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Archive for the ‘Accounts of the walk’ Category

I walked on to the Pier. This being a hot Bank Holiday, it was thronged with people. After long periods of solitary walking, I was now flowing with a huge crowd. Reaching the end of a long walk, half-stunned by sunshine and memory. The local paper hadn’t been interested, but my shirt got some publicity – a suitably Brighton-style outcome.

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callin’ from the fun house with my song

I walked along past various attractions, skirting the large amusement arcade and picking my way through other strollers, people with deckchairs and people leaning on the balustrade looking along the coast.

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Behind the wedding-cake seafront, all of this.
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I had allowed for the possibility of hollow disappointment – ‘is that all there is?’ – but instead I was buoyed up, wired… the pier promised ‘AMUSEMENT’ and I for one was having some, energised by a million steps.

It could well have been 30 years since I walked along this pier. Like some native Brightonians I tend to ignore the full-on tourist side of the town. Most of my previous visits had been when I was a student, playing Ice Cold Beer in a tiny bar at the end. It had been chosen as an arbitrary aim for this hike, something easier to explain than an unknown street, together with Southport Pier providing symmetrical start- and end-points for a personal pilgrimage. Well, here I was. Finishing and in need of another obsession – I wonder, how many other piers are there?

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I reached the end. For a while I looked out to sea, much as I had in Southport when I started all of this. The two moments were joined by a huge journey – torrents of green lanes, spates of pavement, years, miles – now rendered as a single object, surrounded by sea.

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So in all of this had I walked home? What did ‘walking home to 50′ mean anyway? Clearly, by incrementally walking away from the place I live I wasn’t heading for my current home. I suppose it was a mission to rediscover ‘home’ as in ‘points of origin’, by stitching together everywhere I had lived with my birthplace – seeing what kind of ‘home’ existed in my personal history as it is woven into geography, from a half-century perspective. An investigation to see if there is a solid place to stand supported by the past; some definite sense of location and belonging; a sublime wisdom of fiftyness. And on the way I had found many things… but not those things. The route that looked as if it went back to the past had in fact headed here, to the end of the pier, to stand briefly and miraculously above a green and gleaming sea. ‘Home’ and ’50′ were just ghost-train phantoms, invisible out here in the sunshine – and that was fine. There was just the walking on to the next place or, better still, to nowhere in particular.

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‘Reader, you will walk no more with me. It is time we both take up our lives.’ – Gene Wolfe, Citadel of the Autarch

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Like a mad dog and/or Englishman I was walking in the midday sun. Past St-Andrews-by-the-Gasholder, now -by-the-Tesco, along Church Road and into Western Road.

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The route took me past former dwellings in the Drive and in Montpelier Road. I could write books full of stuff about these places – channelling dear dead Bohemian days in an Ormskirk suburb – but not this time.

I began to feel overwhelmed with memory; everywhere I looked there was some detail or other…

Walking back from my job at the Zap Club – finding the latest Adam Hall ‘Quiller’ novel in a newsagent at the end of Preston Street – Northlight – “I will risk death in the labyrinthine tunnels of a given mission, ferreting my way through the dark and through the dangers, alert for the footfall, for the shadow, for the glint of steel that must be seen in time and dealt with, dog eat dog, for this is the way, the only way to the objective: this is my trade and this is how I ply it…”

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My objective was the surviving pier, and the way there passed its ruined sister, the West Pier I have dim memories of being on it before it closed in 1975.

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The beaches were packed on this sunny bank holiday. I could see the Palace/Brighton Pier, hovering in the heat shimmer, a strange filigreed sculpture of pleasure-seeking. I could be there in a few minutes…

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but remembered that I wanted to acquire some specialist equipment for my next project before I went there. So after a phone call I veered off into town. At the bottom of West Street I cut through a narrow street next to a bar that used to be the New Regent, a venue for punk bands back in 1977-8. I saw many bands here as an underager, one of which was X-Ray Spex. There in the shade for a second I thought about their frontwoman Poly Styrene, ill in a hospice. Early the next morning I read that she had died that day, her last Facebook status “Slowly slowly trying 2 get better miss my walk along the promenade.”

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RIP

In the North Laine area I accomplished my mission to purchase the special equipment. Then I popped in to Dave’s Comics to see my friend Huw. Together with his brother Gavin he lived in the next street to me when we were growing up. We were stone-throwing rivals and (such is the nature of growing up) Huw is the only person I can remember (yet) who has punched me in the face twice, on two separate occasions. Later, finding we shared an interest in sf and comics we became friends and he was part of the pack going to the New Regent.

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Huw Middleton, Alpinist, DIY long-distance routemaker, wild camper – you should be reading his blog – but he doesn’t have one.

Fully equipped I walked back through Brighton, past the Royal Pavilion (orange worm incursion) and through Bank Holiday crowds. Then, there it was again – the objective – Brighton Pier.

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Nothing left to do but promenade to the end.

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Leaving Boundary Road behind, I launched into new territory, walking along Portland Road – a long street, parallel to the coast. I was now in Hove. In the popular imagination, Hove is the posh bit, all majestic streets of villas sweeping down to the seafront, last of the rich widows and ‘The old rock ‘n’ roller / With his two-seater stroller’ out with his kids. However it isn’t all like that. Portland Road has a utilitarian feel, with the same kind of shops that can be found in virtually any town. It’s a place to buy hardware, place a bet, drink beer. I wandered along it, keeping to the shady side as the sun rose higher.

