My most important musical find over the last few months has been Erik Satie: I first listened to Trois Gymnopédies on a rainy night. Its restrained notes blended beautifully with the soft rain as if hesitant to disturb a single particle of air, but never unsure of themselves.
Brighton has some proper rain today- not of the “spitting” variety, but the heavy kind. Ironically, it started as I came to this line in On the Road: “Rain began to fall just as I took the wheel.” It was just a silly little coincidence, but one that enthralled me, making Sal, Dean, Marylou and Texas feel very real for the moment. For about the third time this evening, I remembered why I loved books: they are about the only way I can see the world at the moment.
This is going to be a slightly difficult night because I’ve finally realised that I have less than a month left in Brighton. Not much longer will I sit at this window, looking at the cobweb-veiled streetlight that has faithfully replaced the moon on most nights, sometimes annoyingly so. But I was very grateful for it the first time I witnessed a snowfall. Delirious with excitement, I lay in bed watching the flakes dance in the light, drinking in the novelty greedily, for who knew if I’d ever see the snow fall again?
It wasn’t many months ago that I was scared of committing myself deeply to Brighton, because I’ve learned by now that separation from well-loved places can be quite difficult to handle. I’ve lived in six different towns or cities since 2008, with the shortest duration in any of these places being three months, the longest a year. 2011 was quite bizarre- I spent about three months each in four different towns, and my memories of it already seem rather fuzzy. But how long could I have gone on fooling myself about seductive and wily Brighton (even if I still haven’t reconciled myself to the domes of the Pavilion standing out in stark contrast to the rest of the town)? The sea, hills, street art, cunning little bookshops, curiously laid out lanes with the odd Buddhist monk- I don’t think I’m going to forget Brighton in a hurry.
Do you know that sunshiny, family-friendly image that Brighton sends out on summery weekends, inviting perambulator-pushing parents to leave their worries behind in the smog of London and come lie down on the pebble beach for a day or two? Something tells me that this isn’t the real Brighton. I’ve spoken of this earlier, and probably strengthened by books, this feeling has never gone away: I believe there is an underbelly to this town, one that conceals itself under a cheerful facade. Now this is probably true of most cities, but it is a side that they try to repress and keep away from public scrutiny, to be brought out only when the situation asks for it. Brighton, on the other hand, seems well aware of its dodgy dealings, and not a bit uncomfortably self-conscious about them. And here, I mean dodgy with a generous edge to them- channelling Robin Hood, perhaps, but in a different avatar? Everyone here seems party to them, a bit like indulgent parents who know their teenaged children are up to something suspicious, but will sometimes look the other way in a fit of generosity.
Brighton has its place in literature as a seaside resort, but I really can’t imagine on these roads carriages with women in sprigged muslin, carrying lavender-water in their purses. For instance, this town doesn’t have the respectability of Bath, that famous literary haunt of the convalescent; no Pump Room to dance in, no avenues for well-bred women to converse with lovers in. But I have no trouble believing that the prim, elderly people who live in the elegant houses at Hove were the ones who ran riot a few decades ago, giving Brighton the colourful eclecticism it has today. This town is like the elderly man who winks at you at the supermarket, not lasciviously but in jest. It isn’t unbearably proper, and can pretty well knock together some innocuous fun.
I would have loved to know the Brighton of half a century ago, or going back a little further than that. I’d have liked to see the years that defined its character and made it what it is today. Sure, it could have done without the psychedelic lights and the numerous shops by the sea; but when I want some peace and quiet, I can easily take a bus to Rottingdean or Shoreham or Seaford. For once, I’m willing to sell out to the artificial and the raucous- the Pier and the pebble beach make Brighton for me. I blame you, Graham Greene.