Magazine article The Spectator

Brighton Rocks

Magazine article The Spectator

Brighton Rocks

Article excerpt

If we had had more money a couple of years ago, my wife and I would never have moved to Brighton; we would have stayed in Marylebone and simply traded up to a bigger place in order to accommodate the new nipper. As it was, we couldn't hope to afford to stay in the centre of town and get somewhere more commodious, and we couldn't bear to live anywhere less central in London, so we bit the bullet and moved south of the river to London-on-Sea. Ironically, these days it would probably be cheaper to find somewhere in Mayfair than in Brighton, where property prices have gone bananas and continue to do so. Buy now, while stocks last.

I am utterly hopeless with money, as anyone at the Royal Bank of Scotland, Western Branch, will tell you, and sympathise only too well with the great Errol Flynn, who once complained that his net income didn't cover his gross habits. I was completely staggered, therefore, to discover that our tiny one-and-a-half-bedder just off Marylebone High Street had soared stratospherically in value (thank you, Madonna and whichever Gallagher brother, for putting our humble little backwater on the fashionable map), enabling us a couple of years ago to buy a four-bedroom Grade II* house'n'garden in central Brighton. It is the best thing we have ever done.

I first got to know the town (now a city, 'Brighton and Hove') about 25 years ago, when I used to borrow my parents' flat there for the odd weekend. ('Don't say "odd", dear,' an aunt once reprimanded me, 'all weekends in Brighton turn out to be odd. Better to say "occasional".') I was much taken with Brighton in those days, and loved its raffish and louche feel. But I saw it more as an agreeable place in which to play than to live. A few years later, however, I did buy a small flat there with my then girlfriend, and for a brief summer we commuted to London until our relationship foundered. We sold to a charming and remarkably leggy black transvestite prostitute, under whose ownership - I later discovered - the flat was firebombed after a client got either more or less than he had bargained for.

There are still plenty of people who do commute from Brighton - it's expensive but quick: 49 minutes to Victoria - but it is about as far from being a stockbrokers' ghetto as is possible. Indeed, most of our fellow refugees not only live in Brighton, but work in Brighton too; when people move here, they tend to do so wholeheartedly. Although there aren't many big employers in the town, the place teems with small firms and one-man bands such as design consultancies, IT companies, graphic designers, as well as writers, actors, artists and musicians. Almost all of our immediate neighbours work from home: there is a research scientist, an antiques dealer, an artists' agent, a screenwriter, a composer, a cameraman, an IT consultant, a one-man travel agency, an academic or two, and so on. It's all very bohemian.

James, a fellow scribbler, moved here from London a few years ago for the same reasons that we did (growing family, shortage of cash and a violent hatred of living in the countryside). 'I thought I'd miss London terribly,' he says, 'and I found that knowing I could be in Covent Garden in a little over an hour was immensely comforting. Of course, since moving here I've hardly given London a backward glance. …

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