Friday, 6 July 2018

Seven (or is it Six-and-a-Half?) Sisters.

Back near the start of the year, I caught a news item that Storm Eleanor had caused significant erosion along the ‘Seven Sisters’ coast.  The worst impact turned out to be at Birling Gap.  I’m more familiar with the Cuckmere end.  I also got confused by a report of dangerous slippage that – it turned out - related to a Korean student who lost her footing when being photographed by a friend (sadly, falling 200 feet).  Not quite false news, but close.
The official tourist brochure photo

After Mary and I had been on the morning ‘field trip’ to Castle Hill, we’d also been to Shirley’s amazing sixth-floor apartment for an evening meal.  I thought that Mary would be content with a quiet day thereafter.  But she wanted to revisit another chalky grasslands site, which turned out to be Seaford Head.  We packed some lunch and the walking sticks, coated up with sun block, and headed off.  

Mary soon gets absorbed in the countryside.  So all I had to do was let her saunter off, inspecting this, photographing that, and generally soaking up everything.  I sat on a bench in the sun, and did not much other than look out over Cuckmere Haven while skylarks provided the soundtrack.  Squinting into the distance at the Seven Sisters, it did look as though there was more cliff fall than I remembered from previous visits.  However, I wouldn’t judge it serious enough to disallow any former paintings or photos of the landmark.
My snapshot in the hazy heat

Mary wandered back.  She was clutching a blue somewhat prickly flower that she’d picked, having failed to identify it.  At home, after searching books, we were still no wiser, though I would opt for meadow clary.  It wasn’t helped by the fact that the specimen had wilted in the heat.  Looking at the reddened state of my arms and neck, so had I.

Rukundo visits

The UK Multiply conference finished back in May.  But Rukundo, over from Rwanda, has been taking the long way home.  He went to the States to check out a Christian community group there.  He had also booked more appointments in the UK.  So, Wednesday evening found Len and me heading for Gatwick to collect him, en route for his weekend in London.  “He got this ridiculously cheap ticket, via Iceland,” Len explains, “On an airline I’d never heard of.”  Rukundo borrowed another passenger’s phone to make contact.  Eventually, Len found him wandering around Arrivals.  I remained in the pick-up car-park: £8 for the privilege of 40 minutes.  “I changed at this airport,” Rukundo narrated, “I can’t remember its name - and they told me the country has a population of only 400,000.  Before, I didn’t even know it exists!”  Okay smart guys, try reciting the names of the 50-odd countries in Africa to match Rukundo’s knowledge of Europe.
The admirable Stanmer Park Tea Rooms

Mary and I see a welcome opportunity to take him to Stanmer Park.  Here we can visit the garden centre and treat ourselves to some lunch at the tea rooms.  Rukundo lost nearly a hundred of his family in the Genocide.  I'm like a big uncle to him, and feel the responsibility.  I bump into him, cereal bowl in his hand, as I head off for my morning jog.  “Thought you’d be in bed a bit longer than this?” I propose.  “I woke up and didn’t know what time it was.  My phone needs charging, and I left Cincinnati at four-o-clock on Tuesday, so have no idea…”  He smiles, and waves a continental two-pin plug.  I surrender my phone charger to him.  The main purpose of his return to Brighton is to catch up with Jane.  She has been over to Kigali already, and is planning another visit.  She’s coming round to cook the evening meal, and they’ll have time to talk.

We head off for Stanmer Park, and make the garden centre the first destination.  But we find it’s now all closed up, and only the large tropical glass house has any plants.  Over the past year, Len has been doing a horticultural course at the extension college on the site.  Later, he explains that the whole facility is being redeveloped, including reinstating a large water catchment feature.  

Outside the Tea Rooms we find an empty table with a welcome umbrella (I guess more correctly, parasol).  After ordering, we’re able to spend an uninterrupted couple of hours.  First off, we try to frame how overseas visits to keep in touch may look, now that the National Leadership Team has closed down Multiply.  “There’s talk of getting together in Nairobi,” Rukundo explains.  “If you guys are going to arrange local Network events anyway, without us paying for everything, it shouldn’t be too difficult to just come and be with you,” I offer.  I ask how the newly-recognised group in Goma, DRC, is getting on.  “They just need to meet up as pastors, under One Heart and Soul.  They don’t really need the kind of vision I want to share.” Rukundo reflects, with mixed feeling.  

I feel awkward about all this.  I’d like to take Mary on any future trip, and she’ll need special consideration.  There are plenty of other Jesus Fellowship folks involved with Rukundo’s ministry, whereas I’d planned that Ghana would be the next visit I’d make.  We moved on to other uncertainties of the future.  Rukundo has picked up on the loss of confidence in our community foundations, and it affects him.  I joke that it’s biblical for apostolic figures to end their days ‘in chains’ writing letters.  I figure that’s little consolation for either of us.

