To celebrate the first anniversary of Sussex Bylines’ inaugural issue, we asked some of our key contributors to write a short piece on the subject of “What Sussex Means to Me”. From memories of being a student at the newly built Sussex University in the sixties while living in shabby digs in Brighton, to the enduring ancient magic of bonfire night in Lewes, our writers have submitted a wonderfully eclectic mix of mini personal essays…
Home. That was my first thought, and an obvious one, since I live in rural East Sussex. Digging a little deeper into what the idea of “home” actually means to me threw up a series of images…. the county of my childhood, Cornwall, now so utterly changed that it’s a fantasy home, a place of profound emotional connection and memory, but no longer of reality. Later, in early adulthood, a farmhouse in France, and more recently a heartstring family connection with the south-east of Ireland… but the place where I have spent the overwhelming majority of my life is Sussex.
Do I have “chalk in my bones” as my daughter, Sussex born and bred, feels that she does? No. I live here more as an observer – a profound admirer of a county (combining West and East) that contains perhaps more variety within itself than any other area of England – from the bare sweep of the Downs in the East to the broad wooded valleys of the West; from the heathland of the Ashdown Forest to the iconic chalk cliffs of the Seven Sisters; from the vibrant seaside city of Brighton to the scattered flint villages and hamlets of rural Sussex.
What do I love about this adopted county of mine? The unloved little town of Newhaven, with the ferry arriving from France twice daily and the fishing boats chugging into the harbour late at night, navigation lights glowing. I love the stubborn spirit of Sussex, immortalised in that motto: “We wunt be druv” and the revolutionary politics of Thomas Paine and the Brighton Suffragettes. I love the rural race meetings at Plumpton and the ritual of eating a curry from Alice’s Noodle Bar before watching the next race; the purple haze of bluebells carpeting the woods in the spring; and the rivers of the Ouse, Arun and Adur winding their way down to the sea….
Of course, this is an entirely personal version of Sussex, romanticised and largely rural. And it’s almost certainly entirely different from the next person’s Sussex. Yet it’s not a fantasy – all the things I describe are real and, for now, remain as they were when I first settled here 40 years ago. It’s a “my Sussex” constructed from the joyous variety of landscape, people and places that this unique part of the country offers, even to the not-quite-fully-committed observer.