Sunday, 16 November 2014

Devil's Dyke

As we drove home last night, after extracting ourselves from a mega-midnight traffic jam on the North Circular, we witnessed a very unpleasant incident involving the car in front of us pulling up alongside a middle-aged Turkish couple on the pavement, who were duly pelted with eggs. Fortunately the eggs landed at the couple's feet, but they were obviously quite shocked and perplexed. We tailed the offending car for long enough to get its number plate and then turned around to check that the couple were okay, and to let them know that we had the car's details if they wanted to take matters further. They said they didn't; sadly, I suspect they were the kind of immigrants who don't want to make a fuss, even if it means turning a blind eye when being treated badly.

I reported the incident to the police, assuming that, if these people were flinging eggs about, it was fair to assume they were probably up to other forms of, perhaps more serious, mischief.

There were two women on the tube this morning talking Dutch. At least I thought they were talking Dutch until I realised they were actually speaking in the strongest, most excessive Geordie accents. Having worked in Newcastle for several lengthy periods, I am pretty well attuned to all sorts of North Eastern accents, but this was something else! These women needed to put themselves up for dialect research!

I was on the tube heading to Victoria Station, where the plan was to take a train to Hove for the day. This would have been a simple enough task had it not been for some kind of planned engineering works which meant I had to get a rail replacement bus from Three Bridges. Sadly Southern Trains hadn't put enough effort into the customer service side of what was undoubtedly going to be a complicated day for passengers and indeed staff.

The train announcer told us that the replacement buses would be leaving from outside the front of Three Bridges station, but it turned out that the buses actually went from the far corner of the back car park. It was raining. All sorts of elderly people were trying to rush to the bus, which pulled away before we'd arrived. A group of men wearing hi-viz and carrying clip boards were trying to work out which bus went where. It was a shambles. Some buses were going direct to Brighton, others went via other towns and villages. Still more were apparently heading off to Lewes. None went to Hove. There was confusion, outrage and anxiety all round. It should really not have been that complicated...

Fortunately we ended up with a bus driver who didn't give a shit. There were only five of us on board, so he decided to floor his vehicle in the outside lane of the motorway, and the expected 45-minute journey lasted just twenty!

I met Fiona at Brighton Station in the end, and sat in the concourse eating some potato wedges whilst a stranger's dog begged at my feet. It was a little disconcerting, particularly as the dog's owners were laughing hysterically at how sweet it looked. It wasn't sweet. It was begging. And everyone was then watching me eat my potato wedges, which made me incredibly embarrassed!

We took a taxi out to the Devil's Dyke, a spectacular gorge on the chalk downs, high above Hove. The place is steeped in folk law and legend and was once home to a funicular railway and (I think) the world's first cable car. It's a stunning, atmospheric spot. In one direction you can see all the way to the sea, and in the other, for miles across the southern plains.

There's also a charming pub up there, which sells delicious food. Meriel and Hilary met us and we took one of the National Trust's suggested walks down into the dyke itself, and then up onto the ridge in a spectacular figure of eight. The sun shone, it was a bit muddy under foot in places, but the walk was glorious and a lot of fun.

We visited a farm run by the National Trust, with a little cafe, where we drank tea. I stroked sheep in a field, and we saw an old-fashioned wooden donkey wheel. One assumes it was built to drag water up from an aquifer which apparently still sits underneath the farm and provides water for much of the Hove area. For some of the walk, I was joined by a ladybird, who hopped onto my jacket shoulder and remained my companion for the best part of an hour.

The walk took us up through a wood, and then right to the top of the downs, where the views were simply divine.

The day ended back in the pub with soup and a salad and much mirth. We sat and watched the sun setting from a bay window; orange turned to mauve, then violet, then indigo and finally dark black.

I managed to get a non-stopping train back to London, but because of the nonsense engineering works, it took me home via Angmaring and Littlehampton (miles west along the seafront from Hove). It felt entirely like I was heading in the wrong direction, largely because I was. The eventual train journey was a full hour longer than it ought to have been.

Victoria Station at 8pm on a Saturday was full of terrible prannies; drunk people wandering aimlessly, people standing on the wrong side of the escalators, people dithering and pushing and creating multi-person pile-ups. On weekends, London fills with tourists and revellers who don't understand the etiquette of tube travel. They don't get that it's dangerous to simply stop at the bottom of an escalator. They don't know that you have to get off a tube train and simply walk the direction everyone else is walking in - until you get your bearings...

From Victoria I went to Tufnell Park to see our new friends Peter and David, who actually got married the same day as us. I suppose they were the other gay couple whose wedding was more circus than ceremony, having become the very first two gay men to tie the knot on that remarkable day. Their marriage was at Islington Town Hall at the stroke of midnight. It generated a huge amount of press attention, and by all accounts ended in some kind of street party on Upper Street, largely due to the sheer number of well-wishers who turned up to share in their joy. Though we didn't know each other then, we have somehow shared a fairly remarkable experience, and Peter and I have been in regular contact via email.

The party was great. In fact, it re-introduced me to an old friend who I'd worked with in a ballet in the year 2000, which seems like forever ago... Because it is!

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