Len arrived later, after yet another hospital visit to his Mum
Driving home, we pick up some mango juice and fiery ginger beer – two of his favourites.  Tim has arrived from Birmingham.  Malcolm has gone to the Darvell Bruderhof for a few days, it’s all change.  We realise it’s probably better (and cheaper) for Rukundo to travel by coach to London, because of a second day of rail disruption at Victoria.  In the morning, I try to sort out his mobile phone.  It's a twin-sim Techno, using a vodaNL sim; but he had a Lycamobile top-up card, and nothing would connect.  Perhaps letters are the way forward, after all.  We drop him off at the National Express terminal, behind the Albion Hotel.  You’d never find if you didn’t know it was there.

Mary calls me down for lunch, determined to feed me up on dark green leaves for the sake of my blood condition.  I’m feeling withdrawn - quite tearful – I just may never see Rukundo again.  And his parting words, “God has a future for you”, I find difficult to process.

Brighton marathon

They say that runners run because they like running, but joggers jog because they like cake.  I jog.  I’ve latched on to this irresistible route along the sea front and cliffs.  It forms part of the Brighton Marathon circuit.  If I do from the house (on Marine Parade), past the Marina and Roedean School to Ovingdean Gap, and back along the Undercliff beach-side walk, it’s seven kilometres.  If I manage it for six days it’s a marathon distance.  I succumb to such challenges.  Without checking my diary, I think this is my third visit where I’ve aimed for the target.  However, calculating the metrics is somewhat easier than delivering the effort.
The choice - upper or lower paths

You must try the bacon sandwiches and coffee at the Cafe
There are drawbacks.  To make sense of a visit to Brighton with friends and enjoy getting around a bit, I have to get on with the run early in the morning.  That’s allowing for stretch exercises, and – well, fortunately there are public toilets at Ovingdean.  Heading home, the early sun flatters the Marina's white buildings (though my daughter Lizzie compared it to 'just a tiny bit of Dubai').  And if I want to cut out a couple of kilometres, there’s no way down from the cliff top to beach level once I’m outbound past the Marina.  But these are small considerations.  I used to run out to the White Horse in Rottingdean, taking the total distance to nearer ten kilometres.  These days, I’d struggle with several successive days of that.  I can remember how – even a couple of years ago - my legs ached afterwards, climbing the stairs to our bedroom at the top of the house.

Undercliff Walk and Marina West Harbour
Someone (I suspect my daughter Kat) suggested I should download the Strava smart-phone app.  Here you get GPS tracking of your route, and speed comparisons and suggested link-ups with fellow-devotees.  Sadly, I’m only linked with one other person, Jamie, who also shares SARRG and Hallam Active membership.  He sees me in the gym and contends, “You haven’t been out doing much lately, Ian.”  Truth is, I don’t take my phone.  It flaps around insanely if I stick it in my running shorts pocket, and it would get wet if I strapped it to my upper arm.  So why do I bother?  Indeed.  Well, when Strava linked up with Google Earth to publish the most popular routes (globally), they turned out to be logged on military bases whose locations had been intended to be a closely guarded secret.  A bit of subversion has its appeal.  

I have a few rules: wear hi-vis, take water, and heed Mary’s advice not to overdo it.  This week has been pretty hot, with temperatures already in the 20Cs by eight or nine in the morning.  But here we are, I’m gratified to say, my sixth day, and the target’s reached.  Legs not aching too badly.  Respect to those who do the distance in one go.

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Ups and Downs at Castle Hill

I’ll say one thing for Brighton (not forgetting Hove) – they run plenty of events, and put out good information.  Both at Sunday’s Millwood community centre and at The Geese, there were relevant leaflet display stands.  So Mary and I decided to attach ourselves to an Active for Life Programme event involving a guided morning saunter over Castle Hill.  
UNESCO World Biosphere Region

We did some further research to see if refreshments were provided or just recommended.  I checked the Living Coast website (the  It revealed that The Brighton and Hove coastline, together with the Downs behind and extending to Lewes, are a UNESCO World Biosphere Region.  That’s in addition to the South Downs being a National Park, which is just one of three elements of the area’s special interest.  The coastline includes the Marine Conservation Zone chalk reef (or, as someone put it – rolling hills under the sea).  It turns out that the chalk grasslands at Castle Hill are ‘the jewel in the crown’; a world-class site of exceptional biodiversity.  Mary had already had her nose in an encyclopedia of wild flowers, and was looking forward to seeing ‘the real thing’ for some of the specimens.

We rolled up at a small car-park on Falmer Road, to be greeted by Becky the team leader in a green tabard, and Rick the Biosphere manager with his map-case full of field guides.  We filled in a health-check questionnaire, lest we should pass on something nasty or have a seizure on the walk round.  About half of the fifteen or so walkers were first-timers, and we felt very welcome.  Becky announced that this was a regular event, but we would be taking our time: expect about two hours.
Conservation - one reason why Brighton can't expand

Mary was soon in full stride, exchanging stories with Becky about her head-gardener grandfather, skylarks and yellow flax.  Castle Hill has a fenced entrance off the main track.  Perversely, the path heads downwards.  Rich gave us a rundown on the butterflies we may expect to see ‘in flight’, and the many types of flowers in bloom at this peak season.  Then we struck off in single file up a sheep track, challenged to spot the various species.

