Sunday, 26 August 2007

Palace under the Pier

As the sun came up and the grey light of dawn crept into our sleeping place, I could see it for what it was. A stone folly, as found at the end of many beaches and promenades, three sided with doorways on two of those and an arched roof. Just as well the weather was holding, because had it rained we would soon have been soaked.

After our usual morning business, we boarded a local bus which ran along the coast. We passed through the manicured lawns and grand frontages of Hove, and continued along the front until aging style gave way to present day bustle, the quiet tea shops and smart promenaders easing away into buckets and spades and all manner of plastic and inflatable tat. As the burnt and crumbling legs of the West Pier floated past, the razzmatazz of it's more modern counterpart appeared on the horizon.

Brighton was, and still is, a haven for all things alternative. As we emerged blinking into the sunlight at the end of the Palace Pier, dreadlocks and tie die were everywhere. Innocent as a young pup can be, I felt instantly at home, unaware that even those who pride themselves on being different look down on their underclass, and that underclass was us. For now though, things were seriously looking up, and I could feel and see Eyes and Man visibly relax as they took in all that was before them.

That first morning was all about exploration of our immediate surroundings. We trotted along the pier, the boards hot under my paws, until I looked down and realised that there were gaps between with a sheer drop to the sea, at which point I panicked and had to be carried. We lay out on the beach, and JD introduced me to the delights of digging holes in the shingle, and the mischief to be found in poking through the jetsam at the water's edge. I learnt that no matter how far you thought the sea was running away from you, it would turn around and chase as soon as you dipped your nose into investigate the salt. I decided I liked it here. We all did.

As lunchtime approached, we climbed the steep steps back to the prom and found people of our kind working there. Brighton was one of the first places to have an office for The Big Issue, and as soon as we saw the motley group gathered around with their dogs selling the magazines, we knew we had found some of our own. Introductions were made, and we all retired back to the beach, where dogs became friends and Man rolled smokes and told tall tales. He had always been a bit that way, but with this new audience he seemed to blossom into a new kind of arrogance. Eyes sat quietly at the edge, her tender age showing for the first time. We may not have been together long, but already I could pick up her unease, as Man started to show a side we had not seen before. It was nothing you could put your finger on, nothing specific in what he said or did, just something in his manner which smelled dangerous.

As day eased into twilight, we pooled our resources and bought hot doughnuts from the stand at the top of the steps. The area cleared of it's bustle and life, we all settled down with our backs to the closed and boarded shops, as the smoke drifted and the talk wore on. Several hours later we laid out the beds, right there under the pier. As I crawled inside and settled myself against Eyes' belly, I heard murmering. It was Man telling Eyes that tomorrow she would work whilst he found "a score". She sighed but nodded. We drifted off to sleep, listening to the waves breaking against the shore.