Magazine article The Spectator

Sound and Fury

Magazine article The Spectator

Sound and Fury

Article excerpt

I went out on the razzle with a bunch of reformed drunks last weekend. God, it was fun. The aim was a serious walk, eleven and a half miles, kicking off from Eastbourne, walking over Beachy Head and the Seven Sisters, before doing a sharp right for the final slog to the village of Alfriston and supper.

As I motored down to Eastbourne, listening to dear old Brian Matthew's delightful Sounds of the Sixties on Radio Two, the sun was shining, the sky was an eggshell blue, God was in his heaven and all was right with the world.

We met up at Eastbourne station, eight of us in all, though one was a driver ready to rescue anyone incapable of finishing the route. As it turned out, this proved to be everyone. Setting off on the first long and punishing upward slope of the cliff walk, the wind began to get up, dead against us. By the time we reached the first summit there were times when it was almost impossible to advance against the great buffets of air, and the single heroic smoker in our company had the devil's own job in sparking up.

By the time we reached the next peak, the wind was even stronger, and the effect of so much oxygen being blasted down my lungs was to make me feel light-headed and giggly. It was like being pissed on air. The formerly blue sky was now an iron grey and great columns of rain were falling out in the turbulent English Channel. On the clifftops, there were poignant memorials, little crosses and flowers, placed in memory of poor lost souls who had jumped. Down at the bottom, the heaving waters were milky with chalk. At Belle Tout lighthouse it began to rain and by the time we'd descended to Birling Gap, it was bucketing down.

And that was the end of the walk as far as we were concerned. Inside the coffee room of the dilapidated single-storey Birling Gap Hotel, with its wooden verandas and 'colonial' architectural style, the wind was visibly shaking the rafters, and rain was streaming through a hole in the roof on to one of the plastic banquettes. The place seems to be stuck in a late Fifties, early Sixties time warp, offering homely dishes like ham, egg and chips and jam tart and custard. I even found a Tunnock's Caramel Bar, a delicacy I haven't enjoyed since shivery afternoons at the Surbiton Lagoon open-air swimmingpool as a child.

The only thing missing as the storm lashed the building, doors banged and the proprietor expressed grave concerns about the tiles on the roof was a Wurlitzer jukebox to complete the retro atmosphere. …

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