Tag Archives: Hampshire


I don’t know how else to move the fates on now and push Dragon In The Post forward, except to stretch some muscles before I set off next Monday from Winchester to Eastbourne. I know a three mile round trip walk into Arlesford is hardly pushing it (climbing St Catherine’s Hill tomorrow though), but with a hazel wand in hand and looking like a twit, it’s all freeing too: Watching the cooling change in the weather, after torrential rain these past few days, wondering about light-weight food, imaging how I should break up the walk and generally mixing dread with excitement. So to young deer grazing by the watercress beds, astonishing mountains of cloud worthy of Rannoch’s journey through hope and despair in Fire Bringer (soon to be republished, thanks to what we’ve achieved already at 72% funded) and that carcass of a dead bird on the tarmac I passed before, beginning to return to our primordial soup. A very flattened feeling, if feeling is the right word, when there isn’t any left. An eagle was riding the thermals too though, heron elegantly guarding their spots on the Itchen and with the wheat fields nearly cut for the harvest, all well in the world.

Is it cynical to mix my own project with trying to raise a bit of sponsorship money for the RNIB – The Royal National Institute for The Blind? I don’t think so, and something is better than nothing, if I’m doing the bloody thing anyway. S kindly did a chalk sign in my local pub and if it has no effect on Dragon In The Post, I can do it for another reason too. Also for the fun of writing it up though, having a go, mixed with a vague despair, so rubbed in by the desultory attitude of The Hampshire Chronicle recently – damn their humdrum eyes. Does it mean that either no one will be reading, or wishing disaster on the whole mad enterprise with a typical small county sneer? In fact, since I can see something of a readership in the searches and hits on this site, I know a few people are reading. But why, why!?

To see perhaps if they are exposed for the Hot Fuzz secrets of a wayward Hampshire Life? To find inspiration in my Hardyesque mastery of a country eye? To share a little in some sense of mutual life adventure? Who knows and honestly who cares, except that sometimes I wish people would listen a little harder. Then comes the delight of ‘projects’, for charity or anything else, dissolving into fun encounters and chance meetings, which any walk should be about too – R the wildflower pirate and his girlfriend, who said, as I rounded the bend into their yard on the way home, that she had been wondering about the odd bod down the pub trying to crowd fund a book, just three minutes before. A bit like the blog on Facebook today about a mum whose daughter had dreamt of someone called Robin Williams, only to wake to discover the awful news! Then my immediate neighbour turned up to feed her recently broken horse Marmite sandwiches (keeps off the ticks apparently) and resist my disreputable efforts to get her co-stabler to let me ride her mount. How hard it seems to have an adventure these days! Delightful as she is, she insists that I’m a man with more leisure than sense, more money too (though she is wrong about both, sadly) and that a walk is pointless and I should come up with carefully targeted marketing strategies, before it all ends on August 27th. Yes, perhaps,but it isn’t quite the point of a long fight with publishers and the Internet, and something that is about trying for some connection, as much as anything else. Nor of my very conscious strategy to have some fun and experience, to share that too, rather than endlessly complaining about some people’s meanness, or why we have stopped listening to each other.

I should tell her that my devilish plan, for what it’s worth, is this: To walk for myself and sheer enjoyment, to not fret too much about how hard it is to ‘sell’ an idea and to have a blast. Meanwhile, of course, behind every hedgerow, in the windiest coppices, perched on their chairs of high opinion down the local pubs and sizzling the bacon of their own hopes and dreams, not to mention some natural Schadenfreude, the dream is thousands of Hampshire folk will turn to watch a week’s walk to Beachy Head and a Countdown to project success or failure and intervene at just the right moment too. I’ve lost all hope my compatriots will walk a bit, or rise from their beds to meet me in Eastbourne with ticker tape and prolonged applause, but I know this, on this Hampshire walk I won’t be entirely lonely either.

David Clement-Davies sets out to walk the South Downs Way next Monday, August 18th. A small charity element has been written into the £50 pledge at Indiegogo.com but you can sponsor him purely for the charity too, by writing to this blog or to David’s pages on Facebook. We are at 72% funded on Dragon In The Post with 15 days to go and you can support a book and publishing project now by CLICKING HERE

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UPDATE: The crowd funded book on Indiegogo, you will get in the post, is now at a soaring 50%!

