My cousin, his husband and their gorgeous little girl Billie recently took up residence in their new home. Darren and I were delighted to receive an invitation to stay for the weekend – setting out after work on a Friday evening to brave the M40 and arriving to settle into a wonderful few days. I’d just started my new job, as the Content & Copywriting Executive for three delightful brands and we were ready to celebrate all of these little happiness-es in the company of friends. New beginnings are certainly worth sharing.
When you’ve travelled a little after a long day, there’s nothing quite so nice as a bed that’s already been made for you – something for which we were both especially grateful. We nested in the attic room, which had a safari feel – the copper lantern in one of the corners had been used to house Mark and Dickie’s wedding cake at Bishopsthrow House & Spa. There’s something very magical about sloping ceilings and roof windows, especially with the patter of the rain.
It started with a breakfast of Paddington proportions – Mark had thoughtfully laid out market cut marmalade and jams with those lovely bijou chequered tops. There were plenty of rounds of toast and we breakfasted overlooking the garden. Whilst Mark busied himself with a bit of the day-to-day, Darren and I took turns finding Billie in her den, with much pantomime, as she hid behind the blanket door and, inexplicably, disappeared into thin air. The delight on her face and gleeful little laugh when, at last, we did find her was such a joy. I think she had been quite eager for us to finish breakfast in a hurry.
— I should add that Dickie was putting in long hours rehearsing for a production of Peter Pan in London, the first performance of which had been set for the coming Monday. Happily, we’d enjoy time with him on the Sunday. I was very pleased to hear that he’d be understudying Mr Darling – a role that I feel suits him down to the bone. He also told us how, originally, Barrie had toyed with the idea of casting Mrs Darling as Captain Hook; something that much aligns with Peter’s dismissal of mothers. I hadn’t known this, so, it was exciting to learn that in this particular production, the role would indeed be taken on by the very same Mrs Darling (sorry Dickie, no twirly moustache for you this time). I could go off on a tangent into this concept historically at the drop of a captain’s hat, but, as this is more a diary entry of our stay, we’ll save that tantalising prospect for a later blog.
For the Saturday, Mark took us into Rochester with the express purpose to visit Eastgate House. I couldn’t quite contain myself when I found out about the town’s connection to Charles Dickens, immediately clocking at least three spots so named after the aforementioned. Later research would uncover that this town celebrates a Dickensian festival annually – something well-worth rejoicing. Tripping down the cobbled streets with bunting overhead, the town had such a holiday feel – with lots of boutiques to dip in and out of en route to Eastgate House. The weather decided to turn wildly sunny, so, I made the most of the sales to pick out a little polka dot number that proved lovely and cool to wear. Before that, I’d been wearing a light jumper – more fool me!
The Friends of Eastgate House produced a really good programme, detailing the history of the house and its occupants. As for the credentials, the property is a 16th-17th century town house on the historic High Street. I’d say that Eastgate House is particularly noteworthy for the restoration of its original features and decorative schemes, with one room boasting the original wall painting – something that was rather special to see.
Mark had chosen Eastgate House for its current exhibition, “Something Old, Something New” – running until Sunday the 29th September, 2019, one that thoughtfully (and fortuitously) was of particular interest to myself, as I’m getting married on the 20th June, 2020. Assembled, was a small display of wedding paraphernalia from days gone by – along with a little of the social history of weddings. It was here that I learnt of the practise of throwing grain for fecundity, a tradition that started in Roman times, transforming into the confetti that we know today.
At the top of the building, there’s a school room with various classroom paraphernalia from the house’s time as a Victorian boarding school. I was charmed by a gorgeous portrait of Ann Pratt, alumni and one of the most revered botanical illustrators of Victorian England. I don’t know what it is, but I’m always drawn to portraits like this one – the pale skin, dark hair and fantastical white gowns. You could call it an affinity really.
A peek through the window and we were able to spy something of a surprise – the Swiss Chalet belonging to a certain Charles Dickens. A gingerbread alpine confection, I hadn’t expected to see such a sight in the gardens of Eastgate House. I was even more surprised to uncover that this was an early flat pack – having been delivered to Dickens at Higham Railway Station and arriving in 58 boxes. Actor friend, Charles Fechter, clearly had a touch of the dramatic about him – sending the chalet as a gift to Dickens, for the author to unbox on Christmas Eve in 1864. What a sight that must have been! Once duly assembled, it was in this adult-sized dollhouse that Charles would pen some of his novels, overlooking the River Thames.
We stopped by the suitably Dickensian Tiny Tim’s for lunch – whereupon I gave into a week’s long craving for a proper scone, jam and clotted cream. Earlier that day, mum had mentioned how herself and grandma would be going to church for an afternoon tea – something that only strengthened my resolve to do the same in Rochester (I’m awfully impressionable). Happily, the scone was large, there wasn’t a currant in sight and it went down a treat during noon in the sunshine.
On the Sunday, Myself, Billie and the boys motored down to the seaside town of Whitstable for a pier front wander. Slowly, we made our way down to the sea, stopping by some lovely stores in town and for a bite to eat. I managed to find a lovely shop selling ceramics by a local artist – so of course I picked up a bowl for our display cabinet back home. I think that when you visit somewhere new, it’s important to try and find a little souvenir – all the better if you’re able to benefit the local independents and creatives. I read an article about this in an edition of The Simple Things magazine and am a firm believer in the powers of surrounding yourself with those objects that spark meaningful joy.
The sea front had such a festive atmosphere, with a crafts market and lots of stalls selling oysters and the like. We spent the best part of a day here, finishing with an ice cream and rest on the pebbled beach – watching Billie at play in the water, having a grand old time. Darren, pro that he is, took the opportunity to skip stones – a feat that he was highly successful at! As I felt the smooth stones beneath my feet, I closed my eyes for a moment, let the sun wash over my face and took stock of the weekend with a heart filled with gratitude for the quiet pauses and pleasures that allow us to find our bliss.