Last month began badly. One of my favourite cousins died at the ridiculously early age of 59. As children, she and her younger sister were the nearest thing I had to siblings, then as adults, we discovered that we had a natural rapport.
I heard the news from her husband, who wept as he spoke. I’d never witnessed such a raw, visceral grief before and felt utterly impotent, unable to think of anything to say other than “I’m so sorry”. Privately, I could only wonder at the cruelty of a universe in which a random mutation can separate a couple who had loved each other deeply.
I was reminded of the famous Kurt Vonnegut quote and felt in a very bleak mood, so when my wife started getting excited about the opening of a new cinema in Lewes, I really didn’t want to know. What was so special about a cinema? I told my wife that I wouldn’t be joining her and her friends on the opening night.
But on the day I suddenly had a change of heart. It was a beautiful, airy afternoon and the thought of staying indoors didn’t appeal, so as our older son was having one of his relatively saner days, we decided to leave him in charge (hoping that the house wouldn’t be a smouldering ruin when we returned).
I liked The Depot cinema as soon as I saw it, although the sign needs changing.
The building is in the usual postmodern style, but the addition of local flint adds a nice vernacular touch. To the left of the photo, there is an outdoor seating area with sofas and tables, but there’s also plenty of space inside:
We joined some friends for a drink and for the first time in ages, I felt my mood lift.
In hindsight, I suppose I’d become increasingly weighed down by a sense that life was, as they say, one damned thing after another. In the past, I dealt with feelings like this by having an adventure – I once alleviated the horrors of working in Slough by flying to Chile on a whim – but my childcare duties now made this strategy impossible. I felt stuck in a rut.
However, sitting in the sun, talking about Hitchcock films with a neighbour and planning which films we were going to see was all I needed to break the spell. Suddenly, I had things to look forward to again. A sense that life was full of possibilities as well as challenges.
As for the cinema, it has three screens and a wonderful Dolby sound system, with the added bonus of no adverts before the films. This is because the cinema is run as a non-profit making charity, thanks to a very healthy donation by a local philanthropist.
The films shown are a mixture of modern independent productions, mainstream features like Alien Covenant and classics from the era of Hitchcock’s The Birds, which my son and I are going to see tomorrow. I’m particularly looking forward to seeing old favourites as they were meant to be seen, on the big screen.
I also enjoyed watching Mad to Be Normal, a surprisingly funny new film about the controversial psychiatrist RD Laing (there was some confusion when my wife told someone that I’d been to see a movie about KD Lang).
I’ve no doubt that half of the films I’ll see are available on YouTube or Netflix, but I’ve realised that the movie itself is only part of the pleasure of going to The Depot. For me, the 15-minute walk there and back and the experience of sitting in a dark room with no interruptions are just as important.
As well as the delights of sitting in a dark room, I’ve been enjoying the light of the South Downs:
I first got to know this landscape when I was 11. I was living in a sanitorium at the time and one morning, the nurses suddenly announced that we would be going for a walk.
It was a rare treat to be allowed outside and I assumed that we were going to visit a local playground. Instead, we walked through a succession of dull, residential roads with identical 1930s houses, many of which had twee names like ‘Ashdene’ and ‘Haymede’.
Several of us began to quietly complain to each other that this was a bit of a ‘swiz’ when suddenly, we reached a high wall with a narrow, iron gate. One of the nurses pushed the gate open and as we walked through, we found ourselves in open downland with views of rolling hills and the sea in the distance. It was an exhilarating moment and I’ve loved the Downs ever since.
In between looking after my sons and watching episodes of The Brothers (a programme that deserves its own blog post), I’ve been reading quite a lot recently. The discovery of Barbara Pym has been a particular pleasure and I also really enjoyed Sister Carrie. I hadn’t heard of the novel until, many years ago, a girl of about 14 asked me if our bookshop had a copy in stock. I assumed it must be some sort of jolly Louisa M Allcott-style story for young ladies, or perhaps a wholesome tale about a nun.
How wrong I was. For the 1900s, it is positively shocking and I can imagine that many early readers were scandalised by its contents. Perhaps they were also expecting a wholesome tale about a nun.
In addition to all of the above, I also briefly escaped to the 15th century:
But that’s another story.