Family, Travel

Drusillas Park: Alfriston zoo and playground

I promised a post about Drusillas Park. Here it is!

I love it. Literally. We come at least once a month – though it’s been once a week during these Summer Holidays. Some people I mention it to pull a face and say something like “oh the poor animals” or “zoos are so cruel” or something similar. Like visiting the zoo actually endorses cruelty to animals. It doesn’t.

The Drusillas animals are well loved, well fed and well cared for.

There’s an eight week old baby Macaque – we’ve visited him every week since he’s been born. Yup, he’s that gorgeous! He’s called Mango. Mango the Macaque! He cuddles his mum and tries to walk and climb and jump and peers out of his enclosure at all the crazy humans wandering round his home. He’s utterly contented. So am I when I stand gazing at the little Macaque family.

The baby Common Marmosets are nearing adult size but are still notably young – as are the Rock Hyraxes.

The baby Coatis are also up and about, climbing precariously around the branches of their habitat. The South Downs frame their view of the world, across sweeping fields of potatoes and sweet corn.

I haven’t caught a glimpse of the baby Kookaburra yet but I’m holding out hope.

For there to be baby animals in the zoo, the adult animals must be happy and contented.

Last year’s squirrel monkeys – everyone should spend time in their life watching baby squirrel monkeys – are full of fun and vim and tearing about the treetops.

I read an article in the National Geographic yesterday about Red Pandas being fertile for 24 hours once a year. Last year, the Drusillas Red Pandas gave birth to two healthy babies.

They’re doing something really right!

The young Spectacled Owls have tried to breed two years running, maybe next year they’ll figure it out.

The new ant eat eaters, Olivia and Diego are a treat to observe, as are the flamingos, the Lar Gibbons and the meerkats.

The capybaras are a sight to behold as are the beavers and otters.

The capuchin monkeys are a must-see along with all the other marmosets and monkeys and who couldn’t gaze in wonder at a party of ring tailed lemurs?

For my children, the fun never ends. They’ve been going for five years – with more frequency in the latter years – and their learning opportunities are endless. The outdoor play and soft play provide hours of exercise and temporary friendship and thrills and they’ve both learned to rock climb there.

I could extol the virtues of Drusillas over and over.

Actually, I’ve just convinced myself to go. Perhaps we could fit a couple of hours in later today..


Alfriston Camping

Alfriston Camping Field – Pleasant Rise Farm. A field, toilets, showers, washing up sinks and water from a tap at the end of the hedge. A tent, airbeds, duvets, blankets, food without a fridge, a gas cooker, plastic plates, a kettle, table, chairs, games and books.

Sure – the airbeds started sinking a few hours after they’d been inflated; sure – the tail of a hurricane whipped us as it flew past; sure- rain and mizzle (misty drizzle) found us and toyed with us; sure- there’s nothing perfect about camping – and not looking for perfection is a reminder that we don’t need to look for perfection. Life is what it is.

There was an old, abandoned tennis court we tried to play on – grit from the deconstructing ground surface made us skid and slide as we hurtled the little green balls around the semi-fenceless, unloved space. Except we did love it – while we played. There’s something about camping that strips away your preconceptions about how things aught to be. A space for playing in – no matter how unkempt – becomes just that. Somewhere to play.

A space to wash yourself or your dishes becomes a haven- thank goodness we have access to water-from-a-tap. We remember how lucky we are and we feel lucky.

I love how everything has a solution when we’re camping: life simplifies around us.

The children make friends instantly – die hard BFFs – and disappear into the woods. Their laughter rings round the whole field. They find a rope to swing on so they swing on it; though their hands hurt when they hold the stick; though they fall off endless times; though their legs are bruised and scratched; they play on and on. They play with mud and discarded things, they laugh and explore.

I tend house and revel in the simple chores: boil the kettle, make the beds, prepare the food, tidy our space. I sit and look at the sky, the field, the hills, the trees. I hear the kettle bubbling, birds singing, children playing and people talking. I get out my books or magazines or my crosswords or notepaper and read or puzzle or write and sigh – deeply contented.

We climb a hill, over wild flowers and long grass to the summit where the view rolls around us, green and lush. Horses and cattle graze, bees buzz by and we pluck blackberries – ripe and juicy – from the bushes.

