The extreme weather in the first half of the month kept us all more hibernated even than usual. The dogs were keen to take shorter walks in blinding blizzards. Despite wearing her coat, Bonnie, who has no body fat, was shivering so much on some occasions that I was worried that she might never get warm again. I found new walks that mitigated the grimness of perpetual custom: a new track leading from Clayton village up to the Jack and Jill windmills; the Roman road from Hassocks to Ditchling, metal-fenced into a muddy corridor by its wealthy sheep farmer and landowner; medieval meadows and paths behind Hurstpierpoint; a track past an ancient mound and the well-named 321-year old Oldland Windmill under repair on Lodge Hill Lane between Ditchling and Hassocks; roaming on Chailey Common’s blasted, gorse-scurried heaths, with Chailey windmill, next to an old yew tree said to mark the centre of Sussex, and where mills have turned since 1590,
Most of these walks are close to the Sussex Greensand Way, a Roman road that follows the free draining ridge of greensand just north of the South Downs. I also spent some days on walks in Brighton, discovering new corners of interest in Kemp Town, the district where Jessie and Jurrat live and work, the Esplanade, Blackrock, the Marina, and the green space of Queens Park which reminds me of an unkempt and hilly version of London’s St James’s Park, complete with large pond, honking geese, happy dogs and shrieking children. I visited the amazing Taj, a large and popular store in Hove that sells a cornucopia of Asian and African food. I bought the main ingredients there to make my favourite African dish, Ghana’s famous Red Red – a concoction of cow peas, spices and red palm oil served with baked plantain or cassava. I also witnessed the winter dusk murmuration of starlings that swing, glitter and twirl like an airborne dance troupe just by the end of the Palace Pier and around the blackened ruins of the West Pier. I have redoubled my efforts to concentrate on creative writing while still ‘between jobs’, and made some progress in my ironic project to write a book about employment.
I have been reading the books I received for Christmas to lessen the grind. I have particularly enjoyed The discomfort of evening by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld, a disquieting first novel of a disturbed dairy farming family in the rural Netherlands, and The Salt Path by Jaynor Winn, an unusual account of walking and wild-camping on the South West Coastal Path between Minehead and Poole via Land’s End, which made me yearn for a new spring in my step, although it also turned me right off visiting Land’s End any time soon. I also re-read a couple of Graham Green’s shorter stories, The Third Man and The Fallen Idol.
In other lockdown news, my niece Eve landed her first proper job starting in September, so a glittering career beckons after she finishes her modern languages degree at Oxford. My thoughts are turning to the vegetable garden, and rather than risk my neck and lose my head in the dilapidating greenhouse from which sheets of shardy glass have been spontaneously sliding to the ground, I ordered a temporary potting shed to get seedlings going during March. It will arrive in a flat pack so I am already getting prepared for its assembly. For the beds I have bought Pentland Javelin and Maris Piper potato seeds, and will plant runner beans, lettuce, chili, okra and tomato seeds. The warmer weather at the end of the month encouraged me to be better planned and economical than last year when local seed shortages through March and part of April forced me to order seeds from China, which came late.
Dogs on Lodge Hill, Ditchling
Brother-in-law Anthony arrived from Luxembourg with niece Sophia at the end of the month. Sophia will stay with Jessie and Jurrat, initially in confinement, then stay in Brighton for a while to look for a job. Anthony departed the next day with English meat, sausages and other delicacies. He had a smooth passage back across the border between the UK and its civilised neighbours. My first vaccination for Covid-19 has been arranged for later this week in Brighton. I was sent a leaflet in large type and short words from the NHS headed ‘a guide for older adults’ with a couple of lovable geriatrics portrayed on the cover. It says that the side effects from the vaccination include feeling tired, headache, and general aches. I wondered briefly if I had already had the ‘jab’.
Yours in vitro