Herewith a continuing account of the adventures in England in 2017, written on the spot with scant reworking. The events depicted took place two weeks ago.
Walked to the Black Dog or Mucky Pup for a delicious sandwich. In case you wonder whether that’s charming local parlance, it’s not; it’s my contrivance, and it annoys daughter when I say it. In Anthony Burgess’ “A Right to an Answer,” a marvelous and forgotten novel about an expat coming back to England to tend to his Da in a small town, there’s a pub called the Black Swan, and the narrator always calls it “The Black Swan or Mucky Duck,” so I transplanted that to the Black Dog.
There is a Black Dog, but she has lots of white, and that would be Mabel, or Mabes, the King’s dog. She sits on the bench at the Anchor and is quiet. At home she’s a terror of the birds, and recently had a claw removed from injuries suffered tried to climb a 60-foot tree to get at a bird in the top branches. Mabes is engaged to Stanley, a little Ewok who lives with our BnB hosts. Did I mention that Jane was our tour guide at the brewery last year? She was.
Anyway, Sunday. After breakfast we put down Astroturf in the ruins of the old church. As one does. Denis is having a concert tonight, as I mentioned, with Sarah the ABBA chanteuse; the locals are invited to bring chairs and sit in the shade of the evening and hear them sing and play. (For a fiver, of course, proceeds to the church after everyone’s been paid.) The ground has been dug up for some reclamation or reinterment, so Astrid got a huge heavy sheet of Astroturf to put down. Met the percussionist for the event, a hearty chap who was just over in Ameriker, on tour. Where? We did this event called Coachella. Oh! Well. Who were you with?
Turns out he’s the go-to studio percussionist for Hans Zimmer, and tours with him when Hans feels like going out and performing his works live. So I’ve already heard him on a dozen movies. Can’t wait to meet Denis’ guitarist tonight; probably Jimmy Page.
The concert was the first time music had been played in that space in centuries. The church was knocked down during a period of God-bothering disputation, and the walls had been shaky and off limits. It was well-attended, absolutely packed, and the mozzies weren’t bad. (I’ve learned that this is the term for mosquitos. Mozzies.)
It was the latest element in the "let's see how perfect and magical a trip to a small coastal town in England can POSSIBLY BE" sequence.
She sang, and he played, songs from the King songbook, all of which ought to be taken from their old context and moved into a new musical about people in the 60s who are trying to maintain the old sophisticated styles of living while everyone else goes hairy and mad. A delightful hour.
After the show we all went to the Anchor, where I sat next to Jan Etherington, the BBC comedy writer who owns the house where we stayed last year. She’s a hoot, and we get along like two beach huts on fire. We’re talking about comedy writing for television and I mention I have a friend in the business, did this, did that, is doing this, and she says well if you really want to know about the business, read the book by Rob Long.
I get out my phone and scroll to the messages from Rob Long and say “that’s who I was talking about.” And of course I have to text the whole thing to Rob: you’re well regarded in Suffolk. Ignored the world ‘round, yes, but you’re a bloody god here.
Back to the house to finish up with whiskeys and argue genially with Sarah about music I am ashamed to admit I like, or liked, and the down the dark lane to the house. The stars are overwhelming. The Milky Way - I’ve never seen this much of it, except perhaps since the last time I was here. I find my way back just by following the hole in the trees and staying to the right. Sleep in an instant. I’ll need it. Tomorrow is . . . our performance.
I think it’s Monday. Spent most of the day wandering around. In the morning we got the gravesite Astroturf back into the car after breakfast, and I don’t think that’s a line I’ve ever said about a vacation. Wandered down the high street around noon, dodging tourists - it’s a bank holiday, so the coastal town is hammered with new people. I’ve been asked for directions twice - once by a family that wanted to get to Southwald (ferry or bridge?) and once by two nice ladies of a certain age who wandered down Palmers Court and wanted to know if there was a way back to the village. I sent them down the path between two houses. Despite its turns and angles it deposits you in medias res, and you’ll pop out right behind the Tuck. Ta!
The other night Sarah’s husband was talking about how much he liked America because its great size and diversity, and I’m thinking how much I love this place because its small, compact, ineffably Britishness sensibility. The more time I spend here, the more I find lanes and paths and streets and courts and roads hidden in the trees - the more I know it the more I just find myself preposterously besotted, but I think well, you’re on hols. That happens.
Had a brief bit of duty: filmed a segment for a Kickstarter at a house on a lane I’d never seen. The endless mysteries of deeper Walberswick. When we entered three women were looking at a picture of a nasty spiky weed on a tablet. They had tentatively identified it as an American infestation, and wanted to know if I knew it. I did not, but advised them to burn the fields and vacate the area just in case.
Most hols do not include Kickstarter segments. This one raises money to clean up Peg Lynch’s kinescopes. Eighty-four golden-age-of-TV sitcoms, never seen since they’re aired. They were once involved in . . .
A hot kinnie beef! Sounds like something you pour over toast. Anyway, I did my bit, two takes, and then went back through the kitchen, where the women had moved on to other invasive plants that did not have an American parentage. So I was off the hook.
Walked back up the High Street. Ran into Daughter outside the Tuck and went over to the Black Dog or Mucky Pup for a sandwich, which we took to the Village Green. I wanted to sit on the sea wall and eat it.
“You’ll look like a pathetic old man sitting alone on the sea wall eating a sandwich.”
And? Your point?
“There’s a bench.” And so there was. We watched the people pass, shared the sandwich, then got a coffee in the nearby cafe.
We’re happy to be here. It's hard to explain and probably sounds silly - chalk it up to holiday mood - but there's just this quiet, lovely sense that we belong here.
At 2 Astrid and I went to the Barn, the building off to the side of the Anchor, and set up our stage for our performance.
Well, yes. If you’ve been following this site long enough, this will be particularly satisfying. Astrid and I were going to perform two Ethel and Albert pieces. Four years ago I discovered Peg Lynch’s work, found out she was alive, and called her up; I landed in her kitchen a few months later; I drove to the south of Minnesota with her daughter to bury her ashes; and now we’re doing her scripts almost 70 years later to an audience that includes lots of friendly faces I’ve seen on the street and in the pub. It’s as if the world was winnowed down to picturesque perfection and elemental resolution of the most satisfying sort.
Peg, I think, would have been happy. She’d have had notes, but she would have been happy someone did the bit 65 years after she did. I should note we did not have time to memorize, and did a few run-throughs at the kitchen table and had one run-through at the location. That said:
Afterwards we basked in the accolades and had a drink (Adnan’s Mosaic, a bit grapefruity, limited edition, I’ll never have it again) and just smiled our faces off with joy over how it had gone.
Back to Astrid’s for appetizers outside - mind the Mozzies - and then inside for dinner with Jane and Paul, our hosts, and the Etheringtons. Wrecked a spate of bottles and stayed up a bit late having the last conversation, then goodbye again. Back in the dark with daughter down the familiar path, sighting our way by the hole in the trees.
Last year the summer vacation ended here. This year it’s the halfway mark.
But that’s tomorrow.