Tuesday, 16 October 2012

All the Devils Are Here

The Hundred of Axstane
I have over one hundred pictures in my house, most of them all in one room, hung from floor to ceiling on every wall - even above the doorway. This one is a map of the Hundred of Axstane in Kent where I spent my childhood. The River Thames marks its northern boundary, and the river Darent runs through it. My present postcode in Moffat includes the letters 'AX' and immediately before I came to Moffat, I lived for many years in a place with 'stane' (stone) in its name. To understand my home county of Kent, I recommend a book: All The Devils Are Here by David Seabrook. There is a chapter in it about the mad Victorian artist Richard Dadd who murdered his father in the grounds of Cobham Hall where my daughters went to school. I was also at school in Kent, further from home in the Weald, at Benenden. Seabrook's book has a chapter on Margate where T S Eliot wrote the greatest poem of the 20th century: The Waste Land. It is a poem about the First World War, written in the aftermath by someone who was not a soldier, or at the front. Nevertheless, it should be part of the events being set in motion to remember that war from 2014 to 2018. There is a reference to my home territory in Ian Fleming's  Bond novel Moonraker,  a scene where the villain attempts to kill Bond by releasing an industrial-sized roll of paper from a Reed's paper lorry in an attempt to crush 007 in his sports car as he follows the truck up the aptly named Death Hill, not far from our front door and just short of Brand's Hatch the motor racing circuit. The area is favoured by south London villains of the Brinks Mat variety.  Darenth valley was the site of many paper mills as well as the only early (4th century) Christian house church in the world. The only other one is (or maybe, in light of the recent bombings, that should be 'was'?) in Syria.  I left the house where my parents and siblings lived for a boarding school at Bexhill on Sea when I was 7, since when it ceased to be home in the sense that most people speak of 'home' - a place where I felt I securely belonged. How can people who had a proper home for the whole of their childhood and youth ever regard those of us who were sent away to school at that age as 'privileged'?

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