I’ve lived in Brighton for a few years now, on and off, but this is only the second year I have seen the Christmas lights in Western Road. You don’t get Christmas lights across the streets in West Hill: they’re probably considered a little garish. Especially on Dyke Road, between St Nicholas’s and Seven Dials.
But down in the big city, or the rather strange and somehow ungentrifiable Western Road, they like a display. I can’t remember what the lights spelled out last year: I think they might have said something like “BELIEVE” which I thought was a bit vague. Believe in what? Christmas? Santa? Climate change? I mean, there are all sorts of things you can believe in but not all of them are good. I think another set of lights said something uncontroversial like “PEACE” but then that’s pretty much par for the course for this time of year.
I wasn’t prepared for the slogan strung out across the road by the Sainsbury’s Local. What the pretty lights said this time was: “HERE WE GO AGAIN”.
I went into a kind of reverie. I imagined a meeting of the Christmas Decorations committee of Brighton and Hove City Council. It has been a long year: the months-long garbage strike has left everyone rattled and exhausted. And I suspect the Council has rather less money to play with than it did last year. The biscuits are not fancy. The coffee is not hand-ground Nicaraguan: it is Nescafe.
The Chair looks round the table.
“So what’s this year’s slogan going to be?”
Somewhere round the table, a spoon clinks against a coffee cup. Someone nibbles a Waitrose Essentials Garibaldi. They used to have Hobnobs. Chocolate Hobnobs.
“Nah,” says Trevor. (No council meeting in England is considered quorate unless there is someone called Trevor attending.)
“I’ve got nothing,” says Sue. She has spent the last month going over the accounts, and lost the will to live in mid-November.
A deep sense of Sisyphean ennui steals over the room. A voice pipes up from the back. It is Steve, known for his mordant wit, like Tim from The Office. “Here we go again,” he says.
There’s a long silence.
“Well,” says the Chair, “if no one’s got anything better …”
Steve is about to say that this was not meant to be a slogan, it was just a cry of despair, but then realises that if he says this, the meeting will drag on, and it is already as close to going-home time as makes no difference. He reads the room: everyone is looking at him, fiercely willing him to remain silent. So he remains silent. The Chair slaps her folder shut.
“That’s settled, then,” she says, and everyone files out. My God, they think: we got away with it.
And that’s how I like to think the meeting went. I couldn’t love this town more if I tried.