Deeper currents

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…

Wheat field with wild poppies on the South Downs, East Sussex
Wild poppies and wheat fields on the Downs, East Sussex – photo by Katrina Best

I have been in Brighton for 10 years now, and for a while it didn’t really matter to me if I was here, there, or anywhere. But over time I’ve been fortified by some of the deeper currents that you maybe need a bit of time and quietness to tune into.  

The other day I saw Shirley Collins do a small gig at Charleston on a beautiful summer’s day.  You can’t be in those buildings and not feel the spirit of conscientious objection, experimental lifestyles, Virginia Woolf, people who imagine society differently. It’s a heady mix.  And here was Shirley Collins, 86 years young, channelling a different tributary: selling the Daily Worker in Hastings town centre as a child, Communist party singalongs at the Oakhurst Hotel, hooking up in Rottingdean with the Copper Family, that great repository of English song. Shirley represents a strand of deep Sussex society that is real and yet easily overlooked: the pre-1960s folk culture, just before it was to change irrevocably.  

Some reassurance comes from remembering those earlier times: when we had a different momentum, riding, even if we didn’t quite know it, the crest of an enormous wave. If now you go up on the South Downs on a clear day you can squint a bit and maybe imagine a high-water mark, a line where the wave broke and rolled back.  But these things come again. It will not always be Farage and Caulfield and Natalie Elphicke sneering at the proles. There are great and honourable histories in this county too. Many of them. 

Above: A poster for this year’s Small Wonder short story festival at Charleston

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