For supper we left the be-cabined b&b and headed a couple of miles south to Emsworth to find supper. There the wide expanse of green-clad mud stretches out and away towards the distant sea, and dozens of smallish boats lie chained up in a random scatter across the brilliant weed. A great long pond filled with murky water sits as a reservoir along one side of the bay, a remnant of the oyster-processing industry which once sustained this charming little town, and there is a sturdy walkway along its dam-walls, where you can progress in quiet conversation, with the tidal mud to your left and distant low hills beyond, and the lapping water of the basin to your right.
We strolled along, reading about the the famous oyster-boat the Terror which has been restored as a heritage boat, and the floating fishtank installed by a local fish-merchant grandee who seems to have come a cropper in 1902 after a notorious food-poisoning incident.
Behind us somewhere inland, a series of hot-air balloons drifted up into the sky, five of them. Montgolfier's hobby alive and well.
The walkway curves back round to the shore, with more creeks and meanders to gaze at as you turn more to the west, and there you find some old cottages, pretty relics of that workaday age. One is for sale through a very important estate-agent. It is semi-detached, with a little garden sitting behind a low wall, and space enough for a couple of cars and a boat or two. The roof is slated and pleasantly higgledy-piggledy. (Later we found out this has 3 bedrooms, a downstairs bathroom, and is on the market for £620,000).
There are quite a few houses for sale in Emsworth. One is brand new, with stap-me bravado and balconies - £2,200,000. A car in its driveway had the registration CH 1LL 1N, or something like that. One is an old schoolroom beside another branch of the great pond, one bedroom, and in need of modernisation, and that is £395,950. It must be quite difficult to be an ordinary person trying to live there, when the millionaires have pushed all the prices up. But the beauty and charm of the whole place has made such conflicts inevitable. We passed another very shiny car whose numberplate was FEIICES.
We decided to eat an Indian meal for supper and chose the Spice Village, installed in a classic 1930s Tudorbethan pub, with great styling inside - red cinema curtains draped in multiple shiny curves and sinuous wiggles, gleaming metal protectors on every plasterwork corner, pink and red lighting, chrome handrails guarding the unnecessary but diverting raised platform taking up part of the floor. The guy who took our order was Indian. The guy who brought it was Romanian. The food was very nice - absolutely identical to a meal I had last week in Faversham. I am more and more sure now that all these meals are made in some super-kitchen somewhere and just heated in the so-called kitchens of the restaurants.... There is presumably a chef there to make the rotis and chapatis, add the trim of fresh tomato slices and parsley, make sure everything meets the health and safety requirements. But the long wait between ordering and seeing the food on the table is not occupied with frantic chopping and stirring, blending of spices..... Anyway, it was very nice food and sharing one biriani was enough for us, and we drove away through the magic quiet lanes and fields, back to the electric gates and daddylonglegs of our bedroom in a garage.
I had a long and anxious dream as I woke up this morning - seeing someone fall from a cliff, seeing a very tall friend (Sarah? Joanna?) wearing a gorgeous evening gown demonstrate a straight fall to the ground and sustaining a horrible bruise to her shoulder. In trying to get some arnica for her, I had to go back into a room in a seaside complex where we had previously been having a party with some grandees - royalty, even. But now they were in private session and an equerry refused me entry. Eventually when their private party was over, someone brought me some arnica - not the little tube I wanted but a display bottle from a pharmacy downstairs somewhere - flat but circular with a coloured glass panel in the middle. I saw various friends mingling with Prince Harry, and went off to rub the oil of arnica (is there such a thing?) into my bruised friend's shoulder. Some Romanian tumblers and acrobats did impossible things flying through the air, and in the distance, finally, someone else noticed that a young woman had fallen off the distant cliff and rescue operations began. Even though this was just 30 minutes ago, the details have already begun to shift and slide......
One of the nicest things yesterday was our drive close in along the north side of the South Downs - avoiding large roads we wound our way through quiet pastures and mown fields, with the horizon high to our left and shadows draping down the smooth green sides of the hill where each small tree or bush clung to the steep. A glorious, precious, perhaps almost timeless sight. As the ice retreated 10,000 years ago, and trees slowly spread north again, including (eventually) those yews, and then people came and started to let their cattle and sheep graze, long before fences and hedges and ownership... that is when the Downs took on this clothing - the smooth green grass and a few shrubs on the thin soil. And the sun massages them every day. It is utterly beautiful. But today we will sail away to Spain. More when I can.