Visits to the past

Today, I made two separate journeys to the past. One across 600 years, the other across no more than a decade.

This morning we went to Bodiam Castle. Bodiam is about ten miles from Hastings (scene of a historical battle in 1066, and latterly full of heroin addicts and video game arcades), in a valley surrounded by ducks. I’ve been several times (most recently in 2007 or so, with my friend Jenny, who was quite disappointed to find that inside it was a ruin, rather than full of tapestries and people drinking mead – I’m a cruel prankster) but this is the first time I remember there being a guided tour.

As a result, I gleaned new insight (for example, why the castle is where it is – it’s not in a strategic location and invaders could just detour around it, but as it was built by somebody who wanted to show off how rich he was, that was clearly less of a concern for him) and was also reminded of things I knew from elsewhere (like the fashion sense of knights). And now I know that Bodiam has three portcullises, which is particularly over the top given that Bodiam Castle was intended for partying rather than as a military fort.

I worried it wouldn’t be entertaining for a two-and-a-half-year-old, but I shouldn’t have: what with muddy puddles to jump in, and a moat full of carp and ducks to feed, La Serpiente was amused, and that was before she made me carry her up three flights of stairs in one of the towers.

It’s strange to say so, but Bodiam has been renovated recently. Which is to say they’ve made the stairs slightly less dangerous, and sometimes some guys are sent up on ropes to tidy the weeds growing on the stonework. However, it remains a ruin, which makes it more charming than say, Hever or Leeds, both of which feel a bit too mannered and tidy. At Bodiam, you feel nobody would mind if you stood on the battlements, roaring like Brian Blessed and waving a sword.

Well, maybe a bit. It is a National Trust property, after all.

I dozed off on the way home, and then later this afternoon I went through some more archive boxes, sorting out piles of paper and old kitchen utensils that should have been thrown out by the end of the last decade. Amongst the junk I did find occasional treasures; letters and notes from another time, from another me, effectively.

Yesterday, I found an old envelope (I think it contained a bank statement from the NatWest bank) with notes scrawled on it:

Aims for the next 3 years

Get novel published – or a new one.

Financial stability – what is that?

MA: 2006.

Find somebody.

Marathon – and again? 2005, (2006?)

Black belt? 2006? 2007?

Get better at riding bikes

Be happier

Achieve something good: what?

Pay back parents’ loan.

Work in another country?

Work in London


Do something creative with camera.

Be more ethical in charity?

Diet ___________

Beneath all that, in big letters, scrawled in the opposite direction are the words PACK KIT FOR WEEKEND, RUN IN FRIDAY.

Aside from my inconsistent use of full stops, what strikes me is the plaintiveness of some of those goals. I think I must have written the list in 2005 (a bad breakup at the start of the year, and my first marathon six months later, make me assume that – I suppose it’s possible in theory that I wrote it before the breakup, but that seems unlikely as I’m sure I only thought about running a marathon after I got dumped and had more spare time to fill) and it’s disconcerting about how things on that list did get achieved, but most of them only long after the three year deadline I’d set myself. It’s particularly affecting when I realise it’s probably ten years old now.

I did get my MA in 2006, or at least I wrote my thesis (on why you shouldn’t run marathons for charity, cunningly intertwining several other impressions) that year – I have a feeling I didn’t actually claim my MA for a few more years – and by the end of 2006 I had left Kent and returned to working in London, but it took me until 2011 to get my black belt, and I never got another issue of Stopadoodledoo after the third one. I’m pretty sure I’m not much better at riding a bike now than I was back then, but at least I did succeed in working in another country.

I did find somebody, and that only took four years, a slew of unsuccessful dates and getting so drunk on a boat in Hong Kong that I couldn’t stand up – compared to getting my black belt, that was pretty swift – and even if I’m still beset with worries from time to time, I’m in a better place than when I was alone in a anonymous house on a hill above Folkestone.

There are things I’ve done that were never on the list: I never would have imagined back then that I’d have performed stand up to an audience of more than 400, or that I’d have two children, or spent enough time in Japan to grow dissatisfied with its public transport, or grown a beard as big as the one I have now.

One great advantage of the digital age is that everything is searchable, and so we never lose notes like this. One disadvantage is that there’s so much stuff, you never get around to looking for it (although that truism is belied by the sheer volume of stuff I managed to generate in analogue form and leave in all these boxes). If that note had been an email to myself instead of scribbled on the back of an envelope, what chance I’d have found it ten years later?


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