Stacey and Bethany, our writers in residence at the wonderous White Lion in Selling, have taken a trip recently to meet their host pub. We asked them to write us a little blog post about their experience and they have sent us a magical run-down of their time in Kent. Read on to see what they got up to and what we have to look forward to as they complete their residency:
Hello, we’re Stacey and Bethany from Sheffield. We are Remote Artists in Residence at the White Lion and we’d like to say hello.
This is what our postcard says. With a picture of us smiling out from our local bus stop.
What it doesn’t say is this: We have been cooped up in our houses… In our little laptop, paper, pinboard and post-it note laden corners for the past few months. It’s not our natural habitat. We like to be out in the wild. We wish we could say hello IN PERSON.
We had already made contact over Zoom, and phone, and email… But we started to wonder if it was possible to get down to our host pub. Just for one night. We talked about it loads, between ourselves and with our amazing collaborator – Karen, the landlady. We came up with a plan. We would be masked crusaders, socially-distant daredevils. We would make it happen.
So a couple of weeks ago, before the most recent set of restrictions came in, on a rainy Saturday morning, Bethany and I set off on our 500 mile round trip. We had 24 hours to absorb as much as we could about The White Lion, the surrounding village of Selling, and the people who make it the place it is.
As the endless motorways petered out into country roads we talked about the unfamiliarity of the landscape. The flatness. The glassy yellow colour of the fields, as far as the eye could see – Punctuated only with the curious shapes of converted Hop Houses every few hundred yards. Nothing like our Seven Hills of home.
We found The White Lion nestled in the middle of a narrow street. A picture perfect pub with ivy climbing the walls, hanging baskets, brickwork studded with accolades – Including (personal fave) being winner of the intriguing Shepherd Neame Eggs Competition in 1984. Karen welcomed us like long lost friends and soon we had a glass of red wine in our hands and a seat by the fireplace.
Among the smiling faces of regulars we met Vic and Tony. Seasoned ale drinkers and story tellers. They told us about the hop-filled heritage of the area, how they remembered it as kids compared with how it is now. The scratch of the plants on your hands and arms as you picked them off the bine. We looked above us to see eight foot hop-picking stilts, attached to the ceiling. A piece of history, clinging to the rafters.
Karen explained how when they moved into the pub, almost every item of furniture, pictures and ornaments had been sold by the previous owner. The stilts, and a few faded photographs of people wearing them, were some of the only things that remained. Karen and her family took on the role of ‘custodians’ – Lovingly transforming the pub back into the charm-filled place it is now. We topped up our wine and made room for some home-made crumble, stuffed with plums picked from a stone’s throw away. We were getting the flavour of the place.
Next day the rain came harder, but we pulled up our hoods and set out to follow the round walk on the pub’s website – Up into Perry Wood and down through the orchards. We looked up at ancient trees, knelt down to appreciate fairy tale mushrooms, marvelled at the rows and rows and rows and rows of fruit trees. We stood on The Pulpit, at the wood’s highest point and looked out over a cloud-filled Kent sky to spires and fields and winding roads in the distance. We felt the opposite of locked down.
In the afternoon we came back to the warmness of the pub for a Sunday lunch. We were introduced to Martin and his wife Diane – Both ex-vicars (among many other things) and long-term residents. They were incredible people with so much to tell us. We talked about the joy and the tragedy, the village holds. Christenings, marriages, and funerals. All the times they had sat around tables with friends, sharing food and drink and stories – Just like we were doing now. They seemed to have lived a thousand lives and we could have talked to them all day. As we went to pay for our lunch we found they’d already covered the bill. Our notebooks and hearts were full to the brim.
The afternoon ended laughing away with Debbie – Somewhat of a local celebrity having written for The Archers and Eastenders. She also curates the village’s annual ‘Glee Club’ where people gather to sing festive songs with roast chestnuts and spiced hot drink in hand. Karen joked they’d need the warmth of the mulled wine more than ever this year as the event will need to be transferred to the garden… Maybe even the car park depending on the logistics of everyone standing two metres apart. But they’re determined it will happen, as it has done every December for the past three decades.
We could hardly believe it when we begun to share our Sheffield carols – The distinctive songs that we only hear within a few miles radius in the north of our city, the tunes that had brought us to the project in the first place… And Debbie knew them. She sung along. She and her husband Keith had learnt these little-known songs from their friend John back in university days and brought them down here. They’re now amid the carols they sing together as a village every Christmas. Bethany and I looked at each other with our eyes lit up – They sing OUR songs. The serendipity of it felt magic.
As dusk was drawing in we took a final walk around the village – The school, the churchyard, the cricket ground, the pond filled with algae and ghost stories. We could understand why everyone who lived here clearly had so much affection for the place. We carried that feeling home with us and will be feeding it into the creation of a new song. A song for The White Lion. For Selling. For everyone we met.
In the coming weeks we will share the lyrics back and refine them together with Karen and other residents until we all feel it rightly honours this special place. Then Bethany will create a hand painted sign of the lyrics to be hung on permanent display. A piece of art work that truly belongs to the pub and to the folks who have been coming here, as their longest standing regular Bob put it, ‘Since the Old King died.’
We’re keeping everything crossed that we can return in December to sing the song with them, and raise a toast to the White Lion and everyone we’ve met along the way. We may only have a recent connection to Selling but we have truly appreciated our remote, and not so remote, relationship with the place. It’s given us a lot of joy and purpose during a really strange time.
We hope the song will not only claim a space on the White Lion’s walls and in the list of Glee Club favourites, but that it will also take root in the village’s modern history and in local people’s hearts. A new tradition to sit among the old.
You can make your own visit to The White Lion by visiting their website here: https://www.whitelionselling.co.uk/
And read all about what Stacey is getting up to here: https://twitter.com/OurStace