My Week

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Wendy Holden

Wendy Holden meets the Red Hat­ters

SCHOOL’S out, but not with­out cer­e­mony. My hus­band is a gover­nor of Christ’s Hos­pi­tal, the school founded by Ed­ward VI, in 1552, to teach the poor boys of the City of Lon­don. The school moved to its cur­rent lo­ca­tion in the West Sus­sex coun­try­side in the early 20th cen­tury and is now co-ed­u­ca­tional, but its great egal­i­tar­ian mis­sion re­mains: to pro­vide chil­dren from all walks of life with the best pos­si­ble ed­u­ca­tion.

Chan­nel swim­mers coated them­selves in lard. We do the same, but from the in­side

Its dis­tinc­tive uni­form—the long, dark-blue coat with sil­ver but­tons and yel­low socks with white bands —has re­mained un­changed since the school’s ear­li­est days. It makes for a fine sight when the march­ing band, which leads the Lord Mayor’s Show ev­ery year, beats the re­treat on the fi­nal day of term.

We stood in the quad and watched the set faces of the leav­ing drum ma­jors as they hurled their maces into the air for the last time. There were tears and hugs, but also pal­pa­ble ex­cite­ment.

More un­usual uni­forms: we have just re­turned from Corn­wall, where, in Treng­wain­ton Gar­den, groups of ladies of a cer­tain age wear­ing red hats and pur­ple out­fits ap­peared be­tween the trees. There were too many of them for it to be co­in­ci­dence.

‘We’re the Red Hat So­ci­ety,’ one ex­plained. It turns out they’re in­spired by Jenny Joseph’s poem Warn­ing, about grow­ing old dis­grace­fully, in which she de­clares that when she is an old woman, she will wear pur­ple clothes and a scar­let hat, pick flow­ers from other peo­ple’s gardens and learn to spit.

These ladies were the Pen­zance Red Hat­ters, but there are, ap­par­ently, af­fil­i­ated groups all over the world, es­pe­cially in the USA, where —for­get Red Nose Day—there is even a Red Hat Day on April 25.

How­ever, I pre­fer what the poet says she will let her hus­band do when he’s old, which is to eat 3lb of sausages in one go. Here in Der­byshire, we have the world’s finest bangers, the lo­cal tomatoflavoured one de­serv­ing an hon­ourable men­tion. What bet­ter ex­cuse to in­dulge in them than old age?

Corn­wall is beau­ti­ful at this time of year. Hedgerows shaggy with red cam­pion, meadow crane’s-bill and cow pars­ley bil­low onto wind­ing lanes. Oc­ca­sional field en­trances give views of blue sea, across which craggy St Michael’s Mount ap­pears to be eter­nally set­ting sail, eter­nally go­ing nowhere.

We stay with my in-laws, to whom we grate­fully re­turn for hot baths after ex­cur­sions to Pen­zance’s Ju­bilee Pool. This splen­did 1930s lido, one of Bri­tain’s largest, has re­cently re­opened after suf­fer­ing storm dam­age.

It’s the most won­der­ful place to spend an af­ter­noon—the tri­an­gu­lar pool is full of sea­wa­ter and cor­re­spond­ingly brac­ing. The wa­ter has a de­li­ciously thick, re­fresh­ing qual­ity, but there is a limit (an hour, in my case) to what the hu­man frame can stand, even in July.

Chan­nel swim­mers of the 1920s fa­mously coated them­selves in lard to keep the chill off. We do the same, but from the in­side, eat­ing chips at ev­ery op­por­tu­nity. We love chips and those served in Corn­wall’s pubs reg­u­larly fea­ture on the list the chil­dren and I keep (con­stantly up­dated) of our top 10 chipserv­ing es­tab­lish­ments.

It’s se­ri­ous re­search be­cause we plan, one day, to open a hostelry with a special, chip-only menu: fat ones Pont Neuf-style, thin ones frite- style, spi­ral-shaped, potato wedges, the lot. Here, the sausages and burg­ers would be op­tional.

We would also spe­cialise in that other match­less Bri­tish con­tri­bu­tion to world cui­sine, the ba­con sand­wich. The sauce within might de­pend on your ori­gin—in Der­byshire, we are deemed to be above the brown sauce/ ketchup line (a myth­i­cal condi­ment ver­sion of the Ma­son-dixon, which runs from the Severn to The Wash), so are firmly in HP ter­ri­tory.

For safety pur­poses, can I ask what’s in the par­cel?’ I dis­like be­ing asked this at the Post Of­fice, but oth­ers, it seems, pos­i­tively wel­come the query. ‘You can get too much in­for­ma­tion,’ our vil­lage post­mistress re­vealed. ‘It’s okay just to say “clothes”—we don’t need to know it’s a bra and pants.’

This was too promis­ing a con­ver­sa­tion to leave, so I pressed her for more de­tails of what peo­ple ad­mit to send­ing. I learnt that bat­tery-op­er­ated per­sonal items cause the oc­ca­sional sen­sa­tion, but pos­si­bly not those one might imag­ine. ‘ We had a hear­ing aid in a par­cel the other day. It whis­tled and buzzed and drove us all mad.’ The buzzi­est par­cel of all, how­ever, was a con­sign­ment of live bees. Wendy Holden’s lat­est novel is Wild and Free (Head­line, £7.99)

Next week: Kit Hes­keth-har­vey

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