Some days, the wind and rain drive us in so we play card games cross-legged on the floor. We loaded a couple of devices with movies before we came and David Bowie croons to us about magic and tears as the Goblin King toys with the stolen babe while Sarah fights her way through dangers untold to the Goblin City.

We pop out to the zoo (see Drusillas) and a beautiful medieval house and garden (see the Clergy House). We visit a fourteenth century pub and the village church, we find the village store and walk along the timber framed street, surrounded by ancient beauty. We stop to admire a dragon figurehead reclaimed from a ship wrecked at the Battle of Beach Head in 1690.

We cross the river Cuckmere and down to a tributary where a pair of swans nestle and a heron flies over our heads. I lower the children from a bridge into the shallow waters of the rivulet and watch them splash and explore, “can we stay here all day?” They ask. Can we stay here forever? I think.

Pack up day comes and my cousin comes to help us end our retreat. We stuff and roll and squeeze our camp-life into bags and load the car for the journey home.

A sadness pervades as we drive away, we’re leaving paradise and we know it. We’ll come back next year we promise each other. We drive through the field, saying goodbye to the rope swing and the haunted tennis court, we say goodbye to the idyllic village as we drive through and out into the farmland beyond.

We are renewed and rejuvenated and pleased to be home where the fridge is cold and the mattresses stay plump. But we are already yearning for a field and a tent and a wide blue sky.

I’m not so sure we can wait till next year…



Castle, Observatory and Science Centre.

I’ve never been inside the castle. The 15th century moated castle houses an international study centre within its walls and you have to time your visit right to gain a peek inside. The gardens are fabulous.

That is where we didn’t go this weekend. We went to the Observatory and Science Centre next door. I last visited there a couple of years ago and a couple of years before that and a couple of years before that. It’s one of those places.. visitable every now and then but pace yourself. Of course, you need children to go there with, relatives or borrowed children count.

I had – been there with other children – and enjoyed their reactions to the hands on experiments. But there’s something so special about seeing your own children light up when they identify a constellation or explore electricity or suddenly understand earthquakes.

There’s a woman in a lone observatory down by the castle who beams light into space to help the satellites figure out where they are in orbit. She can tell where active volcanoes are on earth as the heated air from bubbling lava rises out of the atmosphere and registers on satellite sensors.

There’s a man in the Science Centre who knows an awful lot about space and Isaac Newton and stars and telescopes. He gives a mind blowing tour of the old Greenwich observatories; moved to Sussex after the last war so astronomers could view far off lights without the glare of inner city neon.

There are things to press and squeeze and pick up and spin and build and inspect and learn and I enjoyed every minute. My children enjoyed every minute too.

My husband wonders if he’s too old to learn about the wonders of the universe as seen through a rather large telescope: No, he’s not.

We joined, as members for the year. The cost of a family membership for the year is less than a family day pass to Lego land. In an age where family entertainment, days out and pastimes are often based on deep pockets, it’s a good reminder that our lives are what we make them. Yes, we could spend all our time at family fun parks watching the children whizz around but I prefer to join in with their learning Journeys – the children’s and their dad’s – and mine.

We’re looking forward to spending many more days together there exploring the wonders of science and astronomy.

It dawned on me as my small children grew in heart and mind that we should ignite our children’s love of learning far beyond what is expected of them. It dawned on me again as we watched them soaking up scientific ideas with delight and enthusiasm. They can fuel their own interests – follow their curiosities and genuinely enjoy discovering what the world is about.

Beyond the confines of classroom, beyond imposed restrictions and testable knowledge.

Amid the copper-green domes, lush vegetation, flint brick walls and landscaped paths; within the beautiful Sussex countryside among wood and Field and marsh; there is much to enjoy; much to learn.

As the nights lengthen and evenings arrive earlier and earlier, we’ll be heading down to the Observatory to peer through massive telescopes at the unbound universe.

I for one, can’t wait!

Entertainment, Travel

Danny Baker Live: oh so funny

I am surprising myself Day-by-day lately.

Danny Baker! Who? That bloke from the radio – mates with Chris Evans and Gazza. Talks about football. I supposed I could yawn my way through his live show and daydream about something or other.

My preconceptions were way off.

Friday night. Good Time Charlie’s Back. Decent view from the balcony. I sit back and hope for a few laughs.

Instead, I am drawn into a world of cockney dockers and costers, on a Bermondsey estate in the sixties as a young Danny boy grows up in a strong, loving, hard-working family.

