South Downs Way 1 – Eastbourne to Steyning

Once upon a time, or five or six years ago, if you prefer, I thought I would start up my own outdoor adventure company. It never happened in the end, largely due to the cost of insurance. However, if I had gone through with it I have to admit it would have been largely so I could go on long distance trails both in the UK and overseas without having to pay for it.

Oh, well. It was a nice idea.

The South Downs Way is a long distance footpath of one hundred miles in length, running from Eastbourne to Winchester, or Winchester to Eastbourne, if you must, along the top of the South Downs.

Hence the name.

We walked it in May.

It is usual, when writing about a journey – especially a long distance walk – to write in some detail about the scenery and the route, in sequential order. I don’t think I’ll do that this time. Instead I’ll probably jump about all over the place writing about odd things we found particularly interesting.  And post one or two photos of the stunning scenery…

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Such as this one.

So, a few points of interest.

This, then, is a dew pond:

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Chalk is a porous rock, allowing any rainfall to rapidly soak away, so the only way of providing water on the top of the downs is by artificial means. Dew ponds have been made up there for hundreds of years; a hollow is dug and lined with clay, which then fills naturally when the rain falls. Dew is probably not a significant contributor, despite the name. The downside to this simple system is should the pond dry out, then the clay, too, will dry out. When this happens, it will shrink and crack, and subsequent rainfall will leak out.

And while on the subject of rainfall, we didn’t have glorious weather all the way:

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We were forced to seek refuge in a convenient pub at the Devil’s Dyke for a couple of hours, but we made the best of it. This was clearly A Good Move because although it was still pouring with rain when we eventually left the pub, it began to clear up in about an hour and then we had sunshine for the rest of the day.

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These are cowslips. The word comes from the Old English cuslyppe, which means cow dung, because, yes, that’s where they like to grow, apparently. Years ago, before the coming of intensive farming practices and industrial weedkillers, our fields were full of cowslips, but they seem to be met with now primarily in the more open landscapes – like downland. For the first few days of our walk, especially, we saw lots of cowslips.

We had a rest day at Steyning, although we stayed at nearby Bramber.

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Bramber Castle is a strange and mysterious place, which magically energises the over sixties and causes them to revert to their childhood.

Although not for long, sadly.

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Bilbo In The Breeze

This is another standalone poem from my linked series, a work in progress, poems written around the theme of the weather.

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Please don’t ask me when the whole thing might be completed!

Bilbo in the Breeze

 

Tonight, there is no moon,

But I hear dry leaves,

Swirling and clattering on the path.

Fingers brushing my cheek,

Cold breath on my face.

 

Leaves, dry leaves,

Flung into the air and a voice,

A spiteful, hissing voice,

Whispering in my ear:

‘What has it got in its pocketses?’

 

There are nasty, cold fingers

Poking and prying around my pocket.

I feel a tug at my jacket,

A sudden push in my back.

 

I jam my hands in my pockets

To warm them and keep the nasty fingers out.

 

My fingers touch…

Something dry…

It crackles…

What have I got in my pocket?

New Year’s Essay, 2018

I rarely, if ever, make New Year’s resolutions. I feel that if there is something in my life that needs changing, then it should be addressed straight away, rather than leaving it until an arbitrary date in the future. Of course, for many people it acts as a focus or some other incentive to change old habits, although witness the number of gym memberships that never get used beyond, say, the end of January, and it becomes obvious that what many people need to change most is their resolve.

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Possibly jumping the gun a little with this photo…

As an introvert, I am very curious to know whether much of my behaviour is conditioned by my being that, or whether it is my behaviour that causes my introversion in the first place. It’s probably a ‘chicken and egg’ situation, of course, with both applying equally. My introversion is surely driven by those elements of anxiety, my inferiority complex and the depression I’ve always lived with, and, in turn, those things will be reinforced by my chosen introverted lifestyle.

