It's been eight years since she left London to live on the coast. Julie Burchill on why she loves it
Growing up, and all through my salad days, I was never what you could call an outdoor girl. Born jagged with sophistication and paler than putty, you could pick any summer out of my first 16 and you would have found me shut away for the full six weeks of the school holiday in my Bristol back bedroom with the curtains firmly closed. Occasionally I would take my nose out of an eye-wateringly pretentious turn-of-the-century novel, in translation, to poke it through said drapes and press it against the sizzling windowpane to stare at the sun; "Make it go away," I would whine pitifully.
In the hottest summer of the century, that of 1976, I took myself off to London in search of fame, fortune and a whole new city of buildings in which to sulk, lurk and sneer through safely sealed windows at people in shorts. I went on like this for coming up to another 20 years - and then in 1995, I came to Brighton. And my life as a sunworshipper, beach bum and water baby began in earnest. Now, when I look back at the first 35 years of my life, I regret just one thing; WASTING SO MUCH TIME STUCK INDOORS, WHEN IT'S LOVELY OUT THERE!
As in all things, my mother was right. But it took a seaside town to change my mind. There is a reason why people in landlocked places prefer to cultivate a nightclub tan rather than sun-kissed glow; when the temperature rises in the concrete canyons, it is more than ever a jungle. Italian and Spanish cities handle the heat by taking a siesta; all the Parisians who can afford to simply abandon their city wholesale.
But Londoners hang on in there, neither napping nor fleeing, and they get mad as hell. You are better off behind closed doors. Brighton comes into its own in the sunshine. Our town is still beautiful in wind and rain, when walking on the esplanade feels like being in a Morrissey or Pet Shop Boys video, and connects one thrillingly with the timeless island spirit of our damp, dazzling people. But when the sun comes out, it truly is "that paradise of brightness" that AE Coppard eulogised, and that SPB Mais was thinking of when he stated that: "Anyone who does not live in Brighton must be mad and should be locked up."
When the sun shines and the temperature rises in the UK, the other Two Nations schism alongside rich and poor, north and south - becomes illuminated. The landlocked Britain closes in on its captives; the coastal Britain opens up, up, up, giving the experience of living physically on the edge of one's country an almost vertiginous dazzle and shimmer. It's like we're so... out there... that anything could happen. And most Brighton stories, which can variously end up in rooms rented by the hour, painting oneself as a zebra (and meaning it sincerely) or waking up dressed in the clothes of the opposite sex on a ferry to Rotterdam, start on the beach.
Strictly speaking, the beach of the city of Brighton & Hove stretches almost three miles from Shoreham to Rottingdean, but the spirit of Brighton beach resides between the peace statue in the west to the marina in the east. Between the two piers, massive investment has transformed the central mile of beachfront over the past five years.