Brighton is a summer town. One of those places where people go when it’s sunny and hot – well, Britain’s version of hot, ie slightly less freezing than usual – to sunbathe, buy overpriced candyfloss on the pier, have barbecues on the beach, romantically gaze at the stars with a loved one, or strut down West Street in absurdly tight dresses, because even Oceana in Brighton is way better than Oceana anywhere else.
In Spain, where I grew up, July and August do not tend to make people happy. It’s great for the holiday-makers, who live in air-conditioned hotel rooms with private pools, enjoying the novelty of stifling humid heat compared to the subdued UK summer they’re used to. When you live there, however, you have to go to work, do the housework, deal with family obligations and attempt to keep your body functioning despite the unpleasantly high temperatures. Having complained about enduring this for ten years, I can’t complain about our summers, where no matter how hot it gets, every evening requires a cardigan and where you will wake up the day after a heat wave to the sound of torrential rain. But for those of you who disagree and dream of retiring to a Caribbean island, I have to say you should first try spending a winter in Brighton.
When, towards the end of September, the sky starts to edge further from blue and closer to grey, when text messages from friends start to be about coming over for a warm cup of tea instead of white wine spritzers on the beach, I get a wave of nostalgia and excitement that makes people look at me like I’m some sort of crazed mutant. But bear with me, and see if I can convert you.
I was introduced to Brighton on a typical early-winter day, one of those with rain and wind and empty streets. The beach was deserted and the waves were fighting the seagulls for the sand’s attention, both screaming as loudly as possible. Walking along the seafront in a duffel coat, my iPod untouched in my bag because there were no whining children or attention-seeking teenagers to drown out, I spent my first few days in a city that’s supposed to be unappealing for the colder half of the year. As the weeks go on and we all try to convince ourselves that wellies can actually look good if you wear them with style; there’s the anticipation of the vicious storms that make Halloween worth celebrating; the snow on Christmas day which makes you feel as if you’ve stepped into a greeting card. And most importantly for me, winter in Brighton means baking. I woke up with an urge to clean out my kitchen cupboards yesterday, I labelled tupperware and threw away stale nuts. But once October rolls along, out comes the Cath Kidston apron and charity shop recipe books. Granted, my cakes don’t always come out looking quite like in the pictures but you can’t go wrong with vast quantities of sugar, butter, flour and eggs, can you?
Being able to sit on the beach in shorts and a T-shirt and only occasionally getting goosebumps is a lovely treat for a month or two of the year, and I am the first to jump out of bed at seven on a July morning to go and walk around the bright roads watching the day slowly warm up. But I can’t deny that snuggling in bed with a bowl of porridge, a Sunday paper and the sound of the rain against my window is what I’m really looking forward to this winter. And if anyone wants some topsy-turvy brownies, knock on my door any Sunday afternoon from now until April, and I can assure you the house will be filled with the unbeatable aroma of winter baking.