above steyning crop

River and Hill


By Jim Hindle, Feb 26 2012 09:00AM

Petrification; turning to stone by the weight of a few million years. The lines of flint that can so often be seen in bands along the walls of cliffs and quarries where there’s chalk speak of the process and were themselves once living, or at least formed of something more malleable; water full of sulphur from decaying matter in the burrows of sea creatures. The flints appear still in the fields like a crop of their own, so that once they were actually thought to grow from the chalk year on year, at once both the nemesis of generations of country children, forced to pick a pail’s worth on the walk towards school but also a much needed means of extra income to help keep the family shod.

Mined from the tops of populated hills where the proximity of earth and sky and sea to one another may have had as much in choosing the site as any more tangible quality, traded vast distances in the rough or worked already for weaponry and tools, flint speaks of something practical and almost bitterly dense in its memory of graft and painstaking care. Building the walls that could never be hurried always demanded a sense of the exact; a familiarity with the stones that only years of working with them could bring. That sense is probably exemplified at its most beautiful and almost surreally precise by the squared flints that can be seen at St. Michael’s and other places on the high street.

Heavy set, grinding out sparks from the ploughshares, solid with the weight of an untold number of bargeloads working up the Ouse as ballast and material for roads as well as all the walls that still remain familiar, the flints speak even now of something in the rough. Even bright and glassy like the ‘Sussex Diamonds’ of those that have been knapped, they leave the imprint with us of times when everything was a little closer to its natural state, when walls could talk of a kind of kinship with that which lay around us and beneath our feet, like all the coastal towns and downland villages were somehow cradled in this sense of home; built up of something ancient and immediate and even warm for being part of the fabric of what’s lived in.

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