This afternoon, my oldest son and I caught a taxi to Ditchling Beacon and walked home along the South Downs Way. My son didn't want to go, but he is still young enough to be manipulated by false promises and cheap incentives. Once he was up on the Downs, the grunting and shoulder shrugging were replaced with animated conversations about serial killers and horror films.
It was a beautiful day, but halfway between the summer and winter solstices, the light had a muted quality, as if the sun itself was failing.
Frustratingly, rather than feeling overwhelmed by the beauty of the landscape, my mind played through a tracklist of annoying music: the theme tune of Lazy Town, a Sousa march, something by the Black-Eyed Peas, If You're Happy and You Know Clap Your Hands (my one gesture of defiance at primary school was to hold my hands wide apart during this song).
Then I started wondering if I hadn't made a terrible mistake when I handed my notice in. Every other news story last week seemed to be about the imminent collapse of the Western economy. Was this a good time to be leaving paid employment and setting up a business? Was I even setting up a business, or was I just quitting my job and pretending that I wasn't unemployed?
A man on a hang-glider hovered 50 feet above us, gently rising with the thermals. It was so quiet and the air so still that he must have heard my son's voice:
"Dad, ask me about any serial killer and I bet I'll have heard of them. Do you know about Leatherface? Do know what he did?"
Three weeks ago he knew nothing about Leatherface, but now that my son has started at secondary school he's suddenly a man of the world, determined to earn respect from his peers with his encyclopaedic knowledge of horror films that he has never actually seen. I hope.
The walk from Ditchling Beacon is perfect: only six miles and downhill all the way, with glorious views of the Weald on one side and the coast on the other. It is mostly open countryside, following ancient paths that enabled people to avoid the dense forests of the lowlands. Sadly, wooded areas like 'Black Cap' are a rarity now:
Further on, Lewes appeared in the distance, so far away that like an astronaut on the moon, I could blot it out with one hand. I liked the fact that it was so finite. I had grown up in suburban London, where one town simply merged into another, sometimes worse than the previous mile, sometimes better.
A young girl galloped past on a colt and I felt a vicarious rush of pleasure. My son turned to me:
"Dad, can we watch The Ring? Not the original version - that's an 18, but the American one, because that's only 15. Don't ask Mum, she'll say no. Can we? Several of my friends at school have seen it."
He reeled off a list of names that sounded like characters from Blake's Seven. Why aren't children just called John and Mary any more? I blame Dynasty and Home and Away.
As we reached the outskirts of Lewes, I realised how many things had changed in the last year. We'd had an awful time, but it hadn't lasted. Seeing my mother, blissfully happy in her new home and my son, confidently ambling home with his new friends at a school I never thought we'd get him to, I felt relief more than joy; like someone who has survived a storm at sea.
We turned the corner into our road and I told my son that he'd just walked six miles, rather than the three I'd led him to believe. "You didn't get even slightly tired. You should be proud of yourself."
He turned to me. "Dad, when we get home, will you watch Creep with me?"