The Wake

Maybe if you know Jeremy Corbyn personally you don’t think he is ‘dismal, lifeless and spineless’ but his campaign to get Labour voters to vote remain certainly was.

Dear reader, I will come back to that so you have been warned.

In our village there was a very tactful lack of campaign posters on either side and a general tacit agreement in the pub – at least amongst the people we drink with – not to talk about it.

Maybe on Friday there were some hoop-doopey-do celebratory parties going on across our part of Deepest Sussex – but in our house there was a wake.

A very nice wake with good friends, and who better to have at a wake with, but there was a real sense of loss not just for us but for the next generation.

What right do we have to retreat into the post war view of Great Britain (with lots of capital letters) and leave the next generation out of the Europe they have grown up with and want to live in.

It makes me angry – but I do not think that everyone who voted to leave is a racist bigot.

I do think if I had voted to leave on the basis that there was £350m available now to put into the NHS and that immigration would be cut to ‘the tens of thousands’ I would be mightily fed up to find Farage finally admitting that the £350m was a lie, and that the Brexit lot are saying that controlling immigration does not mean cutting the numbers.

And many people did vote based on those promises.

Boris, the man campaigning ‘against the elite’ spent yesterday playing cricket as a guest of Viscount Althorp.

If this is the man to be our new leader and unite us, then ‘god’ help us.

Mind you, I have to say – and so back my beginning – some MPs in the Labour Party and Jeremy Corbyn should be ashamed of themselves.

Lots of this campaign – of course not here in Deepest Sussex but in places where life is just a teensy bit tougher – was about being mightily fed up with the political class, with obsessive media coverage of the machinations of Westminster, with being seriously out of touch and definitely not using the old maxim of ‘you have two ears and one mouth, use them wisely.’

I cannot claim to be in the least bit bothered that the Tory Party is tearing chunks out of itself and each other but someone/some party should be studying up for fairness.

David Cameron said we were all in this together but we weren’t. We aren’t. And the people who have felt this most keenly have told them all to bugger off.

I think it was the wrong way to say it. Leaving the EU does not make for a change in the political class in Britain and if you think Boris is going to make a significant difference to NHS waiting times in Sheffield or Scunthorpe or Southsea you may find out that he doesn’t. No way.

But we need a Labour Party leader who does care about fairness and surely Jo Cox wasn’t the only Labour MP to be such a great person who worked for real values, who fought and laughed and could talk to people and who believed in the same things that lots of us – in or out – believe in. Someone out there in the Labour Party must be able to do that – and be a leader.

Jeremy Corbyn may well be a man of principle but his ideas are 30 years out of date ( at least, and I should know because they were out of date when I was a political lass.) One of his supporters said he had a ‘nuanced’ message.

But a referendum is binary, back and white, in or out – not bloody nuanced.

And yes, he campaigned around the country but to meetings called by his supporters. That is just not good enough. Not by a country mile as we might say round here. He has to go.

However, and deep breath at the end of that rant, there were few things which made me laugh in the last few days but here are two of them:

A great Facebook posting which said,

Cornwall has voted to leave!! Cornwall received almost £800m of EU Objective One funding between 2000-2013. Didn’t you like your new university? Massive new tourism infrastructure (Eden Project)? or super-fast broadband provision?

That’s a lot of money to replace by selling Poldark tea towels…

And then there was the news that the person who set up the petition which at time of writing has more than 3m people demanding a new referendum ( which we won’t get, or maybe even could cope with, but it sends a message) was actually an ‘outer’ who though they would lose.

Back to the wake. We had nice food, we had music, we had a laugh and almost a cry, we had thoughts about what we could do and should do to, realised that this went across party boundaries – whether you were in or out – and what a big day it was to be together.

I am planning a series of future wakes.

When Boris becomes Tory leader. When Boris gets elected. When the Labour Party again fails to get its act together, when Trump gets elected…… so much wake planning to do.


Tutus and dog poo

Once a year I work somewhere that looks for all intents and purposes ( at least from a bit of a distance) like a Medieval court on a stop during a procession through the country.

