January 15th, 2020

Stuck Up And Spooky

That was Storm Brendan. It was a noisy bugger. It kept going for two nights. The front path is under water- and Wendy, who arrived at 9.00 this morning- says there's a lot of woody debris on the drive.

The day that came between the two noisy nights was relatively quiet, though the rain persisted. We went into Tunbridge Wells which is something we rarely do. The second-hand bookshop I used to go to in my teens (and still frequent in my dreams) is still there but has had a refit- and is no longer dusty and quaint. I suppose it always thought of itself as "antiquarian" but the prices of the better sort of old book has gone through the roof- and the first editions and nice bindings I used to buy as an impecunious young person are out of my range now I'm a prosperous old bloke. I went in, browsed a bit- and came out empty handed- which wouldn't have happened in the old days. They had a copy of Wells' The Holy Terror I quite fancied- but not at the price they were asking for it.

I read a book recently (I think it was by J.B. Priestly) which characterised Tunbridge Wells as a typical English country town- which is exactly what it isn't. Most English country towns have a long, long history- but The Wells didn't get going until the 17th century with the discovery of the Chalybeate spring. Before then it was wilderness- and the wilderness is still there- an expanse of heathland with weird weather-sculpted rocks in it that extends right into the heart of the settlement. For a period it was intensely fashionable. The beaux and the belles hung out there and Rochester wrote a verse satire about it that is so relentlessly and wearingly obscene that I've never been able to get through more than a page and a half. There are plaques all over the place recording the residence of this or that luminary- and Edmund Kean played in its theatre. Then- as travel became easier- its position as London's favourite spa town was usurped by others more exotic and further flung- and it relaxed into respectability- becoming a by-word for rigid gentility and deep-dyed conservatism- for wealthy spinsters and disappointed nabobs- and all the repressed passion that accompanies such things. I don't quite know what its character is now (because I avoid it) but those who do their shopping there say it still holds itself aloof.

It's a weird place- and I mean weird in every sense of the word. The Pantiles- the old quarter- a kind of 17th century shanty town that sprung up around the chalybeate spring- would- on a day like yesterday- when the rain had driven almost everybody off the streets- make a great setting for some story originally authored by Sheridan Le Fanu or M R James. Imagine our hero or heroine being stalked through the colonnades by something not quite of this world- or encountering a raddled 18th century horror (as in Madame Crowl's Ghost) behind one of the peeling Georgian facades. And if you should happen to need an impressive and private place to stage your ritual blood sacrifice look no further than the druidic rocks out at Rusthall. I don't believe anyone has ever filmed a horror movie in the town but somebody should- they really should...