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….View From The Hill – Nicholas Lezard

The other day a friend offered to buy me lunch. This is always nice. “So,” I said, “fancy a trip to Brighton?” What he said next surprised me, which perhaps goes to show that while we are on good enough terms to call each other friends, we don’t know each other that well. 

“I loathe Brighton,” he said. This surprised me quite a bit as it happened, because not only is he very nice – I’ve never heard him say he loathes anything before – he is also gay, and I’ve always thought, lazily perhaps, that if you’re gay you approve of the very idea of Brighton. How wrong can one be? 

I once went out with a woman who, when I told her I was moving to Brighton, said “I hate Brighton.” Why? I asked. “I don’t like it.” Why don’t you like it, I asked. “I hate it.” At this point I realised the conversation was getting a bit circular. So I gave up and moved to Brighton. In her defence, she was very much a posh frocks from Harvey Nicks kind of woman and, I suspect, a Conservative voter, so I could see why Brighton might not have been her cup of tea, but still. 

I suppose you either have this place in your bones or you don’t. Doctor Johnson, whose words I normally hang on, said that the main problem with  Brighton was that you couldn’t find a tree to hang yourself from once you realised how horrible it was living here, but back in his day it was called Brightelmstone and there really weren’t that many trees. I wonder whether Doctor J had an inkling that there would one day be a kind of competition between London and Brighton. That people would leave the capital to come here and say “You know what? This place is loads better. Or at least just as good, and there aren’t any bankers.”

Well, you do get bankers here now, or at least rich celebrities but they tend to stick to one area and don’t spoil the place for the rest of us. Brighton seems to be fairly gentrification-proof, however many heartbreakingly swanky properties there are. The addresses whose names begin with “Montpelier” may be many and costly, but a few seconds walk away and you get to see… well, you know, the kind of people Brighton is famous for. A colourful bunch. 

This is not to sugarcoat things – the dreadful homelessness, the beggars, the addicts, the people who’ve had a
rough time and aren’t going to be having a better time any time soon, but it’s better to have a town like this than to have a town like London that has been hollowed out by wealth. At least here, the views are free to rich and poor alike. 

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