“There’s our first marbled white,” came a cry.  Then, “That’s a wall butterfly – very rare.  You’ll probably see fritillaries, too.”  This was getting very engaging.  These chalk hills are so reminiscent of the East Yorkshire Wolds of my childhood.  Rich identified the ‘scratchy’ song of a whitethroat, and, briefly, a yellowhammer.  We paused while he pointed out many varieties of flowers in just a couple of square metres of (to my untrained eye, unremarkable-looking) meadow.  Mary was right up with him: “And isn’t that thyme, and that quaking oat, and that's goatsbeard?” she quizzed.  
Mary quizzes Rich about his knowledge of flaxes

A little further along the track, the guy just in front of me drew Rich’s attention to a cluster of small bell-shaped flowers.  “Now that’s very rare,” Rich confirmed.  “Nottingham catchfly – one of the silenes.  I haven’t seen it before, but it’s on our information leaflet,” he pronounced, pulling one from his map-case.  “It’s not an insectivore, but it’s very sticky.  And this is ragged vetch - food for the adonis blue butterfly.  They're beautiful, unforgettable.”

As we moved under some bushes, at the top of a rise, Mary heard a yellowhammer.  “Oh, yes,” she beamed, “I’ve been waiting all summer to hear one.”  Then the last part of the main footpath, back to the Bexhill Road.  We said our ‘thank yous’ and goodbyes’ in the car-park.  For reference, Becky organises the walk regularly on Tuesdays.

We drove back via Arundel Road Lidl, where first Mary had set of the alarm, and then I had dropped a four-pinter of milk.  This time, we discovered they were completely out of bottled water.  At home, the B&H Bus Company confirmed that Mary’s lost bus pass had been handed in.  There is a God in heaven, seen in the beauty of creation and care for his children.

Monday, 2 July 2018

Millwood, The Geese and St Peters

We’re in our stride now, and coping with the Met-Office-official heatwave.  (Why do vegans never protest against hosepipe bans on the grounds of speciesism?)  Lizzie’s coming down from London, so Mary and I can have lunch with her after church.  There’s a busy day ahead.  I start early and knock up the obligatory seven kilometre jog to Ovingdean and back.  At breakfast, Ali tells us that both her Mum and Len’s are giving concern in their respective residential homes, resulting in middle-of-the night call ups.  
Millwodd community centre

The local congregation’s 11am meeting is in the community hall in the centre of the Kingswood estate.  Confusingly, it’s called Millwood, but we’ve now mastered the route to walk there.  Dave arrives without Helen, who’s in China on a school trip.  Louis picks some interesting songs.  Len invites folks to talk about the previous day’s pastoral training session, and Steven gives us an update on Jesus Centres.  We share the bread and wine, and Len leads a bible study from Romans 8.  Mary and I leave as lunch is served, because we have to find The Geese, where Lizzie has booked a table.

The weather called for some air conditioning, but we settled for a shaded corner, and ordered the traditional roast.  “Hidden secret, this place,” Lizzie confides, as she helps herself to more cauliflower cheese.  It was very good food.  Wear a black teeshirt and sport your tats if you really want to feel at home.  We decide to stroll down to the front for an ice cream.  It’s so busy that we opt to take a bus to the Marina. 

Lizzie, the fully-adjusted Londoner, has no cash, whereas Mary and I rely on bus passes.  I hadn’t been anywhere other than the Marina's Asda petrol station.  I’m pleasantly surprised by the harbours and the general ambiance, and won over by Five Guys milk shake.  When it’s time to head back to town for Lizzie’s train home, we discover that she can’t use her Uber account and Mary’s lost her bus pass – probably dropped on the outward journey.  Notwithstanding, we get to the Station on time, and then Mary and I saunter down to St Peters for the ‘Six’.
Archie Coates - St Peters

While this has been going on, Len and Ali have been running around attending to ‘the grans’.  Malcolm found himself locked out, and Steven walked the length and breadth of Brighton in search of a bottle of cold water.  He texts his apology for not joining us. 

At St Peters, Louis plonks himself down next to us.  The worship runs at a cracking pace and volume, despite the temperature.  Archie Coates encourages us to bring the best out in each other, and to learn how to confront in love.  This is a rerun of the sermon that Chris gave in Sheffield a month ago (even based on the same book).  It’s also sprinkled with references to BrenĂ© Brown, as was Steve’s message at the January Northampton celebration.  What is it about the Christian scene, that we’re recycling the same material?  (Or am I being harsh?  Actually, I don’t want to detract from St Peters: I do like what I’ve sampled.)
World Cup match on Luna Cinema

Mary and I walk home past the big open-air cinema screen.  I’m amazed that she’s kept going in the heat, as she generally wilts once the temperature tops 20C.  I’m the other way round.  If it wasn’t for what Jesus said, I’d opt for a theology where hell is cold.  Lizzie sends Mary a message to expect that her bus pass will have been handed in, like several things she’s left on the Tube.  But the customer service number is on answerphone until 7am tomorrow.  Len’s Mum has been taken into hospital, and Ali goes to join him at 10pm.  I wander off to bed, humming Bright City’s ‘Rock of our Salvation’.