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The Dubious Tour

“A bus and life journey with an English working class and African heritage poet, along the coast from Eastbourne to Seaford.”
A bus and life journey with an English working class and African heritage poet, along the coast from Eastbourne to Seaford.

Nestled amongst trees at East Dean Road
youth hostel,
my journey starts from the aspect of top deck.
South Downs seem silent and dark,
snuggled under night’s blanket,
still in early morning slumber,
stirred by low bus engine murmur.
In the twin seat up front,
the pandemic is the reason I sit alone,
rather than my colour.
Free to unwrap thoughts.

Most on this regular coastal route,
are on their way to the daily grind,
as I used to be.
Factory fodder.
The sharp pinch in our pockets has created the
national food bank culture.
A subtle Dunkirk spirit in our local community.
Defeat re-written as white cliff victory,
defence of home and family.
Bulwark against political tyranny
and economic inequality.
This coastal commute from Beachy Head
is another food bank,
to feast on morning and noon,
sustaining the mind, body and soul.
The bus crests golf course hill,
I pull the tab, open nature’s donated tin,
feed on the scene.
Take a deep breath in, a long breath out.
Let my body sag comfortably into the seat.
Imbibe seascape through condensation drenched glass.
Sapphire, emerald and ivory cliff tonic.
Every day, first sight across the Downs valley,
watching dawn peep blue as the sun begins its rise beyond Belle Tout.

In the transcendental moment from night to day,
an opaque light casts a veil over panorama.
I see a land that once was here,
unfamiliar wooded, marshy ground with gentle hills,
seamlessly joined onto Seven Sisters.
People walking, carrying handmade tools.
Bare feet cutting paths through chalk land grass.
Their journey began 3.8 million years before,
in East Africa.
Humankind’s birthplace.
Cradle of my father.
7000 miles away, their footprints,
preserved in clay at Laetoli,
are exact replicas of our own.

The sun blinks and the veil drops,
leaving only Beachy Head,
abutting the undulating lapis lazuli carpet,
and echoes of ancient footfalls,
in the call of stone chats,
hidden in cliff top gorse.

Two parallel seaside postcards of my life,
string of pearls Beachy Head edge,
between aqua marine
sea and blue sky wedge.
From my childhood bedroom window,
cliffs of burnt charcoal,
gold sand, greeting palms and
electric Oyster Bay.

Downhill through Friston, I gaze on two rivers;
One meandering, with ox-bow lakes standing,
my ‘Bwaga Moyo’,
where my spent journeys rest in soft sediment,
Unbearable losses and completed chapters.
Events gathered from two continents.
A nearby flapping consternation adds to my quiet contemplation
Skylark’s exhilarating melody!
Dr Nico’s electric guitar; ‘Kiri Kiri’
Joy filled our home in Entebbe
Then Cliff drop shock
Heart stopped
Terror of bloody coup,
fear, forced migration
family dislocation.
Hundreds of seagulls flutter,
in the wake of tractor pulling plough,
turning brown soil, releasing
a flotilla of white pages into the air.
Beloved childhood Dar es Salaam,
warm sand turned to stony shore,
sharp dig in child’s
brown skin.
Spotless white Egret stock still
by the bridge at Exceat,
the same bird’s hologram,
at Selander bridge, Dar es Salaam.
Spiders’ silk brushes my face in feathered caress,
loving touch of hands that have vanished.
Joy of babies, now grown,
fledged and flown.
‘Nakupenda Malaika‘
‘You Are My Sunshine ‘
Hushed lullabies, holding their breath beneath water’s surface,
awaiting new births.

Meanwhile the straight twin river
surges forth with arterial life,
coursing into Cuckmere bay,
with the vigour of heart beats.
Powering life ahead for me,
and the children who come after.

The bus twists and turns through Seaford’s streets,
contrasting homes of the well off and the run-down
‘Ugh Council’
‘Oh, this is the dubious tour
for the scenic route you should have got the 13X.’
Casual slur against the working poor and unwaged,
whose income is never enough,
to prettify their mean rented houses.
Green ‘High and Over’ downland bucket – soothes with spill of blue Cuckmere water.
My heart lifts
at the sight of blue overalls – flat cap working man.
Image of my grandfather from Sunderland.
One of many forgotten
builders, labourers and low paid workers.
Women with prams;
my mother, my grandmother – cooks, carers and cleaners.
No blue plaques, no fanfare commemorate them here.

The bus stops at war cemetery gates where lie sleeping sons,
of the old Colonies including Caribbean.
Forever cradled by mourning Downs step-mother.
Their now independent birth nations
send smart uniformed delegations,
to stand with local children,
to honour them every Remembrance.

Children playing on the Down land,
images of my child mother giggling like tottle grass,
and my child father playing hide and seek
in tall elephant grass,
on wide Nile plains.
Light years away from ever meeting each other.
Yet their crossroads were already well trodden by past generations.
Those journeys precipitated by events,
some immediately seismic and catastrophic,
others so gradual and subtle over millennia
as to be unnoticed.
Like melting glaciers and separation of landmasses.
Catalysts in the global movement of people.
Labels of immigrant and emigrant irrelevant;
arrivals and departures, mere points on a compass reference.
Our instinctive impetus to travel continues to pulse.
No barrier, border or barbed wire will ever quell this primeval force.
Doggedly pulling towards this white ragged ribbon by sea.
Or by air,
stoic goodbye glances at the familiar green, white and blue scarf
laid out below.

White and yellow
Newhaven Dieppe cross channel ferry,
Furrowing through blue lemonade Seaford Bay,
prompts the earliest recollection of my first odyssey,
from these coastal cliffs to the land marked by the East African Rift.
Farewell night, top to toe with my brother,
under warm woollen blankets at the home of my Whitehawk grandmother,
followed by three week voyage on the SS Uganda
to ancient port city of Mombasa.
Then, lying cool, on a white calico mattress stuffed with hand picked cotton,
in the home of my Luo grandmother.

Towering Seven Sisters,
ancient layers of chalk strata.
Grandmother’s giant airing cupboards,
stacked with dream infused blankets,
and futures filled calico mattresses.
Ready to ‘tuck in’ children and grandchildren
Safe in the hearth of the family
Shushed by sounds of rhythmic domestic activity
Rolling, washing, rinsing
sweeping pebbles to and fro
White noise from Mother Nature’s womb.

Jenny Arach

Jenny writes poetry reflecting family experiences related to her life in East Africa and Sussex. She enjoys writing through the lens of the coastal landscape between Eastbourne and Brighton. She was published in Hidden Sussex Anthology (Writing Our Legacy 2019), Covert Magazine (Issue 1 & 2). She was commissioned to write a poem, ‘The Harbour Lights’ for Tenebrae: Lessons Learnt in Darkness for Brighton Festival 2021. She won a runner-up prize in the Brighton & Hove Poetry Competition 2021 with ‘The Tiger Within‘, inspired by the first ‘We See You Now’ writers’ retreat. She has also had two poems published in the South Downs National Park newsletter (March 2022) ‘A Matriarch Landscape’ and ‘Landscape of my Mother’ and, most recently, was commissioned to write ‘A Proper Goodbye’ for ‘Witness Stand’ at Brighton Festival 2022.

© Jenny Arach