Coming out of the woods and along the road you can see large marquees, banners fluttering and though the house is 19th century, you could imagine a 15th century version in which the local lord and his wife were both overwhelmed by delight at the honour, and horrified by the expense and trouble, of having this ‘visit.’

For all I know, the current landed gentry owner is feeling much the same because infact this is The Garden Show at Stansted House in Deepest Sussex.

I don’t want to extend this metaphor too far because we don’t have knights a jousting or cooks’ boys roasting hogs but still I needed you to get the image in your mind.

So, back to the 21st century and what it is like being involved in such an event.

Like all events, the activity behind the scenes is invisible to the visitor’s naked eye unless something goes wrong and it is our job to make sure they never notice any of it.

( We have a staff area which is well cordoned off from members of the public so that we can get on with things, have a break, leave stuff lying around, take radio messages of missing children and so on.

I found one elderly woman coming through our area and approached her and told her that this was not on the ‘public route’ through the show area and could I show her back onto the main show ground.

‘What the hell do you need a staff area for?’ she asked.

Well, 6,000 visitors a day, several hundred exhibitors, a timetable of events which makes sure the flying eagles display does not coincide with the doves being let out, a chance to have a cup of tea without being asked where the toilets are and what time is the chocolate cookery demonstration…….)

As with all such things 90% of the visitors are lovely and 90% of the exhibitors are great too.

But if you are staff those bloody 10% take your time and energy.

So, here is the story of the 10% this year.

There was a woman stallholder who was not happy.

The amazing person whose role it is to smooth ruffled feathers went to see her.

( In brackets, how many companies could do with an Anna, for that is her name. Worth her weight in gold, and she is definitely appreciated as such – smoother extraordinaire.)

It is hard in normal day-to-day life to imagine yourself negotiating and calming a woman dressed in a large pink tutu who is complaining large and loud.

But we were.

And it wasn’t just her, it was the man selling garden furniture next to her and the woman selling, dear reader brace yourself, dog poo composting systems.

I won’t bore you with the details but you can picture, if you like, the smoother extraordinare, the head of security and the woman in a large pink tutu, and me at each corner of a gazebo and walking across the site with it.

And the man with the popcorn-providing fire engine (yes indeed), picking up the tutu woman’s goods and chattels and following us to her new site.

Meanwhile, dog poo.

So, the dog poo composting stallholder bent my ear about the fact that she was a few months into being self employed and risking her livelihood on selling this product at shows like ours and this show was proving to be an abject failure for her and she was on the brink of failure.

I, learning from the smoother extraordinaire, was talking to her about the early days of a new business and how difficult they were, the vagaries of shows and how you could have bad sales one year and great the next, how you had to try shows to find out which worked for you because the demographics were different, how we could only bring in the visitors and the sales were up to the stallholders and so on.

She was not appeased.

When I went back to the staff area, I said that I had had this conversation and I thought they might get more in the way of complaints from this stallholder.

‘But it’s shit,’ said a colleague – accurate in various ways, but not providing me with a line I could take with the dog poo woman next time I saw her.

Gift Aid

Now, I am well aware that first impressions can be wrong and I am often reminded of that fact when I make a hasty judgement on someone or something only to be proved comprehensively wrong.

But if, as I did today, I open a box to find a souvenir programme from Charles and Diana’s wedding, six books all relating to cats and The Good News Bible and ten Readers’ Digest abridged novels, I know that things were not looking promising.

This box was one of about 17 donated by the same person so my heart was not, dear reader, a-leaping with excitement.

But, bless their hearts, they had gift aided the contribution.

Gift aid means we can get 25% more for each sale, so we like it a lot.

Now the 17 boxes were clearly labelled as gift aided and at the same time there were other donations which weren’t gift aided, all in the same area.

It is, of course, completely unacceptable and against the rules to gift aid a book which is not in the appropriately gift aided box.

But you know, accidents do happen.

I know that the government just wants to help and they have set up the gift aid system to support good charities and I know that people who donate a lot of books are expecting a lot of books to be gift aided.

So, the accidental happenstance of one or two books which are of excellent quality being wrongly gift aided is, in this light, is a happy happenstance, surely.

