Spike Island

In the late fifties/early sixties, wanting to get away from London, a new way of life began to take us over. We started to look for houses to rent, buy even. At weekends we would go to St Albans, to Pinner and Chesham, to Northwood Hills and Amersham. Metroland became our hunting ground. Occasionally we’d venture south: a Pullman tea on the old Brighton Belle is a happy memory. Then we put an advertisement in The Times and got one reply. We pondered, we saw, we fell in love.

The white house on a hill foretold by a gipsy, Spike Island, belonging to the van Thals (Bertie – James Agate's 'sleek, well-groomed dormouse' - was a seasoned anthologist and former publisher, Phyllis edited Vanity Fair), was a low-slung, late-18th-century weather-boarded East Sussex cottage. In over an acre of isolated wilderness, of wooded, nightingaled, seclusion, it nestled by a rampant ancient hedge down a rutted, grassy lane just up from Wadhurst station on the Hastings line. Kipling country. No more than an hour or so from Charing Cross, it was like nothing we’d ever seen.

Romantic and rustic, Spike Island and its stillness was a place where humans and noise didn’t exist, where the garden spirits ruled, a haven within heaven. We were enveloped by Nature in all the overtures and cadences of its seasons – the damp-green smell of the earth, the scent of flowers, the waves of June yarrow, dew-drenched cobwebs come late September, the rustle of animals, the majesty of oak and beech, the sway of birch, the wind. The blackness of the night unpolluted by city lights, ‘powdered with stars’, the galaxies of the Milky Way, bordered on mystical experience.

We moved in on 18 September 1961, my parents and I. Sunshine, blue sky, flitting clouds. Mōnandæg.

18 September 2021

Adapted from the Afterword to the reprint of Irfan Orga's Portrait of a Turkish Family (1988 rev 2011)

Image c 1961-65