United we drink, together we fall over (I know that’s not how the saying goes)

The story of how my village saved our pub.

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Half Moon main image

 

“Yay Balcombe!! We did it!!!” shouts a sign about three-times as tall as me, which emblazons the side of the Half Moon Inn in Balcombe (in a questionable font, but that’s by-the-by, and is not something that really matters to 99.9% of the population, who don’t work in publishing. Also …use of exclamation marks. Camaaaan. Whoever printed it was clearly very excited, so I’ll let it slide.)

So what we did, was to save our local pub from being sold. ‘We’ being over 250 investors (of which I am not actually one – soz. I am impoverished on account of owning a horse), who raised over £270,000 to purchase, do up and re-open the village pub.

That in itself is pretty cool. £270,000! (Appropriate use of exclamation mark alert). And after much head-scratching and searching for the right tenant, they (the committee in charge of the afore-mentioned campaign), re-opened it last week. (For the unabridged version, click here.)

Balcombe Community Pub logo

It looks bright, it looks modern, it looks clean, and – most importantly – it was full of people over the opening weekend. And I loved it.

I have really missed the pub. You can’t beat a pub. I’m genuinely delighted to have it back.

But how long will the village – and those beyond – support it for?

The campaign was amazing, hard-fought, truly impressive. But it was not without its nay-sayers. (This is Britain, after all, and we love to nay-say …is that a thing? To nay-say?)

There were impassioned speeches, there were calls to arms, meetings, posters, newspaper articles, and yes, even tears (not mine, for once).

But there were also mutterings about locals only supporting it because it would affect their house prices if it wasn’t there.

Some asked the question, ‘who were these generous benefactors, who never used the pub as a resource before and probably wouldn’t again?’

There were even some who just chipped in with the curmudgeonly, “it’ll never work” – very constructive. (Also quite Victor Meldrew – Eighties reference anyone?)

To them I say, does it really matter if those hundreds of people don’t use the pub? Of couuuurse the more that do the better, (and it must definitely hold its own as a viable, and hopefully successful, business), but would it not just be nice to be extremely grateful for their very generous contributions to the cause?

And to the Victor Meldrews I say, guess what? It did work. And will continue to work for as long as the village continues to do what it does best – stick together.

Yes, please do come and support the pub, come for a drink, for a snack, for lunch, supper. Or, if that’s not your bag, don’t – but don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it, and don’t begrudge what even the most-hardened critics must confess to be a huge, phenomenal, fantastic achievement, that will only serve to benefit the village.

Now let’s all get drunk and fall over.
(Do I have to say ‘please drink responsibly’ after that? Surely not.)

Area-around-Half-Moon-Inn-sm

That’s a bitta history, right there, and we saved it. 

Being British, the naked truth

Polo, rain and a streaker: why bare bottoms never lose their appeal.

Streaker best oneThe streaker at the Jaeger-LeCoultre Gold Cup Final. Brilliant.

There are a few times recently when I have found myself thinking, ‘God isn’t it brilliant to be British?’

Manchester and Borough Market – no explanations needed as to the events, but I felt genuinely proud of the nation’s reaction – our refusal to be cowed or scared, our resilience. I loved the way that we stood together, and I was heartened to hear that people offered food, accommodation and support to absolute strangers in the immediate aftermath. It was Dunkirk spirit at its best. You go Britain.

But I also love the hilarious idiosyncrasies and bizarre national traits that give us an international reputation for being slightly eccentric, off the wall, bonkers.

And I especially love Britain’s collective sense of humour – our dry wit, love of caustic satire and also toilet humour. (I hate the word toilet. It is absolutely abhorrent. I would honestly rather someone said they were going to the sh*tter than the toilet. Seriously.
I am very sorry for saying it, three times. But that is the given name of the genre of humour to which I refer, so it was unavoidable really. Sorry. Bleugh.)

Moving on …last week I was lucky enough to attend the Jaeger-LeCoultre Gold Cup Final at Cowdray Park. It was amazing, but not for the reasons I expected.