And you can never tell what is at the bottom of the box.

So, among the royal books ( never a good seller in our bit of Deepest Sussex) and the old Blue Peter annuals ( no doubt one day a valuable book but not in this century) there were a few delights.

An old guide to Egypt, a couple of large old books on the rivers of England, a limited edition of a ghost story which seems to be worth something though I am not sure why, and a Hairy Bikers Pie recipe book which someone will like.

And then there was the man who came in yesterday and carefully handed over to me a pile of postcards dating from about 1970 and who said that he thought someone would undoubtedly buy and treasure them and at the same time put money in Oxfam’s coffers, I didn’t like to disabuse him.

Frederick Cecil Banes Walker

When I am sorting through the thousands of books donated to the village festivities, there are always some I hoick out because I think they might be worth something.

We sell all the paperbacks for 50p and the hardbacks for £2 – whatever the subject or size of the book.

Well, some books are just worth more than that and I am not going to let them go for next to nothing.

(Which reminds me, we have a woman and her mother who come every year to the bookstall and they, every year, complain that we charge too much. ‘Give over and don’t come next year’ are the polite end of what I want to say to her.)

As you will know if you have read the previous blog, donations of books come in thick and fast and we don’t keep track of who donated what so we take it as it comes.

Anyway, I had a pile of books which needed checking and indeed the rather rare Heath Robinson book is worth about £60 and my ever-so-slightly eagle eye for the niche books which are only printed in small quantities and are therefore valuable, paid off when I discovered that ‘Four Centuries of Liege Gunmaking’ is worth about £75.

A rare early guide book to Palma was also worth a bit and ‘The Mechanical World Pocket Diary and Year Book 1914’ is also worth a darn sight more than £2.

But it was the  book called ‘The Roll of Honour 1916’ that this story is about. Everyone killed in the war that year was listed with their photograph and a small biography (and there was one such book  produced for eery year of WWI.)

WWI memorabilia is very popular and it being the 100th year, I thought I would easily sell it on eBay and split the proceeds between the village festivities and Oxfam.

So, I listed it and I have to admit that I listed it wrongly, so instead of starting the bidding at £10 and hoping to make £30 or £40, I mistakenly listed it as ‘buy it now’. Indeed, someone did – within about 10 minutes.

But, dear patient reader, this is just the preamble to the real story here – so please bear with me.

Whilst I was flicking through the Roll of Honour book to check it was intact, no internal markings or pages ripped out, some paperwork fell out.

As usual I was cooking supper, making a list of things to do, checking emails etc etc and so I handed the bits of paper to my best beloved and asked him to check what they were.

He said, one was the commission for a soldier as a 2nd lieutenant. When I looked later, the next was a letter from the War Office saying where he was buried. The third was a postcard with a sketch on the front of the cemetery, and a description of the grave and its surroundings on the back.

It really makes you stop and think when you find something like that and I was wondering who it was who had made their way to the cemetery where ‘ The big grave under the apple tree is Captain Taylor, Scots Guards & is the only marble cross at present in the cemetery and is a good guide. ‘

The X on the drawing ‘Is his grave directly inside the little gate. The three near trees are all apple trees.’

I then looked at the commission which is a large and formal document which says,’ You are therefore carefully and diligently to discharge your Duty as such in the Rank of 2nd Lieutentant or in such higher Rank as We may from time to time hereafter be pleased to promote or appoint you to, of which notification will be made in the London Gazette and you are at all times to exercise and well discipline in Arms the inferior Officers and Men serving under you and use your best endeavours to keep them in good Order and Discipline. And We do hereby Command them to Obey you as their superior Officer and you to observe and follow such Orders and Directions as from time to time you shall receive from Us or any superior Officer according to the Rules and Discipline of War in pursuance of the Trust hereby reposed in you.’

It is dated October 3rd 1914.

He died on May 9th 1915

On November 20th 1916, his father was sent a letter saying he was buried at ‘ Le Trou, about two miles south of Fluerbaix. The grave has been registered in this office, and is marked by a durable wooden cross bearing full particulars.’

