Wound up the Christmas break with a weekend in Brighton visiting Julie, who was my best mate when I was at University many moons ago. She lives in a cluttered flat with big south facing windows, high enough up to see the sea and commutes up to town every day to work at the Beeb. It's a fantastically quick journey down from Twickenham, change at Clapham Junction and it's only just over an hour to the sea!
It was a lazy weekend of catching up and eating too much (Julie has spent a major part of her life making bucket loads of leek and potato soup and baking anything that might rise in the oven.) We also headed off for short but bracing walks along the front, to the farmer's market in Hove and then on Sunday out on a Bloomsbury quest to Virginia Woolf's old house in Rodmell, Charleston Farm house, and Berwick Church to see the murals that Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant painted during the war.
They're a luminous almost Mediterranean find in a tiny English village church, and it struck me that it must have been a brave act by the vicar to encourage these bohemian atheists in to paint in the first place, but the work is at once patriotic and galvanising for a rural community; and in this part of Sussex the threat of sudden invasion was very real for most of the war. The nativity is clearly laid out in a stable in front of Firle Beacon, attended by Sussex shepherds and Vanessa's own children; whilst at the feet of the ascending Christ on the East wall, kneel servicemen from each of the armed forces, and local clergy.
My favourite touches are on the four panels of the doors leading up to the altar, circular seasonal images of the agricultural year from Spring through to Winter. The comforting ritual of sowing, waiting and gathering in the harvest before the frosts. Above them is another panel picturing a mill pond under both a hazy sun and a bright, sea silvered full moon. The Sussex Downs are really a wonderful, peaceful place. A great way to end the holiday.