The Feeling of the Marble
Events that take place on a set date every year make me realise I’m getting older. Sometimes I even resent them Traditions of friends meeting at a pub the day before Easter, the habit of spending a few days in Wales come the last weekend of May, even birthdays and anniversaries make me cringe as I see another year slide away. These traditions speed the passage of time. It’s a strange attitude, I know.
But I have an exception. Come the last Saturday before Christmas, a group of friends and acquaintances meet at a quiet, unassuming railway station just outside Brighton in south-east England. No one speaks of it beforehand; there are no emails, texts or phone calls. Nobody enquires “Are you going?” We know where and when, and save a few casualties to illness or whatnot, this is where we always head.
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This tradition goes way back to the first year the idea – and the actual walk – started, in 1977. The inaugural characters on that day, Ian, Michael, Ted and Smoth still grace us with their presence now. Ted still sports the original jacket he donned that first year, albeit now threadbare.
The point? Nothing more than a fifeen-mile ramble over the glorious South Downs. Putting the world to rights in a few hours, solving the economy, finding the cure to most diseases, saving a few marriages and doubtless ruining a few also. We are shrinks, life experts, super athletes and master politicians for a day. We also have as much fun cocking about as most of us manage in a month.
A first break is taken afer thirty minutes in the shade of a copse, sheltering from whatever elements have come out to play that year. To be fair on Mother Nature, most Decembers are cold but bathed in glorious sunshine. Other years we’ve walked in snow, battled gale-force winds or driving rain. We take a few minutes in that copse and Ted breaks out the seasonal homemade mince pies, Ian cracks open a hip flask filled with whisky and someone will offer a sausage roll or two.