But we are complex creatures. Like Harry Haller in Hermann Hesse’s excellent novel Steppenwolf, each one of us consists of many different personalities. Our characters will be made up of a mixture of the cultivated soul, the wild, untamed soul (the ‘wolf of the steppes’ in Hesse’s book), the dancer, the monk, the shopaholic, the miser…all those elements will be there to a greater or lesser degree. And alongside the Introvert exists also the Extrovert, even if this personality is rather repressed in my case. It is all a matter of balance.

It seems much worse in the winter, too. I am certain I am affected by SAD; it seems entirely logical that I should feel low when the weather is cold and grey and bleak, and perk up when the sun comes out. Perhaps we all do.

Yesterday, the weather was the pits. Cold, grey, and bleak, with added showers of freezing cold rain and a wind that cut through me like a knife. I really felt like crap. But today, I walked out under a clear blue sky, a bright sun glinting off the puddles and the grass rippling in a mild, gentle breeze. These are the moments I need to seize; to wrestle my soul back from the darkness. The moments I need to shake off the black dog and point myself towards the little things I can do to lift myself.

I remind myself that I have a published book that people have been nice about, therefore not all my writing is meaningless drivel. I have sold many paintings, and a lot of people have enthused over them. I can paint, and I don’t need to destroy them all. Family and friends do matter, and they do care about me. There will be warm, sunny days and expeditions.  There will be walks and bottles of wine shared. There will be wonderful books to read and interesting places to visit.

And so, I resolve to fight that bastard black dog for another year.

Oh I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside!

A standalone excerpt from a work in process – a series of linked poems with the overarching title Breeze.

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You see, I never do things by halves. Unfinished novels, short stories and poems, too.

I’m sure a psychologist would have a field day.

On the late season sea-front we press our hats to our heads,

And shout to make ourselves heard.

The rain stings faces, and dribbles miserably down necks

It hoses noisily up and down abandoned streets,

As we struggle to stay on our feet between the chip shop and the variety theatre.

 

‘Shall we go for a drink?’

‘What? I can’t hear you!’

‘I said…’

 

Cables beat maniacally, ringingly,

Against rusting and white paint chipped flagpoles.

 

Piles of deckchairs like collapsed marionettes shift uneasily

On the shingle among the lolly sticks and sweet wrappers,

The bladdery seaweed and the old egg sacs,

Beneath the rounded overhang of the promenade;

Their fabric thrumming and whirring

And flapping.

 

The weather forecast said a thirty percent chance of rain.

 

An empty drinks can follows us noisily across the road.

 

‘That’s better.’

‘Gosh, that wind’s strong today!’

‘It’s almost like winter.’

‘What’ll you have?’

‘Better make it a strong one!’

‘Yeah. Make that two.’

 

Leaning on the bar, waiting for the drinks.

Staring gloomily out of the window.

 

Darting gulls,

Silver light,

Drinking silently,

Glancing at each other.

 

‘Tell you what. Why don’t we just go home?’

Bloody Weather

Yesterday I sat down to work on a section of my novel which is set in a hot, dry place. Outside, however, the skies were grey and the wind was blowing. It was becoming cooler. Autumn leaves drifted down. Everywhere was damp. Everywhere was muddy. Unsurprisingly, the writing refused to happen.

Fortunately, I have an unfinished short story set in a leaden, windy, wet and muddy environment – Britain – so I wrote a few hundred words on that. My hero was a bit wet and cold and windswept, but what the heck!

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I know a few hundred words isn’t much, but it’s more than I’ve managed for a while. Partly, because I’ve been unusually busy, and partly because I’ve felt a bit down.

But as a bit of a progress report on my forthcoming short story collection, A Dozen Destinies, a few more of the stories went out to beta readers yesterday, so I haven’t yet given up on the possibility of having it ready for the beginning of December. I’ve settled on a cover picture (big reveal to come!) and decided to release it as an Amazon Print on Demand and Kindle ebook only.

Last year, I spent a lot of time looking at other outlets for Making Friends with the Crocodile, as well as releasing it on Amazon, and I eventually used Kobo (ebook) and Pothi (POD in India), but neither of them justified the effort. So this time I’ll keep it simple.

