Monday, February 05, 2007
Armed with a road map and the Good Pub Guide my mate Olly and I head out to towns and villages within a days reach round London that neither of us have either been to or know anything about. Yesterday it was Arundel's turn.
As we were hurtling down the B2139 we prepared our visit with Ol reading this poem:
An Arundel Tomb
Side by side, their faces blurred,
The earl and countess lie in stone,
Their proper habits vaguely shown
As jointed armour, stiffened pleat,
And that faint hint of the absurd -
The little dogs under their feet.
Such plainness of the pre-baroque
Hardly involves the eye, until
It meets his left-hand gauntlet, still
Clasped empty in the other; and
One sees, with a sharp tender shock,
His hand withdrawn, holding her hand.
They would not think to lie so long.
Such faithfulness in effigy
Was just a detail friends would see:
A sculptor's sweet commissioned grace
Thrown off in helping to prolong
The Latin names around the base.
They would not guess how early in
Their supine stationary voyage
The air would change to soundless damage,
Turn the old tenantry away;
How soon succeeding eyes begin
To look, not read. Rigidly, they
Persisted, linked, through lengths and breadths
Of time. Snow fell, undated. Light
Each summer thronged the glass. A bright
Litter of birdcalls strewed the same
Bone-riddled ground. And up the paths
The endless altered people came,
Washing at their identity.
Now, helpless in the hollow of
An unarmorial age, a trough
Of smoke in slow suspended skeins
Above their scrap of history,
Only an attitude remains:
Time has transfigured them into
Untruth. The stone fidelity
They hardly meant has come to be
Their final blazon, and to prove
Our almost-instinct almost true:
What will survive of us is love.
O f course the tomb Larkin's describing is in nearby Chichester Cathedral but that didn't stop us visiting the cathedral in Arundel and the churches and trying to scale the ramparts of the castle in vain search of the eponymous resting place.
We liked Arundel. Above all, it's victorian gothic fraudulence. The cathedral was built in the 1870's in the style of the 1370's and the castle was largely reconstructed around the same time lending to it's particularly storybook look - very like the castle from the Shrek movies.
It was a perfectly agreeable town, not too affluent as to be snotty and repellent and not too poor as to be run-down and depressed. A half of Harvey's in a pub filled to the brim with 30 somethings listening to the Blues and everyone heroically smoking for England left us pleasant and relaxed much like the soft, winter sun outside.
We thought that because it wasn't one of those 'authentic' english medieval towns and it was a constructed pastiche it sort of took the pressure off everybody living there. It didn't feel like a barely-living museum as those other places can, stultified by their conservative, conserving inhabitants.
Anyway, a stop at the Skimmington Castle just outside Reigate for more Harvey's Sussex Ale and a view over the South Downs more than made up for the hour and a half it took to then get from Croydon to Peckham.
What more could you want - country lanes, beautiful light, rolling downs, real ale by a real fire, a castle - with a moat, and wonderful poetry. Ahh.
I turned 36 a few days ago. I have officially become middle-aged.
Posted by Adam