Day two of my walk with my old friends, and this time we musketeers woke early to blue skies and an unexpected sunshine. It was an early start for we had to finish at lunch time so, boots on, yesterday’s muscles consigned to the ‘do not disturb’ pile and rictus grins on our faces we headed up. Always up. And then a bit more up.
Beachy head loomed high above us, patchworked by gorse and brambles and meadows of orchids alongside the golf course where the women of Eastbourne were taking their exercise. Dogs and butterflies abounded even at this early hour; at least with butterflies you don’t have to dodge their faeces. Back in another life when my family bred butterflies and moths we called caterpillar poo ‘fras’ which was short for something (the Archaeologist will tell us in the comments I imagine). I was rather squeamish about cleaning out the cages back then but, looking back, post children and dogs, what was I worried about?
Thinking about butterflies hereabouts is a real memory jogger. Days out with my parents and the Archaeologist were always determined by (a) could we picnic somewhere off the beaten track; (b) could we hunt for a special butterfly or look for a specific moth caterpillar; and (c) was there a pub serving decent (i.e. not keg) beer(this being my father’s requirement)?
You may not know what keg beer is so, in time honoured fashion, I shall digress. The breweries, post WW2 began to consolidate into the sort of behemoths that Amazon is today to books and Piers Morgan is to egos. Consolidation was great for them (with their public houses ‘tied’so they could only sell that brewery’s beer) and shit for the customer. Economies of scale and industrial scale brewing meant the idea of beer maturing in its cask was a non starter. It would be off before it reached the pub. So it was carbonated and weakened. The concept of a session beer was developed (you could keep drinking it for a whole session and not render your liver into pate). The result was a massive disillusionment with the brewing industry. It led to jokes such as:
What’s the similarity between Watney’s Red Barrel (a classic keg beer) and making love in a punt?
They’re both fucking close to water.
This disillusionment led to one of the great social constructs of the late 20th century: the single issue pressure group, in this case CAMRA – or the Campaign for Real Ale. It worked; cask conditioned ale returned; beer that made you belch like a gross of cucumbers disappeared and the beer tie was eventually smashed. On the down side the number of country pubs has dwindled alarmingly and are now as rare a sight as elms and much loved politicians. The law of unintended consequences, huh?
Back then, the real priority was the picnic spot. For the spot to be acceptable we needed one thing. Exclusivity. On one occasion not far from where I was now walking, I was asked to do something I was never ever asked to do before or after: turn on my radio (I always carried my transistor) find Radio One and turn it up to an unconscionable volume. No one I’m my family was musical and none of them liked anything more modern than 1945, least of all the Archaeologist whose musical taste was, and remains limited to thirteenth century suicide pact ensemble pieces for harpsichord and garrotte. The aim of this extraordinary musicological change of heart? A harmless couple who had settled down for a cuppa in one of our favoured spots. The assessment that their musical tastes did not embrace the Stones, Floyd or even Harry Nilsson was well founded. After a few glares, a lot of harrumphing but no outward complaints (clearly they were British) they left. ‘You can turn down that cacophonous caterwauling right now, boy.’ Thanks dad.
Back to today and we huffed and puffed up the slope to reach the plateau at Beachy Head: it was bracing up top. And empty. Hereabouts I leant a lesson that I shouldn’t have needed to learn. Given the demographic of Eastbourne I made a comment about the likelihood that the risk of an aged member of the local populus setting out and not returning from a preprandial stroll was pretty high. Shortly after, by the memorial to the crews of Bomber Command who flew over these cliffs, we met another walker; he told us that half an our before that very thing had happened and we had turned up just as the ambulance crew left. We felt suitably chastened and I felt a utter twannock.
The head itself is infamous for its jumpers and you can see why as you look along the line of the cliffs towards the Seven Sisters. It is magnificent and clearly deadly if you go over. There’s something sinister here even on the warmest sunniest day.
Ahead the Belle Tout lighthouse stood proud; now a dwelling it has been moved back from the cliff edge; clearly the same again will be needed in the not too distant future.
But this isn’t a place to be sombre for long. The rolling cliffs, the magnificent Sussex Downs all uplift the spirits and if that wasn’t enough, the National Trust Birling Gap cafe served its purpose: coffee and cake. Bliss.
We turned here, heading back towards Eastbourne and inland. Down below it was quieter, less wind, more insect life. The sun began to induce something beyond a glow and we were soon down to T-shirts. The path stuck to a valley though farmland and the conversation turned to times past.
Soporific afternoons brought back memories of other colleagues, recruiting nightmares – like the first time we used the video conference facility to interview a woman in Australia. It went well enough, we thanked her for her time and switched the link off to have a debrief about what we all thought …. only we had just turned off the picture but the sound was still up and running. Fortunately we only said positive things and nothing inappropriate.
It was on a positive note we finished, said our farewells and agreed to our next walk: Suffolk. Watch this space.