‘Loving Lance Clark at the ‘Sea Spray’ cafe.

Lance’s Ford was soon replaced by a silver, 1978 T-reg Nissan Micra, which had faulty wiring, and a door that would often close and refuse to open at will.  George Polea, one of the regulars at the cafe, and a friend, soon became adept at ‘breaking and entering’ into it.

Kit was ever- reluctant to get back into the vehicle, after his walks, and had to be bribed and cajoled with treats and tennis balls before he’d get in.  I would often avoid the offer of a lift from Lance, because I  soon learned that  being driven by him was hair-raising.  On the occasions that I accepted a lift, I was grateful to have survived the journey, especially when it was dark, and I suspected that the brakes were rather unreliable.

Talking to Lance, on a daily basis, was always fun. He was always ‘on the go’ – a tornado of energy. He’d go for business meetings in London; argue with people on his mobile phone; visit the Royal Academy; have tussles with figures of authority: parking officials, owners of cafes, and so on.  He was a combatative man, given to altercations with people.

I think that Lance genuinely liked to annoy people, and witness their reactions to some outrage he’d dreamt up. He had a confrontation with the lady owner of ‘Molly’s’ ( a local beach cafe), over her allegations that he hadn’t picked up after Kit.  Lance then went on to draw a sweet cartoon of the event. He enjoyed these run-ins and laughed about them.

This also included the  jobsworth who objected to him parking his car in front of the church at Falmer, where he was doing a drawing; and the cafe owner near St Peter’s church, who banned Lance, because he drew portraits of the customers. Lance loved these battles with authority, and enjoyed recounting them. People probably saw him as a disreputable, old tramp, with a dog that was rarely kept on a lead.  He really was a master of disguise.

Once I stopped him from ‘having a go’ at our local computer repair man , as I knew  that he was indispensable to Lance, and this was one   battle that wasn’t worth fighting .

Behind all this bluster, however, was a sweet and sensitive man, with a mischievious sense of humour.  He liked to test people; and enjoyed the cut and thrust of a good argument or discussion.  He was an iconoclast, and the most  amusing and stimulating company possible. He was entertaining and well- informed on so many subjects. A highly intelligent, inquisitive man,  open to new ideas and opinions, although certain of his own views, too.

To use an unforgivable cliche, he really was a ‘class act’.

 

 

 

 

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‘Loving Lance Clark at the Sea Spray cafe’.

I first spoke to Lance when the had written  off his car in a collision with a bus.
He’d managed to drive the car down to the cafe, but the bumper was totally crumpled. I asked if I could help him, and his characteristically  brusque retort was:

‘Are you an engineer?’

I laughed and explained that I wasn’t.  And from  that moment we became friends.

He told me he’d just moved locally – to Ovingdean- and that he was new to the area.

I sensed that he had a large family – many children, in fact.  And this proved to be the case.  After he saw some of the sketches I’d made of Kit ( in the cafe), he asked if I’d like to go along with him to the Sussex Arts Club in Bond Street, Brighton that afternoon, and I decided that I would.   Thus, our mutual and shared passion for Art began.  We rapidly became artistic ‘soul-mates’.  We were both watercolourists; and loved various places, especially Alfriston.  I introduced Lance to the Church of the Good Shepherd, at Lullington, which I had recently drawn; and then lent him a my copy of a book of watercolours by John Singer Sergeant.  Lance was entranced by them; and changed his colour palette accordingly.  He had just been commissioned by Sussex Yacht Club to paint some boats at their Shoreham branch.  Together we collected the framed, finished picture from Lee, the picture framer in Rottingdean.  It was a really very fine piece of work.

 

 

 

 

Loving Lance Clark at the ‘Sea Spray’ cafe.

Every morning at a quarter to eight precisely, a battered old blue Ford Focus would be parked in the disabled bay opposite the Sea Spray cafe at the main beach in Rottingdean, East Sussex.

A very tall, handsome elderly gentleman would tumble out, followed by a ravishingly beautiful Golden retriever.  The two of them would then proceed down to the beach; the dog dancing in delight at the prospect of his walk.