Goodness me, I don’t know how any of you manage to contain your excitement.

And today it’s grey and windy and wet. And there is a real bite to the wind.

Oh well. ‘It was a dark and soggy night…’

Danger! Natural Selection at Work!

Bob has a new mobile phone.

Do you remember Bob?

Some of you may remember him from when he and I went on a mighty expedition together. The report can be found here. And, as an update to that report, I can now reveal that Bob eventually found his way back home, much to his wife’s chagrin as she had already cashed in his life insurance and taken up with a new man.

But that’s another story.

Anyway, Bob has a new mobile phone. And, being Bob, he was insistent that it be the latest, most up-to-date, all-singing and all-dancing mobile phone, with more apps (whatever they are) than…something that has lots of apps.

He has an app for everything; an app for navigation when he is out in the countryside (naturally!), an app to help him choose whatever he is going to buy if he needs to go shopping, an app that gives him a weather forecast. He even has an app that tells him when he needs to eat or go to the toilet.

Heaven only knows how he managed to cope with life before the phone.

But, there is a downside to all this.

We went for a walk and, sure, we didn’t get lost. This was because Bob had his head over the phone the whole time. We didn’t get lost, but Bob bumped into twenty seven trees, fell in two streams, had an altercation with a herd of cows, tripped over almost fifty tree roots and finally walked into the bus stop.

And he had no idea of where we had been or what sort of countryside we had passed through. Rather a waste of time, really.

Now, Bob is not unique in this, oh, God, no.

The sidewalks in our town have become dangerous places since these phones became popular. I’m beginning to get seriously cross with the number of pedestrians who march towards me, head over their phones, and not even walking in a straight line, so it becomes quite difficult to avoid them. And should I have the temerity to perhaps cough discretely to let them know I’m there, or even to feebly call ‘look out!’ or ‘excuse me!’ I invariably get a glare and perhaps a few muttered words about not looking where I’m going.

And it appears to be an almost universal phenomenon now.

We get more and more news items about these people walking into the paths of vehicles, or off the edge of cliffs, or finding other similarly stupid ways to get killed.

Perhaps it’s a modern form of natural selection? I don’t know. Large numbers of idiots seem to kill themselves the same way taking ‘selfies’ (what a f*cking irritating word that is!), so perhaps there is something in that.

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Jaipur – a random photo. Don’t try it here! 

I first became aware of the truly frightening potential for these sort of incidents a few years ago in India. Some of the driving on the switchback roads in the Himalaya is notoriously terrifying in any case, but to then see these fellows also using their phones while driving just made it even more frightening.

And then there was the girl I saw with a mobile phone ‘doing a Bob’ across an extremely busy Calcutta street.

Yet, she survived.

If there is anything in the theory of natural selection, then the future belongs to her!

Grumble Mutter Whinge

It is the first of March, today.

Meteorologically, it is the first day of spring. So, that virtually guarantees what weather we will have today; the sky is overcast and grey, there is a bitterly chill wind blowing and a spiteful, thin drizzle.

Spring! Oh, humour!

Arf!

Admittedly, the astronomical calendar tells us spring doesn’t arrive until around the 20th March, so winter still has cate blanchett to do whatever it will.

So that’s fine; it sort of reflects my mood at the moment, anyway. But at least going out for a walk always lifts my mood a little, and today is no exception. I’ve been working on my new novel quite intensely for a while, and I suddenly need to step back from it for a week or two.

Come up for air, as it were.

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Not this one!

And so I go for a walk in the miserably wintery springy weather. Ten minutes or so through the streets brings me to the common – a wooded area on the edge of the town which, on good days, is a pleasant enough place to walk, even if it doesn’t have any convenient mountains or long distance trails.

On bad days, though, it is full of dog walkers.

That sounds a bit mean, you may say. And, okay, you’re right. It is. But in my defence, when I say full of dog walkers (and dogs), I mean full!

