Back in the early 1800s, Telscombe Tye was known by locals as Sheep Down. Back in my early childhood, it was known by me as Telscombe Tide. Years later, when studying language acquisition, I would come to realise that I was bringing my wealth – or lack – of knowledge to this conundrum to try to make sense of my world. It didn’t look like my tie I wore for kindergarten (yes, I had to wear a tie for kindergarten) and I couldn’t relate the word to the verb ‘to tie’, so I was baffled. You could see the sea from the strip of South Downs nestling between Saltdean and Telscombe, so it must have been ‘Tide’. I wasn’t wholly satisfied with this conclusion, but it was the best I could do with three years of experience of the world.
In time, I became more accepting and realised that names didn’t have to appear to connect to anything. But then I studied Latin and my desire to dig around amongst the roots of words reached nerd proportions. I wouldn’t flatter myself by suggesting I’m a full-blown nerd but I do have this sort of etymological hangover lingering from several years of studying Latin (just don’t ask me what ablative absolutes are – I never did get them and the mention of them increases my heart rate to this day. But I’ve survived thus far without this elusive piece of information, so really, it’s fine). And now I’ve ditched my lenses, I am finding myself looking over my glasses at students and adjusting them whilst indulging in lengthy explanations about anything. Maybe it’s time to resurrect the lenses . . . I would hate to be accused of suffering from ‘bad faith’.
Back to Telscombe Tye. When I was five, my parents bought a horse called Flipper. Really. I mean, he wasn’t a crime-fighting dolphin; he was a proper horse with legs and a mane. He was a Connemara shipped over from Ireland and the story goes that he was the only livestock on the voyage that didn’t suffer from seasickness, hence the name. I never thought about horses feeling queasy on the ocean waves but then again, I never thought about them sailing so I guess our Flipper was pretty special. He was big, but when you’re five, most things seem big. And as we are not known for our immensity in our family, I was quite a small five year old. So I didn’t ride him as much as my older (and therefore bigger) sisters and when I did, the words pea and drum probably came to most people’s minds and I remember toppling off a lot. It was pure physics, really. I had learnt to ride before we acquired him, on a Shetland, who was more in keeping with my size, although he was a stallion, so I tumbled off him a good deal too. So anyway, I cannot recall the first time I parted company from my steed, which might be a good thing or a bad thing. I don’t know. Maybe it’s just a thing. In fact, I cannot recall the first time I was ever on a horse, which is a bit of a shame. I bet it was awesome.
Ah . . . I misled you. I’ve drifted away from Telscombe Tye. Ok. Not only was Flipper a capable sailor, but also he was an admirable escapologist. His prowess in jumping out of fields was unmatched. He even jumped out of stables sometimes. He could do ‘cat jumps’ from a standstill and when I was a little older and my legs had grown sufficiently to be more vertical and less horizontal whilst riding him, I remember the teeth-gritting determination in getting him over a jump, lest he refused at the last moment, because actually he rarely refused, he just enjoyed skidding to a halt sometimes, so he could leap from a standstill which, frankly, I found terrifying as the leap would be twice as high as that from a canter. This is where my drifting drifts to the point. Flipper escaped onto Telscombe Tye once. (By this time I knew it was a ‘Tye’ and not a ‘Tide’.) He had his field-mate with him, a horse called William and sadly, the latter did not survive this particular adventure as their naughty trip into the countryside took them, ultimately, onto a busy road. Whereas Flipper did not suffer physically, the experience clearly scarred him as he became traffic-shy as a result of the tragedy.
I associated Telscombe Tye with this sad episode for years, until moving to a house which is a five minute walk away and now it has become Rusty’s favourite waste of time (meant in the nicest possible way). I usually take the same path across the Tye which ultimately leads to the old village of Telscombe. (By the way, ‘Tye’ is an archaic word meaning an area of common land. I have lost count of how many words there are for areas of land.) It is an ancient highway known as Old Funeral Road because pre-20th century, it was used for funeral processions. It was used also for more nefarious activities at this time, as it was a perfect route for smugglers to transport illegal items inland from the beach at Saltdean Gap. Apart from the smuggling (I think!) very little has changed in the last 100 years about the old village of Telscombe. There is no public road by which one can reach it and the population is around 50. Earliest records date back to the 10th century and it owes its preserved state to a racehorse trainer called Ambrose Gorham who lived in Stud Farm in Telscombe at the turn of the 20th century. In 1902, his horse, Shannon Lass, unexpectedly won the Grand National. He used his winnings to expand his racehorse training business so that it dominated the village. He put money into refurbishing the church, providing amenities for apprentice jockeys and improving buildings. He left everything to Brighton Corporation when he died, on the condition that the area was preserved.
Telscombe Cliffs, although in close proximity, does not join onto Telscombe. It has a population of around 4,500 and Telscombe Tye curves protectively around it on the west and the north, the sea on the south and the rest of Peacehaven on the east.
If Rusty could talk, he would tell you that Telscombe Tye is the best because it’s all grass, with no hard pebbles to hurt his paws. He would add that the choice of poo in which to roll is second-to-none. It was particularly quiet when we strolled along there today, so I felt I could practise the seven war songs being provided by myself, Singing Sister and Friend in Rottingdean’s forthcoming play, without risking judgement from others. Not of my singing, but of my sanity. I walked alongside a fence, whilst trilling the jaunty tones of Don’t Fence Me In and inwardly chuckled at the coincidence. I sang and inwardly chuckled for too long, though, because when I looked back to check on my canine companion, he was in the throes of euphoria, or in the smelliest poo, to be more literal. It was too late and I was too far from him to shoo him away, so I turned away and pretended to have missed it. Other animals’ excrement is to dogs, in my opinion, what catnip is to cats. The pleasure Rusty gains from plastering himself in waste matter would be a joy to behold if the means wasn’t so very far from justifying the end. A woman who was shouting distance away from me, called over:
“He’s such a happy dog!”
He was as far from her as I was, so he really was spreading the cheer, having spread something nasty all over his torso. He did look very skittish. I laughed and called back to her that yes, he was. I added quietly so she didn’t hear that he was high on animal poo. He must have understood her, as he then dashed across to greet her like an old friend. Before I could say ‘poo’ she was down at his level, making a fuss and didn’t seem to mind that she was transferring traces of green (yes, green) poo onto her hands.
I don’t think that I will ever succeed in training Rusty not to roll in poo. I’ll stop him if I can, but I’ve given up scolding him. The iciness of the hose is probably punishment enough, although he is treated to a warm bath if I am unlucky enough and he is lucky enough to find fox poo for his ‘legal dog high’. Today it was the hose, which makes his normally perky tail drop down miserably. But it soon popped up again and curled over his back, as it does when all is well with his doggy world, when he got to play with his best friend, my parents’ dog. Singing Sister and I had a singing practice while they bounced around, taking time out occasionally to sing the ‘howling’ lines of our songs.
Then we panicked generally about the play edging closer and closer into reality, by actually being less than a week away and so I left to get my hair cut by the Italian because it seemed like a good idea.
P.S. Looked up ablative absolutes and I think they are just subordinate clauses. Ah . . . My life is richer.