United Kingdom

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    • Day 11

      Surrey and Sussex

      September 6, 2022 in England ⋅ ⛅ 16 °C

      Today was a day of travel. I had hoped that things would be a bit more straighforward, but in truth, I found today quite challenging.

      Right now, I am relaxed after dinner, a lager and a Chilean Sauvignon Blanc, sitting in the lounge of a 1640 dairy, now a 4.5 star guesthouse in West Sussex called Random Hall. Our host Richard, who has been to Newcastle NSW, is a most convivial fellow who made us feel very welcome. Now is good, but getting here, well that was not so easy.

      We said goodbye to London and our apartment in Vauxhall this morning, quite sad to be leaving. Our homw away from home kind of did become our home and we both found it emotionally difficult to leave. London worked itself into our bloodstream, so it was a sad farewell.

      The trip into Heathrow to pick up our car rental was uneventful, the Vicotria line to Green Park, then the Picadilly line to Heathrow, a fifty minute journey. We had coffee, organised our car and set off. Well at least, that was the grand plan.

      The car was upgraded from a small vehicle to a, SUV Citroen, a very nice car. We set the GPS to Shere in Surrey and a very British accent began to regale us with directions that were so complex and torturous that my stress levels were through the roof within the first five minutes. I always knew that getting our of Heathrow would be challenging, but my goodness, half an hour later, we were still stuck going around and around in various circles and slip roads. Dreadful!

      Chris hit upon the idea of disconnecting her and connecting up our Australian girl though his phone. Fabulous result. She told us clearly where to go, which lane to be in, and when you were going make a turn. Still, I had to drive through torrential rain in a car I did not know, on a road system I had never driven before. Sheesh!

      Arriving in Surrey, we drove through Shere, the origin area of the Edsers, to drive down the Ewhurst road to find our lodgings, High Edser. Unfortunately, when we arrrived, our hostess was at a funeral and not answering her phone. She had left nothing for us to enter, and despite the efforts of two fabulous gardeners to assist us, we were left to our own devices.

      So, we drove into Cranleigh, there to enter the local pub, the Richard Onslow, to have a a drink, a wee, eat something and work out what we were going to do. I photographed Chris in the pub in the manner of a Vermeer painting.

      Not having paid anything to High Edser, we decided to give the hostess till 4.30pm to get back to us before we would look for something else. The weather was turning cold, it was raining lightly, and the sky was losing its daylight brightness. 4.30 came and by the magic of the internet, we found Random Hall in West Sussex and promtly drove there, to be warmly welcomed and helped by our host Richard.

      I am sorry we could not stay at High Edser. Our hostess did get back to us later via one of the gardeners but by then, we had already booked here at Random Hall. Oh well. You have to roll with the punches when you're travelling. There is no choice.

      We have had a glorious meal in the restaurant here, more settled and are happily ensconced in the lounge writing. Tomorrow brings some exciting developments.
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    • Day 12

      Random Hall, Random Castle

      September 7, 2022 in England ⋅ 🌧 19 °C

      Nothing could be further from my experience Vauxhall than this part of the world. From the winding light-dappled tree-tunnels of Surrey roads to the stone majesty of Arundel Castle, from the curved lines of Shere to the steamy kitchen chimney of Random Hall, I definitely feel like I am staying in a part of the world that is has chosen its identity in deliberate contradistinction to London.

      And a large part of that is the hospitality we have received: never unctuous, never cold. Random Hall has been a godsend. In fact it has been so good that I am glad our stay in "High Edser" hit such a huge obstacle. Our haughty "Well if that's the way you're going to be about it, Carol, then we shall go to Sussex!" has yielded gold.

      I'm not just talking about the bath. But I am partly talking about the bath. I can't stand to be too long without some immersion, and the lack of a working plug or cleaning products in Vauxhall meant there was water, water everywhere and not a drop to bathe. But here in West Sussex, it is all steam and cleanliness, quiet and comfort.

      Our day started with a visit to Stuart's ancestral lands in Shere, a place with an almost overwhelming uniformity of architecture, trapped in amber really, so different to the hodge podge of London. It seemed to my artist's eye that none of the buildings were drawn using rulers - everything was hand drawn and hand built, wonky and uneven. The British love their wonk, their jaunt: everything seems to be based on the undulations of the grain in wood or slate. But there's a strict conformity that is almost theme park-ish.

