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Good Old Sussex By The Sea

‘Up in the morning early,
Start at the break of day;
March till the evening shadows
Tell us it’s time to stay.
We’re always moving on, my boys,
So take the time from me,
And sing this song as we march along,
Of Sussex by the Sea.’

Sussex folk ‘won’t be druv’ (driven). So don’t mess with us……..

I’d love to be able to claim that I was Sussex born and bred. But I can’t. I was actually born in Surrey, whisked across the border with Hampshire for six weeks, and only after that stolen into the glorious northern forests of the splendid Sussex County. At the age of two I was then brought to Brighton for permanent lodgings.

I meet very few people in this life who don’t’ choose to tie their existence with some kind of outward identity. This can take many forms, perhaps their family or their town of residence (or origin). One of the most common tribal forms of identity is a sports team, most commonly football. This is probably at it strongest when, for people like myself, that is tied with their hometown, and in the case of Brighton & Hove Albion, their home county too.

Philosophers and psychiatrists have doubtless dissected the need for identity for centuries, and I’m not one to debate such matters. A sense of belonging obviously brings security and stability, even if only within our psychology. Most of us are doubtless aware of this, but for the most part choose to indulge it. As esoterically aware as I like to think I am, I definitely fall into that category.

So what of Sussex? This place of magnetic loyalty, this place of beautiful downland landscape, rolling forests, and stony seashores. Well, It’s only natural that the first place we learn to explore as we grow up is the immediate surroundings.

As a youngster, after he had been to visit home to check on the welfare of my mother, my very kindly Godfather used to often pick me up from school and take me on a ride throughout the countryside. I used to live for those days. As a family we never owned a car, so certain parts of rural Sussex were sadly off limit.

It was at this time that I became fascinated by the departure that the countryside offered from the urban sprawl. I used to live for these days out, and even as an adult, although totally in control of when I come and go, I still do.

Much of Sussex (South Saxon) was once covered in dense forest. As a result of agricultural encroachment over the centuries this has been eroded, although some dense areas still exist, particularly in the North of the county. St Leonard’s Forest, just south of Horsham, is a wonderful place to get lost in during May, the time of sweeping bluebells. This once happened to me, and rather than finding myself worried I just enjoyed the experience. Perhaps that’s because there was plenty of daylight left… There are some useful rambling trails and the location often offers a totally secluded experience of splendid isolation (Unless a Dear comes rampaging across your path, as once happened to me, leaving me in temporary shock). I once recorded the birdsong in this forest. I wish I still had the audio, it was something to behold.

To the other wandering extreme, the hills of the South Downs are a place to be at sunrise. To stand on Ditchling Beacon, or on the South Downs Way above The Ouse, with it’s misty aura, is a sight to behold at sunrise. Catching the right sort of weather for this experience renders planning pointless, I have managed to do it once this summer, ironically on a planned event, and it was more than worth it.

It seems to be a most English pastime to be disparaging of your own pastures, something I have found myself doing about parts of England myself, In recent times I have tried to curtail this habit, this self-effacing cultural habit, because such damning and sweeping assessments are often blind and frankly incorrect. There is much to be thankful for when it comes to living upon these shores.

However, Sussex, the very mention of the county, brings a chest puffing session of pride. It’s my county and I care much for it. Especially the quirky fusion of abstract culture that the town of Brighton (and Hove) affords my character.

So what provoked me to write this short piece of unadulterated praise, apart from the traditional mucky Bank Holiday weather that renders meaningful pursuit…meaningless?

Well, it’s back to the tribal Football thing.

As I’ve mentioned before, I sometimes attend away matches involving Brighton & Hove Albion. It’s a chance for a day out. At Birmingham City, a week or so ago, I heard the Albion fans singing the strains of Sussex By The Sea. However, instead of using the sanitised football version, they were attempting to sing some of the original verses in encouragement to others to do the same. In the greater scheme of things it probably doesn’t matter, but my pride was re-kindled upon hearing the verses of that splendid tune sung in their proper form.

