Episodes from the City

The city sprawls along and out from the coast, up and over hills, swallowing the surrounding villages: Ovingdean, Hove, Portslade and Patcham, all absorbed. Soon Shoreham, Worthing, Newhaven, Lewes and Mid Sussex will become part of ‘Greater Brighton’. One day most of the world will be cityscape, like William Gibson’s Sprawl, or Margaret Atwood’s pleeblands.

***

Down on the beach, the pebbles, greasy and flecked with powdery salt, shift beneath one’s feet and sound like rain as they’re dragged into the sea by the waves. From the Palace Pier come carousel songs and fairground sounds and the rich, sweet smell of freshly fried doughnuts – but below the Pier, beneath the tourist attractions and flashing lights, the stench of piss is so strong it stings the eyes and burns the nose.

***

In the dark, crisp, clear early-evening, the air fresh after rainfall, the lights reflecting blurred and bright on the slick brick street; empty but for us and a lone busker (a strange time to busk, he must’ve done it for the joy) singing in spanish and smiling and strumming his guitar under an awning, Kensington Gardens felt like a film set. Unlike in the day when it’s too thick full of people with stuttering gaits whom I have to stop and swerve to avoid, walking in the wake of cigarette smoke.

***

I remember walking past the Scientific Support Branch van parked outside a house on Elm Grove, around the corner from my parents’ house, seeing police officers in white boiler suits and knowing something serious had happened. A man had been stabbed to death.

On the bus going up St. James’s Street, past Rock Place and a police blockade. An armed robber shot dead by police.

***

The anti-fascists are ferocious in the defence of our city. When the March for England used to come to Brighton, they were outnumbered, out-shouted and outmanoeuvred. A small group of the MfE bunch managed to break away from the main body and slip behind the police line. They poured round the corner, eager for a fight, and found one. Surrounded by anti-fascists, they were peppered with projectiles (one taking a beer can to his bald dome), until saved by the police they had evaded. This was in 2013. Their last march here was 2014, and they haven’t come back since.

***

When I come home now I barely recognise the city, until muscle memory carries me down the same old streets and I forget I ever left. But the new builds and changes jar all the more for it. It’s uncanny. Navigating the city consciously and unconsciously both at once. Like driving a new car – just as I forget about the process and let my body do the driving, I reach for the gearstick and it’s an inch out of place.

***


It’s late and I’m tired and my daughter’s sleeping so I should be too. I’m cutting this post short, and will add more episodes tomorrow.

Apologies for any spelling/grammatical mistakes – I’m not proof-reading this now no way José.

In response to today’s (technically yesterday’s) Daily Prompt: City

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