I love going to visit my cousin Vivien in the heart of Kent. It’s only a 40 minute drive but it’s like a different world. Vivien lives in a picturesque and sought-after village which, with its flower show and carol concert and book club and all those village events, reminds me of Ambridge in The Archers. She’s lived there for decades and knows everyone, and their dog. Of course these days original villagers are scarce and it’s mainly incomers of different degrees of standing, given its proximity to London and the surge in house prices in that countrified outer commuter belt.
We all love going down to her house on the outskirts of the village not least because the cosy kitchen has always been heated by an Aga, the old ridiculously-expensive-to-run-and-terrible-for-the-environment oil-fired one having recently been replaced by a more modern model with, would you believe, an induction cooking plate! It still heats the heart of the house and we spend hours in there chatting, mulling, putting the world to rights.
Oscar has always loved his run around in the fresh country air. Generally we have a quick cup of coffee and then walk the dogs, sometimes up the back over the fields but more often around Penshurst Place, just across the road, where the fields and ramblers’ paths suddenly don’t seem too small for the big flattie.
Every time I go down there it rains, however, and even if it’s sunny and warm at home, I take my waterproofs, just in case. Today was no exception and the biting blustery wind on top of those gently rolling Kentish hills almost blew us over a couple of times.
Today, despite the clouds and rain, the countryside was that radioactive green of late spring, full of fruitful promise for the summer to come, a beautiful foil for the vivid bluebells. It’s lovely to inhale a dose of that freshness to see my lungs through the next few weeks: I never suffer from hayfever when I’m at Vivien’s and I noticed an acute contrast with my house that’s so dusty from our building work on my return.
The dogs are living between our front room – I haven’t got used to calling it the morning room or the music room yet – and our temporary kitchen and are permitted only occasional and short forays around the house into our back garden so it was particularly refreshing for them to run around in complete freedom. I was incredibly proud of Raffles the beagle who did practically the whole walk off the lead without running off, despite all the livestock smells of the countryside.
At one point we entered a field where some sheep were ruminating, scarcely visible beyond some trees. At first Raffles sprinted off upwind towards the sheep and I thought he would be lost or, worse, shot by the farmer (which they are perfectly within their rights to do to a dog who is a potential source of stress to their livestock) but eventually he heard my calls and gundog whistle; stopped short; gazed back at me sizing up the situation for a couple of minutes then bounded back to us, ears catching the buffeting gale. What a good boy! It’s so gratifying to deduce that he actually prefers the security of his family to untold ovine adventures.
Having walked the dogs, it’s back to the Aga-fuelled kitchen for soup and bread and, today, Eastern Mess from the Persiana book that’s all the rage at the moment. Annette, you have a copy, don’t you?
I’m always sorry to say goodbye to the house in Penshurst. One day., when we’re not so tied to London, I’d love to move out there, far enough from London ways, but near enough to dip in to them as and when we pleased.
I feel I should include an exhortation to vote tomorrow here but I know that my readers are a sensible lot and will exercise their democratic voice.