Coming to the UK as an outsider I dare say Brighton seems a strange place: I always sensed a real hype about it esp in London (where some people see it very generously as a London suburb by the sea – only aptly echoed by Brightonians seeing London as the natural expanse of Brighton by the river). Everybody likes it, everybody is keen to go: for a day trip to the sea side or maybe for a longer trip to stay and study there or maybe for the ultimate of moving life there altogether. When it comes up in conversations around me then it’s in slightly random contexts such as parties, health food shops or swimming in the sea at Christmas.
The first time I went to Brighton was on some white-cloud winter day in 2005 with my South African friend who couldn’t believe she was at the sea side mummied into a heavy winter coat, hat, gloves and scarf. I was more busy coming to terms with the strangeness of the landscape I hadn’t expected: a shingle beach for a start was something I never even knew existed and seemed totally impractical esp for the long beach walk I had anticipated. Until I realised that people didn’t come to Brighton beach for long walks but for the 525 meter long pier of organised amusement surrounded by sea gulls, waves and endless sky. And people had done so for nearly 200 years. Like with the shingles I admit it had never even occurred to me that such seemingly loud and garish amusement parks even existed anywhere right by the sea side.
I didn’t quite fall in love with Brighton then and hadn’t been back until this week when I went to a meeting exploring identity & self, and the power of stories about identity & self, and the power of choosing stories that might suit our identity & self better then maybe the ones we’ve been going with (or that stuck with us) for long times. And the ultimate power of trying to find what’s beyond the stories, letting go of the stories altogether, just being self.
After this very thought-provoking rich meeting I had a little bit of extra time to spend on Brighton beach. And a few interesting things happened: I had by now been to enough British sea side towns to not minding shingle beaches or amusement parks anymore. In fact, I felt a sense of excitement spotting the familiar Brighton pier as a local landmark saying clearly ‘here I am in Brighton’. And I felt all of a sudden really drawn to the Brighton wheel which is right by the sea elegantly arching over all the other now seemingly small buildings and features. So I walked straight there as if my life depended on it and had an internal conversation about how much I’d consider acceptable to pay for it (starting off with something like £3, until I came closer and realised the wheel was getting ever higher so I went up to £5 and a determination of not paying more for what would ultimately in my story be a totally frivolous short-term waste of money). I ended up willingly paying the £8 they asked of me – and in return asked whether I could have a capsule all to myself. And they gave me one! And not only that, they gave me 4 rounds in the wheel so if my story was ever true then at least each frivolous round was only £2 and took surprisingly long because they kept stopping us at various points for others to get off and on.
And it might have been frivolous (an interesting story, I guess, and the question of whether frivolity is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ or whether there’s space for something in between?) but if so then frivolous is certainly very beautiful: the sea looked totally peaceful from up there and it was almost impossible to tell where it ended and the horizon began for both shimmered in all shades of blue, green, grey and silver. I could see a long stretch of beach and not a single shingle from up there; white cliffs shining like the moon in the far East, the poky black ruins of the old burnt-down pier protruding out of the tissue-paper-sea in the West like a gothic memorial. Brighton pier itself looked very fragile, elegant and joyful from a distance so I’ve totally reconciled with it. I guess even though they kept the doors of my capsule locked tightly I managed to throw a few of my stories over board from up there – maybe quite a lot. Because one of the best things only struck my later: how much at peace I felt being in this capsule for some 15 minutes all by myself without any stories about myself for the sake of others or my own stability. I filled the entire capsule with curiosity and joy and self-ness and at no point ever even thought about needing someone else for company. I’ve had a good day in Brighton!