I went to Brighton the other day for no particular reason. I went to go somewhere, because the train ticket to London was too expensive. When we were up there last week I’d seen a poster in the tube station for an Alice Neel exhibit and thought how great it would be to see that. But between visiting the baby and camping at the beach and worrying about this and that I hadn’t gotten it together to get the cheap fare.
But going to Brighton was perfect. The train ride was almost not long enough. I love taking the train in England – total immersion in the culture onboard (Tony Blair everywhere – his autobiography dissected in all the papers, his photo repeated so often that the other passengers started to look like him) and out the window a chance to see into people’s back gardens. The train went through Newhaven, where Eric was born, near the ferry docks. It touched me to see it this way, that slightly melancholy feel looking at a place through a train window gives – that and the deserted Parker pen building where his father had worked.
Arriving at the train station in Brighton I will always feel 21 – the age I was the first time I went there. It will always feel exotic in the way certain shabby, slightly tawdry but mundane English things do…a fascination born the first time I saw a Rita Tushingham movie, or stared at a picture of a cigarette squashed out on a plate of eggs and chips in the booklet that came in my older brother’s copy of Quadrophenia.
It’s good to feel 21 again in Brighton because I think there may be a ban on being any older than that in the place. Everybody’s young, in packs, the girls in shorts, big sunglasses, the boys in haircuts. It was so much easier than being in London – the pressure was off. I wasn’t looking for culture or enlightenment, just eyeliner. It was fine to spend forty minutes in what must be Britain’s largest Boots, a space age wonderland of cheap cosmetics. It was the sheer pleasure of anticipation going up the escalator to TK Maxx, only to ride down an hour later – not completely empty-handed but shaking my head that I’d missed that something special surely lurking underneath the shoes Made In China, size 32EEE bras and sad tattersall-check fedoras.
Around the corner I ate a delicious sandwich – at 4 PM. Thinking of France, where eating lunch out at whatever time you’re hungry for it is generally impossible, I defiantly shook my bagel in the direction of the Channel – that’s right, it’s after 3 PM, I’m eating lunch. And there’s other people here, doing the same thing. Deal with it.
I wandered around, drank a perfect espresso at a place I know from when we play just up the street at Prince Albert (next gig there is Thu Sept 23). There was an American couple, coffee afficionados in the way only Americans can be afficionados of things, talking to the barista about how of course they always warm the cup first, sipping suspiciously, like they wouldn’t really be happy unless they found something a little bit wrong. Which they couldn’t.
I was happy, sitting in a park, watching a young girl, a guy and a rolling suitcase act out a farewell scene. Tried to figure out who was doing the leaving – my money was on the suitcase. Drank a glass of Spanish rose at a picnic table on a sidewalk and started the first chapter of a charity shop book I knew immediately was a winner. The sun was going down, the streets were emptier. Looked down the hill, over the tops of the old buildings, towards the water. Sipped the wine. Was happy not to be 21 anymore, though the girl, like the charming old Brighton I remembered, was still in there somewhere.