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This one!

It is not unusual to be surrounded by dozens of dogs running madly around, the air filled with strident shouts of ‘Gawain! Guinevere! Come here at once!’ ‘Will you come here!’ ‘Put that down!’ ‘Keep still and he won’t hurt you!’ and then some wretched little tyke suddenly tugging at your trouser leg with a mouthful of razor-sharp teeth, to be followed by another shout of ‘Keep still, I said!’ from a voice that could etch glass.

But not today, fortunately.

And having had my walk, I can sort out a couple of other things on my writing list.

Once I got back, I edited a short story I promised for a project for our writing group. Job done – tick.

Next, I’ll begin the edit of a very long short story that has been hanging around for ages. So long, in fact, that I mentioned it in the ‘My Writing’ section on this blog when I first set it up, a year and a half ago. Tut. It’ll be good to get that finished, anyway. It’s my first attempt at a traditional murder mystery, and I rather got lost in my own convolutions.

If I get it to the point where I’m happy with it, I might put it out as an e-book, just to see what people think of it.

Ahem…if anyone buys it, of course.

And, as a bonus, I had an idea for another short story while I was out walking, so hooray!

Now to barricade the door against all the angry dog walkers.

Trapped!

It’s snowing here, and I fear we are completely cut off from civilisation.

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Well, this is the UK; we don’t exaggerate a great deal, but our experience of bad weather, especially here in our little corner of the country, is not quite as extreme as in some other places, so cut us some slack, will you?

Now, if it was raining hard, we wouldn’t bat an eyelid. Or eyelids…there could be a grammatical issue here, but I’m not going to pursue it right now. This is the UK, so we do rain. We may not get a monsoon, but, hell, we get more than enough of the stuff. We get floods and high tides and days and days of it pouring out of leaden skies onto us. We get so much of it that if we ever get a period of more than a week without rain, we officially declare it a drought and order everyone not to use hosepipes and make it compulsory to take baths with a friend, and ration it so severely that all we have to drink is beer.

Actually, we should declare a drought most weeks, I reckon.

But back to the present. I had been planning to walk to the nearest large supermarket to do our regular shop for large items, but now this doesn’t look nearly so attractive. And, quite frankly, nor does the thought of the return trip with a rucksack full of catfood and soya milk and other heavy bulkies.

And what is worse, we are running low on essential supplies; eggs, bread, beer…you know, essentials.

Of course, we can get some of these round the corner at the little shops in our own little high street, but because of the severe arctic conditions prevailing outside, we have been reduced to glowering at each other and using psychological warfare;

‘I thought you wanted a newspaper.’

‘I do. I thought you might go and get it.’

‘I’ve got a blog post to write and, anyway, I’m not worried whether we get a newspaper or not.’

‘We’ve got no eggs. Don’t you want an omelette this morning?’

‘I’ve had cereal.’

‘You always have an omelette on Saturdays.’

‘Not always. We need milk soon, too. I only put a splash in my tea, you use much more than me.’

‘Grrr’

‘Snarl’

But you can get everything delivered, now. Perhaps we could get our eggs delivered by Amazon drone, since this is the coming thing. And Amazon sell everything in the world now, or will do soon.

‘That doesn’t sound a good idea,’ says my wife (we’re talking again, although we still haven’t gone to the shops) ‘perhaps they will just put a chicken on the drone, instead, and when it reaches the customer’s house the drone could automatically give it a hormone injection to stimulate egg laying, then return to base afterwards.’

Of course, the calculations would be quite complicated; they would have to take into account the weight and body mass of the chicken, the number of eggs required…heaven knows what else. But I like the idea of parachuting in emergency chickens.

I’m a little worried about the larger items, though. Crates of wine or sacks of rice might pose an altogether different and somewhat stiffer test. How big are the drones? It’s all very well in theory, but none of want drones the size of a 747 landing in our streets with a new refrigerator and a week’s worth of potatoes for the neighbours.

Oh, it’s stopped snowing, now.