KellyMy friend (on the left) – not haggard.

I was there with a very old friend. (To clarify, she is not withered or haggard, I have just known her for a long time). But upon arrival the heavens opened. It rained cats, dogs, mice, rhinos, elephants – you get the picture, it rained.

Luckily, we are British, and as such the afore-mentioned Dunkirk spirit is part of our genetic make-up. We will not be put off by the weather, we will carry on as planned, and we will stoically smile through the entire thing, even if we’re in the process of developing pneumonia.

On this occasion it was far from that dramatic luckily – we stayed in the VW Polo while it bucketed down outside and had a car picnic that consisted of sandwiches and slightly tepid prosecco (we know how to live). We concluded that our feet were dampened but our spirits were not – I swapped dainty pumps for trusty Chameaus and we were off.

For the uninitiated, polo is just as civilised as you might expect – there were ice buckets, elaborate picnics and tweed capes at every turn. There was even a spitfire display before the game. Oh and seriously good dogs …the calibre of dog on display was exceptionally high – from small sausages and tyrannical terriers to elegant lurchers and an excellent stamp of Labrador.

Excellent dogAn excellent dog at the polo in what I believe to be a cashmere jumper – well, why not?

The standard of polo itself was breathtaking. I do not purport to know much about the sport but the horsemanship, speed and agility of both teams and their ponies was truly amazing.

One team (El Remanso) was made up of Brits, including the England Captain, James Beim, and the other (King Power Foxes) was Argentine-dominated. The Argies took the title in the end but it was brilliantly close-fought.

Particular mention should go to young gun Jimbo Fewster – the one goal English player was on the winning team, scored three goals and picked up the most valuable player (MVP) award. He was amazing. I bet he’s still smiling now.

Polo 2The Jaeger Le-Coultre Gold Cup Final in action.

But my personal MVP award goes to the skinny-legged streaker (SLS – pictured above). SLS made his appearance in-between chukkas from the Midhurst end, running down the pitch stark bollock naked, hotly pursued by security. He even managed to give a cheeky lean-over-and-pat-of-bottom-cheeks to the 12,500 people in the stands en route. What a bloody legend.

I dealt with it in my usual calm and measured manner. I spotted him emerging from the crowds early on and cut across the muted polite chatter of the members enclosure by bellowing: “THERE’S A STREEEEEEEAKKKKKKERRRRR. YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAYYYYYYYYYYY!”

The commentator got in the spirit too and declared over the tannoy: “I’d say by the looks of it, it’s a little chilly out there.” Lol. As he also rightly said, SLS hadn’t really thought it through and got to the other end only to look a little sheepish and slope off bare-bottomed. Hilarious.

We hope it was a dare and he got bought LOTS of drinks for doing it. Naked bottoms are funny. Streakers are funny. That was absolutely brilliant. Good work Britain.

His crown jewels were the crowning glory of a simply sparkling day.

My fête is sealed (not a spelling mistake)

The brilliant but slightly bonkers village fête, and how a local celebrity got it very wrong.

Balcombe Village Fete 2017

I was told by a celebrity-who-shall-remain-nameless-but-lives-nearby that they visited our village fête two years ago and that it was “sad and shabby …not fulfilling its potential”. (She actually said more unkind things than that, but I don’t feel there is anything to be gained in repeating them.)

Having lent a peripheral hand at this same “disastrous” event for two years now,  I can safely concur that the nameless celebrity may well be famous, stylish, lauded even, but she is also so very far from correct on this matter.

Sure, it isn’t all Cath Kidston gingham and Liberty of London prints (which are both things I love, by the way) – it isn’t smart, it isn’t chi-chi, and – truthfully – in parts it is a bit rough around the edges. But that is what makes it so wonderfully brilliant, so rural, so rustic, so bonkers, so British.

