Saturday, 15 September 2007

SNAPSHOTS: Brighton by night, June 1994

The Palace Pier, as it was called then. Up the steps to ground level and the first thing to see and smell was the doughnut stand. 5 for a pound, a warming snack to set the night's adventures off to a good start. Through the golden arches and out along the boards, the water rushing in beneath my feet. Peering nervously over the edge and breathing in the smell of the sea. Padding along it'slength, pausing to be lifted so I can peer through windows and into bright cases. Tinkling laughter and shouts of fun from the visitors from that other world which isn't our world, the world which does not know that this is our roof as well as their playground.

Down the steps on the other side to run along beneath the prom, letting off steam before the night begins in earnest. To our right, beach huts set into the wall, havens for the taking if only we'd thought of it sooner. To the left, shingle and then darkness. The whole area deserted late on, just me and Eyes, together with no-one else to get between or disturb our peace.

Along the front itself, there we were, a stark piece of the dirty reality of the town beneath it's anarcho-holiday exterior. Bright lights and dim futures. The all embracing society of leisure which left us out, heads turning and people tutting as they passed us by. Everyone's welcome in Brighton. The dirty hippies just add to it's alternative credentials. So long as they don't actually want to come in, that is.

The fabulous Royal Pavilion. A little piece of fantasy and folly in a world gone mad. Learning to sit and lie down in the lights, framed insanity at it's very best. How could anything be wrong with the world when you can turn the corner and find yourself in another one as quickly as this?

The Victoria Arcade, where we finally found the perfect place to busk. Halfway down, blending in with the mosaic, with acoustics that made even the breathy and jaded sounds of a busker in her fourth continuous hour sound like something direct from the heavens. Watching the faces of our audience as they turned the corner, looking for the source of those angelic, rippling sounds, only to be crestfallen when the spy the dirty and crumpled heap which makes up Mistress and Dog. The shine of the flute a surreal addition to the scene. The number who turned away, listened again, then returned shamefaced to drop. Their guilt is our living, their mall our concert hall, covering a multitude of weary musical sins.

The Laines. The alternative heart of Brighton, where even we didn't look out of place. Padding down narrow streets and through well-lit alleys, always ready to be surprised and never disappointed. So long as we kept to the dark hours, when no-one could see the ingrained grime on our faces and in our coats, we fitted in here. In daylight, even the head shops watched us and judged us, the very people who their customers were pretending to be. They didn't know what it was really like, when the wind whipped through under the prom and the rain and spray flew straight in off the ocean into our beds. Crusty was cool in the early and mid-nineties, in more ways than one.

Brighton. The only city in England where you can feel like you belong no matter how much people want you to vanish back into the hole from which you emerged. Alternative capital of the UK. Alternative hell in disguise.

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