Tuesday 12th July, 11.13am
I needed to get out. While it was ultimately my decision to come back south to my flat and cut myself off once again – and I stand by that decision – it’s all too easy to go stir crazy in here on my own. I was angling on getting out and seeing friends for a couple of days, but as my plans fell apart, I’ve had to take the reins myself. So I decided to strike out for the coast. Brighton always makes for good writing, that perfectly bizarre city.
It’s clearly a school trip day today. The train south from Three Bridges was absolutely rammed with saaf Landan kids in high-vis jackets, their beleaguered teachers sitting close at hand, identifiable for the throbbing veins in their temples if not by their lanyards. Standing room only. It’s kind of noisy in the gangway, so I pop my headphones on. The Spinners’ Rubberband Man cancels out some of the angrier verses the kids are throwing around from their phones. I don’t understand the unbridled rage in that kind of music, much less its magnetic appeal to kids. Give me the laidback fun of the seventies any day.
Brighton Palace Pier
Somehow it took me all of an hour to get from the station to the pier. Time slips through my fingers in a bookshop. It’s as though Waterstones operates in its own dimension. That could well be because I’ve become a lot more tactical when it comes to book-buying, taking the time to really get a flavour for a book before deciding to add it to my collection. As a general rule, any and all books on Spain (pre-20th century) go straight into the basket, but I’ve genuinely reached the stage now where if I don’t have it, it’s not worth having. There’s still a wealth of material out there in Spain in Spanish, but with Spain’s ludicrous stance on FBP, shopping for books over there is simply not economically viable. At the moment I’m trying to pick up my European reading challenge where I left off a few years ago, so I sought out a Ukrainian book to add to the collection today. I thought I was onto a winner with Sholem Aleichem’s Tevye the Dairyman – the forefather of Fiddler on the Roof – only it turns out, predictably, my mother already bought the book years ago. Still, no matter. That’s one more book I can feel better about giving away someday.
Brighton SeaLife Centre
Yes, I visited the aquarium. Don’t judge! When I was a kid I used to love going to aquariums – or the more ecologically-sound sealife centres, as they are so often called these days. Nausicaa across the Channel in Boulogne was a personal favourite, but Hastings’ SeaLife Centre came a very close second.
It was pretty much deserted. A large primary school group came in after me, but they never made it any further than the cafe housed in the original Victorian aquarium. I felt like a kid again and challenged myself to name the fish whose names I’d furiously memorised more than twenty years ago. For some crazy reason it’s all still there. From loach, tench and trout (easy mode), to snakelocks anemones, garden eels and corkwing, rainbow and cuckoo wrasse (standard) and on to pacu, Bloody Henrys and discus fish (hard mode). It’s a safe bet that the reason I had such a hard time learning anything in science class was because that part of my brain was stuffed full of animal trivia. If only biology had been about animals and not plant cell structure…! Who knows, I might have gone on to study it. As it is, I was bored stiff and let it go as soon as I could.
I stood and watched the turtles for quite a while. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a live sea turtle before. My god, they’re huge. Nature found a perfect recipe over 100 million years ago and decided ‘yep, that doesn’t need any more work’. Like sharks, turtles have been around for millions of years. Watch a turtle fly through the water and you’re reminded of how pathetically short our time on this planet has been by comparison. Only, these turtles looked a little stereotypic. One bit the other on one pass. Creatures can develop odd behaviours when they’re cooped up in small quarters. Maybe that’s a window into what’s happened to me in my flat this summer!
On to the jellies. I could have come here for the jellyfish alone. They’re absolutely mesmerising to watch in flight, pulsing slowly through the water, their hair-like tentacles trailing behind them. Another perfect life form that has seen millions of years of evolution come and go. Almost all sci-fi flicks imagine aliens from other planets as bipedal if not all-but human in appearance (Doctor Who and Star Wars are the prime examples), but if I were a betting man, I’d stake a fair amount on extra-terrestrials looking more like jellyfish than man. Isn’t it rather selfish of us to assume that ours is the perfect life form when turtles, sharks and jellyfish – hell, even cockroaches – have outlived us by millions of years? And on that note, I’d better clear out of here before I sell out mankind to the invading jellies faster than Kent Brockman.
After nearly betraying humanity over a jellyfish and admiring the beautiful world beneath the waves for an hour, I promptly went outside, climbed the steps up to the palace pier and ate a battered fish with chips and vinegar. The irony was fortunately lost on the hoarse chippie vendor, who barely got the order numbers out in a grating voice. A group of girls next to me got their orders in after me, but somehow got their orders out first. £8.20 for fishcakes and chips seemed a bit steep compared to the £5.40 deal just 200 metres from the pier, but it was good quality, and since I barely managed to finish it, I didn’t have to wash it down with a tot of buyer’s remorse.
Brighton was packed with graduands this afternoon, red-faced and sweating in their full academic dress for the 28°C degree heat. If they opted for modesty, the other beach goers didn’t get the memo. British flesh on florid display, ranging from lobster-red to milk-white. A few lucky sightseers with bronze skin seemed to walk a little taller, but they were definitely in the minority. Lifeguards, street vendors and tramps made up the rest. Folk who have little choice but to soak up the sun.
Freeze frame. I pop the chip-box in the bin and look around – and really look. Yuppies in “gap-yah” pants and strappy tops. A lady in a wheelchair, and two women at the traffic lights who get to discussing behind their hands how she might have ended up there (the kind of curiosity my generation loves to hound out as aggression). Goth-types with nose rings, vape-sticks protruding from their fingers. On that note, cryptic vape ads everywhere (what on earth is the appeal?). A squadron of Korean cyclists suiting up on the sidewalk. A cormorant flying east along the coast. The indefatigable enthusiasm of the man selling rides on the motionless merry-go-round. A boy with what looks like rickets going by. The blonde girl in her thirties singing her heart out to a crowd of beachgoers enjoying a late lunch. Nobody is looking up at her.
Preston Park Station
The train home is much emptier, but I still walk the length of the train to find a carriage to myself. I pop the headphones back on as the train begins to pull away and Manu Dibango comes on. Sax City, Africadelic and Soul Makossa. Dibango was one of the victims of COVID two years ago. Like Marvin, James and Luther, that’s one more of my favourite artists who I’ll never get the chance to see live (or alive, for that matter).
During the Gospel Choir debacle, I spoke to a colleague and asked for their thoughts. They said they had thought a lot about the issue of music in a post-BLM world, and questioned even having been to a soul music gig as a white person. That messed with my head for months. It’s not that I don’t rate musicians who look like me, but give me a choice between Ed Sheeran and Fela and it’s Fela every time. Pop is catchy, but disco is eternal – it just keeps on giving, fifty years later. Folk is clever but Soul finds notes that folk just can’t. And highlife is surely a candidate for the most feel-good music genre on the planet. How can you deny yourself the chance to listen to such wonders on account of a feeling of awkwardness?
I’m all for better representation in the music industry. It needs it. I just hope we don’t end up carving ourselves up into islands where we can only listen to people who look like us, think like us, talk like us. And I mean that literally as well as musically. Social media is doing that already. It’s a dangerous path we’re treading, and I hope we can weather the storm that’s coming.
Would you look at that. I’m back to sermonising. I think I was doing better with committing acts of high treason for the conquering jellyfish. Time to go. Blppp blppp blpppp. BB x