May is my favourite month. ‘The Garden of England’ wears a frothy white lacey gown, with a cloak of bright lush green. I have childhood memories of watching Kentish woodland become carpeted in white, blue and yellow. This is the time for wood anenomies, cellandines, and bluebells to be in full bloom. I can remember once leaving some picked bluebells on a red-ants’ nest whilst playing in the sunshine and on my return they had all turned pink ! The wonders of nature ! Many poets and writers have had plenty to say about May. Another schoolgirl memory was learning all about Robert Browning (1812 – 1889) and his poem; ‘Home Thoughts from Abroad’ – the second verse begins:
And after April, when May follows,
And the white-throat builds, and all the swallows!
Hark! where my blossomd pear-tree in the hedge
Leans to the field and scatters on the clover
Blossoms and dewdrops – at the bent spray’s edge –
That’s the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,
Lest you should think he never could recapture the first fine careless rapture !
William Shakespeare wrote of ‘The Darling Buds of May’ and English author, H.E. Bates, borrowed the phrase for his novel: The Darling Buds of May, the first of the Larkin novels which tells us how Pop, Ma, Mariette and the children beguile Charley, a rather naive and shy tax inspector, into abandoning his investigations and to take up residence at their rural paradise in 1950s Kent !
The novel was taken up by UK’s Yorkshire Television and a delightful series about The Larkin family was filmed here in East Kent, starring David Jason and Pam Ferris as Pop and Ma Larkin, and pre-Holywood, Catherine Zeta-Jones as their daughter, Mariette.
I love the village where this was filmed and the church and in springtime, it still has the idyllic feel captured in the book and television series. A fabulous theme for a guided tour !
He wrote in his novel, Goldfinger, of a game of golf played between Bond and Goldfinger at Royal St Marks ! – probably based on the Royal St George’s Golf Course in Sandwich, Kent. Fleming had played many a game here over the years, and one can imagine the beautiful May day, with the larks singing over this great seaside golf course – today occasional host to The British Open Golf Tournament. I wonder whether Ian Fleming would have relaxed afterwards in the club house and sampled one of those famous dry martinis -‘shaken, not stirred’ !
Throughout East Kent we can see signs, sites, villages, houses and views associated with Ian Fleming and his James Bond novels ! He even writes of James Bond turning off the A2 at Lydden (where I used to live) and following an older road into Dover and I know, well, exactly where he would have spotted, what he described as, ‘the wonderful cardboard castle’ For sure, Dover Castle is so impressive that many a visitor has asked ‘ is that real’ ? Well it certainly is, and very much worth a visit here in Kent.
The little seaside village of St Margaret’s Bay is central to the James Bond – Moonraker – story. It was here that Ian Fleming bought the house, called White Cliffs, down on the beach, in the 1950s. It can easily be recognised today. This was his holiday home for a crucial decade when he conceived and wrote many of the James Bond books.
This blog would reach epic proportions if I were to point out all the links and sites associated with this author and his ‘007’ and a day or half day touring Kent, really is an interesting way to understand the background to and essence of these novels, and, later, films ! Even Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth 11 joined in the fun as she made a spectacular entrance into the Olympic Stadium at the Opening Ceremony for the London 2012 Olympics when she appeared to parachute out of a helicopter with James Bond (Actor Daniel Craig)
I have to finish, again on a personal note, whilst living in Lydden in the 1970s, I worked for our local bus and coach company, and the number of the National Express Bus from Dover to London in those days, as now, was 007 ! Many say that Ian Fleming used this service, and certainly… as a local… he would have known these buses.. so, did he sit, pen poised, watching the bus go by and did he find, from this bus, his inspiration for his famous spy? I like to think so.
Mr Fleming liked to wait unti the clock struck 6 pm before enjoying his martini cocktail.. today, in just 10 minutes, I might just raise a glass and toast his memory as this glorious (nearly) May day draws to a close over The Garden of England. Cheers !