      Walking around St James' cemetery in Shere in the rain in the quiet was exquisitely melancholy. I loved seeing all those headstones eaten by lichen, ruined by time: so much for the immortality of stone. So much for any kind of lasting trace, really.

      A quick coffee at White Horse pub in Shere (a huge picture of Cameron Diaz on the wall to commemorate the building's role in cinema), and we plugged "Arundel Castle" into my Australian-voiced navigation app. We were a little apprehensive since the drive to Shere had been so terrifying that even my soul was clenched: drivers in mini minors fanging it like Brabham at unwise speed over crests and around bends, speeding past every vision block. Driving in Surrey is a needless stress.

      But the drive to Arundel was gentle. And we felt like we were being collected with all the other aged white tourists into its warm embrace.

      The castle, the ancestral seat of the Duke of Norfolk, is a monstrosity. It is in fact four theme parks rolled into one: a medieval theme park, a monarchist theme park, a bizarre garden, and a historic art collection. I liked the first and the last, and was indifferent to the middle two. The old part of the castle was just alien enough to be affecting. Stuart and I climbed the tight spiral stone stair to the battlements, and felt that squeeze of panic, and of the memory of centuries of panic in that place.

      The furnished rooms had a frilly opulence that left me cold. But the art collection took me completely by surprise. I was not expecting to Canaletto's Capricci of Venice, Gainsborough and Van Dyke's portraits, or even a signed death warrant from Elizabeth I, the scary Elizabeth. Walking through and looking at portrait after portrait of past Dukes of Norfolk was an absolute privilege, especially to see the poet Henry Howard, Henry VIII's last victim.

      My foot was bung - quite bung - I don't know what I'd done to it, but it was bad. I limped out of the castle grounds after a stroll around the gardens (full of tropical plants, grossly Colonial), and went to Arundel proper to buy a souvenir: a collection of poems by e e cummings and an antique travel guide to Newquay Cornwall. Books really are a fading commodity, aren't they? They just don't store information anymore, but they do store nostalgia. I looked at Samuel Pepys' diaries and thought: today that would be a blog. Or a substack. Or a twitter feed. Or maybe they just wouldn't exist at all.

      I asked if we could go back to Cranleigh, to the Richard Onslow, so I could have another one of those delicious 0% Tanqueray Gin and Tonics in a gay glass. Stuart obliged, and when we arrived there, he ordered a whole pint of some kind of beer, I know not what. He looked like a child holding an adult's drink. Pints are BIG. He became cheerfully tipsy, and then we went home for a bath and for a late dinner.

      I conked out, so tired I was grumpy, and dreamt that my dentist was playing the saxophone in a 10 piece ensemble celebrating the end of the world. Life is strange, but good.
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    • Day 11

      The Second United Kingdom

      September 6, 2022 in England ⋅ ⛅ 16 °C

      I have heard it said that there are two United Kingdoms:

      1. London; and
      2. Everywhere else

      Today we made the journey from the first to the second. It was a little trickier than you might think.

      After a hot and stormy night in Vauxhall, Stuart and I woke up with the sunrise this morning. We packed our bags, and I went off to do the very last thing I wanted to do in London.

      It was also the first thing I did: a visit to the Hair Lab in Tintagel House for a cut-throat shave from Misho Isaev. This was a silent but not gloomy affair. And as ever, I realised afterwards just how much I needed it.

      We picked up our bags and bade farewell to our penthouse apartment in St George Wharf Tower, the limited edition fruit flavoured version of the Spooks Building on the other side of the bridge. Using our Oyster Cards for the last time wasn't in the least bit sentimental: we were stressed about whether we would get a seat on the Piccadilly Line westbound to Heathrow. We did get seats. Eventually.

      At Heathrow, we stopped for a corporate coffee and a caramel shortbread. I sent off a thank you to my friend Nick whom I had met on Saturday - and that *was* sentimental - and then we went and picked up our rental car, a Citroen C3 Aircross SUV, a luxury tank basically. We decided in our wisdom that the best way to get to know this mothership was to put it on the motorways outside Heathrow in a total white-out downpour while our Navigatrix gave us completely opaque instructions in Imperial measurements.

