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.
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.
Behind the wedding-cake seafront, all of this.
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?
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.
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.