myself. We do have a lot of people who are from New York here.

Go figure.

Canadian Chickadee said...

Tut, tut,'re such a nice gentleman, you really mustn't Essex-bash! And yes, I do mean your remark about how Lanzarote might as well be Basildon!!

What about Constable country -- the oldest church at Bradwell on Sea -- Audley End -- Thaxted and Coggeshall?

But you're not alone in your opinion. My husband was born in Epsom, and raised in St. Albans. On a recent trip home to visit his sister and her family who live in Essex (dare I say it, in Billericay, just across the A127 from Basildon ....), the passport checker at Heathrow said, "Epsom is so much nicer, so why are you going to Essex?"

Everyone's a comic ....

Lucy R. Fisher said...

Lewes is Stoke Newington by Sea, didn't you know? ;-) I'll drop by if I ever walk thru that portal by mistake! (I usually come by train from Victoria.)

Steerforth said...

Mark - Well, Wiltshire's very nice, but it's a bit short on beaches. Do you work for a well known supplier of books based in Swindon?

Isn't Laugharne in Carmarthenshire? I know they keep changing the county boundaries around.

Gaskella - I used to think that Croydon was rather sleepy, but the riots dispelled that myth. I can see why you left. Abingdon looks like a pleasant market town - big enough to support a vibrant cultural life, but small enough to feel part of a community. And although you don't have the sea, at least there's the Thames.

C.B. - I can see why so many people live in California - a beautiful and varied landscape, with great weather and some really attractive towns and cities. Iowa just can't compete with that. Shame about the earthquakes, but it's probably a price worth paying. I spent a month exploring California and saw several places where I thought "I could live here."

Chickadee - I admit that some parts of Essex are very attractive - the Colne valley, for example. I just never feel at home there. The part I visit is too flat and I'm not a huge fan of mudflats and marshes. I enjoy exploring Essex - it's a quirky, fascinating county that's a lot more rural than many people realise, but I wouldn't move there.

Richmonde - If you do suddenly appear through the portal, I'll put the kettle on.

Chris Matarazzo said...

"My youngest son, who began the visit by sitting and the grass and shouting "I HATE WOOD!" gradually perked up once he realised that it could be deployed as a weapon"

Wonderful. I've found a new must-read blog, for sure. I really enjoy your work -- and best of luck with the new business.

Steerforth said...

Thanks for reading the blog Chris - it's always nice to see a new name.

Steerforth said...

Thank you Christine.

zmkc said...

I thought you said this blog was going to limp along like a consumptive war veteran - and yet here you are being absolutely hilarious again.

Mrs Jones said...

Hello Mr Forth - I saw this and thought of you:

It's utterly, utterly fab!

Steerforth said...

There really is magic in the world.

Hexen und Schnecken said...

Dear Steerforth,
Lieber Steerforth,

congratulations on your new business venture!
Herzlichen Glückwunsch zu Ihrem neuen Unternehmen.

I`ve been on holiday - this is why my comment is late in every way.
Ich war im Urlaub, daher der späte Kommentar.

Please feel free to contact me if you need any help with your laudable efforts to learn yet another language.
Schreiben Sie mir, falls Sie Hilfe bei Ihrem lobenswerten Versuch brauchen, die nächste Sprache zu lernen.

And no, I don`t want any money. I just enjoy reading your blog.
Und nein, ich will kein Geld dafür. Ich lese einfach nur gern Ihren Blog.

Steerforth said...

Vielen Dank für Ihre großzügige Angebot!

Camilla said...

I hesitated and surprised myself with the answer: "No. Not quite. It hasn't happened yet."

My wife disagreed. Ten years of standing in playgrounds twice a day has given her a good network of friends and acquaintances. But my days have tended to involve getting in a car and driving somehere 25 miles away. Whenever I had a drink with someone, it usually took place in London.

This pretty much describes how it's been for my husband and me. We've lived in our little northern Belgian village for nearly three years now, and I'm the one who's slowly getting assimilated (oo-err) because of the school pick-up and drop-off thing, and also because I've joined a local cycling club.

Like you, my husband commutes to work far away every day, and most of his social contact is through his workplace (or occasionally a friend, who lives far away in Antwerp). He hasn't had much of a chance to develop a social life here yet, so I don't think he feels as at home as I am starting to.

I've always found it hard to settle down, perhaps because I've moved around so much, particularly in the last few years. Generally I find that once I start taking a genuine interest in the garden and planting things, that's a sign that I'm settling in.