Friday, July23, 2010:
The weather was fine again yesterday when we drove through Sussex and Kent to Rochester. A nice but somewhat long ride of two and a half hours. I was happy to get out never feeling too well on coaches. I sat next to an elderly but lively lady from California who greatly enjoys her wine and a good talk, though her ideas about Dickens seem a little puritan to me. She told me her husband died of a heart attack while working on the Hubble telescope.
Dickens' World is a nice attraction for children on a school trip but I felt myself a bit too grown up for it. I did enjoy myself however at The Six Jolly Old Porters before lunch: a buffet we would regard as just appetizers in Holland. There were no knives and forks provided which I thought rather messy and quite unhygienic. Yet I ate a fair bit to avoid travelling back in the coach on an empty stomach. There was some good red wine though, to the enjoyment of the lady from California and myself.
Gad's Hill Place was more interesting. I didn't know there's a school in it now. The headmaster could be straight from one of Dickens's books should we judge him by half the alphabet behind his name. He wasn't present, perhaps to avoid an unpleasant comparison with one of the angry, cruel and intellectually not very impressive schoolmasters that crowd the works of Dickens. There were still some remnants from the days of Dickens like the famous decorations on the stairs and the study which is now the headmaster's office. Much has been done to preserve something of the atmosphere of the days when Dickens was living in the house. The school will move out of the place in two years time, we were told, and there seem to be plans to turn it into a museum. We were taken around by a very attractive young lady in charge of the school's public relations who did a very good job.
Returning to Eastbourne we had a pleasant dinner at the Chatsworth followed by a spectacular performance by Gerald Dickens, the actor who read from the works of his great grandfather exactly as we know Dickens himself would have done. He was accompanied by a fine looking woman, Elizabeth Hayes, who played the piano. I bought her CD afterwards.
It's interesting to meet people from all over the world. Today I had a talk with a lady from Japan, teaching English at some university out there. I found it a little hard to understand her at times, but as her English was infinitely better than my Japanese we got by. We had three lectures this morning. Professor John Bowen on Hard Times, Michael Madden on legal practice in Dickens's time compared to the present and Jacky Bratton on Dickens as a dramatist. They were all most interesting and presented with much enthusiasm. Fortunately no one reading aloud from a piece of paper. I usually doze off after a while, but not this morning. Just after the last lecture, when it was time for questions and answers, the fire alarm went off, but everyone remained seated as if nothing was the matter. After a few minutes the alarm stopped and we learned nothing was the matter indeed. After lunch we had a short ride to Penvensy to see the remains of the Roman fortress in which William the Conqueror built a Norman castle, also reduced to a ruin through the ages. Penvensy looks a pastoral medieval village in which I felt quite at home. The temperature could have been a little more friendly, but at least it didn't rain.