Thursday, 6 August 2015


Chris and Bente have sold their exquisite beach house to remove to a practical bungalow just a short way inland – down a quiet nondescript driveway, not far from the shops and medical centre, with three bedrooms and a wide South-facing garden. Bente’s arthritis is increasingly worrying, and their house on the beach – constrained by merciless planning laws – is too small to allow the installation of a lift and in any case is too much crammed with their treasures. They live in a cabinet of curiosities, not valuable except to them – mementoes, colours, paintings and photos, books, china and so on. We came to see them partly to say goodbye to the building, resting as it does on one of the allotments of land lying along the beach, where the easterly river or sound gives a clear view of Sweden a few miles away, and with scintillating light, and a never-ending panorama of boats and shipping tripping back or forth, and a huge sky taking the eye and imagination away to historic distances. I am very slightly reminded of the Bosphorus in Istanbul – not for the land-, sea- or sky-scape, but the incessant movement of craft on the water, from tiny kayaks and rowing-boats up to huge-scale cruise liners and tankers, which mercifully seem to favour the eastern, Swedish bank – maybe they like buying cheaper tobacco rather than booze, being on that side of the international line.
Bente in particular has very mixed feelings about leaving their house. It is she who swims once, twice, three times a day in summer. It is she who loves these beautiful objects – and I think is utterly possessed by the light, the colours of the sea. Chris – who effectively redesigned the house with the help of an architect, changing it from a charming Deco cottage into a Modern dwelling – is already thinking about how he can extend and alter the new place – which (from the very limited view we had if it) is just a plain, yellow-brick, 20-year old standard bungalow.
I suggested that Bente could, to alleviate her grief at leaving her seaside house, could from time to time, book herself into this little bed-and-breakfast place where they have placed us. It too is right on the beach, though only single-storey, and with a public path outside the beach gate. However, it has wild rosa rugosa hedges filling the air with scent, and a fine clear sandy access to the water just 50 yards away, whereas the beach at her little house is only accessed over harsh pebbles which through the funnelling action of the water are usually covered with slippery sea-reed stalks. So, she could be up in her new quiet spacious house most of the time and have weekends away back at her beloved water. 600 krone a night.
Of the arthritis I will say this: that whereas there are hardly any obese people to be seen here, there are masses of women in particular who clearly have bad knees (or hips). They walk in a distinctive way, as Bente does. I would be interested to know if their diet with so many potatoes and tomatoes has anything to do with it – those solanum toxins which I only very recently read about.
She commented on how lively and well Andrew and I seem to be (and are), and I said I am sure it’s our JuicePlus+ …
My reading for this trip is Michael Pye’s acclaimed book called ‘The edge of the world’, all about the North Sea – very apposite and informative. I really enjoyed the early section about the Frisians (who?)…. It seems to tie in with my current activities trying to help get Faversham Creek (and other small tidal places like Deptford and Rye) restored to their proper place in the collective and statutory imagination as being essentially maritime – rather than just residential development opportunities. Here in the tiny harbour are fewer than half a dozen wooden fishing boats, called smakkejollen – very like the Whitstable smacks back in Kent.
From these very waters and margins came cultures which resisted Romanisation, depending on common law and custom, exploratory, matter-of-fact, tribal rather than feudal, craft-based. They allowed some women unlimited power and scope to lead, while treating others as (worse than?) cattle – sexual rubbish, slaves, group-rape objects. Slavery was of course a colossal, global trade – from the Arab lands outwards, and everyone, every kingdom was both busily engaged in it and prey to it. Men, women and children were the unfortunate chattels. I can only shudder.
Yesterday, we tripped down the coast a short way to Louisiana, that beacon of public art – a sprawling mansion of gardens and galleries, filled with works of high status and thronging with people. The special show at the moment is our very own Peter Doig, whose colossal paintings fill the great walls with colour and wonder. I am very tempted to go back there again today – our last full day here. Chris and Bente are lucky having this marvellous gallery so close (2 bus-stops) away. It no doubt inspires them in their own collections of brilliant objects. Bente has given away box loads of things to help make their move simpler. It is very hard to avoid the modern curse of ‘too much stuff’. Maybe those who bought slaves (for ‘free’ sex or labour, or whatever), long ago (or still today), had the same problem. What to do with it all. Where to keep it. What to chuck out.

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