Bedge­bury Park

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Recently I have been sort­ing out uned­ited old photos from vari­ous old hard drives, and pick­ing out the good ones. These are from 2012, of a place called Bedge­bury in Kent. It’s a strange and a beau­ti­ful place which provided me with relief at a very hard time in my life. I didn’t have a computer at the time I took them, and they’ve kind of sat on the hard drive ever since, like a tooth with a hole in, due to the asso­ci­ations with that partic­u­lar time in my life. I didn’t know if I wanted to post them without the context, but I also didn’t want to address it either. Enough time has passed now.

I had just finished a Masters, and simul­tan­eously discovered that my then boyfriend had been pretty continu­ously cheat­ing on me.

We had met the previ­ous summer. He was very keen right away, and was the one to push for a seri­ous rela­tion­ship very quickly (much quick­er than I would have liked, but at the time it felt like we were a team). Three months down the line, after an incid­ent where his house­mate tried to strangle him, we ended up living togeth­er. I had previ­ously been split­ting my time between Brighton (where I stud­ied and could borrow a friend’s room), London (where I was work­ing in a museum) and Kent (where my mum lived, and where my stuff was because I was a broke post-grad), and now I made the move full-time to London, which I had never inten­ded but was will­ing to give a go.

As soon as we lived togeth­er, a switch flipped. He was simul­tan­eously extremely clingy and wanted all of my time, all the time, but also acted like I was boring and not good enough. He ignored my birth­day. He attemped to pick fights when I had import­ant dead­lines or was having a good time. He didn’t seem to have any friends besides me, and resisted my attempts to encour­age him to have his own life and interests (and I wasn’t getting out much either because I had very little money). I felt like I had been baited and switched with a differ­ent boyfriend, and like some­thing was horribly wrong, but didn’t know what to do.

By that summer he was telling me I was “so unat­tract­ive he was ashamed to be seen with me in public”, hass­ling me about my weight, telling me he “deserved a hotter girl­friend” and scream­ing in my face that I was a liar and a fake when I told him he looked nice. Every activ­ity was an uphill struggle to avoid him either having an outright tantrum or pass­ively-aggress­ively sulk­ing. We went for a walk on a nice sunny day once, and got a waffle from a stand. It should have been a nice time, but he star­ted accus­ing me of “making him eat in the street like a dog”. I wanted to walk away, but I couldn’t afford to move out right as I was finish­ing the course, and the Sunk Cost Fallacy makes you hang in there. I didn’t even have a computer of my own to use for my stud­ies, I borrowed his as my old laptop had finally died.

Towards the end, we went to visit his parents in Spain for two weeks. I was trying to finish my disser­ta­tion. He told me again that he was ashamed to be seen with me. There was a heat­wave and the aircon kept break­ing down.

After a few days, when I was asleep, he booked himself a tick­et back to London without me, claim­ing a “work emer­gency”, and left me behind in Spain. His moth­er was furi­ous with him and felt really sorry for me. I was bewildered, deeply hurt and just didn’t know what to make of it. I spent the time work­ing on my disser­ta­tion (on paper as he had taken his laptop) and trying to figure out the logist­ics of split­ting up.

As soon as I arrived back, he apolo­gised for acting like a dick, blamed the heat stress, and acted super loving for a day or two. It was even more confus­ing and upset­ting, but I had my eye on the prize, and went down to Brighton for a few days to hang up the exhib­i­tion. He was supposed to have helped me with an IT thing for the show, kept not doing it, and then threw a strop when someone else offered to help instead. So it didn’t get included in my exhib­it.

I came home after hanging the exhib­it, and thought we were going out to dinner to celeb­rate. While I was in the shower, he left the house, delib­er­ately leav­ing the computer on, show­ing his face­book messages with a woman from his work.

It turned out he had been having an emotion­al affair with this co-work­er pretty much the whole time, which even­tu­ally turned phys­ic­al, and that she had been revel­ling in “steal­ing” someone and feel­ing like she had got one over on me and was import­ant and special. They spent a lot of time talk­ing about me and how unat­tract­ive and boring I was, which was partic­u­larly bizarre and hurt­ful. I dumped him via text, and when he even­tu­ally came home, we had a scream­ing row, and I moved out imme­di­ately.

Of course it was devast­at­ing. I should have been enjoy­ing finish­ing my post-grad stud­ies, but instead everything was a horrible mess. I had to move back in with my mum, and I got terrible gast­rit­is that wouldn’t go away. I kept puking up bile and blood, and had trouble eating. 

I was relieved to be rid of him, and look­ing forwards to life without him drag­ging me down, but these things still have long-last­ing psycho­lo­gic­al effects (I still have real trouble watch­ing anything that has an affair plot). Talk­ing with other people who have exper­i­enced some­thing simil­ar, possibly the thing that really burns is how totally dispos­able you feel. You thought this person cared about you, and then feel like a total fool when it turns out from their actions that they don’t at all.

