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May Day

Awake before the alarm and sun rise. Fall out of bed, flick on the radio. The World Service, still too early for Radio 4. Thick black coffee, teaspoon of sugar. The Shipping Forecast, the long version, inshore waters included. It’s still early but light outside as I bounce the bike down the steps.

Freewheel down to the sea. The moon is slowly sinking towards the horizon, below a ship reflects pink light from the hidden rising sun. I watch the ship as I ride beside the sea. How close is it to the harbour? Can I beat it to the lock gates? I don’t have time to get caught at the locks today. Past the twisted metal of the burned out harbour shed I cut inland, zig and zag around the warehouses and through the suburbs. The tracing paper moon fades into the deepening sky. Empty streets but for a paper boy and a paper girl, bikes dropped at the end of driveways.

Along the river under the flyover I ride in the shadow of the hillside. By the time I cross the river it has breached the hill line and I cast a long shadow. Into the trees briefly, a sharp little climb to a gate, then to the pig pens. The sound of my breathing fades as the gradient eases. First gate. Second gate. The back wheel slips on the narrow muddy line that almost runs parallel to the fence. My tyres press their patterns into recent footprints in the mud. Is this the way Angus is running?

I stop for a moment to take in the view back towards the sun. The shimmer of early morning and long shadows soften the hills. I rode those hills two days ago under low grey skies. A skylark sings. A song implicit of this place, heard out of context a sound that evokes without fail home and warm hillsides. Chalk and flint under wheel. I pass the trig point and splash through puddles. A lone figure is further along the ridge, a red jacket vibrant in contrast with the green and blue that fills the rest of the view. It takes two dips and one slight rise to catch them. I slow and say “Morning!” to Angus and we continue the route together.

I rattle across the cattlegrid as Angus passes through the gate to it’s side. Above us, ahead white figures dance amongst the trees, the Chanctonbury Ring Morris Men. This is why we came, to meet Spring. From among the trees I see the sea to the south, and to the west the familiar shapes and shadows of the scarp slope – Truleigh Hill, Devil’s Dyke, Newtimber, Ditchling Beacon. I can see home and the Ashdown Forest floating above distant mist. Almost all of Sussex, both of them, East and West, are visible from here. The dancers finish with a song. A druid invokes the God and Goddess, the Sun and the Moon. There are readings with music. A reprise of the song Morris men sang. Those that remain join in. Bells tinkle. People dissipate.

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