A curious incident on the South Downs: driving my eldest son and his stuff down to his new rented accommodation in Brighton, prior to his second year at Sussex University, we pulled the van off the motorway and drove up towards Devil’s Dyke. I wanted to show Lex the Dyke, and also his youngest brother, Luther, who was along for the ride. My own father used to take me up here on the weekends we spent in Brighton at my grandparents’ house on Vernon Terrace, and he would always tell the folk tale about how the Dyke was dug by the Devil to flood the Sussex Weald, but that he was surprised in the middle of the night by an old woman cotter lighting her oil lamp, and taking it for the dawn he jumped all the way to the North Downs where he landed forming the Devil’s Punchbowl on impact.
I digress – although not without purpose, the Dyke also features in the book I’ve just published, Walking to Hollywood. What goes around … Anyway, instead of taking the spur to the Dyke car park in towards the golf club we found the road closed with a police barrier and a bored-looking WPC standing in front of it. “You can’t come this way,” she said when I’d wound down the window, “haven’t you heard about the body found on the golf course?” Well, no – but what none of us Londoners had heard of before was cops so keen to impart. In the Smoke they wouldn’t give you the time of day, but down here in Miss Marpleville we got all the dope: according to the WPC, said corpse was “badly charred” and – here her voice dropped to a conspiratorial undertone – “the feet had been chopped off”.
I suggested it might’ve been that most loathsome of crimes, an “honour killing”, but the WPC looked at me as if I were a fool. Maybe she thought it was the Devil what done it.