Brushes with Culture

This is a space where I can reflect on the many fascinating things that I experience. Some of the things I brush with are Culture with a capital C. Others are just intriguing moments. Sometimes I am brushing with these moments in a hurry. This is a chance to relive those moments in tranquility. These are the stories I tell myself in those quieter moments.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Leaving Brighton...again

For the first time in ages I sat on Brighton beach and listened to the waves. It was a cool but sunny day and various fully-clad people were sitting around by themselves and doing much the same as me. It reminded me of splendid March days when whole shopping parties were using the beach like a public park to take a break and the place was full of families in coats and hats sitting out like you'd do in a town square in another shape of town. (As I say, Brighton is too full of memories.) Then I withdrew to not thinking and just enjoying the quiet lapping.

Turning back to go home, the town behind me seemed brash and overbearing. But the pebbles and the sea are the bit of Brighton that will endure longer than the terraces of Regency buildings, self-confident as towns abruptly founded and encouraged by a roue prince may be, and packed together in a delicious but overwhelming claustrophobia. (Try living in St Michael's Place, one of several hundred flats in identical blocks of elegant rooms with windows open and the album of that summer playing loudly into the street.) And Brighton has returned to its roots. I had a sudden moment of empathy for the fishing community that watched the first incursions from the court and realised that something lucrative but sharp and exclusive was coming.

The day of the pebbles was the day after I'd had an offer on a house in Oxford accepted. I don't think this at all coincidental - not even in a fun way. I sat remembering what I love about Brighton as I let go of it. And how little that is now. Some of my best friends live in the city. But the places I loved, the shops I valued (mostly secondhand clothes shops that closed in the early 80s), the cafes and pubs I knew, the air of eccentricity - gone. What is left is the brashness. I used to find that endearing, especially when it was tired and crumbled and all that was left of a seaside holiday heyday of the 50s. But it's tidied up its act and I don't get on with the personality under the new paint.

I had already said goodbye a few weeks earlier, when I was trying to empty old files at the university. I'd not used anything for a couple of years anyway, but it was interesting that being on campus emptying files was a poignant experience. I must have looked it, because one of my colleagues hugged me as I left.

And then I am down to see a show with a friend and the next morning I make the time to go to the sea. I'd not done that nearly as often as I intended in the last years I lived there. I'd shoot past the beach. But years ago, when I was wrestling with the meaning of the world and early love affairs gone sour, I used to take myself down to the beach all the time, especially in the early evening, and enjoy the splashing of the waves. It was so much bigger than the problems I brought.

Pleasingly, it still is. The great thing about saying goodbye is that once you leave, you can come back and it's not yours any more. And the waves are waiting, just as they were on day trips when I was only young.


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