The Old Weird Albion: A Journey Into the Heart of the English South by Justin Hopper (Penned in the Margins, paperback, 250 pages. Out now.)
Review by Mathew Clayton
When I was a young teenager, I used to go and watch Brighton and Hove Albion play. And although primarily I did go for the football, there was also a pleasurable rush to be had from the disorderly nature of the crowd – large Wild West style brawls seemed to break out regularly and at random. I remember one Saturday afternoon trying to get back to the car after the game and coming across two sets of rampaging fans in Hove Park. Like a very violent game of ‘It’, they were comically chasing each other round a large ornamental bed of roses. It was only years later, when revisiting the park with my kids, that I realised the rose bed was also home to the Gold Stone. The mystical standing stone also knows the Grey Wether that gave its name to the Albion’s home ground. In other parts of the country stone circles are to be found in dramatic landscapes, in wild and remote places. In Sussex they are in the middle of a rose bed with a pretty little hooped wrought iron fence round them. The weirdness in Sussex is always hidden in plain sight.
Another place that echoes this idea is at the heart of a new book by Justin Hopper. Beachy Head is, on the face of it, a beauty spot par excellence. White cliffs, topped with close cropped, green green grass looking out over the blue, blue sea towards France. What could be more delightful? But as you get close to the cliff edge you start to notice the little rows of crosses stuck into the ground. It is deeply disturbing. The first wife of Hopper’s grandfather jumped off Beachy Head and his attempt to uncover her story runs through this book about the South Downs like a like a dark seam of flint through the ever-present chalk.
Alongside this, Hopper meets a number of fellow travellers — crop circle makers in Wiltshire, Morris Men on Chanctonbury Ring — in an attempt to discover some deeper truth not just about the South, but about Albion in general. He explains this philosophy at the start of the book: ‘I read the South Downs as a “core sample” of another England. In this alternative zone that exists side by side with the modern world, the linear nature of time is not assured. There are places in the landscape that exude what might be called the “everywhen”; they are haunted places. And ghosts require a little faith’.
Hopper is an American living in the UK who has been involved in a number of interesting audio and poetry projects. This is his first book. You can find more about him here. The book is enhanced by wonderfully atmospheric illustrations by Mairead Dunne.
The Old Weird Albion is out now, and available here.