I’m back in London after a somewhat magical trip out to West Sussex. It was Michael’s birthday yesterday and one of the people from Shul very kindly offered him the use of their spectacular county abode. It’s one of those houses that you only really see on films. The most beautiful grounds lined with daffodils and primroses, a little lake, an entire barn dedicated to table tennis, snooker and table football, and a glorious indoor pool. We were staying in the gatehouse, a timber-framed barn conversion on the edge of the grounds. It was a wondrous place, with implausibly high ceilings. The owner, Toni, is a hugely generous soul who plainly knows she has a beautiful second home and wants to share it with people she knows will benefit from it. I felt immensely privileged to be there.
It really was just a day of relaxing. We played pool and then swam all morning. There was a wonderful jacuzzi which pummelled away the stresses of London. We sat on a roof terrace and ate a lunch of bread, soup and cheese whilst the Spring sunshine warmed our faces. We were profoundly lucky with the weather. Had Michael’s birthday been today, we would have been huddled indoors listening to the roar of rain hurtling down on the roof. But yesterday was the first official day of Spring, and, for some reason, the weather seemed to agree.
A last-minute fit of pique saw us taking ourselves off to Devil’s Dyke in the afternoon. The house is essentially in the middle of nowhere, but, because the address was West Sussex, until I looked at a map, it hadn’t occurred to me that we’d be just a half hour drive from Brighton.
Devil’s Dyke is a very impressive spot. It’s a deeply atmospheric ravine which slices through the Southern Downs. It was one of those Victorian destinations which, at one stage, featured a vertiginous and rickety-looking cable car which dangled perilously above the valley. With the Victorian inclination to faint at the drop of a hat, I’m pretty sure it would have been a somewhat hopeless proposition for most of the people who dared to get on board.
We walked along the rim of the ravine, making ourselves absolutely parched in the process. We passed a little farm at one stage which had a cafe in it on every day other than Mondays. It was a cruel blow. A cream tea would have made the day perfect.
The light was spectacular. At this time of year, the grass takes on metallic hues which the treacle-coloured sunlight turned into something from a 1970s photograph! It was all very delightful.
In the early evening we popped into Brighton. Blink, and you’d have missed us. It was a quick stroll down the Laines and a hot cross bun in a little cafe where the early evening light streaked through a wooden window. We were back in West Sussex by eight for another swim and a lovely meal in a pub which smelt of wood smoke.
For me, this is what getting out of London is all about. As we re-entered the pollution and mayhem this morning, I realised I’d started to cough rather badly. Proof, if proof were needed, that we’re all screwed in this city!