We’ve all seen social media posts about life in the 1970s as compared to now. Chopper bikes, Marathon bars (that’s Snickers to you younger readers), flares, and long hair. But what was rural Sussex like back then?
Dining at its finest
As a child of the 70s living near Warninglid, there were two culinary destinations that we dreamt of: the Happy Eater and later the Little Chef, both on the A23. Greasy spoons of today could learn a lot from these pioneers (as I learnt when I later got a short-lived job at the Little Chef in the late 80s) but oh how I dreamed of their burgers and pancakes with exotic maple syrup! In fact, so strong was the allure that I distinctly remember my sister encouraging me to cycle down the main dual carriageway of the A23 to enjoy one. I must have been no more than 10, when helmetless of course, I flew down the hill from the new Warninglid flyover with a long line of anxious motorists behind me, happy in the knowledge that I’d get a new Happy Eater badge to add to my collection!
The Brighton Run
A lot of my early life seems to have featured around the A23 and the other big allure of this thoroughfare was the annual veteran vehicle London to Brighton Run. My dad was an avid fan, so come hell, high water, freezing weather, and rain, at the beginning of every November, we cranked up whatever vintage vehicle he had, and pottered down to park on the edge of the A23. There we’d sit on the verge, with hot drinks (I suspect hipflasks may have been involved but I had eyes only for the Happy Eater) cheering and clapping and waving for the best part of the day. I can only hope the competitors appreciated our efforts because by the end of the day, I was invariably half frozen to death, before the death drive back onto the dual carriage and back up the hill.
Chailey Beating the Bounds
I have no idea why I spent so many summer days lazing around hay bales and a field in Chailey, but I suspect it had something to do with my father’s ongoing passion for cars. The purpose and story behind Chailey Beating the Bounds completely escaped me at the time. I now know it’s a village tradition that dates back to Anglo Saxon and possibly Roman times, which involved a group walking around the Parish boundaries in order to remember them for the purpose of future disputes and requirements. Village officials and youngsters joined in, to ensure the boundaries were committed to memory for the long term.
Chailey Beating the Bounds had long been an annual event when my Uncle Ned persuaded my dad to get involved running the classic car display. Freddy Laker (of airline fame) gave out the prizes in our first year of 1978 and I got a sheet of Laker-Liker stickers! Rich pickings indeed to add to my Happy Eater badge collection. Years later, I became good friends with Laker’s granddaughter, we’re still in fact friends today but I don’t think I’ve ever told her about the stickers. After all, she might want me to share.
I’m told by my father that the Chailey Beating was a route of about 17 miles that involved cycling, canoeing, and walking and while the village elders did that, a good old village fete unfolded in the designated field. My memories are of hale bales, stolen swigs of warm leftover beer, complete freedom to roam while the adults did “stuff”, handmade signs, meeting inappropriate strangers, and hot dogs. I suspect it started a lifelong love affair of the hard work and community spirit involved in setting up and running these sort of village events, and the satisfaction when the day is done. Sadly, as far as I know, Chailey is no longer beating its bounds every summer.
The Jolly Tanners
No childhood memory of the 70s is complete without compulsory detention in a pub garden. Children weren’t allowed in most pubs back then but adults didn’t let that deter them. My patch was The Jolly Tanners at Staplefield where I would be confined with a packet of salt crisps (salt in a blue packet inside the bag) and a can of coke. It didn’t matter that I didn’t like coke and woe betide any child who ventured into the pub to say they were bored. We just didn’t dare. I came to realise later that as children of the seventies, we’re ever so slightly defined by the length of time we served in pub gardens.
Many years later I became good friends with a girl who’d spent her childhood in the garden of The Victory in Staplefied just across the green. What a shame we hadn’t know at the time and how much more fun it would have been to have a friend rather than just talking to the random strangers who passed by.
Setting Christmas alight
Every Christmas we went to a Christmas Eve service at St Mary’s Church in Horsham. Of course, it probably wasn’t Christmas Eve but the blurring of childhood memories means that in my mind it was. The service involved candles as you might expect and the vicar would encourage us kids to try and keep them burning until we got home. We love a challenge in our family but the trouble was, we didn’t live anywhere near Horsham at the time, and the challenge for us, was getting back to the car, then giggling on the backseat (no seatbelts at all) as we kept the fire alight for the long drive home.
It’s true what they say, that in the 1970s we were sent out to play and told not to come home before tea – with not a mobile phone within sight. We climbed and fell off a lot of stuff. We did really dangerous things in pursuit of fun and we survived. But hey, it was different in the 70s and I guess they call it history now.