Sunday, 27 December 2015


We woke up in Crawley and had a very pleasant breakfast in the hotel. I love Premier Inn, and don't really know why anyone would need a hotel to be any fancier. We had a lovely bath tub, a big comfy bed, and the staff were all incredibly friendly.

We met the parents in the Tesco car park in Lewes. A classier rendezvous there never was! They'd arrived early and were reading newspapers. We had a quick tea and a hot chocolate in a Costa Coffee before heading off into the town itself to pick up Hilary and drive due south to the coast at Newhaven, where we met Meriel.

We spent the morning at Tide Mills, which is a darkly atmospheric spot by the sea which was once the site of a village, a water mill and TB hospital. I'm told that the village was condemned in the 1930s and that the last residents were forcefully removed in 1939, before much of the site was cleared when authorities started to worry it would create a useful hiding place for invading Germans!

These days, the entire area is nothing but a labyrinth of ruined outer walls melting into windswept fields of orange and burgundy sea grasses.

The sea front at Tide Mills is entirely unspoilt. It's a pebble beach where all sorts of flotsam and jetsam gets washed up by angry waves. We found beautiful shells, heart-shaped stones, cuttle fish, shoes and blocks of sanded down wood. There are no cafes or shops at Tide Mills, just an expanse of beach and tall, brooding sky which meet in an almost invisible smudge on the horizon.

The waves were huge today and bursting and crashing in the distance over the harbour wall at Newhaven. The air was thick with foamy spray and periodically a yellow wave would rush up the shingle and the heavy wind would smack droplets of water onto our faces.

After walking for about an hour, we jumped into a flotilla of cars and drove to a village called Rodmell, which those with knowledge of the Hogarth Press and the Bloomsbury group, will recognise as the final home of Virginia Wolf. My mother is probably the biggest fan of that particular novelist in the world, so Meriel's decision to have lunch in a pub in the village was utterly inspired.

Wolf's cremated remains are buried under an elm tree in Monk House, which is the house in the village where she lived. During summer months it's possible to have a look around the inside of the house, which is a National Trust property these days. It's a well known fact that Wolf committed suicide by filling her pockets with stones and walking into the Ouse, but I didn't realise that her body wasn't found for three weeks, which is a fairly grim thought. Her husband, Leonard, must have been out of his mind with worry.

Rodmell is a stunning village, which is almost entirely unspoiled to the extent that you could film a period drama there tomorrow. The food in the Abergavenny Pub was pretty good as well!

We drove home, using Google Maps to try and avoid ludicrous traffic jams on the M25 whilst listening to Radio 4, which seemed to be stuck in some sort of poetry hell. I flipping hate modern poetry, particularly when it's read out by the poets themselves, who, these days, insist on speaking in a boring monotone which makes the nonsense of what they're saying even less interesting. I entirely lost interest every time any of them started to read. The show was being presented by a pretentious-sounding man with a thick Liverpudlian accent who interviewed the poets in "cool" rather noisy locations like cafes. After one of the poems he simply said, "that poem gives me the willies." Nathan turned to me after listening to one particular poet and said "is she not embarrassed to read this out?" It really did sound like a piss take!

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