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The former Granada cinema, now not even a bingo parlour, has become a rotting hulk.

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Jamie Reid’s Situationist-style Sex Pistols graphics are quoted on this cute Royal Wedding tea towel. Meanwhile a sign on a nearby church combined an Nth-generation version Keith Haring copy with some clip-art to make a Royal Wedding poster. #artschoolsnarkiness

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Some things

Reaching Sackville Road, I looked at a small square with a couple of shops – one of those where wind blows leaves and trash around in little eddies and whirlpools. I remembered being out with mum and buying a comic there once, OMAC (One Man Army Corps) issue 2 ‘edited, written and drawn’ by Jack Kirby in 1974. I had avoided Kirby’s work up until then, preferring artwork that looked realistic and detailed to his blocky, streamlined work. With this comic I finally got it (or as Kirby might have written, ‘WITH THIS ISSUE I FINALLY ‘GOT IT’!!!) and spent the next few years reading Kirby almost exclusively, channeling his raw pop mythology. That long-ago story felt topical in the week of a Royal Wedding, featuring as it did a city being hired for a party.

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There’s a neat analysis of this story here.

Walking the virtually empty streets of Hove I doubled back into New Church Road. Many years ago when I was 5 I spent a few months in the ‘Children’s Unit’ of what was then the Lady Chichester Hospital. This was an unsettling time and I had imagined that, standing on the site with the perspective, power and freedom of an adult, I would (symbolically) dismantle the place down to the ground. But time had done the job already and it was transformed into something else.

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I turned back to the route. There were drifts of blossom on the pavement, like confetti from a vast wedding…

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…not some tawdry affair with a mundane prince, but something big and meaningful – perhaps the nuptials of the 50-Foot Woman from the posters adorned my route that morning…

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Station Road and Boundary Road are actually the same street. As I understand it, as far as Portslade is concerned it is Station Road but from a Hove point of view it is the Boundary. Or it could be the other way round.

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It was pretty empty on a sunny Bank Holiday morning. I have known this street as long as I can remember, and have noticed many changes. In recent years cafes and eating places have proliferated along with an ethnic mix unknown back in the days of the Wimpy Bar and Bistro Edward. (Having said that there was a Russian restaurant for a while in a side street.)
I had a coffee in Sami Swoi, one of a chain (I think) named after a Polish comedy film. (On the menu it translates it as ‘All of Us’.) Then for old times’ sake I walked down one side and up the other, crossing and recrossing ‘boundary’ and ‘station’, between the names.

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Some spiritual writers refer to ‘thin places’ – where the dividing line between the ordinary and the sacred is permeable. ‘Celtic’ sites such as Lindisfarne are frequently-used examples. For me Boundary Road is exactly that kind of liminal place, though I would struggle to provide and evidence. Although… this is the place where one finds the headquarters of The Fifth Element – aether, the Quintessence, the pure substance breathed by the gods themselves, beyond change – sited next to ‘grace’. Maybe that counts.

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‘It was a good day to start something – fresh blue sky, a rainwashed town, smell of new air’ I wrote, back in January 2008, on the first day of this walk. Today was to be the last day and once again the sky was blue. Instead of after-rain freshness there was the scent of another hot day in a run of hot days, still cool but promising scorching long hours. It was Easter Monday.

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I put on the boots I have worn for the whole journey, still spattered in Sussex mud. Blessed on my way at the doorstep by both mother and wife, I hiked on past the rowan trees of the street I was raised on. Since 1969 I have walked this was hundreds, maybe thousands of times – to play with other kids; walk to school, college, work; walk over to pubs in Hove to see my friends. Every version of me walks this route.

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The Old Village High Street. If all identically-named streets are connected in some way, this street links to thousands of others, including some with rather different characters, such as Edinburgh’s ‘Royal Mile’.

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Cracks on curiously-sited tourism display reveal arcane epicentre – some Hove hellmouth perhaps.

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The Old Village – the big building was a brewery but has been a factory for several decades. I have read that a Canadian soldier brought a bren gun down from the roof and shot a local man during the war.

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Twitten (‘alley’) between the infants’ and junior schools I attended. Where the fence is now used to be railings, where the padlock that holds the world together used to be. (This was a giant padlock someone fixed to a rail in about 1973. It fascinated some of us from the school and many of us tried to get it off. No-one did and it was there until last year, sometimes with a tiny weed growing from the lock. On visits home I would always walk down here and give it a rub, for luck or something like it.)

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Once again I ran down the slope to Victoria Park, where I read my way through the science fiction shelves of the adjacent Portslade Library. Happy days of The Atrocity Exhibition and Dead Fingers Talk. No trees in those days.

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Sign without a signifier – but you can add your own.

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Path beneath the railway, with licensed graffiti. Ground-up lighting gives this tunnel a slightly spooky air, applying a Karloffian look to the most harmless individual.

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Following the twitten-route beside the back of Tesco – an ancient right-of-way, still with some flint wall. Apartments with balconies have appeared fairly recently suggesting some kind of gentrification project. Maybe one of my other selves has breakfast on one of those balconies.

And so I arrived back where I left off walking, back in February, rejoining that version of myself and getting ready for the final walk.

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