Down in the depths of Downe

This afternoon we drove out to Down House, where Charles Darwin used to live. Down House is in Downe, a small village in Kent that sometimes includes an ‘E’ in its name, and sometimes does not. There doesn’t seem to be any particular pattern to this: it’s not like it always had an E at the end, until three hundred years ago, and then lost it; the E keeps appearing and disappearing down through the passage of time. It’s not much of a problem until you assume that Down House, because it’s in Downe, is Downe House, and if you search for Downe House on the internet, you end up with details for a boarding school in Berkshire when all you wanted was to know about men with big beards experimenting on earthworms.
Because of that sort of confusion, I failed to check the opening hours for Down(e) House, and so after a twenty minute drive with a howling baby on the back seat of the car, we arrived to find out that in October, Down(e) House is only open Wednesday to Sunday and not on Tuesdays. I hardly felt this was fit for purpose. Still, having reached the evolutionary niche of the Down(e) House carpark, I didn’t want to waste this effort, so we stayed in the area.

We drove back down to Downe proper, leaving the House of Down(e) behind, and looked for something to do. The first fun thing you can do in Downe is try to find somewhere to park. The lanes are quaint, picturesque, and filled with parked cars. This was not a place designed for two-way traffic, so we bumbled around for quite some time before parking around the corner from the church, and probably stealing some resident’s parking spot.

Obviously guilty about this, we strolled into the church, probably with thoughts of making spiritual recompense.

When I was a baby and my parents took me to church, apparently as soon as the pram crossed the threshold, I would scream and scream until they removed me from the House of God. Perhaps that should have been an early indication that the 666 tattoo on the back of my head wasn’t just an accidental birthmark. Our daughter didn’t react like that at all.

No, she waited for about five minutes, until I’d walked down to the front of the church and was inspecting the pews, and then made a horribly loud, wet noise, redolent of farts and burst pipes and waterfalls all at the same time.

This would possibly have been more amusing if she hadn’t been strapped to me at the time. I hastened out of the church, wife in tow, and after considering using the top of a tomb as a makeshift change table, decided on a bank of grass instead as being more suitable.

Our baby was thoroughly amused. Us, less so. The sheer quantity of goop she had produced was ridiculous, venting from the front of her nappy, soaking her outfit and the baby harness. She wriggled, happily giggling, as we wiped away at the mess. My wife isn’t giving to swearing (much) but kept referring to the Messiah in angry tones. If there’s one place you’re going to take the Lord’s name in vain, and you choose that to be a churchyard in a sleepy Kentish village, then I think you’re either brave or a little bit unobservant. (Or not religiously observant at all, I guess.)

A small crowd gathered, as they do when there are entertainments to be had in a village. The crowd consisted of my mother and sister, who passed unhelpful comments while we messed about with baby and wet wipes, and a passing woman who looked daggers at us. I’m not sure if she was angry that we had a baby, angry that we had a half-naked baby near a church, angry that we had a half naked baby covered in excrement near a church, angry that we were blaspheming, or a combination of these, or something else entirely.

I asked my relatives (my father I omit from this, as he’d retreated to the bus stop, and I don’t include my daughter either, because I wasn’t expecting anything sensible out of her) if they could see a bin where I could dispose of the soiled nappy. I received a short response that suggested they assumed there was probably one somewhere in the village, although they didn’t know where and that this was clearly a matter without any urgency. As if I was enquiring about what sights of architectural interest were in the general vicinity. Or perhaps they thought I was going to blithely wander the village, half a pound of nappy and undifferientiated yellow slime in hand, unconcerned about how far I’d have to walk before unloading this noxious payload. There seemed to be the implication that it was rather insulting of me to be implying they’d have an encyclopedic knowledge of the locations of wastebins in Kentish villages, like I thought my family was a makeshift tourist information facility. Of rubbish.

I can infer quite a lot from a few words, and that is what I meant about unhelpful comments.

I gritted my teeth and asked them if they could see a bin in any particular direction. There was one directly opposite the churchyard, a fact for which we can all be truly thankful. Baby gurgled, wife swore, I seethed. Once I had discharged my duty of disposing of what my child had discharged, my mood lightened somewhat, and the hatchet-faced local walked off, leaving us to enjoy Downe a bit more.

There’s not much else in Downe on a Tuesday afternoon though, apart from Down(e) House and a man painting a fence. We did find a place that served afternoon tea, the imaginatively named Cake. Actually, Cake was a pretty imaginative name for the cafe, as they were mainly serving scones and tea, neither of which is cake. The food was good, though the staff seemed startled to have more than two customers at once. They’d have been a lot more startled if they’d seen me before I’d located the wastebin.

I was going to write today about the strong drink that we purchased yesterday. Ironically, I’ve had no chance to either do that, or to sample the strong drink. Perhaps tomorrow, when I’ll be less beset by my daughter’s alimentary tract. Perhaps.

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