I have never before met such an engaging and authentic story teller. Danny blends fact and fiction into an autobiography of sheer delight and enthusiasm. He paces the stage for the entire show – back and forwards, back and forwards, using photos from his life to prompt each new story – each cherished memory.

The entire audience is attuned to his every word. Danny is mesmerising and fascinating. Seeing the world through his eyes is beyond refreshing. It’s illuminating.

He retells each coincidence, each event in his life and each chance encounter that propelled him forward into each new adventure. And the people in his life who he counts as friends are people we’ve grown up viewing from afar.

Elton John, Roger Daltry, the Sex Pistols, Ian Dury, Michael Jackson.. I’ve barely scratched the surface.

It’s clear throughout his engaging narrative that Danny has spent his entire life enjoying people and them enjoying him.

Was it coincidence that led Danny at the age of 15 to work in One Stop Records and spend his days listening to American imports serving and advising the likes of Jimmy Paige?

Was it coincidence that he co-developed the first punk-rock fanzine with his one time schoolmate and helped raise punk from obscure to cool?

Was it coincidence that from there he wound up writing for NME and travelling round the world from party to concert to party reviewing the freshest music scenes, befriending talented artists?

Was it coincidence that he was selected to star in a tv show about London life and from there become propelled to radio broadcasting?

Danny says the gods were playing with him – giving him a lucky life.

I think that Danny is very probably one of the most engaging, humble and friendly men on the planet and I would defy anyone to witness his live show and not to fall a little in love with this candid raconteur.

I think Danny made his own luck.

Four hours later, I walk bleary-eyed from the theatre and head-full of Danny Baker’s stories, make for Home.

John Lennon? Bumped into him in New York and gained a brief interview.

Paul Weller? You’d never confuse him with a ray of sunshine!

Danny Baker? You have another new fan.

Archaeology, Learning

Plumpton Roman villa: Archaeology in Sussex

It was a teaching day yesterday. I had a glorious day out at Plumpton working on the villa and teaching a new group of people about archaeology. There’s so much joy in teaching, learning and discovery.

It’ll never fail to fascinate me that I can touch with my hand something that hasn’t been touched by anyone else for nearly 2000 years; my fingers can trace the grooves made by the Potter or the tile-maker and finger print to finger print, the years fade away.

There’s a humanness to Archaeology that defies category.

We study the objects that humans made and used and left behind. We learn of people’s cultures and lives and find what’s left of their humanity. And in this fleeting passage of time that constitutes human life, we can pause and reflect on how lives were then and how lives are now and see the changes that time and ingenuity have wrought on humankind.

It’s not all prosaic, this gathering of artefacts and blisters. It’s searching for structures and features in the soil, it’s looking for the echoes of past civilisations in the soil; broken things and rusty things, shiny things and once-loved things. It’s hard, dusty work. It’s digging with trowels and mattocks, shovels, buckets and wheelbarrows. It’s sweating profusely in a 29 degree heatwave while teaching and remembering the joy that brought me here in the first place. The joy that set me on this journey 16 years ago.

In this blistering heat, the desire to feel connected to the past- to learn what has never been learned before – must outweigh the desire for human comfort. We spend the day outside of ourselves, learning how to see the past, how to record these echoes of humanity.

We learn of our own human-ness as we search for traces of past human-ness in the soil. We learn about ourselves and our essential natures.

We suspend our regular pattern of days and set aside our worldly concerns. We are – for a brief and precious time – aware of the importance of human life and we grant ourselves the perspective to view thousands of years of human life – generation upon generation of lives – without fear or pity of our own mortality but with reverence and awe.

There are days in each of our lives that remind us who we are. Yesterday was one of them.


