No sooner had I clicked on Publish for last months blog on 31/5 than an invitation plopped on my front door mat to attend a meeting at Markbeech village hall with the organisers of Leefest/Neverworld on 6/6 to discuss how the event might be improved. As venting one’s spleen in merciless bloody slaughter is, apparently, still illegal and I’ve already said as much as I can on the issue, albeit before determinedly deaf ears, I saw no point in further debate, especially with those who have a vested interest. I did not, therefore, bother to attend as I felt that to do so would only be seen as supplication to their dictates and would lend a degree of unwarranted validity to their cause, when any further discussion should in fact be between the local population and the licensing authority. However, some good news (speaking personally) has emerged in that Hever Residents Association has revealed that this will be the only event held at the site this year with Into The Wild and Veganfest having decided to pull out and Into The Wild relocating to a site at Chiddingly near West Hoathly in East Sussex.
3/6 most notably marked the 2nd anniversary of the passing of Muhammad Ali and, of somewhat lesser significance, the end of the 35th year since of our arrival in Hever. Longer by far than I have previously lived anywhere before.
Back when we arrived, having paid the enormous sum of £41,500 for our end of terrace cottage, there were no mobile phones or personal computers, no Hever golf club, no local music festivals, no triathlon, no floodlit urban palaces, not too many overinflated egos and very few cyclists. Fireworks were only once a year not every weekend at midnight throughout the summer with a few midweek specials for the hard of hearing. What we did have were a few larger houses, a modest number of small cottages and some old shacks, many finished in the colours of the Hever Castle Estate, under the Astors, of grey render with pale lemon gloss for the woodwork.
We had a real feeling of community, still do to some degree but this was on a far grander scale. It seemed that everyone from miles around would cram into The Kentish Horse, not then the extended, soulless, giant it has become but one tiny single bar, on Friday night and Sunday lunchtime. It was, in those days, impossible to call in to any local hostelry without being confronted with several friendly, familiar faces. In short everyone knew everyone else. This was an age when people actually wanted to live in the peace and quiet of the English countryside and were content, nay grateful, to live in humble cottages, without feeling compelled to extend them massively or tear them down completely in order to replace them with some gleaming monstrosity which might fit well enough in posh suburbia but in this environment looks about as attractive as John Merrick without his makeup after a rough night out.
In short most folk were friendly and had good taste back then and nothing much changed during the first twenty odd years of our occupancy. Yet only the other day one of my neighbours, who to be fair replaced what was only an asbestos shanty with a fairly traditional oak framed structure, took the trouble, unasked, to tell me that no one would buy a property like mine these days as it is no longer fit for purpose. They may be right. Perhaps I should crawl away and die of shame at the unworthiness of my sad dwelling, yet I fancy I still shan’t struggle to get my money back plus a few coppers when the time comes to sell, while they well might!
Speaking of money, I hear on the grapevine that my dear friends beyond my rear fence have run out of cash (would that they might run out of breath) and, at least for the minute, cannot proceed with their ambition to build a house at the bottom of our garden, although of course this still leaves us with planning blight. Conversely, a little further beyond, there seems to be no such pecuniary restraint with the old farmhouse which disappeared with such a crash a few months back. All that can be seen now is a huge crater and an army of digging equipment surrounded with security fencing. Rumour has it that this will ultimately house a subterranean swimming pool and gym. Better I suppose than flaunting your wealth above ground, although it remains to be revealed what exactly will project skywards on completion.
While all those years ago most of us were paupers, in my case burdened with an unspeakably enormous mortgage of almost 30k, some, even back then, were very rich indeed. This, however, was mainly ‘old money’ which somehow seems not to erode good taste or inflate the ego to the same degree as ‘new money’ and, despite their wealth, the rich of those days even managed to talk to the rest of us as equals without feeling any need to sneer with contempt at our very existence. Many were, and of course if they are still around remain, titled, with Sirs and OBE’s two a penny, and bear the surnames of their Norman ancestors, knights who fought at Hastings and were apportioned land in recognition. These days It is quite entertaining, on occasion, to see a self important newcomer looking down their nose at one of these clearly inferior individuals, many of whom drive battered old vehicles and can be even scruffier than the rest of us in their daily attire, only to melt like a lolly in an oven when discreetly advised that poor, dopey, old Bob, Liz or whatever might still be running around in a thirty year old Ford Escort but they could buy them, and the rest of us, many times over and should, incidentally, were they of a stuffy or officious disposition, actually be addressed as Viscount Bob or Lady Liz.
My neighbour tells me that they heard a cuckoo call the other morning, while their daughter who works in the castle gardens says they hear one regularly there. I at last heard a single call on the morning of 5/6 with nothing since. They are nowhere near as conspicuous as they once were. Indeed it seems that many common species have melted away in recent years until we suddenly notice they’ve gone. Sparrows have staged a bit of a comeback but starlings are fading fast and when did you last see an earwig? My other neighbour is a keen dahlia grower and, in days of yore, these used always to be plagued with them. I well remember my grandad making traps out of old flowerpots stuffed with hay and left inverted on a garden cane. Invariably they would be seething when checked but I can’t remember when I last saw one. Likewise my neighbour’s daughter apparently has a nightingale singing just around the corner where she lives. We once had three. One at either end of our lane and a third on the walk home from The Kentish Horse. Coppiced woodland is critical to this species, with hazel between the fourth and seventh year of its cycle being ideal. With poles of this size no longer required for hurdles, bean sticks etc their preferred habitat is simply growing out to serve the demand for fuel for wood burning stoves on a longer twenty year rotation.
No mystery any longer surrounds the frog tadpoles fostered from my neighbour across the road. I’ve not seen a single one since I released a hundred or so into my pond last month but what I did see the other day (22/6) while watering my garden was a very contented young grass snake of about a foot in length sunning itself atop the pond weeds. This may well be one of many, possibly hatched from my own compost heap last year.