This routine happened nearly every day from September 2017 until February 2018.

Nobody knew who this distinguished-looking gentleman was, with his insouciant air of the bohemian about him: everybody admired his dog.

After their walk, man and dog would enter the cafe, and strong, black coffee would be ordered; and the gentleman would begin his day’s work on his i-pad: sending emails; checking messages, taking phone calls.

The early risers in the neighbour would speak to him; remark on the beauty of his dog and the strange shoes that he often wore:  Vivobarefoot running shoes. Lewis, the owner of the cafe, would chat to him ; Rod Hart, the jazz pianist, and his girlfriend, the singer, Imogen Ryall, would offer to take the man’s dog for a walk. Mick Bensley, the marine artist, would talk to this charming stranger  about art and seascapes.

We were all intrigued by this delightful man.  He seemed to be an  artist and also a philanthropist, as far as we could gather.  He talked about the charities and orphanages that he managed in Africa.  This was all we knew about  him.

 

 

Looking for Lullington Church

When I first saw the wood engraving ‘Sussex Church’  (1924) by the artist Eric Ravilious, I was captivated by its beauty; and eager to find out where this tiny church was located. it had a quality of light, space and foliage reminiscent of the work of Samuel Palmer.

A few weeks later, in a charity shop, I came across a postcard of the same church. It mentioned the name ‘Lullington’, and I traced the village to the  area around  the East Sussex village of Alfriston.

I was determined to visit this village, and to find this exquisite little church. I made a couple of brief sketches from the photograph on the postcard.  My perspective wasn’t brilliant, but I could see  after drawing it that it was quite a compact and very ancient building.

When I arrived in Alfriston, I still couldn’t find the church. I had seen road signs to Littlington, but wanted to explore on foot.  Very serendipitously, I followed a path to a place called ‘Plank Barn’.  The name was curious. I wandered up to a small carpark, by the side of the property, and realised that I was trespassing.

The owner, accompanied by a very ancient, blind cocker spaniel, approached me, and my partner, Gabriel.  But, not in anger.  He then asked me if I was looking for Lullington  church.  With surprise, I answered : Yes!

Well, you’ve come to the right place, he answered.  ‘Follow me’.

So, we followed him, through his garden, to his home, which he now jokingly referred to as ‘Plonk Barn’.  It was a beautiful place, and had formerly been the home of a well-known photographer.  He pointed the way to a public path.

‘Go up to the top of the field, and then turn left’, he said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Autumn Pannage

As the last week of October approached, Ada and Stan started to look forward to welcoming their final visitors of the year. Their first couple from London : Julian and Francesca.

They arrived after lunch, on October 31st – Halloween.  This was the first time they’d had guests on this day, and they were astonished when the two of them turned up in the most fabulous open-topped Porsche Boxter, bearing gifts of a homemade pumpkin tart and a bottle of champagne.

‘Well, that’s two firsts in one day’, Ada said to Stan. ‘ We’ve never seen such a car, and no-one has brought us champagne before. ‘This is going to be fun’.

Normally, Ada would welcome her guests with tea and biscuits, but, this time, their request was for ‘green’ tea.

‘Well, another first’, said Ada, thankful that her daughter had left some mixed teabags in the kitchen, which included some green tea.

Francesca and Julian were also keen to walk, take photographs, and enjoy the countryside, but they  were totally different from all their other guests because they had come to experience something quite unique:  fine dining at an exclusive and very expensive French restaurant in the heart of the Forest. They were keen to eat pigeon breasts and partridge, both offered on the menu.

‘Well, we’ve never even heard of the place’, they exclaimed ,when the young couple told them about the place.

‘But we can certainly give you directions on how to get there’, Stan said.

‘It’s not the sort of place we’d ever visit’,he remarked.

The visit went well. The weather was perfect, except for some light rain on one of the four days; the lovely greater spotted woodpecker made a special appearance, out in the garden,  for the couple to see at breakfast.

