Seaside towns cropped up last night. Jean Sprackland mentioned places including Margate and Southport in her reading at Costa Coffee, and later I had a Portslade-vs-Southwick debate with Robert Sheppard in the Dispensary. I’m heading from one seaside town to another on this journey, so in a sense I’m in the business of shoreline resorts, though my journey will involve some miles before I see the coast again.
Urban explorers seek a certain lostness, which is hard to achieve in a place bisected by a shoreline. You always know where you are, as the sea is always there and everything can be oriented around it. A town or city by the sea isn’t quite fully urban. How can it be, with a massive chunk of nature at its wildest, never more than a couple of miles away? A heaving wall of water glimpsed between buildings, and gulls swooping to eat your crisps.
In his book Renegade, Mark E Smith demolishes my home town, based on its popularity with music journalists. ‘It’s funny how many of them have moved to Brighton now. All led by the devil’s compass. Cosying up to Fatboy Slim and Chris Eubank over a Sunday roast. It’s worse than London. They’ve created their own modern cultural prison. Burchill and Paul McCartney are the screws! …It’s the Guardian‘s version of The Prisoner. They’re so middle class they put pebbles on the beach so they don’t get any sand between their toes’.
MES has a point, though there is still a real Brighton that is nothing to do with the kind of lifestyle that attracts the ghastly celebrities and those who might admire them. (Far from ‘cosying up’ to the bloated popinjays of the celebrity caste, people who actually live in Brighton view the famous with indifference and disdain – merely keeping an eye on them in case they try and jump the queue or exhibit any other nikulturni behaviour. By contrast people in the North West seem to take an active, non-contemptuous interest in the residential, dietary and marital arrangements of footballers, band members and the like – a cultural difference I may never get used to.)
I like the ‘devil’s compass’ phrase (a device pointing south presumably), and the point about the pebbles is well-made. Perhaps this massive effort by the middle classes of Brighton inspired their colleagues in Southport to have the sea removed from their own beach, to avoid getting water between their toes.