So how did I find myself at a school concert last night at a posh boarding/day school outside London in Horsham? These are the kind of places (not all so posh but places offering a glimpse of everyday life) that I have ended up during my 34 year friendship with my London pal F. She goes, I tag along because she knows I am always game to see how people live in England…and beyond.
Our day began with a road trip south from London through Surrey past roadside stands selling strawberries and cherries to the lovely medieval town of Lewes, with ancient buildings made of shiny black chunks of Flint, lining hilly narrow lanes, surrounded by the rolling green hills of the Chalk Downs. Pretty place that I rode my bike around decades ago. We had a perfect ploughmans lunch at an old pub, The Pelham Arms, with a delicious slab of local Brighton blue cheese, and Stowford Press hard cider, window-shopped at a 15th century bookshop, visited the local castle ruins, brewery (Harvey’s) and the lovely gardens and craft shop at a stately house. The popular restaurant Bill ‘s was busy.
it was a short drive to Brighton, where the novel I have twice tried to write will be set in part, if it is ever written. The pier with its old fashioned arcade and Ferris wheel was as other-era as ever; the Brighton Pavillion, the folly of a bygone Royal, as exotic and odd as ever; the lanes with little shops posher than I remembered. Apparently Brighton is on an uptick, known to some as London by the Sea. We shared a cream tea at Darcy’s seafood, a quaint little place that was hard to find a second time (when I ran there to retrieve F’s bag, which she’d left behind). Some nice hipsters in a pub used their smartphones to locate the tearoom for me. (Help this poor woman out, one said. She’s got problems. She’s American and she lost her bag!)
We also shared some excellent fresh fish and chips (plaice and chips, technically) at a little takeaway place on a road that ends at the Brighton Beach Ferris Wheel, a strange sight.
The Big Band concert we went to turned out to be at the imposing Christ’s Hospital School, which has lots of stately red brick buildings laid out across wide open playing fields and A quad. Students wear rather severe looking black uniforms that look a little like cossacks tunics. the place reminded me a bit of the high school I went to in suburban Detroit, whose design was inspired by Cranbrook School in Kent, about 30 miles east of Lewes. The school has an unusually diverse student body because it works hard to admit kids who have had some hardships, and has a sliding scale fee structure based on ability top pay. (how refreshing.) The band included some talented teenagers playing trumpets, saxophones, trombones, (one the nephew of a friend of F’s which explains why we werer there). They played mostly jazzy arrangements of American classics from bygone eras, from Aretha’s “Respect” to Leonard Skynard’s Freebird to “Big Noise from Winnetka.” And to think I was near the real Winnetka (Illinois) about a week ago.