Or perhaps as well, how power­less you are. I couldn’t have stopped my boyfriend cheat­ing by some­how becom­ing pret­ti­er or thin­ner or more fun, or keep­ing him under lock and key. He decided to cheat because he is selfish and doesn’t care about hurt­ing others.

I needed money, and I needed a job, and I needed a boost to my self-esteem. Then the summer camp I had previ­ously worked for asked me if I was free to work on an autumn course.

Bedge­bury Park is a stately home that had previ­ously been a board­ing school. The school had closed down sever­al years before, and new buyers were final­ising the sale (it now seems to be some kind of luxury holi­day resort with yoga and horse riding), so the owners were rent­ing it out for tempor­ary courses, of which ours was to be the last one. Our students filled a small section of the build­ing, and the rest was essen­tially aban­doned (more of that later).

It was a relief to be teach­ing kids, and plan­ning activ­it­ies, and seeing them enjoy them. We went on nature walks around the grounds, and had a bonfire, and created scav­enger hunts. There was a whole room full of old school play costumes they had fun with.

A local histor­i­an came to give the students a tour of the house and tell them about the ghosts, secret doors, and sunken manor under the lake. There’s a whole Eliza­beth­an era house at the bottom of the lake. At some point the owner wanted a new, up to date manor on the hill, with a fash­ion­able lake. It turned out to be cheap­er to flood the old house than to demol­ish it first.

When I wasn’t work­ing, I spent a lot of time either wander­ing the grounds or sitting in the library. I found it hard to relax in my spare time, and the sparse dorm room I was sleep­ing in was beyond depress­ing (and I didn’t have a computer I could watch tv on), and the staff were on a rota with differ­ent times off. So I ploughed my way through a load of clas­sic liter­at­ure. I was strug­gling to eat or keep food down, espe­cially as the canteen food was greasy, so I ended up eating a lot of pot noodles and fruit in my room just to have some­thing to fill me. So expand­ing my mind with some Graham Greene was very welcome.

I still have that T.S.Eliot book on my shelf. When it came to leave, the care­taker let the teach­ers each take a couple of books, seeing as they were only going to the char­ity shop anyway.

My read­ing spot.

The rest of the huge build­ing was a maze. The major­ity of the doors were locked to prevent the kids from wander­ing around too much. One day when they were out on a trip and it was my day off, the care­taker gave me the key and said feel free to go explor­ing, because he had seen me taking photos.

The build­ing was a strange mix of extremely grand, and extremely insti­tu­tion­al.

The floors also didn’t quite run hori­zont­ally how you’d expect. Some­times you’d walk along a long corridor and come out high­er or lower than you expec­ted.

Upstairs there were sever­al floors of aban­doned dorms. Going to board­ing school is my idea of hell. School was okay for me because I went to a large school with a wide choice of people and not partic­u­larly strict rules, went home every day to do as I liked in my spare time, and had extra-curricular activ­it­ies I went to outside school where I also had friends. Board­ing schools tend to be small, and you’re locked in there with the other kids 24/​7, having to live under school rules and organ­ised activ­it­ies all the time. Hell.

In fact, Neil Gaiman has a story where all the dead alumni return from Hell to a board­ing school and haunt and torment a boy who has had to stay there over the holi­days by himself. I also feel that a lot of the prob­lems with our elite politi­cians and their lack of empathy stem from being sent away to board­ing school at a very young age. I mean, I think board­ing schools can be a posit­ive exper­i­ence for teen­agers if they’re a certain kind of person­al­ity who thrive in that envir­on­ment, but not for a seven year old.

There was some­thing sad but fascin­at­ing about the aban­doned bedrooms- they had prob­ably seen a lot of unhap­pi­ness and teen­age angst over the years.

Espe­cially the ones full of broken furniture. The new owners must have got through a lot of skips.

Imagine being a teen­ager and never having any privacy unless you were on the toilet.

When I moved back to London about four months after I took these photos, I initially rented a short-term room off a rich Australi­an family who lived in Spit­al­fields. The sort where every­one was an ambassador’s child. The daugh­ter was away at board­ing school, and it turned out my room was actu­ally hers (perhaps they actu­ally had less money than it seemed). It had no trace of anything person­al in there. Imagine shut­tling between a school dorm, and an Air BnB room all the time.

Always having to keep your valu­ables locked up in a safe.

One of the main reas­ons the students were not allowed upstairs was that the care­taker didn’t want them mess­ing around on the roof terrace. I image now it’s a luxury yoga retreat, the roof gets way more use.

There must have been legions of servants there in the stately home days. Most of the dorm rooms were clearly former servants’ rooms.

I was there for a couple of weeks, and although I still felt appalling, at least I had money in my pock­et and a confid­ence boost that at least a bunch of teen­agers had enjoyed meet­ing me and doing activ­it­ies I’d created. I ended up return­ing to London again a few months later, again without plan­ning to, and because I was offered a job, but I guess that’s a story for anoth­er time.




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