They had also come to experience the autumn ‘pannage’ – when six hundred or so  pigs  and piglets roam the forest, gorging on  the green acorns, beechmast and other nuts so poisonous to the ponies. This had been a remarkable year for acorns . They were so plentiful that the pannage was being extended until December 20th.

Another first.

And when  Ada asked if they would like some music played at breakfast, all they wanted was   a track of birdsong to be played.

‘Well ,no-one has ever asked for  that before’, said Ada.

After they left, the old couple went upstairs to find that their guests had left the flat in an immaculate state, and in the Visitors’ Book, Francesca had done some lovely drawings of ponies and piglets that were quite delightful.

‘Fancy that’, said Ada.

They had  paid in cash, and, as Stan put the last payment of the year into his wallet, he turned round to Ada and said:

‘Let’s try that restaurant, what do you think? It would make a change , wouldn’t it’.

Yes, I think it would’, said Ada, smiling, as she raised a glass of champagne to her lips.

 

 

 

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The Autumn Pannage

Almost all of Stan and Ada’s loyal  guests were in their sixties and seventies, and many came from the Midlands, the north of England, and also from neighbouring counties: Kent and  Sussex.  There were also those who lived in Cornwall, the Isle of Wight, and the occasional couple from different  parts of Europe. Curiously, they had never accommodated many city dwellers, and absolutely not one Londoner.  Keen bird-watchers, stalwart hikers, and lovers of the unique beauty of the area they  all shared the same wish for a simple, unpretentious stay. A light breakfast – beautifully served downstairs in their timeless and cosy dining room –  with its array of pictures and photographs of the family, and much-loved ponies.  They even had their own branding iron with L on it to distinquish their own particular forest pony: Lucy.

Guests could lunch at the tiny local pub, which provided local fare: ploughman’s lunches, real ale; homemade venison pies.

The constituency of ‘the visitors’ was largely made up of middle-class, middle-aged, middle England; with a smattering of curious Continentals. And, for twenty years, this life had suited them both. But as they reached their mid- seventies,  they both considered slowing down.  They began to close the cottage from the end of October to the beginning of March.   Sadly,  they had no grandchildren, so their lives revolved around the business and their animals:  two ponies out in the field, and two rescue dogs – mutts – that one of their daughters had tired of.

So, in the last week of October, 2015, after a particularly long and dry summer, they finally received a booking from a London couple : Francesca and Julian. They had decided that this would be their last booking; and that they would close after this, and just enjoy the garden and the animals.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Autumn Pannage

When Ada and Stan bought Apple Tree cottage in a remote village in the New Forest, they had no idea that their retirement dream would become such a special sanctuary for so many people.

Weeks after renovation work was done, this kind couple decided to use the tiny rooms upstairs for income:  a B&B.  There was a a pleasant front bedroom ( overlooking a quiet road) where,  when they left their gate open, a troupe of donkeys would wander in, looking for apple windfalls in their front garden. A cosy sitting-room, at the back, overlooked fields, where their pony, Copper, was kept. And a tiny bathroom completed the suite of rooms.

For twenty years, clients would turn up for the peaceful rest and relaxation the place offered. Many came from overseas: Australia, Belgium, France, Canada.  But the majority of their guests were British.

The ‘Visitors’ Book’ was Ada’s pride and joy.  All the ‘comments’ were positive. Some people even wrote poems about the delights of their stay. Many people returned yearly. One couple, from Ashford in Kent, had visited 23 times! Others had been for six or seven times. One lady from France wrote : ‘Unique’, after her visit.

They were simple, good people, and they had created a modest, unpretentious oasis of tranquillity. In these tiny, warm rooms, it was possible to forget the world outside, to feel  safe and cherished . Utterly at peace. They provided everything necessary to make a visit there perfect: Ordinance survey maps ( for the walkers); storm lanterns, torches ( when the power failed); delicious biscuits , coffees and teas; binoculars; illustrated books and information about the environment.  Even menus from the local pubs.