Written by Carolyn

When was the last time you mixed concrete with a shovel as opposed to a mixer? There are probably quite a few ladies who’ve never tried it with either, and if that’s you go on, have a go. It’s interesting—a bit like making bread but on a big manly scale. All that fine ground stone added to pebbles, grit, sand and water. The trick is never to overload your shovel.
With a sea wall at the end of my garden I’ve had to mix a lot of concrete over the years and, every time I do, I am amazed by how heavy it is. Another surprising thing was how much concrete it took to fill the two one metre square holes of my terracing project. That censorious assistant in the DIY shop who’d suggested one bag of cement and five of ballast would do the job didn’t know what he was talking about; we didn’t even reach the top with two bags of cement and 15 of ballast!
I was aided in my toilsome, dusty task by a young friend with a winning combination of literary passion and 22 year old stamina. He’d just finished reading The Divine Comedy and had Dante pumping through his veins. “Abandon all hope ye who enter here,” he cried, hurling his first shovelful of concrete into the hole. “O human race, born to fly upward, wherefore at a little wind dost thou so fall,” he said, wringing his hands at the sight of me when half way through our fifth mix I slumped exhausted over my shovel. I laughed so much I nearly fell into the ghastly hole.
The next stage of the project will be to lower the shingle floor beneath the terrace. I wonder if my young friend might be free and if he might have a few more Dante quotes to help us along.
The Vicar of Firle came to visit yesterday. Peter Owen-Jones is a legend in the making. A spiritual maverick if ever there was; rarely seen wearing priestly robes, a battered and stained brown trilby is his trademark, an ancient-looking turquoise necklace his amulet, his substitute crucifix. He’s been the front man for a number of interesting television programs and was accompanied yesterday by a small film crew who are making a documentary with him about the South Downs National Park. While the crew shot the view from inside the cottage Peter and I looked at the sea and talked.
“I imagine living for so long in an environment like this must have a profound effect on a person,” he said. I’ve met him a few times; he always asks direct questions in a manner which provokes deep replies. “When I first bought the cottage I realised it was like a metaphor for life: the beauty is profound but tenure is insecure and limited. My precarious home reminders me to live in the present.” I said. He nodded and smiled.
“How’s your love life?” he continued. I laughed, propelled once more into honesty. “This is my love life,” I said waving my hand at the sea. ”Nature, the sky, colour, people, interaction, talking with you…. When my husband left me I felt sad and confused for a few months but after that I began to see my situation differently. I had  been presented with a new vista, a fresh start. I became aware of a buoyancy which was unfamiliar and very pleasant. I began to wonder how long it would last. After 6 months it hadn’t gone, then I realised it was a year, now it’s 5. II don’t appear to be afraid of falling in love, if it happens, it happens only I don’t seem to have the need for a partner any more. A financially independent woman who’s had children can afford to have a different mindset. It doesn’t feel like a loss, it feels weightless like liberation.”
 He nodded without speaking. I said nothing for a while then asked him the same question. He replied candidly, “I have found peace. I think it’s a different path for a man, but I have contentment within myself. I find joy in my garden, in nature. I live a simple life.” We gazed at the sea; sunlight on water, a sailboat, the unbroken horizon. “Will you remain a priest?” I said. “I will always remain a priest, until I die.” he replied and said it with such grace we turned back to the sea and spoke no more.