Most weekdays our Hebe sits cutting the letters of gravestones beside the stonemasonry window, above the garage where the hearses are kept and with a view over the forecourt on the edge of Mercatoria near the bottom of the hill by the sea. Her window looks out towards the back of commercial premises lining London Road; the sun slants in on her work over their roofs. Sometimes she has to give up her position in the good light of the window if the police want to use the masonry for a stake-out.
One of the neighbours does a line in stolen lead, and the masonry can never keep theirs on the roof very long. Hebe watches the drug trading down in the street, the shifty dealers looking this way and that and over their shoulders.
The rasta men saunter by, and the mosque is just along the road so some halal shops have opened up in the neighbourhood. In the closed-down Methodist temperance holiday hotel round the corner, refugees from Eastern Europe were housed. As the restrictions on their freedom to earn a living eased up, they began to spread out and settle in. Refugees from Somalia have added to the mix. Our Grace taught them English in the language school for a while before she became a full-time mother, and friends made back then still call and wave across the street.
This is one of the poorest quarters of town so many of the confused and stumbling weave in and out of the passers-by – people with mental illnesses and the challenges of myriad disabilities; very old people struggling on and off the bus with trolleys for their shopping and possessions; people whose complexions and unsteadiness and unfocussed eyes tell the tale of alcohol as a travelling companion down a long downhill trail.
The small greengrocer’s has been given a new lease of life because the proprietor’s son failed to make his fortune in the city and has come back to this ramshackle sprawl by the ocean to try his hand at selling cabbages and artichokes, Sussex honey and apple juice. Down on the seafront, Smiths Real Food café and Plenty with its delicious bread and cornucopia of wonder feed us well. The charity shops sprout plentifully here, and the Kings Road Flea Market, the Coast Tea Rooms with its glorious cakes, Jempson’s bakery and any number of second-hand shops, and odd emporia like the stamp and coin collector’s corner, do well – or at least eke out the possibility of a tomorrow.
The Chinese restaurant takes deliveries just across from the masonry forecourt, and Hebe watches as the whole family pours out onto the pavement to take in sacks of rice and a variety of provisions. The father of the family bows to her with Asian courtesy and grace as she passes him on her way in to the masonry in the morning sun.
One day a visitor to the masonry left his bicycle on the forecourt, and tried to collect it as he left. The Chinese family, out on the street unloading goods, assumed the bike was Duncan’s and the man a thief. Not recognising him, they accosted him full of staccato Chinese indignation and tried to prevent him leaving with his bike. Piers, cutting a stone, down in the garage off the forecourt, understood the situation and tried to remonstrate: but Piers is profoundly deaf and could contribute only sign language to the confusion.
The huge crucified Christ on the wall of the anglo-catholic church watches silently over this extraordinary melée of humanity. In an attempt to dignify His presence they gilded his loin-cloth recently, and His crown of thorns. It is possible they have not quite understood.
365 Day 15 (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here)
Oh, a poster of the rejoicing as the shepherd recovers the lost sheep. This is the artwork of Sieger Köder and has been up on the wall of our kitchen for some time. Now the kitchen is to be grey and cream and restrained, Quakerish rather than the exuberant spice-box colours it was; so the picture no longer fits in. It made a good fire-lighter.