The tune itself always raises the hairs of the neck, not just for me, for many folks when it gets played at the AMEX. The only frustration is that many make no effort to learn the words. Hopefully this will change now. For Brighton and for Sussex. Does it really matter in the ultimate scheme of things? No. But for the endless want of identity, it goes a long way to fuel that tremendous sense of belonging to these wonderful pastures. Give it a go.

Sussex – Rudyard Kipling(1902)
GOD gave all men all earth to love,
But since our hearts are small,
Ordained for each one spot should prove
Belovèd over all;
That, as He watched Creation’s birth,
So we, in godlike mood,
May of our love create our earth
And see that it is good.So one shall Baltic pines content,
As one some Surrey glade,
Or one the palm-grove’s droned lament
Before Levuka’s Trade.
Each to his choice, and I rejoice
The lot has fallen to me
In a fair ground—in a fair ground—
Yea, Sussex by the sea!No tender-hearted garden crowns,
No bosomed woods adorn
Our blunt, bow-headed, whale-backed Downs,
But gnarled and writhen thorn—
Bare slopes where chasing shadows skim,
And, through the gaps revealed,
Belt upon belt, the wooded, dim,
Blue goodness of the Weald.

Clean of officious fence or hedge,
Half-wild and wholly tame,
The wise turf cloaks the white cliff edge
As when the Romans came.
What sign of those that fought and died
At shift of sword and sword?
The barrow and the camp abide,
The sunlight and the sward.

Here leaps ashore the full Sou’west
All heavy-winged with brine,
Here lies above the folded crest
The Channel’s leaden line;
And here the sea-fogs lap and cling,
And here, each warning each,
The sheep-bells and the ship-bells ring
Along the hidden beach.

We have no waters to delight
Our broad and brookless vales—
Only the dewpond on the height
Unfed, that never fails—
Whereby no tattered herbage tells
Which way the season flies—
Only our close-bit thyme that smells
Like dawn in Paradise.

Here through the strong and shadeless days
The tinkling silence thrills;
Or little, lost, Down churches praise
The Lord who made the hills:
But here the Old Gods guard their round,
And, in her secret heart,
The heathen kingdom Wilfrid found
Dreams, as she dwells, apart.

Though all the rest were all my share,
With equal soul I’d see
Her nine-and-thirty sisters fair,
Yet none more fair than she.
Choose ye your need from Thames to Tweed,
And I will choose instead
Such lands as lie ’twixt Rake and Rye,
Black Down and Beachy Head.

I will go out against the sun
Where the rolled scarp retires,
And the Long Man of Wilmington
Looks naked toward the shires;
And east till doubling Rother crawls
To find the fickle tide,
By dry and sea-forgotten walls,
Our ports of stranded pride.

I will go north about the shaws
And the deep ghylls that breed
Huge oaks and old, the which we hold
No more than Sussex weed;
Or south where windy Piddinghoe’s
Begilded dolphin veers
And red beside wide-bankèd Ouse
Lie down our Sussex steers.

So to the land our hearts we give
Till the sure magic strike,
And Memory, Use, and Love make live
Us and our fields alike—
That deeper than our speech and thought,
Beyond our reason’s sway,
Clay of the pit whence we were wrought
Yearns to its fellow-clay.

God gives all men all earth to love,
But since man’s heart is small,
Ordains for each one spot shall prove
Beloved over all.
Each to his choice, and I rejoice
The lot has fallen to me
In a fair ground—in a fair ground—
Yea, Sussex by the sea! 


About Brighton Lines



One thought on “Good Old Sussex By The Sea

  1. I enjoyed reading this, thanks. Sussex is a remarkable county in many ways (I refuse the E&W division)

    Posted by nilsvisser | September 5, 2015, 6:15 pm

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