Camembert de Normandie: wars of the cheeses


Will the real Camembert please stand up?
Exhibit A: creamy white rind, soft, creamy centre. Tastes like mushrooms and milk and smells like ripe socks.
Exhibit B: creamy white rind with brown mottles, oozing, unctuous centre. Tastes like truffles and butter and smells like boiled cabbage.
In a line-up, you might be tempted to go for exhibit A, a product made in Normandy and found in supermarkets around the world.
But that’s not the real deal.
Exhibit B: traditional Camembert hand-made with love from raw milk from Normandy cows living in the Normandy countryside, feasting on Normandy flora. Milk hand-ladled into hand-prepared moulds by the loving hands of farmer-producers who love Normandy.
Exhibit A is mass-produced in Normandy with pasteurised milk for the global market. It’s the export cheese, the half-the-price-of-traditional-Camembert cheese.
Exhibit B is locally produced and has export restrictions – some countries don’t allow the import of raw milk cheese with short ripening periods. But Exhibit B has got the glorious AOP award logo stamped on each hand-filled package.
AOP: appellation d’origine protégée which translates as protected designation of origin.
Exhibit B is the traditional, regional cheese that is easily verified and quality-protected.
Except it isn’t. A February 2018 ruling allowed for Camembert made with pasteurised milk to be stamped with the prestigious AOP assignation. By 2021, all cheese made in Normandy with 30% pasteurised milk from Normandy cows will share the same distinction as cheese made with +50% raw milk from Normandy cows. Raw milk Camembert and pasteurised milk Camembert will share the AOP label.
Traditional raw milk producers will be entitled to add a new descriptor of authentic (veritable) to their labels so long as they have used +70% milk from Normandy cows.
What to look for on the packet:

  • AOP (under the new ruling: either Exhibit A or Exhibit B cheese)
  • Au Lait Cru - Raw milk (Exhibit B cheese)
  • La production fermière - Farm production (Exhibit B cheese)
  • moulé à la louche - Hand-ladled (Exhibit B cheese)
  • Traditionnel à la louche - Traditional with ladle (Exhibit B cheese)
  • Camembert de Normandie - Camembert of Normandy (Exhibit B cheese)
  • Camembert fabriqué en Normandie - Camembert made in Normandy (Exhibit A cheese)
  • Veritable Camembert de Normandie - Authentic Camembert of Normandy (Exhibit B cheese)
  • Veritable Moulage - authentic molding (Exhibit B cheese)
  • Maître Fromager - Master Cheesemaker (Exhibit B cheese)
Big Industry producers v. traditional Normandy farmer-producers: The big guys win. They bring big euros and many jobs to the local economy. Traditional farmers fund themselves. Traditionally.

Where do local businesses fit into the global market? Is there space for both local and global economies to flourish in a single market?

Consumer choice counts. Next time you're standing at the cheese counter, spare a thought for the cows, the farmers and producers and the quality of the cheese. Spare a thought for tradition and artisan craftsmanship. Spare a couple more pounds/euros/dollars/whatevers and support traditional cheese makers.


Bayeux Tapestry: one King standing

The Tapestry is coming to England!

So what? That’s old news, we’ve got a copy and what a load of old fuss over an old piece of cloth, right?


We’re talking about a nearly 1000 year old anti-English and pro-French sensational propaganda story. Well, anti-Saxon and pro-Norman. Which is sort of anti-German/Celtic and pro-Norwegian/Danish/Frankish.

Let’s unravel this.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, the fertile British lands were ripe for the plucking. Cue the Jutes, Saxons and Angles. Here they come, sailing in from Denmark and Germany. They settle down the east of England, leaving Wales, western Britain and Scotland to the Celtic Britons.

Meanwhile, over the channel in France, the Vikings conquer the Normandy lands (literally land of the North men/Norse men) and settle there amongst Danes, Franks and Norwegians.

Back in Britain, multiple Kings in multiple Kingdoms with multiple claimants have to deal with invasions and power struggles for the top seats while the ordinary folk get on with the business of farming and building and making and trading.

Eventually the English lands are united under King Egbert and they all live happily ever.. Except for having to fight off the Norwegian and Danish Vikings who want England for themselves.

And just as the Saxon v. Viking fight comes to an end, the Saxon v. Norman fight begins.

Here comes Harold Godwinson, he’s taken the earlship of Wessex from his dear-departed Dad and whoops, the crown of England falls on his head. Doesn’t the golden glow reflect radiantly in his eyes?

Oh no, the Vikings are raiding! Harald Sigurdsson, King of Norway is coming for your throne, Harold King of England. Quick Harold, take your men and March up north to Yorkshire and fight those dastardly invaders. That’s the spirit!

Uh oh. The Normans are invading down south? No! They’ll have your throne in no time, Harold. Quick, get back down there and repel the new invaders!

Exhausted and depleted, Harold’s Saxons arrive in Sussex (land of the South Saxons) and prepare to battle the Norman invaders. Go on boys, give it your best.