The fête as a notion is hilarious  – the tombola, the hounds, the ponies, the tug-of-war, the terrier racing, the dog show, the fiercely-fought floral competitions and cake contests. And if you’re at our fête, there’s a brilliant bar and a live band, run by another charitable group, the Christmas Tree Society, which raises funds for local people through a medium most enjoy – alcohol!

It is more Vicar of Dibley than All Saints, far more Farmer Wants a Wife than Footballers’ Wives – and I personally much prefer it that way – and so, I would proffer, does the village.

But more importantly, it is also the result of a lot of hard work from a lot of very well-meaning and kind people, who care very much about raising money for the village, and for the people who live in it. And what, I want to know, is so very wrong with that?

They may be stuck in their ways, and those ways might in some cases be fairly eccentric, but that is the most unkind thing I can bring myself to say, because as anyone who is involved in a local event such as this knows, it is an awful lot of hard work.

It takes a lot of planning, a lot of equipment, a lot of funds, a lot of goodwill, and a lot of people’s time, which they willingly give for free. To them I say thank you, on behalf of the whole village, because these events simply couldn’t run without these people, and for that I happen to think they are brilliant.

Balcombe Fete 2016

As an aside…
What is it that makes people be mean? BTW this is not me crying into my pillow and cursing the world in the manner of a surly teen who has just realised that life isn’t always that fair …but it is me having encountered a few mean people in a short space of time, and you really have got to wonder what motivates them.

Obviously it goes without saying that I am also mean sometimes, although in my case it’s more thoughtless actually. I can be very thoughtless, and plough into a conversation/situation without thinking and then regret what I have said or done.
That happens.

But we all are a little mean sometimes …all except my very good friend Melanie, in fact. I have known her nearly all my life and I have never once known her to be mean …not once. She’s like an angel walking among us. Always smiling, always kind. I often think I should take a leaf out of her book and be nicer to everyone, but alas I am not an angel and I get cross and grumpy and irrational, just like everyone else that isn’t Melanie. At least I have her in close proximity to me so that I have something to aspire to. I won’t ever be like her, but I am happy to continue to try …up to a point.

(That’s her right there, pictured below. She doesn’t go around dressed as an angel btw, that was her wedding day …it’s a happy coincidence that her outfit matches my blog. Although if I asked her to dress as an angel for my blog she probably would …because that’s just how nice she is.)

Melanie 2

 

 

Even superstars get nervous

A brush with equestrian royalty …and how not to watch a showjumping class.

Hickstead Derby bank

Sunday brought about an unintentional brush with equestrian royalty, when I was sitting in the stands watching the 2017 Al Shira’aa Hickstead Derby. (That’s showjumping to the uninitiated, and involves a descent down a gargantuan grass bank…see above.)

Oh my god I’ve just looked up the height of the bank – Wikipedia (that ever-reliable source…) says the drop is 10ft 6in – that’s 3.20m! They must be mad.

So in conclusion it’s not for the faint hearted. And in a stroke of luck this internationally-renowned spectacle is local to me.

But aside from extolling the event’s virtues, this year’s Derby class was a fantastic one to watch, with thrills and spills a-plenty in the first half, and a gripping competition in the second, which saw Nigel Coupe and Golvers Hill (pleasingly known as Ricky at home, and pictured above), narrowly claim the title from fellow GB rider Harriet Nuttall.

The really exciting part though was not watching the crazy showjumpers (and one eventer – go Elizabeth Power!) tackle the legendary Derby course, but my brush with actual equestrian legend Michael Whitaker.

I was sitting with friends, gripped by the action, when a lady asked if she could sit in the spare seat next to me. Obvs I said yes. And I sort of noticed her Yorkshire accent in between gasping, clapping and occasionally weeping (for that is what I do when I watch equestrian sports, strange but true. Totes over-emosh.)

Now everyone’s an expert from the comfort of their sofa/seat, including me. Except it should be said that my exclamations-to-self are probs a bit louder than everyone else’s, as is my inimitable style. (Irritating but also inevitable).

