1967, air, brother, countryside, Essex, father, fields, green, honeysuckle, horse, Kent, London, Michael J Redford, morning, mother, nose, pub, smell, suburbia, Sunday, the Boats of Vallisneria, trees
Follow Your Nose
My father had a nose for pubs, there’s no denying that! Noses were always a prominent feature of the Redford family and very sensitive instruments they are too. I remember when my brother and I were still at school, how mother would pack a shopping bag with sandwiches, apples and flasks of tea and early on Sunday mornings the whole family would disappear into the countryside. We were then living in South East London and we would take advantage of every opportunity to escape into the freedom and quietude of Kent. I was born in Sydenham and my father also was a native of that area, but when he was a boy, the green fields of Kent came rolling to within easy view from his back door. Now alas, time has stamped these green fields with the concrete monotony of suburbia. So it was that many a fine Sunday morning would see the Redford family making a bee-line for Shoreham just north of Sevenoaks. Shoreham was our stepping off point and in those distant days it seemed a million miles from London. My grandmother used to work at the Crown Hotel there and we were permitted to leave our bicycles in the garden while we plunged into the green depths of the surrounding countryside. Towards noon father would suggest that we find a pub where we could revive our flagging energy and eat our sandwiches and, pausing awhile, he would gaze around and say, “Let’s try over there.” Over the hill we would go and, sure enough, the very first building we would come to would be a pub. Now this never failed. It mattered not what part of the British Isles we were in, ‘Dad’s Nose’ was an infallible receiver and every pub a homing beacon. In this way, father had built up over the years, a storehouse of information concerning pubs in Kent, Surrey and Sussex. Sometimes a friend of the family would arrive at the house and suggest that we all take a trip out somewhere and have a drink. “I’ve found a nice little pub at Luddesdowne,” they would say, “The Red Lion I think it is.”
Father’s mental filing cabinet would whirr into action and he’d say, “Ah yes, you mean the Golden Lion. Lays down in the dip alongside an orchard. Landlord’s name is Bert.”
I have never known my father to be caught out by a pub he didn’t know, although there was one occasion however, when father’s probosciscal (sic) infallibility received a severe jolt. While living for a short period in Basildon New Town in Essex we sometimes took a stroll to Stock on Sunday mornings. This was a distance of some ten miles and we usually timed our arrival at Stock to coincide with opening time. On our first expedition however, we mistimed ourselves badly. We had walked only as far as Great Burstead when the pubs began to open and so we decided against going on to Stock that morning for it would almost have been closing time by the time we reached our goal. Following Dad’s nose, we turned off the main road and climbed the hill in the direction of Little Burstead. At the top, among elm and oak, stood an old grey church. Nestling beside this in the shadow of its spire was a small weather-boarded building that displayed all the characteristics of an Essex pub. There were only a dozen or so other buildings in sight which were quite obviously private dwellings, so we walked up to the leaning timbers beside the church. I was stunned and father was puzzled. Above the door was a sign which read ‘Village Stores – Newsagents – Tobacconists – Confectioners’. This was something I could never have dreamt possible, father had failed and the honour of a long line of Redford noses had been thwarted. This nagging failure prompted my father to do a little research, the results of which, in our collective view, reinstated the Redford’s nose to its rightful place in history. The village stores was once the King’s Arms, a very old inn that dated back to the seventeenth century. It stands along one side of the graveyard and, in days gone by, when the worthy patrons drank their ale in the back parlour, they could look out of the bar windows onto the tombstones, and it was for this reason that the inn was also known as Dead Man’s Rattle.
However, I must not give you dear reader a false impression of the Redford’s standards of propriety and morality. We are not inveterate drunkards, but merely people who enjoy a pint of beer in congenial company and in congenial surroundings. The Redford nose is not sensitive to only yeast and hops, but is also most appreciative of other aromas. The nostalgic scent of honeysuckle on a damp summer’s eve for example. It is surprising how far the scent is carried when the air is damp. I have on one occasion been aware of the sweet tangle of honeysuckle a full two hundred yards before reaching it. Of course, not all the smells of the countryside are as attractive, and here most people will automatically think of the many muck heaps dotted about the landscape and although one can hardly describe the scent of these as attractive, I personally do not place them in the unattractive category, for a muck heap that has ‘made’ well emanates a virile, earthy aroma that gives promise of future bumper crops. The smell which immediately comes to mind in this category is that of the Stink Horn, the woodland fungus that gives off an overpowering stench of putrefying flesh and is attractive only to the bloated blue-bottle which is the curse of all rural ramblers. The ammoniac-al smell of stables is offensive to some people, but I have many happy early memories connected with horses and I find it difficult to pass by a stable without pausing and conversing with the inhabitants, and even if there are no horses at home, I will stop, stand and stare. Anyway, it is surprising how it clears the head.
One fine spring morning I visited a farmer friend of mine, but I arrived five minutes after he had left for Monk’s Tye, a fifteen acre field somewhere on the other side of the farm. I told his wife who had opened the door to me, that I wasn’t familiar with the layout of the fields.
“That’s alright,” she beamed, “Yer can’t miss ‘im. ‘E’s fixing the fence ‘longside the bean field – just foller yer nose.”
I went to the end of the stackyard, sucked my forefinger and stabbed it into the air. A mild breeze from the west was moving the tree-tops and borne upon it was the unmistakably sweet, and to my mind, the most glorious country smell of all, that of a bean field. I faced the zephyr and tacked across the fields. It was a cup of sweet wine that I drank with unashamed intemperance.
At one period during my military days when I was transferred to Egypt, we embarked upon an exercise that took us trekking across the Sinai Desert to St. Cathrine’s Monastery. In the heart of that leafless and shale-covered land cradled in the depths of silence and time, it struck me how different was the smell of the air to that of an English day. I have always been of the mind that pleasure is the product of sensual contrasts and this certainly holds true in this instance for, although I had always delighted in the scent of a field of well-made hay or a breeze heavy with the sweet scent of a bluebell wood, I have never appreciated them more than on my return from that arid land. So marked was the contrast and so great the ensuing pleasure, that I was moved to write the following lines:-
Ne’re before, ‘till I went away
From England, did an English day
Seem quite so fair. No line ‘twixt earth
And sky so soft, no scene so dearly
Held within the memory’s store
For man’s old age to reap.
A golden sun o’er greenest grass,
The whitest clouds the azure dusts,
And gentle is the soft warm breath
That lifts the lark and cools
The summer’s day.
Low wind the lanes ‘twixt hedgerows
Honeysuckle scented, trees clasp their
Fingertips above in trembling sway,
And softly rustling chestnut leaves
So green, turn gold against the sun,
Their echoes of a year gone by –
The hunting ground of stoat and fox.
The slow warm hours the humming
Insects ride and dart, the trickling
Streams the hot stones smooth,
And slowly pass the whiles of dusk
Across the silent fields once more.
read the collected work as it is published: here
air wormhole: just saying, is all VI: // accountable / for my own outbreath / …
father & Sunday wormhole: familiasyncopation
green wormhole: industrial estate
London wormhole: time
morning wormhole: 1964
smell wormhole: Lapping Reflections [Deep Within Waters] – mmpph’
trees wormhole: The Boats of Vallisneria by Michael J Redford – Snow