We remember it as the 1066 Battle of Hastings. Which wasn’t in Hastings but Battle. Or was it?

Those new invaders, led by Guillaume le Conquérant (William the Conqueror) have sailed over from Caen in Normandy and landed in Sussex at Pevensey, spoiling for a fight. William has been promised the English throne by the late King of England and he really wants to claim his prize.

So there are the players – Saxons and Normans – fighting for Kingship in battlefield format.


Harold goes down, William is triumphant and there begins the Norman reign in England.

  1. A group of lovely lady nuns with a bundle of cloth and a few needles and pins and lengths of thread start sewing the story for posterity. They’ve been commissioned by Bishop Odo. Odo of Bayeux. William’s brother. I wonder what story they’re going to tell? Ah yes – the story of conquest and triumph that shows just how wonderful William is and just how dead Harold is.
  2. Or they didn’t.. perhaps Matilda, wife of William made the tapestry out of affection for the fallen Harold.
  3. Or she didn’t.. perhaps Harold’s sister, the late King of England’s wife, made the tapestry in memory of her husband and brother. Isn’t it intriguing that we don’t quite know?!

That 70 metre long tapestry is currently on display in Bayeux.

The Tapestry travelled to Paris with Napoleon as he prepared to invade Britain (a conquerors talisman) but Emperor Bonaparte decided not to invade after all. The Tapestry was returned to Bayeux.

During the Second World War, the Tapestry was seized by Nazi Germans but incredibly returned to Bayeux after the war.

Despite several requests from England, the tapestry has never returned to grace our shores. Until now.. well until 2022.

  • Where will the tapestry be displayed?
  • How will it be packaged for the journey?
  • How will it be couriered?
  • Who will travel with it?
  • How long will the tapestry be in England?
  • What does the loan signify for Anglo-French relations?
  • What will the British people make of the UNESCO’s Memory of the World registered artefact?

In this divided world of hotly-contested political and national borders; in this current climate of division and separation, the significance of this loan has all the promise of a feudal handshake. Unity in common history.

As an 11th century historian declared in Miracles of Saint Wulfrum, the convergence of Norwegians, Danes and Franks in 10th century Normandy, marked “a shaping (of) all (the) races into one single people.”

Underneath our birth Nationalities, we’re all the same. Survivors of conquest.

Can a centuries-old comic strip of battle forge new relations in national friendship?


A A Milne and a glimpse of the Somme

I’ve been putting it off for a while – watching the Goodbye Christopher Robin film.  Grown-ups don’t need Winnie the Pooh in their lives, do they?

It’s the first day of the Summer hols and the children are exhausted.  The rain finally came after 52 dry days and a sweltering heatwave.  The end-of-term-pressure is easing and what better way to celebrate than plan some amazing holiday activities and watch a movie while the kids explore their out-of-school-freedom?  Exactly.

Goodbye Christopher Robin.

  • A telegram, terrible news and a flashback in time.
  • A uniformed A A Milne, muddy and bewildered on a battlefield.
  • A shell-shocked Milne back from the Somme and tortured by his experiences, haunted by the horrors of slaughter.
  • High society, a beautiful wife, a successful playwright.
  • Each flash of light and each sudden sound triggers flashbacks to battle.

This is not a pretty walking-carefree-through-the-woods story and I’m all in.  The birth of Christopher Robin petrifies his parents and they withhold their affections from him – until a chance set of circumstances pushes father and son AA and CR Milne (Billy Moon) together for a delightful fortnight in which they bond for the first time.  A fortnight that births Winnie-the-Pooh and his adventures in the hundred acre woods.  A fortnight that condemns a young boy to a life of fame and misery.

Any more plot-reveal would be pure spoiler-territory.  Suffice to say, this is a beautiful, heart-rending wake-up-call of a movie.

“The war-to-end-all-wars” they called that first war of the world.  But the generation of boys who survived that first world war, returned home to raise another generation who they’d send off to fight in the next “war-to-end-all-wars”.  All that horror, all that loss, all that heartache.  All those broken people.  And a tale of a bumbling bear, a piglet, a tigger, a sad donkey, a kanga and her roo in a hundred-acre wood.

A tale to lift the hearts of a wounded world and return innocence to life.

There’s more to Winnie-the-Pooh than I ever knew and perhaps I do need a little Milne magic in my life.