Armchair expert

So I was giving my (ignorant) opinion on what was happening in the ring, and exclaiming that a rider had lost a stirrup, loudly informing all those around me of this, (in spite of the fact that we all had the same view and they could see just as well as me).

Then the Yorkshire lady (who I now know is called Melissa) quietly told me that his martingale had in fact come undone, which it had.

My friends and I were then discussing (too loudly in my case) why so many horses were balking at the white wall of the road jump, just before the afore-mentioned bank of doom. We concluded perhaps the light was glaring off it, there was something distracting in the crowd, or they were napping past the entrance.

Melissa quietly came to the fore again and said that a lot of this year’s entrants hadn’t jumped a derby course before, and that the fence had appeared in the Derby Trial class (which Michael won), but not the Speed Derby – so some horses had jumped it before but most hadn’t. (The facts might be the other way around there…as I mentioned I never let a lack of solid facts get in the way of a good yarn).

I thanked her and asked if she was involved in the sport, as she seemed to know what she was talking about. She told me she was Michael Whitaker’s wife, (cringe) and I then realised he was sitting in the seat behind her, (cringe again) probably cursing inwardly at my ignorance. C’est la vie!

Michael Whitaker

In truth I think thankfully he was too focussed on the action to listen to my drivel. So when he went to the loo (which I noted he did a few times), I asked her if he or she ever got nervous. She said they both did, but she tried not to show it. She seemed lovely.

When he returned I could see that his hand wasn’t as steady as it might be, holding the programme, and I found this strangely reassuring. I compete my horse at a far inferior level, but there’s something comforting about knowing that even superstars like Michael Whitaker get nervous.

I also enjoyed his brusque Yorkshire commentary on proceedings…having actually realised he was there. He is a man of few words, and the ones he does utter are fairly difficult to understand for a softie southerner like myself. I wouldn’t like to betray his views on the other riders, but let it be known that he has an excellent sense of humour.

Michael unfortunately retired his horse Gentlemen VH Veldhof (pictured above) half way around the course, but even I could see this had nothing to do with nerves.

I later saw him interviewed on Hickstead TV by Daisy Bunn off-of the Bunn family, what-own Hickstead – he was there with about six members of his family, who together form something of a showjumping dynasty.

So it turns out the whole family do the gruff Yorkshire grunting thing. It’s hereditary. They seemed like a cheerful bunch though, which I was able to ascertain only from their expressions, as god only knows what they were saying.

As an aside, Harriet Nuttall, who jumped off against Nigel in a nail-biting finish, gave her horse a fantastic ride, and I wasn’t alone in the stands in feeling slightly miffed that she didn’t win, despite having the fastest clear in the first round. But them’s the rules and Nigel was certainly a worthy winner – and a GB one at that.

I’d like to pretend that this experience has taught me a valuable life lesson and I will keep my views to myself in future. But tbh that’s not happening any time soon. Soz.

Wildlife, but not as we know it

The day I saw a hedgehog and also tried to be cool and listen to grime music at a festival – it did NOT work

Wildlife blog

 

I saw a hedgehog last week – the first I have seen in ages, I think years in fact. They’ve been suffering from a case of too many badgers or roads, depending on who you speak to. Anyway this one seemed in rude health, and did an excellent job of demonstrating her roll-in-a-ball capabilities when sniffed enthusiastically by my ever-inquisitive horse. (No horses or hedgehogs were harmed in the making of this blog.)

In my head she was a female, named something suitably Tiggywinkle-esque and adorable like Esme or Mildred. But I have less than no hedgehog knowledge, so she was probably a he and called something oikish like Ricky or Wayne.

(Apologies to anyone named Ricky or Wayne – please blame Eastenders for my outlandish stereotyping. I’ve just guiltily looked up their origins, and as Ricky is short for Richard it actually means ‘powerful, strong ruler’. Wayne, somewhat more amusingly, comes from an occupational surname meaning ‘wagon maker’. Lol.)

