The atrocious rain in the first half of January seemed like a judgment of the gods, restoring a balance disturbed by the absurd heat waves of the summer past. Walks were again mudslides, even on paths that previously had held firm throughout the last few weeks. Local sauntering was less of a pleasure as new lakes, pools and giant puddles often cut off regular routes and paths. It wasn’t easy going by car either, as rashes of traffic cones, temporary lights, and building work made life stressful for the local driver. And I won’t even start on bus and train travel. Or the potholes.
Jessie and Jurrat arrived back in the UK refreshed and revived after their epochal visit to Bangladesh. Jaxon the Staffie was over-pleased to see them, having been accompanied by several dog-sitters – me, Gwen, and Jessie’s friends, respectively, over the three weeks that they were away. Jurrat celebrated his last birthday as a bachelor soon afterwards. Alli abruptly won a useful £1,000 in the postcode lottery and was (amazingly) pleased with her new hairstyle. Ella and I have walked together in the Clair parkrun. Ella also completed another half-marathon in Crystal Palace as well as large parts of the stunning Downslink path from St Martha’s Hill to Shoreham. Sam had a successful operation on the cruciate ligament of his knee. Nephew Joe moved out to his father’s house in Wimbledon, ready-set-go for an illustrious career in the City. While having dinner with my Swiss friend Melanie in the restaurant Wild Flor in Hove, I discovered the ‘pithivier’, a small pasty in the shape of a hump and decorated with spiral lines drawn from the top and scalloping on the edge. A fitting dish for Epiphany, it hails originally from the French town of Pithiviers.
Alli and I went clay pigeon shooting one fine morning in Findon, and surprised ourselves by getting well tutored and even blasting a few clays. The Southdown Gun Club at Muntham Farm is professional and well run, with skilled trainers and a sociable atmosphere, and none of the paintball and axe-throwing malarkey that often attends such places. Later in the month, Jessie, Jurrat, Gwen and I had dinner together in Brighton before seeing Maisie Adam at the Komedia in Brighton. She gave us an amusing, starry-eyed, and somehow innocent narrative covering her most recent personal experiences, including getting romantically engaged and her hilarious impressions of the prepping and process now set in train. Jessie was taking careful note.
One Saturday, I drove to Three Bridges to attend the 2023 launch and organised walk of the Refugee Tales campaign, arriving on time but getting delayed trying to pay online for car parking at the dystopian station car park, creating another hellish experience that I have been trying not to repeat since having to pay £100 for just driving in and out of a car park / concentration camp in Oxford at the beginning of the year. This time it took me more than a confusing 25 minutes to pay, only to discover later that I had paid for the wrong parking place. This after, in identifying my car with its registration which incorporates two ‘U’s, I could not make the ‘U’ button work on the touchpad despite heroic and manic thumb-jabbing. It was undoubtedly a most amusing sight from afar. I already knew that this excuse, as a mitigation for my heinous crime, would be lockjaw-rejected with contempt and an extended fine by the human access-less APCOA. So I expected imminent imprisonment, bankruptcy, and a Game of Thrones-style walk of shame. The story provisionally ends happily, however, as I think I managed to pay on the following day.
The Refugee Tales meeting, however, was very inspiring, once I caught up with the waiting group, on an hour-long power walk to Worth Church and back, which tested my knees more than any parkrun. Then, over cups of tea, pieces of cake and a packed lunch at the local Methodist hall, I listened to stories from local refugees, Gatwick ex-detainees, and asylum applicants about their experiences with the Home Office and its treatment of refugees in Gatwick, Dover, and elsewhere. It was horrifying to hear and read the first-hand accounts of the incarceration and the inhumane conditions to which most refugees are subjected. The UK’s treatment of refugees is by a distressingly long way the worst in the developed world. It is the only country that assigns refugees as illegal immigrants on entry, eliminates realistic routes for legal access (even while the Minister denies it), imprisons many asylum seekers and refugees indefinitely, and removes human rights from innocent and often desperate people who have already survived enormous suffering and hardship. Never mind the comic obscenity of the Rwanda policy. Parallels with more humane UK reactions to past incidents of large-scale immigration of Huguenots, Jews, Catholics, Protestants, Irish, Italians, Poles, Germans (“poor Palatines” – from whom I am partially descended), Vietnamese, West Indians, Chinese, Kurds, Ugandan Asians, and Hong Kong residents, etc.) make this government appear uniquely malicious and medieval at best and plain evil at worst. Even my own Tory father would never have supported this. This guilty government seeks to prevent illegally detained refugees from even having a voice. Refugee Tales gives them a voice and a platform.
Alli and I have started looking for a house to rent in a market that seems to be mobbed by inflated demand. We have so far looked at properties in Hurstpierpoint, Falmer, and Burgess Hill. None have appealed to both of us and all are vertiginously expensive. This could be a long and winding road.
Lead me to your door,