Sunday, 2 October 2011

Oh, I do love to be...

By 11.30 yesterday morning it felt as if the day was ruined, but how wrong we were. Mind you, we had been on the road for an hour and only travelled about 11 miles. Our daughter is at the University of Kent at Canterbury, which means that, to reach her, we either have to join the M25 within 11 miles of Twickenham and hare round that alienating stretch of tarmac in an anti-clockwise direction or else cut south through Kingston, Surbiton, Chessington and endless suburban sprawl and join the M25 further along. Figuring that the sun would have drawn multitudes to the M25, we did the cut south, which turned out to be a disaster. By the time we got to Epsom I was consumed with hatred of England, particularly the overcrowded south-east, and resented everyone else’s using the public roads at the same precise moment as us. “Why can’t they all just [expletive deleted] stay indoors?”, I raged unreasonably. The delays were further complicated by numerous roadworks and, by the time we finally reached London’s orbital motorway, I was feeling nauseous from too much looking down at the map and wishing I was back home languishing on The Sofa of Convalescence.

In due course, once we were finally in the flow of travelling and could reasonably forecast when we would arrive in Canterbury—managing our daughter’s expectations by text message and dosing ourselves on Classic FM (whose offerings yesterday morning were more soothing than the un-comic Handel opera offered by Radio 3)—our mood began to lift. We eventually reached our daughter’s accommodation, in the shade of an expansive oak and other mature trees, by about 1.20pm.

Once we had offloaded the things she had asked us to bring, including her bike, and had a brief snack it was time to decide how we wanted to spend the day. As she had been confined to quarters by illness for most of the week, we decided to head north to the coast and see Whitstable. A pleasant, short, rolling drive followed by what turned out to be a happy wrong turn landed us at the west end of the town, where we found a very pleasant pub with a small shady garden looking down towards the sea. After some very good mackerel paté, a cold lager and time spent gazing out over the water and enjoying the sight of small children playing happily in the pub garden the earlier dark mood had completely evaporated.

A man arrived at this table shortly after this photo was taken to savour a cooling pint. The sun shining through the tall glass was a gladdening sight.

We then ventured into the heart of Whitstable, marvelling at the variety of characterful buildings, many weatherboarded and proclaiming that this had been a fishing town for centuries. We parked at the eastern end and then spent a happy couple of hours wandering the length of the high street, its numerous eateries offering fish and seafood, most notably the local oysters, “Whitstable Oyster” being an EU-protected geographical designation. The street also housed an extraordinary number of estate agents and we indulged in our occasional pastime of seeing how local property prices compared with our own area (very favourably, as it happened).

A shaded backstreet of Whitstable.

On the way back we turned down the street where the actor Peter Cushing lived for 40 years and then emerged on to the seafront, where walking was now a bit easier as the sun was lower in the sky and the air was slightly cooler, although still balmy. There were some very tempting refreshment stalls and we all agreed that we deserved an ice cream.

Walking back to our car along the seafront.

Once back at our daughter’s lodgings, we enjoyed a cup of tea with a couple of her housemates, well-mannered, considerate boys both and it was then time to decide what we would have for our main meal. After much indecision, we plumped for a trip into Canterbury for some sort of italian offering, pizza in my case, washed down with San Pellegrino mineral water, whose label was in English and, intriguingly, Indonesian. This being, in all likelihood, the last Saturday of an unusual heatwave, the incomparably historic old town was heaving with people, including significant numbers of hen parties in fancy dress: all glitter, fairy wings, devil’s horns and a generous tracing of tattoos—will body art ever go out of fashion now, I wondered? We tried a couple of places before finding a third that was able to offer us a table in reasonable time. The food and service were good, but it was now late and my wife and I would not be home much before midnight. No matter, we had been granted a wonderful day. Our daughter’s house seems to have become quite a destination for neighbours and we left her happily joining in the lively conversation in her crowded kitchen, relieved and glad to see her so much better after her tricky week.

The drive home was smooth and uninterrupted and we covered the 90 miles in good time, our heads finally hitting the pillow shortly after midnight. I was tired but not, unlike a week ago, utterly wiped out. Progress!

Bright morning arrived a few hours later and I decided to go to church for the first time since my recent treatment. After the service my wife and I walked across the burning expanse of Marble Hill Park to the café, which was threatened with closure not so long ago. Today it was proving itself by doing thriving business. We bought coffees and took ourselves a little way down the path to sit in the shade of a tall and graceful ash tree, where we remained for the best part of two hours, enjoying the sight of all ages making the most of the uninterrupted sunshine. Odd, though, isn't it to be feeling this degree of heat and seeing autumn colours at the same time? In my case over 50 years of annual visual conditioning are being disrupted.

I love the elegance of the ash, with its dark, slender branches and profuse, delicate leaves.

A relaxed day has followed and soon it will be time for Downton Abbey. Do pardon me if you are not a sucker for the country-house vibe.

Peter Cushing (1913-1994), who often played the good guys in classic Hammer horror movies.
There is a Wetherspoon pub in Whitstable named after him; appropriately the building was obviously once an Art Deco cinema.

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