Thursday, 1 January 2015

A Pocketful of Rye

Many years ago my Aunt Mary announced that she no longer had a television. Her reasoning being that there was nothing of any worth to watch and that it was only a time waster. My cousin Laura and I were appalled, and wondered how she could survive without one.

Ironically now, all these years later, I find myself in complete agreement with my Aunt and have teetered precariously on the brink of abolishing both my television and the extortionate television licence that is required in order to have the privilege of watching the mind-controlling propaganda, mind-numbing drivel and the vacuous obsession with celebrities that spews forth from the screen.

Aunt Mary's philosophy that life was too short to waste stagnating motionless in front of a box meant she filled her time with more purposeful activities, such as appreciating nature, flower arranging, the garden, painting and walking. One of the walks that I accompanied her on when I was young, was to Rye in East Sussex. I cannot remember the entire walk, except that it was a very hot day and I was extremely thirsty and unable to get a drink until we reached the town of Rye.

I do recall walking through fields where sheep grazed, along flatlands and along the banks of the river to the wharf, and then into the town and Mermaid Street, where thankfully I was at last able to assuage my thirst and also snack on some of the handmade fudge that we purchased. But I know I did not really appreciate the picturesque quaintness of Rye at this time.

Although I later saw the 1980s television series of EF Bensons "Mapp and Lucia" with the wonderful Prunella Scales and Geraldine McEwan, which was set in Rye, I only vaguely connected the location with where we had walked. 

However a few years ago, (before my life became consumed with renovating La Petite Maison), I had the opportunity to visit Rye again properly and although the weather was not as hot as the last time I had been there, this time I was fully able to admire this charming and delightful town.

The Victorian Poet, Coventry Patmore described Rye as "A little bit of the old world living on in pleasant ignorance of the new."

Set on a hill-top Rye is a fairy-tale town full of cobbled laneways

and crooked weatherboard houses

 with red-roofs and windows out-lined in black. 

The houses on either side of the steeply sloping streets are adorned with hydrangeas, roses, lavender and hollyhocks blooming profusely against their walls and over the doorways.

On Mermaid Street - The Mermaid Inn is an ancient timber-framed smuggler's pub, 

steeped in history with Norman cellars dating back to 1156, secret passageways, moving panels and a priest's hole. 

Inside the pub is a framed print of Rudyard Kiplings,

"A Smugglers Song"

If you wake at midnight, and hear a horse's feet,
Don't go drawing back the blind, or looking in the street.
Them that asks no questions isn't told a lie
Watch the wall, my darling. while the
Gentlemen go by!

Five-and-twenty ponies
Trotting through the dark
Brandy for the Parson
'Baccy' for the Clerk,
Laces for a lady, letters for a spy

And watch the wall, my darling, while the
Gentlemen go by.

We climbed the church tower of St Mary's Church where stone stairs give way to rickety ladders, but the views over the roof-tops towards Romney Marsh were breath-taking. (Typically my camera battery was dead at this point - most annoying).

 I was very taken with Rye, and so when I noticed that there was to be another adaptation of Mapp and Lucia on the BBC, I was absolutely delighted. I wasn't disappointed. It was SUPERB!! I loved it!

The story of Mapp and Lucia is a genteel comedy of manners set in the 1930s in a little town called Tilling which in reality was actually based on Rye itself. In mid-summer Elizabeth Mapp (played by Miranda Richardson) rents out her beautiful Queen Anne house The Mallards (Lamb House where EF Benson lived) to the elegant widow Emmeline Lucas "Lucia" (played by Anna Chancellor).

Queen Bee Mapp wants to "run" Lucia, but the gloriously snobbish and imperious Lucia who is Queen Bee of her home town of Risholme is having none of it, and aided by her camp side kick - the enchanting Georgie (played by Steve Pemberton), she charmingly and graciously bullies the residents of Tilling in the subsequent contest of social one-upmanship (or should that be womanship?).

The town of Rye featured exquisitely and I related to every narrow cobbled lane, 

the pretty old-world houses, the Castle (Ypres Tower), churchyard 

and relished the gorgeously planted gardens and flower-lined streets.

Although purely fictional, the idiosyncrasies and foibles of Mapp and Lucia are still identifiable today, none more so perhaps to me than in the little village where our annual Christmas in The Barn is held.

This production by Steve Pemberton was brilliant, the cast were fantastic and I enjoyed it so much   that I am having second thoughts about parting with the television!

So as they say in Tilling,

"Au Reservoir....."

and of course

Happy New Year!

1 comment:

Jayelle Pea said...

I live not far from Rye but have never seen it in the way that you do. Thank you.