In order to get to Brighton from where we now live in Kent, it’s easier to take a 25-minute cab ride west to a small train station than go into Central London only to come back out again. And so that’s what we do today. It’s overcast and cool, 18 degrees after a record-breaking week of 30+ degrees. And we’re revelling in the cooler temperatures.
We always seems to go to Brighton when it rains. In the past five years, I only have one clear memory of a sun-drenched day on the front when the tops of my feet got sunburned in my ballet flats and my ever-present jumper stayed in my bag the entire day. It stands out as a perfect day because I won at crazy golf – something that very rarely happens – though I still lost every game of air hockey.
But we don’t go to Brighton for the sun. We go for the headspace and the dislocation we feel when we leave London behind us. It’s not far to go and it’s not exotic, but it’s enough of a break of habit and routine and the circular paths our thoughts take that we always feel renewed. It’s guaranteed that one or the other of us will say, ‘It will do us good. A bit of fresh air to blow the cobwebs off.’ And it always does.
Today we follow our typical Brighton routine (can’t stray too far from the familiar!). We walk down the hill toward the sea. It’s always a relief to see the pale green blue water in the distance, rough waves rolling away from grey skies today. But we divert to the shops to see what’s new before crossing the last street that runs parallel to the shore and make our way finally to Brighton Pier.
We like to sit with a pint and watch the throngs enjoy a day by the seaside. Normally we sit outside in uncomfortable metal chairs, but today we are only too happy to find a small table inside the bar. Brighton is a prime destination for stag and hen parties, but just as popular with multi-generational day trippers and groups of pensioners. Tattoos abound, on visitors of all ages. As does coloured hair. Hot pink and electric blue are perennial favourites, but today I see neon yellow. Quite the commitment.
The next stop is fish and chips, and the best place on the Pier is Palm Court. It’s best in a takeaway box eaten under cover, the lid lowered over the food between bites. The sea gulls here are a thuggish lot and I’ve seen one land on a table and carry a child’s fish clean away. All of us too stunned at the blatant show of machismo to do the sensible thing, like punching the sea gull in his puffed out chest and showing it that humankind has conquered the animal kingdom.
But today we sit inside along with everyone else in Brighton. The loud conversation and laughter is punctuated with children crying, screaming and generally causing mayhem. A reminder of why we’ve chosen a childless life. But the food arrives with a second pint and it all fades away as we tuck into golden chips, crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, and beer-battered cod that flakes and steams just the way we like it.
Back outside the rain has stopped, so we take our usual trek along the front, out beyond where the normal tourists stop. Here the stiff sea breeze scrapes against the shore and we bend into it with exertion, earning the ice cream we always pick up on the return journey.
It’s a quick escape, but a pleasant one. The pace of London and the uncertain times we’re living in can feel overwhelming at times, and I’m always grateful for those moments when we can slow down, catch our breath and hold hands overlooking the sea.