Occasionally I feel the pull, and take myself for a few hours to Charleston. It’s one of my happy places. Nestled in the gentle undulations of the south Downs it feels a world away from ordinary life. A haven, once you have escaped the non-stop traffic of the A27. It feels civilised, romantic and calm. I walk the gardens, sometimes take a tour of the house, wander around the lake, imagining all the people who comprised the Bloomsbury group and the conversations they must have had in their own meanderings around the grounds. I love to walk up into the Downs and enjoy watching the changing cloud formations as they inform and influence the light and contours of the hills.
Yesterday there was an event there, a short story book festival, a marquee selling books and the cafe had relocated to the marquee. My son, 13, who was not at all impressed by my insistence that he love Charleston as much as I, informed me that ‘this is not the sort of place a thirteen year old kid likes.’ I said I understood, but told him to look at the way the ivy clung to the old brick wall, or the way the clouds and sunshine light up the Downs, or to look at the dahlias; their intense reds and oranges made all the more brilliant by the back drop of the grey louring sky. He was even more unimpressed, and pulled his hoodie over his head, but he cheered up when I bought him a hot chocolate, a brownie and some butternut squash soup.
It occurred to me that we may not have intense light in England in the way that Spain does, but we have a way with light. We learn to use light in the darkness. Highlighting statues with gentle spotlights, or using light as interventions in nature with fairy lights or votive candles thoughtfully placed..