This 2nd lieutenant played test cricket for Somerset. Also, he played rugby and hockey. The has a Wikkipedia page. He had no links with Sussex and lived in Somerset all his life.

His name was Frederick Cecil Banes Walker.

Not a common name.

My neighbour is called Banes Walker.

So, of course, I went round with the commission, and my neighbour said Frederick Cecil Banes Walker was his uncle.

I have no idea who donated the book with these pieces of paper tucked inside.

No idea why they were here in Sussex.





The Harting Festivities or HartFest as we on the committee have started to call it, being rather daringly modern, are over.

This, if you are not a resident of Deepest Sussex, is the day in the year when the village main street is blocked off and we have a village fayre ( as you can tell we are not all that daringly modern.)

I for my sins as they say, am in charge of the bookstall – and I want that name changed as well.

For, dear reader, this is not just a couple of trestle tables pushed together covered in dog-eared copies of Jeffrey Archers and endless variations of Aga sagas (this being Sussex), oh no this is much, much, more.

I won’t bore you with the full explanations of what you need to do to effectively run a HartFest ‘bookstall’ but suffice it to say you need to fill the event hall of the Legion Club with books – all in their topic categories, paperback novels in alphabetical groups so that yes, we can tell the small, frail customer where to search for her Nora James.

Filling, in this context meant about 110 banana boxes of books and if you are just about to think, ‘Well, OK, that is quite a few but let’s not go overboard on the numbers here,’ I would like to say to you, ‘ a) you try lifting that many books from where they are sorted to where they have to be – yes round the corner but still…and b) because, yes indeed, they are sorted that means we also took 10 car loads of rejects to the tip and that is hard work too.

Before I wallow in too much halo-polishing, I would like to say of course I don’t do this alone.

I don’t do it alone because I am rubbish at doing anything on my own and always want a group of people to be involved in anything I am, but also to do it alone would  take months and render me unable to do anything else all year.

So, a marvellous group of people helped sort, moved the books and ran the bookstall on the day and lest this turn into a badly written piece for the parish magazine thanking everyone all over the place, I will leave it at that.

But, I do think we need to call it something bigger than a bookstall.

Pop-Up Bookshop, maybe. HartFest’s Mini-Hay, maybe. Any bright ideas are welcome.

So, all this hard work pays off – this year we made £962 and half goes to village charities and half to Oxfam ( who, between you and I ‘donate’ quite a lot of good quality books.)

I am not a competitive person but snapping at my heels is the necklace stall.

The idea came from a great woman in the village who thrown herself into village life with gusto (and thank the lord, relative youth.)

The idea is that most women have necklaces they have bought, don’t wear and don’t want – but some other woman will.

We, on the HartFest Committee were asked to see what we could raise in terms of necklaces through friends etc etc.

I showed myself to be the archetypal Sussex housewife by approaching my Pilates teacher to see if I could put a notice in her studio, my hairdresser for a notice in her salon, my book group and a group of friends who regularly lunch to salute one of our brilliant friends who has died.

Well, dear reader, sneery though I may be of my housewife credentials, they did good and we got lots and lots and lots of jewellery.

The sign I made for my hairdresser said:
Do you have any necklaces you don’t wear – of course you do!
So, if you could have a clear out of those beads you bought in the Accessorize sale and have ever worn since… Please think of us.
And we will take bracelets too – infact any old sparklies.

Rosie, my hairdresser reported that one of her clients had said to her,’ Oh I’d love to help, I have loads of necklaces I don’t wear but I don’t think any of them came from the Accessorize sale…’

Perhaps it was her who donated the sapphire and diamond ring. This is Deepest Sussex as I keep reminding you.

Anyway, I had nothing to do with the stall except for collecting carrier bags full of necklaces from my ‘sources’ but those who did, made a fantastic display of colour co-ordinated necklaces, silver ones polished to glint in the sunshine ( it was nearly sunny), an old birdcage draped with lovely sparklies – lovely all round.

And this, their first year, they made more than £500. And I have to say, a little disgruntedly, I am a woman who loves jewellery, and necklaces are a shed load easier to store and move than books.

Dear reader, I am in the wrong HartFest job.