So they want to make me go to rehab, I said yeah yeah yeah? The NHS has answered my enquiry from last year about how to resolve an increasingly painful lower back, and sent me for some sessions at a weekly course called Rehab Gym taking place locally in Haywards Heath, the all-time national epicentre of lower back pains. Although it was described as a group initiative, I had 45 minutes solo with the trainer, and came out the first time already feeling better and with a large red rubber band to do further leg strengthening exercises. This is in addition to my visits to a local osteopath who is ironing out tight muscles in my legs.
Although my daily walks with our dogs Bonnie and Max are now being severely reduced by my welcome return to day-long work obligations, they yield many dividends for my health and also keep me close to the reassuring company of nature. This helps me to think straighter and clearer than I often do for the rest of the day. I work many things out on the basis of how many squirrels are active in the woods; random remarks from fellow walkers; the shadows cast by the autumnal sun across the downlandscape; or the intensity of the flies around dog-poo receptacles. My conversations with myself, often spoken out loud, are laden with deep insights and luminous intellectual content which for some reason I can never reproduce in human company. Walks with variety and diversity are the best at any time: ideally I would start by threading through vineyards by lakes and over gentle hills, then clop through small villages echoing with church bells, then sink slowly into lush valleys with swishing meadows and slow-babbling streams, then after climbing bostalls to and from the top of the Downs, walking on high ditches and wooden bridges in marshland and ending fresh but tired on the salty boardwalk of a pebble beach by chalky cliffs. Sometimes the failing automatic navigation of the Ordnance Survey joins in the fun by sending me up tracks that gradually disappear into gorse bushes or fields of benign cows owned by ruddy farmers.
One walk incorporating some aspects of these is at the ‘haunted’ ex-golf course and related tracks off the London Road between Hassocks and Hurstpierpoint. There is an ethereal quality to the walk with the green-grassed-over bunkers, the tee-off mounds looking like prehistoric barrows, the spooky direction signs and the odd throwback acoustics. There may also be canine ghosts, like Bunuel’s black dog sloshing around looking for lost balls in the slimy green ponds. I can almost see the chimeric traces of yellow and orange golf attire on whispy elderly ladies with sun visors. The whole space is surrounded on three sides by growling giant diggers hired from the War of the Worlds and is threatened with extinction by digger and townhouse. From witnessing yet more mechanical gouging activity on another walk I made the unhappy discovery that five large and ancient fields around the nearby Clayton Mills are soon to be re-surfaced with hundreds of new houses.
Bonnie and Max are oblivious to all this since they live in a different world with its own challenges but none of my pretensions. They do not look down from the ridges of the South Downs onto the weald or the south coastal cliffs and think ‘what a beautiful view!’ although I find myself pointing the views out to them.
Alli and I now see the wider family’s new canine additions (Ella and Sam’s Maisie, and Jessie and Jurrat’s Jaxon) regularly. With Bonnie and Max, I met with Jessie and the irrepressible but increasingly attuned Jaxon for a stroll in East Brighton, and later walked around Ditchling Beacon with Gwen and Lawrance who was spending a few days in Brighton, while we continue to do occasional shift work on dog-sitting duties for Maisie from time to time. The girls and I had dinner in Brighton one Tuesday night before going to the Dome for an excellent concert by the multi-talented Laura Marling. We also invited Jessie, Jurrat, Ella, and Sam over for a traditional Sunday lunch featuring one of Alli’s most popular meals – roast lamb. We were invited back to Jessie and Jurrat’s to celebrate Alli’s birthday with a memorable dinner made up of all Alli’s ‘off-table’ choices, carefully noted some weeks earlier. After staying overnight we joined Ella, Gwen and Lawrance (who had done the park run in Preston Park the next morning) to have brunch together at the popular new place, the Nowhere Man.
Alli and I went to Surrey to visit the Pickups (and their active/submissive dog Orla). The welcome was warm and we ate and drank well, delighting the dogs by going on two long walks in the Surrey hills. We visited an entertaining and educational gin and botanicals tasting session at the small and innovative Vann Lane distillery on the Saturday afternoon after visiting the Merry Harriers on the Hambledon Road. I had no idea that gin is essentially neat vodka with added botanical infusions, ‘predominantly’ juniper. The next day we walked around the Thursley Nature Reserve, spread around the generous seam of greensand soil running along the foot of the North Downs, then had lunch in the garden of the Noah’s Ark, an ancient pub in postcard-perfect Lurgashall village, where Andrew plays his cricket – quintessential Surrey.
We had a visit from cousins Sue, over from the USA, and Debbie, Sue’s sister, over from Dorset, and accompanied by her children Hannah and James. They were very glad to spend time with Laurie and Kay and the sentiments were entirely mutual. Such family gatherings have been sparse in the last few months; we look forward to more in the future, notably at Christmas when the house will be full of family. We have also all had the winter flu vaccine, participating in a brilliantly organised mass oldie-herding job at the Hurstpierpoint Health Centre which reminded me of sheep-dipping operations in Australia. After getting my jab I asked for and got a lollypop.
Yours in humble confection,