That same evening I encountered a rather different sort of beast, when I went to Wildlife festival at Brighton Airport. At least that’s what it says on the tickets…it isn’t in Brighton, it’s in Shoreham – I think it says Brighton so that it sounds cooler. (Soz Shoreham, but Brighton does sound a bit cooler. Just saying.)

My compadre (she who is blonde of hair and mischievous of eye, pictured above), is a big fan of George Ezra – mildly loopy on the subject in truth. We managed to get ourselves right to the front and sing/shout/dance our hearts out while he sang. This was excellent.

But Wildlife plays all manner of music, and we quite fancied watching an act called Giggs. We had heard him on Radio 1 and thought he was quite cool. That’s actually a total lie – I’d never even heard of him but the afore-mentioned blonde pixie had. Anyway his genre is grime. Which I quite like. Sort of. A bit. Not loads though – it’s a bit shouty.

The crowd that had assembled to watch this fellow were defo wagon makers, if you know whadda mean. They were forming mosh pits and having actual fights. We were mildly terrified and had to make a run for it pretty sharpish. And THEN while we were in the process of beating a hasty retreat, one of the b*stard makers of wagons shouted at me to ask why I had brought my mum! By which he meant my blonde of hair, mischevious of eye, George Ezra-loving friend. Outrageous! And SO rude!

Shortly afterwards I thought of loads of hilarious and witty things to say back to him, but by that time we were sipping decidedly tepid prosecco from a jug in the VIP area. (Yes prosecco, yes a bit warm, yes in a jug, because we weren’t allowed to have glass for security reasons. Zut alors.)

I hope he fell over and grazed his knee. Because that really hurts.

Luckily the evening took a MUCH better turn when both the future Mrs Ezra and I managed to get ourselves right to the front and on two willing donor’s shoulders for the closing act, local hero Fat Boy Slim. (By local I mean Brighton, not Shoreham!)

He was INCREDIBLE. Day made. Actually it was already made by Esme/Mildred and then George…but then Norman (for that is Fat Boy Slim’s real name). While I’m still on the website I can tell you that Norman means ‘northman’, referring to a Viking. I’d go on a longboat with him any day.

On the bounce

When you reach your thirties, it is probably time to admit that you shouldn’t bounce on trampolines anymore. I say this because I nearly ended up in a bucket of dog poo yesterday, I kid you not.

Trampoline blog

 

Tigger I am not. The wonderful thing about Tiggers, is he’s the only one. A.A. Milne’s subtext was clearly don’t try and be Tigger – don’t try and bounce when it is not in your nature to do so.

I wasn’t even forced, I did it by choice – even though I have seen the ten million videos on You’ve Been Framed that demonstrate with undeniable clarity that trampolines are in fact death traps.

I was lured in by two small people, who are both nimble, vivacious and streamlined. …although when I say lured, I very much doubt they foresaw the near-disastrous consequences of their actions. I should have stuck to hide and seek (which we did also play later and I much preferred it).

(NB. That’s not me being PC about two people with dwarfism when I say small people, for they are of an age where they can accurately be described as children as opposed to teenagers, and ergo are genuinely small.)

As a precursor I should also say that I had consumed two glasses of prosecco before making the wise decision to jump up and down like the youthful sprite that I am not. The moral of the story is don’t drink and bounce. In fact don’t bounce at all.

Anyway the inevitable happened… I jumped, they jumped. We were trying to time our bouncing to co-ordinate with each other, as you do, but didn’t quite manage it – they bounced in tandem, I bounced rather higher in the air than I intended, it happened again… and again… and then I bounced straight over backwards off the tramp-of-death and into a heap on the grass below, with an inexplicable high pitched shriek of “oh cripes!”

Who says cripes these days? It’s a bit Enid Blyton… In my defence I think I was trying not to swear.

I emerged relatively unscathed, but it was only when finding my feet and scrambling straight back up on to the tramp-of-death (to save face and avoid looking like a wuss in front of the children, heaven forbid), that one of the aforementioned lithe sprites pointed out that I had almost landed in the bucket of dog poo, where all the dog poo in the garden is gathered, presumably before being disposed of elsewhere.