      Our cortisol levels were higher than was comfortable. Only one thing could have possibly made them higher, which would have been if the roads themselves became more difficult. Which they did.

      I don't know what kind of skinny-arse vehicles they typically drive around the winding alleys of Surrey but they are not Citroen C3 Aircross SUVs. We had to slow down for everyone. We had to pull over for everyone! Stuart was practically beside himself, I'm reciting coping statements as if they were the rosary, the rain is pouring, and everyone else is doing 80ks and hour, but in Imperial, so I don't even know what the number was.

      We made it to High Edser in Ewhurst, only to find that we weren't expected, and that the proprietor was at a funeral. Her gardener Art took our number and said he would text her. We said we would go to the nearest habitable planet and drink coffee. Art said go to Cranleigh, and so we did. The bartender at the Richard Onslow had an Australian accent. I ordered Stuart a Grolsch without bothering to consult with him. We both needed him to have a drink.

      I ordered myself a Tanqueray Zero Percent Gin and Tonic, which was served in an emasculating glass. My LGBTQIA+ powers were enhanced whilever I held it.

      We waited and waited, and ultimately I booked the nearest hotel with a bathtub, the Random Hall in Slinfold, West Sussex. Then Art the gardener called and told us that High Edser was now open for business. We told him we had made other plans. He cracked the shits and hung up on us.

      But who cares about High Edser when we're in Slinfold's most gorgeous guesthouse? Random Hall is a 17th century farmhouse turned into a hotel with a fine dining restaurant and a bath that actually works. As far as I'm concerned, I am living in Arcadia now. Dessert tonight was a Choux au Craquelin in Vanilla sauce. One bite and I forgot I was mortal.

      I was sad to leave London this morning. I loved my time there, even though the way I handled jetlag was emotionally unhygienic. I loved meeting Nick. I loved Hampstead. I loved Greenwich. I loved going to the West End with my folks. And I wondered if London was everything the UK had to offer, and that it was all downhill from here.

      But let me tell you, after my first bath in a fortnight, and after my Choux au Craquelin, sitting underneath 17th century beams, I couldn't give a flying fuck about London. Screw that place. I'm in the other United Kingdom now.
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    • Day 12

      Shere Delight

      September 7, 2022 in England ⋅ 🌧 16 °C

      Dear reader, you may recall from yesterday's travails that our High Edser accommodation fell through. This was disappointing, but at least I got to see it. In reading up on it, I learned that Christabel Pankhurst, daughter of Emmeline famous suffragette, lived there for some time, herself a famous suffragette, and her mother would visit her there. That's something I did not know before I came to the UK. The Pankhursts at High Edser.

      Today was really divided into two halves. The first half is the subject of this footprint. Our visit to Shere. Almost all of you reading this will not know that my forebears came from this part of Surrey, in fact the village and area of Shere. If you go back far enough, there is some linguistic speculation that the 'ser' in 'Edser' comes from the letters making up the location of 'Shere'.

      Certainly my great grandfather James Edser, who was tranpsorted to Australia grew up here in the village and region and was convicted in the local courts here, I know not the reason. He was only 28 and was sent to Australia for seven years in around 1848 and landed at Circular Quay on my birthday 9 June to be pardoned immediately. He was my grandfather's grandfather.

      Shere is very old. It goes back centuries. Chris and I searched the churchyard of St James for an Edser gravesite in vain. The church is surrounded by 19th century graves, and graves even older. It was raining lightly, so we split up and with umbrellas unfurled, we searched high and low for an Edser, any Edser. After a while with our feet getting wet in the long grass, we decided to cease out quest. I feel sure there is more than a good chance of an Edser buried in the graveyard, but I will have to follow that up when I get back to Australia.

      After St James, we headed for the equally old White Horse for a coffee. The Inn was built in 1425 and has some history attached about running illegal liquor. I wonder whether Great Grandfather James had anything to do with that.

      A walk around the village and into the woods and along the River Tillingbourne that runs right through the middle of the town followed, which was a delight.

      I may not have found the Edsers, but I felt their presence and feel I have a connection now to this tiny ancient village. I doubt whether I'll ever see it again, but I am glad that I came.
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    You might also know this place by the following names:

    Slinfold, GBSLI

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