What is the point of writing a blog that nobody reads? Would you rather be a hammer or a nail? Who said that a picture is worth a thousand words? Now this is a sobering thought for those of us who like the sound of our own voices.
Admittedly this week's picture of three Ragstones bowling along the lanes of Kent under a glorious blue sky does serve as a half decent testimonial to the simple pleasures of cycling, but Rupert Brooke would surely have captured the moment equally well in verse.
Ruth, Judith, Robert, Peter and John were joined today by Ruth's young French house guest, Fabien; from Toulouse. Ruth had obtained some extremely well illustrated and much admired books about the Miners' Trail, but it was eventually decided that John's dog-eared map would serve as a more practical guide. After initial confusion as to which direction to take from R and R's driveway, we headed for Waldershare Park.
After less than a mile, a loud bang from the direction of John's Kevlar lined puncture proof back tyre indicated that, for him at least, it might be an early lunch. Although damaged, the tyre held together - albeit at lower pressure - so we were soon on our way again, thanks to Robert's mechanical skills.
The thing about messing about on bikes is that you almost always find treasure. Today we drifted into Betteshanger (Anglo Saxon for 'the house on the slope'). If that name evokes in your mind a vague connection with Kent's now long abandoned coal mines, you would be in good company. But Rupert Brooke? Hardly anyone knows (alright,apart from you!) that in this enchanting corner of the county, on his way back to blood soaked trenches of northern France, the flaxen haired young poet, who personified the hopes and dreams of our once great country, wrote the poignantly prophetic lines…
"If I should die, think only this of me: That there's some corner of a foreign field that is forever England…." (The Soldier)
The area around Betteshanger church is a magical place, especially on a warm sunny afternoon. If the voussoirs around the church's South door look familiar, it is because they are an imitation of those on the nearby Norman church of Barfrestone. The North entrance though is genuine Norman work and comes from the ancient 12th century church which used to stand on the site. (By the way, we miss you Norman.)
Inside the church there is a monument to Sir John Boys (d 1678), a local landowner who planted one of the Yews in the churchyard; another by William Gladstone (he of the eponymous bag) in 1854.
As Chaucer might have said, one day I will tell you why the Yew tree (taxus baccata)is found in so many ofour churchyards. Why, because of its strength and longevity ( some are at least four thousand years old ), it has survived as a species since before the Ice Age; why it has been revered for centuries by Celts, Greeks, Romans, North American Indians and aspiring leaders of the Liberal Party; why it is associated with immortality, regeneration, everlasting life, rebirth, access to the spirit world, our ancestors, and the key to understanding the meaning of our very existence. Indeed, but no time for all that today…
Betteshanger House, which itself has a fascinating history, is now a private school. During the Napoleonic wars (1796-1815) the village was a relay point in a special telegraph system, whereby messages were sent from the Kent coast up to the Admiralty in London about shipping movements in the channel. It consisted of a huge square wooden frame in which shutters could be arranged in different patterns. There were twelve such 'relay stations' and a message could be transmitted to London in a few minutes.
Alas, the system did not always run smoothly. On one occasion, word crossed the channel that the French peasants were in revolt. This intelligence could have changed the course of history, and perhaps even have prevented Charles Aznavour. However by the time the scrambled message reached London, it read "The French are revolting". The First Sea Lord was so incensed at the banality of the information, that he immediately ordered the destruction of the system, and that is why today we are forced to eat croissants and smelly cheese.
Speaking of cheese, whilst we are undoubtedly creatures of our environment and accidents of history, we are also what we eat and drink. Today's lunch at the Five Bells in Eastry was, as ever, a feast. They say too that timing is everything, and by a whisker and wave of a tea-towel, we missed out on the home made banoffi pie. The landlady promises that such disappointments can in future be averted via a simple telephone call. In view of the patchy mobile signals in the area, perhaps a network of wooden frames….
During lunch, Judith took advantage of Fabien, or should we say Fabien's presence, to compose a letter of thanks to some French friends.
At one point, the unusual motto of the school at Betteshanger - "J'Aime a Jamais" (I love forever) - was discussed at some length. It needed to be explained that Jamais can mean both 'never' and 'ever'. There could be no better illustration of why, in France, when someone seems to say "I never want to see you again", it is vital to carefully scrutinize their facial expression in case they actually mean "I can't face life without you".
Perhaps this is what the club wielding gentleman with the generously proportioned derriere (see photo) is saying to his wife in the voussoir on the Church wall……
PS According to the French translation of Rupert's "Le Soldat","There is some corner of a foreign field that will never be England".