"Brighton looks like a town that is helping the police with their enquiries..."
"Without putting a finger on it, you feel that Brighton is up to something"
(both, Keith Waterhouse)
Now that my roof has been mended, my TV and the external aerial have decided they should have some attention: my TV signal appears to be coming in by post at the moment. And without sufficient stamps! It's all more unwelcome expenditure of course; in the case of the television, I tell myself it's not essential expenditure. I really don't watch it that much, right? I mean, there's Newsnight and News 24, 8 out of 10 Cats and The Big Bang Theory, the occasional brilliant series such as Homeland and watching Ewan MacGregor or Samuel West do absolutely anything. And the rugby, everything of Sir David Attenborough, Songs of Praise, The BBC Sessions... Darn: I even miss some of the commercials.
I was pondering my reluctant dependence on and possible life without television as I sat reading on a bench on The Level the other day. I ended up talking to Andrew, a very lovely octagenarian widower, originally from Edinburgh. He has a television, but since the death of his beloved wife Louisa last year, he struggles out to The Level or the seafront each day: the flat is too quiet and empty without her. I asked if he'd considered moving back to Scotland: he moved down to the south coast before his thirtieth birthday to be with Brighton-belle Louisa. His daughters are both in America and he agreed that Brighton has changed drastically since the days when he wore a cap for the Southern Railway. But Andrew's answer really opened my apparently square-eyes. He said he could see more of life under the trees at The Level or on the benches down by the War Memorial than in Eastenders, Corrie, Emmerdale and the odd Channel Four documentary all put together.
Since Brighton became my new hometown, I've seen increased unemployment, poverty, unrest, littering and open substance abuse. My own life hasn't gone swimmingly either and most folk I know here are just keeping their heads and those of their families above water. Yet even in the depths of recession in an area already pummelled by regional, demographic and seasonal restrictions, the undercurrent is still one of tolerance: the general willing for Brighton to pick itself up is almost palpable. Brighton is the original British seaside resort, with the stoniest beaches in the UK. Both free-spirited and peepshow-furtive, it is a mass of contradictions but also a meze of compromise. When I moved here, I was dismayed that the evangelist Reverend Archie Coates had referred to Brighton as "the most Godless city in Britain". Away from relatives, old colleagues and the people who had become my cloak over the past couple of decades, and particularly reeling from bereavement and sudden unemployment, I have felt keenly isolated in Brighton at times. Yet looking through Andrew's prescription but delightfully rosy spectacles, I can see that in this town that thinks it's a city, for all the divisions between the landlords and the homeless, the puritans and the addicts, the disinterested and the disenfranchised, I've never felt closer to people. Perhaps consequently, I have never felt closer to God.
Adele's gritty but beautiful ballad "Hometown Glory" was written about her birthplace (and mine), London. But if you care to click on the video and then scroll down through the images of Brighton, I hope you'll feel how the song sits easily with the fading Regency glamour, bohemian chic and yes, almost conspiratorial squalor of this place. Small wonder that the poet Horace Smith called it the "Old Ocean's Bauble". Long may it glint on through the rust - who really needs TV anyway?
This post is especially for Andrew Craig Mullen
"Hometown Glory" Adele
Photo: Gigi, album
"Human nature doesn't change - like a stick of Brighton rock you bite all the way down and still read 'BRIGHTON'!"
(Graham Greene "Brighton Rock")