Can you call Brighton home?
Every Sussex student will develop a relationship with Brighton, be it love, hate or something in between. Two writers reveal their feelings about our city by the sea
A letter home – Dear Brighton, I love you…
After recently returning from my study abroad programme, it is incomprehensible to me how I survived 4 months away from you.
My past spent in the forceful clutches of rural Norfolk is brimming with happy memories, but somehow seems so far behind me, and all I could think of was coming home to you.
I doubt readers native to the hub of London or other urbanites will ever understand my adoration for you, Brighton, and I am uncertain I will ever persuade them of your perfection.
Am I an isolated lover? Surely I cannot be exceptional in my admiration of your homeliness?
I shall not dwell on clichéd devices in my courting: you are inarguably diverse, liberal, creative, inclusive, and although I would never reject these terms, I here bypass them in favour of a more humble appreciation for what you have to offer your happy residents.
Being young, sociable and hardly rich is never a problem for your inhabitants. In Norfolk I would wake up in my little house at the end of the dirt track and flirt away my morning wondering woefully what to do with my time.
I might occasionally break to walk my dog the two miles to the nearest proper village and back again before inevitably spending my tiny wealth on driving somewhere other than where I presently was, or else succumb to vegetating in front of mind-numbing television and rot.
Yet you, Brighton, you are bloated with the promise of a good time. I wake up to friendly faces and stimulating conversation daily, I can educate myself by attending talks, energise myself at concerts and events, venture to your very heart for a natural atmospheric high to conquer my occasional solitude; I thrive in your arms, Brighton.
Your modest reaches envelop all the people I choose to surround myself with. You are beautiful, undemanding, comfortable, familiar…I never have to sacrifice excitement, but you never alienate me, either. You always manage to surprise me, Brighton.
In fact, the only thing I dislike about you is that I cannot spend every day of the year in your arms.
Before I met you, my local pub was within a casual yet impractical drive, but you can offer me near to fifty locals within a casual and far more practical stroll, and with plentiful opportunities to meet others.
I have always said that meeting people is more enjoyable when they don’t talk exclusively about cultivating sugar beet, and Brighton, you prove me right every time. Of course if I can’t reach my destination by foot, you never turn your back on me.
Your regular bus services provide me with the mobility I need, without the cost of running my car. You give me wheels without a car’s limiting features; I can forget about expense, stress and obligatory sobriety. I am free on your streets.
Nonetheless it is your subsurface forms of liberty that I value above many of the superficial and obvious traits you bear. You make me feel like I matter, Brighton (maybe you even love me back). I have never before lived in a constituency that I personally helped to build.
Born into a predominantly Conservative region of the UK, I have never had the luxury of having a voice. My vote always seemed futile.
Predictably, I take a great sense of pride from the knowledge that you allowed me to make an active and lasting contribution to my community when, two years ago, I took the plunge and voted Green.
Can you not see how well you have served me in my short time of knowing you, Brighton?
Yet somehow I sense that nothing I have expressed thus far directly testifies the degree to which you move me. I could list what I like about you for the rest of my life, and no doubt the list would grow and swell daily beyond my own capabilities of articulating it.
Is a list of loves an adequate justification for calling somewhere my own, my home? Why, Sarajevo has innumerable likeable qualities, but I never feel compelled to woo it the way you make me woo you.
I suppose it all comes down to a feeling, and it turns out it might actually be myself, and not you, who is at the root.
And now, after desperately avoiding the clichés, I find myself coming full circle back to the biggest cliché of all: that Home is, in fact, where the heart is. Elope with me, Brighton, I think we can make a life together.
By all rights I should adore Brighton. I am exactly the sort of person who’s supposed to: I’m gay, I like tofu, and I’ve actually always wanted to live here.
But Brighton is expensive, and it’s expensive without a ‘London allowance’, though a pretty sizeable proportion of its residents are commuters to the little apple.
There are currently around 2.64million people unemployed in the UK and youth unemployment is the highest since records began.
I’m an Arts graduate – I don’t want the extra cost of living to add to my worries when there are perfectly nice areas where rent is almost half what it is in Brighton.
My room here is not big enough to, as they say, swing a cat, yet it costs more than a whole carousel of swinging cats.
I want to live somewhere where I might eventually pay off my student loans or have some money leftover to, I don’t know, actually save? That’s the dream.
I’m not saying that I don’t want to live in the wholefoods capital of the country. In fact, I’m really enjoying my time here, and wholly intend to come back some day when I’ve made my fortune in the fast food industry.
But it doesn’t get to be home. As a masters student, I have seen a lot of my friends leave the city – it’s been a pit stop on their journey, not a destination.
Of course this is true for many students all over the country: they relocate to find work, to live with their family again or with their partners or friends across the country.
There’s nothing wrong with that, but it does mean I find it difficult to ‘settle’ myself in Brighton. I know friends will be coming and going, and I’m a staunch believer that it is the people who make a place home, not the town planning.
The fact that I’ve wanted to live here for so long also probably ruins the place a bit. Expectations are never a good idea – as my old friend Flaubert says, “pleasure is found first in anticipation, later in memory.”
No one enjoys the present, except maybe Buddha, and to anticipate something so highly means it will, naturally, never love up to expectations.
Before moving here, I had some sort of warped idea that every street was like the Laines and the sun would always be shining, except when it snows on the beach a la Eternal Sunshine. You’re probably not so naive, but bear with me. Expectations are never your friend.
From a distance, Brighton can maintain an air of excitement and sophistication, but up close it is a self-conscious, teenage city, either shallow and tacky (the ‘Palace’ Pier) or reflexively ‘quirky’ and pretentious.
The names of the Laines’ shops become a bit fake, like they have no history, everything’s just been plastered on in an attempt to seem trendy, the geographical equivalent of middle-class kids adopting gangster language.
Home isn’t the place you idealise anyway, every Brit knows that. Home is the place you affectionately hate, return to grey and drizzling after your postcard perfect holiday in the Maldives.
Brighton is actually a bit too exciting, a bit too colourful to be home, its more Oz than Kansas. And as much as I like Brighton’s technicolour, I know that one day I’ll click my dainty size 6s and be somewhere else.