Weeknote, Monday 8th May

I hate being ill, so I have hated this week. After having a tickly throat on Tuesday, Wednesday morning I woke up with a full-blown very sore throat which I couldn’t talk around, plus a head that felt like it was stuffed with old socks found at the bottom of a particularly disreputable drawer. Oh and, of course, the kind of tiredness that makes you feel completely out of control of your body.

That wrote off Wednesday and Thursday, which, because of the first flush of warm early summer weather, were unpleasantly spent in bed sweating and feeling dreadful. I was finally able to get up on Friday and feel human enough to head down to the sea for an evening “fuck the Tories” ice cream. Wasn’t it wonderful to see them defeated so comprehensively that they immediately had to crown a new king to get everyone distracted?

On Saturday, I was feeling well enough to demand a drive to a country house and some fresh air, which is how we ended up at Knole in Sevenoaks. It’s part of the character of Sevenoaks – and tells you a lot about it as a place – that there is a large country house and deer park right next to it. Or rather, in it: where most maps look like cities eat away at the surrounding countryside, Sevenoaks seems like Knole has devoured part of it, the green biting a chunk from the concrete grey.

Knole is an incredibly well-preserved 17th century house and was the home of the Sackville family, who later became the Sackville-West family. Vita Sackville-West was born here, and her inability to inherit the house – denied by British primogeniture laws – was something she was bitter about her entire life. Instead, the house (and title) went to her uncle Charles, who bequeathed it to the National Trust in 1947.

Things I have been reading

I skipped a few days reading this week – there is nothing I like less than reading when I’m confined to bed ill – but I have been pressing on with Julia Armfield’s Our wives under the sea, which I am enjoying a lot. I would love my own writing to be this accomplished. Many passages have been clipped from it, and there are times when she hits the mark with a sentence so well that it almost leaves me breathless. For example:

I see my mother in myself, though less in the sense of inherited features and more in the sense of an intruder poorly hidden behind a curtain.


Panic is a misuse of oxygen.

At Knole I bought Rooms of their own by Nino Strachey, which is a large format pictorial book of the rooms of Edward Sackville-West, Vita Sackville-West, and (of course) Virginia Woolf. If you don’t find the Bloomsbury group and their era fascinating, you’re missing out.

Related, I also bought The Crichel Boys by Simon Fenwick, which focuses in part on Eddy’s later life when he bought a house down in Dorset with some friends. That will be next on the list – I feel like I’ve read a lot of fiction lately and need to balance it out. Reading books about writers seems like a good half-way house.

Ian Betteridge @ianbetteridge