I used to be a planning journalist. In those days, I covered the case of the fifty foot shark built on the roof of a terraced house in Oxford. I’ve written about the swordfish plunging through someone’s garage in Crystal Palace. I’ve applauded the way that a law pushed through by the Thatcher government to allow stately homes was used to allow eco-villages in the woods.
But when I heard about the plan to build a 100-foot statue of The Redeemer, a copy of the one that towers over Rio de Janeiro, right on topof Chanctonbury Ring, I thought for a moment of all the money I could earn writing about it. Selfish, I know.
It might even be possible, I thought, with the permission of the landowners (the Goring family) and from the South Downs National Park authorities for a temporary structure. There are far less inspiring temporary marquees put up on the Royal Parks in London all the time.
But since no foundations have been paid for so far, except media ones, I have to assume that the Steyning Festival’s idea is not going to happen. A pity: someone should build it.
Chanctonbury is in the zeitgeist for two reasons now. First, because it features as the crescendo of Robert Macfarlane’s successful book The Old Ways, where he describes an eerie – not to say downright terrifying – experience he had sleeping on the top of the hill.
I’ve experienced something related myself, though milder, up there too, so I take his description of a non-animal scream that circles the crest of the hill seriously.
The second thing to say about Chanctonbury is that, even if it isn’t the site for a temporary statue of Christ, it will still preside over the Steyning Festival when it opens on May 21 – with people like Craig Charles, Cressida Cowell and Calum Chase (and that’s just the Cs).
The truth is that Steyning is a strange, otherworldly place, nestling in the South Downs, at one remove from the hurly-burly of modern life, a precious stone set in a sea of green, a demi-paradise, if not quite Seat of Mars. But once every two years, for the festival, it explodes into the cultural life of the nation.
I’m now writing one of the official Steyning festival blogs and will be accelerating the production of these from now on. So if you want to know what’s really happening around the festival, I can’t promise to cover everything. But that is certainly going to be a good place to start. I'll provide a link when I know what it is.