Macfilos is back after a much-needed two-week break and I am looking forward to the rest of this new year with the sort of optimism I haven’t felt for several years. First, though, I hope all regular readers had an equally enjoyable time over the Christmas and New Year period and I wish you all the very best for 2020.
And a big thanks to all readers who posted good wishes before Christmas. I hope you haven’t missed the daily ramblings of Macfilos too much.
A break and a treat
A complete two-week break from writing the daily column is something I haven’t felt able to take since 2009 when I first started the blog. Sometimes it can be a bit of a grind, thinking up new topics for every day of the week. Fortunately, we are blessed with a first-rate team of contributors who fill at least one, and sometimes two, slots every week.
Tomorrow, for instance, we have a treat for you — the continuing story of Jean Perenet’s adventures in Cambodia accompanied by a gallery of his wonderful photographs.
Possibly thanks to not having to produce the daily story, the past two weeks have been very relaxing and a complete change from my usual routine. I spent a few pleasant days with friends in the village of Lyminge, near the Kent coast, and managed to fit in a day trip to Rye, one of the prettiest coastal towns in Kent, if not in the whole of Britain.
I haven’t been there for over 20 years. Rye has changed. The banks seem to have disappeared from the high street, along with many of the shops that serve a community. Instead, the cafe count has definitely risen and there are more establishments aimed at the tourist rather than the inhabitant.
This is a sad trend seen throughout many parts of Britain and further afield. Mobility and a greater awareness of the bargains to be had from superstore sites or on Amazon are all gradually killing the traditional local outlets.
But the core of Rye, as an unspoilt medieval port, is unchanged. It is one of the Cinque Ports, the historic confederation of coastal towns in Kent, Sussex and Essex. Dating back to Anglo-Saxon times before 1066 CE, the five original ports were Hastings (scene of William’s victory over Harold), New Romney, Hythe, Dover and Sandwich. The sandwich, of course, thanks to the Earl of that name, is now internationally more famous than a hamburger.
Rye was originally a subsidiary of New Romney but during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries when the New Romney harbour gradually silted up, Rye was raised in stature. It is also one of the two Ancient Towns, the other being nearby Winchelsea, whose councils traditionally maintained defence commitments for the kingdom as a whole.
Rye remains a gem and the steep, cobbled Mermaid Street is the core of the town and one that every visitor should see. Halfway up the hill lies the stunning 12th-century Mermaid Inn (“rebuilt 1420″) which is both a magnificent place to stop for a meal or bar snack and a comfortable and very unusual place to stay for a few days.
The Mermaid has had a turbulent history, with many connections to smuggling. During the 1730s and 1740s, it was one of the strongholds of the notorious Hawkhurst Gang. Various of these miscreants are rumoured to haunt the inn to this day. With the existing cellars dating back to 1156, the Mermaid is such a fixture on Mermaid Street that the house opposite is named The House Opposite.
On our visit last week we were welcomed by an enthusiastic and very helpful maitre d’hotel who, from the very moment he opened his mouth, was a London cockney in the oldest and best of traditions.
I’ve never encountered such a broad accent 82 miles from the Bow bells. “You must order the fish finger sandwich,” he advised. “It’s proper naughty.”
Naughty it was, consisting of two fried fish steaks that wouldn’t have disgraced an up-market plate of fish and chips, enclosed in a jaw-breaking crusty roll. Highly recommended if you are down that way. Within minutes, our host was returning with a drink for the next table: “Its a proper ‘andsome gin n’ tonic”, he announced.
As I munched the fish sandwich I thought of Charles Dickens. He had an incredible ear for accents, particularly London accents, and The Man from the Mermaid would have been fertile ground for his imagination. It amazes me that even in the 21st century we can find characters such as this — and in the most unlikely of settings where you might otherwise expect to be greeted by an obsequious Uriah Heep of a restaurant manager in his stuffed shirt.
The Mermaid is a little masterpiece and as far away from a Holiday Inn as you could possibly get. And all the better for it. The fish finger sandwich has proper set me up for the new decade and I shall be looking forward to more ‘andsome delights as the months progress. We might even find something rather naughty coming from Leica during this month.
Just in case you are wondering, I spent my afternoon in Rye without a camera. Or, perhaps I should say without a “proper camera”. I had had the M10-D at the ready but forgot to pick up the Billingham on the way to the car. By the time I realised it was too late to turn back, so I used my iPhone XS Max, not even the latest model.
In a way, I suppose, this is a fitting camera to end the decade. The smartphone has revolutionised photography in a way that none of us could have envisaged at this time in 2010. Where will we be in 2030, I wonder.