Jackdaws are still very much in the ascendance, with our resident chimney-pot pair presenting this year’s four fledged offspring to the world on 10/6. Buzzards and roe deer, unseen before the millennium, are now a common sight but our little owls, once a common adornment to telegraph poles when I departed for work early in the morning are no longer around, at least not in their previous numbers. A shame, as they are one of very few introduced species that appear to have little adverse impact on their environment. One of their earliest release sites was only a mile or so from my house at Stonewall Park back in the eighteenth century. Foxes have also become a rare site locally. Oddly numbers seem to have decreased dramatically since hunting with hounds was banned a few years back. Perhaps they have left, due to the lack of excitement?
I know I’m always banging on about change but a few months back we received a survey form from the council asking about our housing needs. It was pretty obvious that this was just another ruse to see how many more houses they could stuff into the district but what threw me was the question; “Are you LGBT?”. Now I may be a bit naive and mean no disrespect to anyone but I had no idea as to what this meant and assumed it to be some kind of sandwich. Like a BLT with a dash of garlic perhaps?
I have since been enlightened and I’m fine with that. Each to his or her own, so long as it causes no harm to the planet or other sentient beings and doesn’t frighten the horses. What I do find a little odd is the current trend towards wanting to be ‘gender non specific’ and for individuals being offended by being addressed as he/him or she/her. I know that a minority of people feel unhappy in their original skin and take steps to change gender but nevertheless the vast majority end up as one sex or the other surely? Good luck to them all. I can’t, however, help but feel we are becoming a little over sensitive on this and a number of related issues. I’ve been happy to identify as male for the past 67 years, due to my whiskery chin and the undeniable evidence contained in my underpants, but please feel free to call me whatever you like in future.
My son is more modern and free thinking in his outlook. He tells me that it is our human right to be known by any identity we may choose. Good for him. He is going to inform the other workers in his office that henceforth he will be wearing a cap with a rotor blade on top, plastic machine guns under each armpit, and wishes to be addressed as gender non specific Apache Attack Helicopter in future. They can’t touch you for it. I don’t know where the boy (sorry person, oops! I meant helicopter) gets it from!
Now the last week of the month was an absolute boiler. A perfect time for everyone to enjoy the great outdoors, even cyclists, most of whom, despite my previous mild chastisements are at least polite as they block our local thoroughfares in their thousands. A few, however, are anything but and will not hesitate to offer all manner of abuse or kick your car as you try to overtake. Some even threaten violence as with my helicopter when it hovered at home and dared to try and get out, albeit well after the unwelcome curfew effectively imposed during Hever Castle Triathlon and it’s associated events had officially ended. As he (can’t keep up with the crap) tried to turn right at the T junction by the local pub he had his car thumped and was generously offered a ‘bloody good kicking’ by a group of late riders.
What an inconsiderate lot us country folk are in peacefully trying to go about our business as we always have. We really should just curl up and die. Its not as if we pay council tax (which out here, effectively, entitles us to have two sacks of very specifically defined refuse collected on a weekly basis and precious little else), road tax or car insurance is it? Just a minute, actually we do although I’m sure it can’t be as much as the invading cyclists as they clearly now own the entire district, as a recent experience demonstrates:
On the penultimate Sunday of June I went for a stroll with my mate (name withheld to protect the innocent) from down the lane and his dog. We had walked our usual circuit of around two miles and as we approached a busier section our canine friend was placed on his lead for safety. There was no traffic in any direction, save for a single cyclist coming up the hill. As he passed us the dog put out his head and sniffed the air but in no way impeded his progress. At this the cyclist felt moved, to say not ‘good morning’ but to shout ‘f— off’, for no apparent reason, in the same way that I fancy the same individual, had spoken to my friend’s wife and child under similar circumstances when we were walking only a few weeks previously. She had, with admirable restraint, only replied “That’s charming, in front of a child” so he probably thought that he might get away with it again without risk of any harsher rebuke.
Perhaps riding a bicycle somehow alters you visual perspective. Maybe he thought my friend was a chap of average build accompanied by a small child, as I was wearing a silly hat to stop my bald head from burning in the sun. In fact, I am of average build while my chum is rather larger than most peoples houses. He patently did not expect the response that the got this time to his cheery greeting.
With veins the size of water mains bulging from his purple brow and plumes of live steam issuing from both earholes my little friend, quite justifiably I felt, exploded like a bad day in 1940’s Hiroshima with several interesting ideas to assist the cyclist in improving his manners. These included internalizing his entire bicycle via the anus which, although I felt it was not a good time to mention it, seemed physically rather impractical to me, what with the spoked wheels, Lycra shorts, and all.
The chap on the bike did at first stop for further debate but as my friend accelerated towards him, offering many options for therapeutic dismemberment and a master’s course in Middle English expletives, his sense of scale seemed to return and, mercifully, as I knelt silently praying for his soon to be liberated immortal soul, he took off like a nitrous burning dragster. Doubtless in a hurry to courageously abuse women, children and frail old men elsewhere. Sorry, that should be vulnerable, gender neutral folk of varying birth years.
Back when we arrived all those years ago Hever was deservedly referred to as ‘rural England at its Tudor best’. For more than twenty years little changed and to the casual observer it all probably seems much the same today but from the perspective of a long time resident the Hever of yesteryear bears scant resemblance to that which confronts us today. It is fast becoming little more than a cycle track for foulmouthed thugs and a dumping ground for disenfranchised urbanites in need of constant entertainment and the facilities of a large city on their doorsteps. I used to love the place with passion and I accept that there are still far worse places to live, but after thirty five years I’m afraid the romance is over.