Earlier this year, in the late Summer, I moved to Brighton. I’d lived in Carshalton (and before that in neighbouring Sutton), in South London, for over a decade and felt that it was time for a change of scenery. Samuel Johnson once said (and I’m paraphrasing) that if you were tired of London then you were tired of life. Well, there’s still plenty of life left in me, but I’d rather not waste it fighting to exist in London any more. Growing up in the rather dull, ordinary City of Coventry meant that London seemed extremely appealing. Coventry isn’t a terrible place, but neither is it exactly somewhere to be entirely proud of if it’s your place of birth. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate the place, still support the football team (worse luck!) and I’ve seen photos of the city before the Second World War happened and it seemed like a really genuinely lovely place. However, the Blitz destroyed much of the beauty of the city and, what the Luftwaffe failed to wreck, the city planners finished off.
Coventry really is quite an aesthetically unpleasing place, lots of square, grey concrete block buildings everywhere, and the loss of the massive car building industry which Coventry was famous for definitely cast a cloud over the mood of the citizens for a long time. Having said that, the city centre has improved over the last few years (the massive, grotesque, box-like IKEA not being one of the improvements, naturally) and it’s looking a little better than it has done for a while. But it’s never going to be somewhere people will flock to in their thousands to gaze at its beauty, that’s for sure. There are, of course, people who live in Coventry who proclaim it to be the greatest city in the world, but, then again, there are people like that everywhere. All over the country, there are citizens of places like Scunthorpe, Grimsby, Hull and Rotherham who have hardly ventured outside of their area and yet will proudly state that their home towns are the best in the world. Still, if you only ever eat Pot Noodles, you’re never going to be able to know just how delicious a freshly made Chicken Risotto is, are you?
Everything exciting that I read about in newspapers or saw on the television when I was a kid and a teenager seemed to happen in London. All of the best cultural event, the top gigs, the most impressive national monuments, all found in our nation’s capital. It all seemed so glamorous and exciting. In all honesty, it was for a while when I moved down there are the tender age of nineteen. I’ve had some wonderful experiences in London and, in a very real way, it has more than lived up to my expectations and dreams, especially being able to attend so many brilliant gigs. However, the very real, dull side of London is what impacts on your day-to-day life more than the glitz, especially if you’re a member of the working class. There’s nothing glamorous about being on a London night bus, on your way to work at around 3:30 a.m., avoiding eye contact with the Neanderthal piss-heads and the mentally disturbed whilst simultaneously holding your breath because the pile of lumpy puke on the floor is stinking the bottom deck out. I doubt if Samuel Johnson ever had that particular experience of London.
Of course, there is also the terrible expense of living there – the high rents, the extortionate price of food and drink… even people who earn decent wages struggle a little, so I really have no idea how those on minimum wage survive. If you work in London, you have to make a trade-off between a cheaper rent in the suburbs of surrounding counties and the cost of commuting or the convenience of living closer to work and the shockingly high price, low value of the accommodation you can get. The place I have now in Brighton is the first actual house I’ve lived in since I was about 13 years old – mainly because it is the first time in my adult working life that I’ve been able to afford it… and I never would have been able to in London. I could even afford a car now, if I wanted one – although I have to admit that the roads in Brighton aren’t much better than London for traffic, so maybe not just yet.
A few months later and I don’t miss London at all. Brighton, my new home, is often referred to as London-by-the-sea anyway. In the Summer, it is immensely popular and unpleasantly crowded, as all the Londoners who seek a bit of sunshine, sea and Stella head here. So, if it was peace and quiet I was seeking, then I’ve definitely moved to the wrong place. It’s a brilliantly loud, vibrant city where, apparently, girls are more likely to sleep with you on a first date than anywhere else in the country. Naturally, that fact didn’t have any bearing on my decision to move down here because (a) I’m in a solid relationship (b) I’m not that sort of guy and (c) even if I was, they probably wouldn’t sleep with me anyway. I only found it out yesterday, but I thought it interesting, funny and wholly unsurprising. There a bit of an uninhibited vibe in the city which can sometimes be a little irritating if everyone is partying and you’re working, but the flip side of that is that there is always something happening should you want to join in and that there are many artistic, interesting people here as well as lots of quirky, specialist shops to cater for the quirky, off-beat residents.
I’m not going to give you the history of the city or reel off all of the great things you could do here on a visit. There are Wikipedia and tourist pages you can visit to find out that kind of thing. I just wanted to share with you one defining moment since I moved down here. I was waiting at a bus stop in North Street, central Brighton, on a glorious sunny day in August. North Street is on what can be described in Brighton as “a bit of a hill”. During a break in traffic, I heard a hollow rumbling sound. I looked up the hill to see a scruffy looking man in his early twenties dressed in a pair of dungarees hurtling down the hill, at speed, on a child’s scooter, with a roll-up in his mouth and a full-sized set of wooden stepladders over his shoulder. As I gawked open-mouthed at the sight, I could do nothing but stare. Afterwards, apart from wishing that I’d had the good sense to get a photo, there was nothing I could do but laugh and think, “Yeah, that’s Brighton”… and it is – and I love it.