So, just for clarity, I would like to reiterate that I very nearly landed upside down in a bucket of dog poo yesterday.

Oh and also no-one managed to film it so we won’t even get £250 from You’ve Been Framed. But on the upside my ‘friend’ and mother to the sprites did manage to take a photo (whilst chuckling with unadulterated glee) mere moments before my (quite literal) fall from grace …the shame.

Babe: Pig in the City

This doesn’t feature any actual pigs.
It does feature jumping on furniture and bum cheeks.

Best view

 

More familiar with green fields than Green Park, I was feeling something akin to Babe: Pig in the City as I approached the London Hilton on Park Lane. (My friends have been known to call me this – not because I am a glamorously tailored city-break-weekender-type, but because I am a provincial porcine and often get lost in London.)

Anyway, we (Eoin and I) didn’t get lost and were there to do a review of the hotel and its Michelin-starred restaurant, Galvin at Windows (tough gig, I know). But bear with, it’s not all bling and blinis.

The lavish lobby area bought to mind the hotel’s 1960s heritage, but appazers this look is now coming back into fashion (obviously I knew that and didn’t have to be told by someone at the reception).

Park Lane suite

So the room, which was on the 19th floor, was amazing  (that is the actual room, and the one above it is the actual view). Like, totally bonkers amazing, and so glam it was reminiscent of something off-of Pretty Woman (without the prostitution element, I would like to swiftly add, just for clarity).

It had its own walk-in wardrobe, lounge area, balcony, huge bathroom etc etc… But the thing that first caught my eye, was when I went for a wee upon arrival, (because the whole thing was so mega exciting and I had to hold it all the way from Sussex because I didn’t want to go on the train). As you take your seat upon the royal throne amidst the unnervingly spacious marble and gold bathroom, you have within your grasp the loo roll (good, essential), the bidet (slightly less essential but some people like that sort of thing), the phone and a drinks holder.

Who makes calls on the loo? Is it in case you get into a degree of difficulty? Or is it for those who need to be in constant contact with their friends-and-relations, like Rabbit from Winnie the Pooh? (Unintentional stool reference.)

And also… if you’re going in for a brief visit, perhaps leave your drink elsewhere? Or if you’re really settling in and familiarising yourself with the loo area (ahem), possibly you don’t want your drink to be so near to…proceedings? I may well be overthinking this.

Anyway like the grown-ups we are we jumped on all the furniture and it was all pleasingly squidgy.

I won’t bore through all the courses at the restaurant (which was on the 28th floor and had insane views over London.) But rest assured that not only was the food and wine out of this world, but the service was what could accurately be described as totes amaze. (They probs didn’t write that in the Michelin Guide, but maybe they shoulda.)

It then transpired the hotel has its own club – Drama at Mayfair. This wasn’t strictly part of the review or in fact the freebie deal. But like the well-seasoned blagger I am I got us in (I think entry was £20 each and porcines aren’t that well paid).

It was just like something in a film, whereby all the girls hadn’t eaten in at least a month and had more protruding cheekbone and bum cheek on show than I feel is strictly necessary. And all the men were wearing bling and drinking champagne out of buckets with what looked like dry ice inside them. Also everything was very dark. I think I’m starting to sound a bit Saga Holiday/Stannah Stairlift here.

Anyway I imagine I was supposed to think it was super cool and swanky and exclusive, but in true Pig in the City style I got almost instantly lost whilst trying to find the loo, (which ironically took the shine off it, even though every surface was very shiny).

I had to retrace my steps at least twice before I managed to get myself out. (It was a bit like when Winnie the Pooh and Piglet go looking for woozles – if that reference means nothing to you, you’ve clearly never tried to re-enact it in a wood with your sisters and two Labradors.)

My review reads a little less loo and Winnie the Pooh than this, but the crux is the same: hotel amaze, restaurant amaze, club – probs ideal for someone a bit cooler than me, who likes shiny things, cheekbones and bum cheeks.