Inland, well away from the seafront — and the swaggering bands of drunks, pale pink couples blushed with sunburn, ladies in blue rinses and stretchy pants walking deferentially behind their swollen-bellied men, and foreigners looking lost and homesick — Brighton was cleaner, much more attractive and on the up and up.
There are two fantastic districts. The Lanes (below), is a dizzying complex whirl of tiny, narrow streets, flower-decked pubs, cafes, restaurants and chi-chi boutiques. It brings to mind the fishing village that Brighton used to be, long before it became well-known for its therapeutic seawater — for swimming and drinking! — and a hub of fashionable society, led by the Prince Regent, later George IV, who took up residence in the Royal Pavilion, built and converted to a palace in the late eighteenth century. In the environs of the Royal Pavilion is the district known as North Laine (below),which is full of galleries, theatres, some great old buildings, more restaurants, more quaint pubs, and interesting shops.
Brighton is only 50 minutes from London on the train, and it would be a fab place to live if you were young and had more than an average income — and so long as you kept away from the sticky horrors of the seafront near the end of the pier. Yes, I am a terrible snob.
Not all the seafront is bathed in chip fat, I hasten to add. Further west, where my cousin lives in a listed 1930s apartment building with the sort of huge sea view that makes you feel as though you're on a ship well out to sea, there are glorious Regency terraces, squares with little parks, and a lot less noise and clamour. It's really a seaside town with a split personality!The beach is all shingle and makes a wonderful crunchy noise as you walk upon it. I could hear people walking on the beach as I lay in bed in the morning. I was forever thinking of Dover Beach, that fabulous poem by Matthew Arnold:
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanch'd land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.