Well it can’t be all bad that in the Hampshire fundraising frolics this month there is now one of our posters trumpeting Dragon In The Post hanging in the home of one of the greatest novelists of all time, Jane Austen! The house is barely 10 miles from where I’m staying, in the gentle village of Chawton in Hampshire, so no writer worth his ink could fail to make the little pilgrimage to the charming home of the woman who changed the face of the English novel forever. There is little either quaint or twee about the way they have created an excellent museum there, where I committed an appropriate act of sacrilege by laying my hand on the writing table of Jane herself.

It was also a little treat to cross swords with one of her biographers, Deidre Le Faye, who I found with the house manager Ann Channon sitting on a bench in the lovely garden. Ann came as a cleaner 23 years ago and has now progressed to proud guardian, of a home and family story that can at times move her to tears. Behind a pair of magnificent coloured sun glasses Deidre meanwhile raised an understandably dragonish eye to my own efforts, and indeed ignorance about Austen, although also pointed out that in Austen’s day, and indeed from the days of Shakespeare and the first printed ‘Bookes’, these things were often done by private patronage or by subscription. So we are in fact in illustrious and honourable company! I did not know that Austen, who did not move from her home near Basingstoke to the house until 1807 and only updated some of her most famous works like Pride and Prejudice there, published anonymously or under the tantalising label ‘By a Lady‘. Never married, living in the house with her brothers for a time, who both became admirals in the British Navy, I was also astonished to learn that Jane died at the tender age of only 41, perhaps of tuberculosis. How sad.

Like ‘The Birthplace‘, the Shakespeare family home in Stratford On Avon, I’m not entirely convinced by shrines to writers, or what they exactly tell you about the landscape of the creative imagination, kingdoms to themselves. But it was lovely to wander round, to see that perfectly neat Austen handwriting, amid the delicate bonnets and recreated Georgian dresses, to hear Deidre dismiss with a disgusted snort the claim that one especially ugly portrait might be authentic, as her TLS article had long established, then to catch snatches of the fictional miracle in the facts of living that accompanied such a very realistic author: the face of an unctuous Mr Collins in a portrait one of her clerical relatives, or the confident echo of that immortal opening “It is a truth, universally acknowledged” in the often ironic pattern of her busy and practical letters. Then to the navy sword her brother Charles was given by none other than Simon Bolivar and the tale of how the trust brought home her little Turquoise ring last year, proudly displayed with two little Topaz crucifixes, replicas of which are soon to find their way into the groaning gift shop, filled with pricey Austen nick-nacks.

Like Chawton, that has more houses now but probably the same number of inhabitants as in Austen’s day, and so unlike the swelling new town of Basingstoke, that has helped to swamp glorious and astonishingly beautiful Hampshire with tarmac and Leisure Parks, it was all rather genteel, as the sun shone down in the pretty garden, through the graceful yew trees that have grown mightily since the days when Austen was relatively unknown and the younger saplings perhaps couched the house privy. A hungry young family of swallows dipped from their nest in the room beside the gift shop, as Deidre kindly signed a biography for me and a collection of edited letters, and with hope of my own project still very much alive, all seemed ordered and right with the world. Perhaps the spirit of genius will come along with us, but what our own magnificent £1900 would have been and done in Austen’s time! The family were never rich, incidentally, nothing compared to the likes of a Mr Darcy, although one of the brother’s was adopted by a finer family, so got to make it to one of the big houses. If Jane, who called one of her publishers a rogue, might have been bemused by crowd funding, the Internet or the plight of the modern author, I wonder what she would have thought of the flying machine that plans to take us skyward this Wednesday, or my efforts to walk the 100 miles of the South Downs Way. Perhaps her eye and pen would have thrilled at the richness of the Hampshire wheat fields at this time of year, the magic blue glint of a field of wild borridge across the rolling lanes and the numinous glow of the super moon that hangs in the night skies, or perhaps found more meat and matter in the simple facts of survival. If you want to visit Jane Austen’s House, that got 50,000 visitors last year, the times are below, or indeed if you want to support a modern author you can find a novel sent to you, in the post, by going to Indiegogo and BACKING THE PROJECT

David Clement-Davies July 2014

The photo is a pubic domain image of Jane Austen’s House Museum, which is at http://www.jane-austens-house-museum.org.uk/. The opening times vary throughout the year but it closes beteen 4.30 and 5pm. Tickets are £7.50 for Adults, £6 Senior Citizens and £2.50 for children between 6 and 16. Deidre Le Faye’s studies of Austen include Jane Austen – The World of her novels published by Frances Lincoln and Janes Austen’s Letters published by OUP.

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