A few weeks ago, an idle reference to a western series I used to like as a child reminded me of how much I used to enjoy riding the sides of the armchairs and putting up curtains at the back of the settee to create my own personal wagon train. Then I went to see the breathtaking Meek's Cutoff, which had me on the edge of my seat wondering what exactly what might happen to those pioneer women and their families on the Oregon trail. All week, I couldn't stop seeing in my mind's eye those women marching in the heat and wind across the parched desert.
So I abandoned the internet, for which apologies, and we went camping.
It was windy. It was sunny. It was rainy. But it was only in my head that there was any recognisable similarity between our campsite and a wagon train. That we forgot to bring the food box and kettle was the greatest hardship we suffered. We were warm and dry and comfortable. John pulled a face because he still wants to be camping out in the woods under the stars. But even he had to admit that you being woken up at half past six in the morning by little boys playing football in their pyjamas and little girls making up those improvised story games was entirely forgivable when they were having such a good time.
We visited Eastbourne and the Towner Gallery (lovely space). It isn't my favourite kind of seaside town - streets a bit to wide, pedestrianised shopping, hotels with limited charm. But then how much does the town really matter when the beach is the best place to be, even if I was not quite up to braving the lively seas and sat instead sewing up hems. If you have been putting off a tiresome bit of sewing, I'd suggest that it's much more easily done sitting listening to the waves dragging through the pebbles.
Later, up on the downs at Beachy Head, little crosses and wreaths were a reminder of a different kind of escapism with so many suicides that there is a chaplain on duty to try to help those who look like they may be contemplating their last leap.
The Long Man of Wilmington. Something just a bit fake about him if you ask me.
|Long Man of Wilmington|
Then on to visit some cherubs at Berwick Church, painted by Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant in the early 1940s. You walk into a dimly lit and seemingly unremarkable church, flip a switch, and the whole place is illuminated with colour and movement. We'd seen a photo of Chattie Salaman posing as an angel in the Towner, so it was good to see what she looked like with wings, and to see the references to Sussex life incorporated into the murals - a trug full of vegetables, a schoolboy and servicemen, Downland sheep at the nativity. And separately, in a dark corner of the church, a touchstone with the past - ridges carved into the stone by archers sharpening their arrow heads before Sunday practice for the battlefields.
A few miles down the road at Charleston with the skies dark and the rain pouring, there was more colour - in every room, in the paintings, the rugs, the embroidery, the chintzy patchwork striped curtains, the gardens. Lovely combinations - rust, teal, turquoise, yellow, blue, amber brown, mostly muted by age. And knowledgeable, friendly volunteers to answer questions. In many ways it was a perfect little outing, a bit of escapism, imagining how pleasant life would be to have your mates round to your country house, painting the furniture, sending your designs to mother to embroider for you, not worrying about, or doing perhaps, the cleaning or washing up, pottering in the garden, living in a rural idyll.
Back home, it's colour I'm thinking about. And those women transporting all their worldly goods in the back of a wagon.