View From The Hill – Nicholas Lezard

How did you spend the Great Heatwave of 2022? I spent it paddling in the sea and running contraband over the Brighton-Hove border. I’ll start with the sea. It’s slightly less traumatic.

The thing is, that although I have been coming here since 1984, in the very week the IRA blew up the Grand (golly, I thought, is Brighton always this interesting?), and living here since 2018, I have never been in the sea here. Well, maybe once. But the memory is confused and dim and I might be imagining it. This time, though, I really did. 

I took off my shoes and socks, rolled my trousers above the knee, and stepped into the surf. It was about half past nine in the evening, and the breeze, such as it was, was coming from the North, that is, from the parched interior of the country. 

There were still plenty of people on the beach, at least one barbecue I could see, and, of course, bongo players. Did you know that the council hands out free bongo drums to everyone who moves here? I’ve yet to claim mine, but I think that’s rather charming.

One of the reasons I have always been reluctant to swim here, apart from the fact that the sea is incredibly cold, is the beach. I have lovely, delicate feet, and their soles are sensitive, so walking barefoot on the shingle is not one of life’s great experiences. 

I had been hoping that in the 38 years since I first came here, the action of the waves might have done something to turn the stones into sand, but it quite simply hasn’t happened yet. I mean, come on.

But then again … it kind of has. Go out at low tide and you’ll find that it actually is a bit sandy on the shore. (Incidentally, it took me half a century to realise that the singer Sandy Shaw’s name was a pun.) So I paddled around a bit; the water was Mediterranean-warm. That was a big surprise. But after a while there’s only so much paddling you can do before getting tired so I went back up the beach and lay down in a damp patch of stones, which was very welcome. 

Isn’t it nice how the beach slopes in such a way as to make a kind of natural divan or sun lounger? I had a smoke and looked at the lights of the Rampion Array blinking on the horizon. 

A dog ran around like crazy, at one point even kicking a couple of stones onto my head but he hadn’t done it on purpose so I took no offence. 

I knew I had a hill to climb when I turned for home, but somehow the knowledge that it was warm enough to sleep on the beach if I wanted made it all better somehow. God, living in this town is a privilege. And my stories of smuggling bongoes into Hove will have to wait for another day. 

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