Welcome to my little blog. I hope you find it as rewarding, provoking, and infuriating to read as I find it painful, arduous, and satisfying to write. Plain Tales From The Weald is the ramblings of a cantankerous old curmudgeon, written from the Olympian perspective of someone long since grown too old, weary, and canny to be fooled again by any revolution or constitution, new or old. [For more details about the author, see Robin Goodfellow – His Life and Crimes.]
I think of this blog as a series of ‘essais’ (“a merging of casual anecdotes and autobiography with intellectual insight” – Wikipedia), after Michel de Montaigne (1533 –1592) who invented the form, and who is one of my most admired writers. An essay is a trial, an experiment, and no one should think these pieces are the finished article. I am learning my craft, and these are but the clumsy attempts of an apprentice.
A word of explanation about the title is relevant. The Weald is a ridge of largely rural land that runs North West to South East across southern England (the underlying geology continues across the Channel and into North West France). It is a land where no road runs straight or level for 100 metres, making a secret, intimate landscape. The Weald is the eroded remains of higher hills raised by the same tectonic collision that formed the Alps. I mention this because it is the geology that has helped protect the area from the blight of urbanisation and large-scale agribusiness, and given the Weald its unique and very pleasantly bucolic character. The ridge also made the construction of railways and roads difficult, preventing the colonisation of the area by commuters. [See, Why The Weald Looks Like The Shire]
The Weald is a corrugated, crumpled landscape of small, rolling hills, where narrow lanes, often deeply sunken, twist and turn about on their way to people and places long since vanished. Where the small, irregular fields, whose boundaries are marked by almost equally-sized stands of fine old trees (known locally as shaws) and ancient hedgerows, were carved out from the forest along lines dictated by the very geology of streams and soil. The streams tend to run in steep-sided gulleys known as ghylls. Indeed, there’s scarcely room for the people, so intertwined are the trees with the very bones of the landscape, and as someone who loves trees above all other plants, that seems to me to be about the right balance. At its southern edge, the Weald runs down to the Pevensey Marshes and the sea and raised land stretches out like the fingers of a hand to the cliffs of Hastings and beyond. (For more about Hastings, see Ferns, Fossils, Fauna And Inspiration, Hastings Country Park, in The Scientific Tourist Blog)
And living in the Weald does inspire a somewhat Olympian detachment. It is, on the whole, a wealthy place, insulated from the pressures of industry and commerce. The Weald, like the Cotswolds, epitomises the ideal English countryside as imagined by foreigners and natives alike. It is, to some extent, a relic of a long bygone way of life that, perhaps for the most part, only existed in an urban imagination; pleasant, peaceful, gentle and genteel, prosperous without being ostentatious. Far from the madding crowds of the modern over-populated and debased nation, with its fly-by-night fads and fashions, one gets a sense of continuity, of a history not of rulers and politics but of people comfortably inhabiting their landscape.
It is no surprise then that Kipling, a writer so paradoxically in love with and scathing about England and its culture, chose to finally settle here, and wrote some of his best, albeit less popular work. His now sadly neglected children’s book, the delightful Puck of Pook’s Hill, is firmly set in the history, mythology and landscape of the Weald. (See Who Is Puck?)
The title of this blog is my little homage to Kipling, via his collection of somewhat satirical short stories about the British Raj in their summer capital, Shimla. I once described the architecture of a similar hill-station (Kodaikanal) as ‘ Sussex with monkeys’, and there is a pleasing symmetry in that the wealthy denizens of the Weald have tried to create an idealised England here, as the British tried to recreate an idealised Sussex in India. Both places being privileged Olympian retreats from the chaotic, teeming plains. And in both worlds I think Kipling and myself find ourselves doubly outsiders, longingly but detachedly observing and recording something to which we can never wholly belong.
I hope it is not too presumptuous of me to identify a little with Kipling. Not for his talent and work, which of course I could never hope to emulate, but perhaps I share his unpopular, unfashionable, love of England and its history and people; his disillusionment with what his beloved had become, and perhaps also his fate for that love to be eventually unrequited. If he and I have nothing else in common, then we have at least this; we both will have ended our days here.
Finally, a word of warning is in order. I take the view that if I am not causing offence to someone, then I am not doing my job properly. It has been said that offence is taken, not given, which seems arguable, but as far as Plain Tales From The Weald is concerned, and on this matter uniquely, I find myself agreeing with Brigham Young —
‘He who takes offense when no offense is intended is a fool, and he who takes offense when offense is intended is a greater fool.’
I’m afraid your outrage, anger or hatred are entirely your problem, not mine. And while I am always pleased to receive approval, questions, comments, and even criticism (albeit not always with good grace), if your only contribution is to tell me about your indignation, please do not bother.