A volunteer advert I saw online this morning from a community centre round the corner from where my parents live in Brighton prompted me to think about how I sometimes miss my home city.
I’ve lived in London for more than 5 years now. There are many reasons I’m very fond of it- the fact I met the love of my life here, the amazing opportunities I have had, all the people I have met, the cultural diversity, the sense of history, the amazing food, the collective excitement of the Olympics, the charities I’ve been involved with.
When I first got here though, I found it quite hard to get used to. In fact I found it much harder to get used to London than to Japan, where I previously lived for two years. In Japan, friends and family and strangers I met continually praised me for taking such an exotic step. Japanese people themselves let me off lightly when I committed a cultural faux pas, didn’t understand something, or continually asked questions. People expected me not to fit in, not to know what was going on. But London? London is the capital city of my home country. It is full of people who speak my language, I had visited many times as a tourist and I already knew quite a lot of people here. There was nothing special at all about me moving here, thousands upon thousands of people do it. But I found a lot of things quite confusing. For example I found the layout of London confusing. In Brighton the sea always lets you know where you are and the South Downs give you a vantage point from which to view them. In London I once went to see a film late at night in Muswell Hill and afterwards I ended up hopelessly lost. If it had happened in Japan it would have been an adventure, a ‘war story’ to tell other foreigners. In London, it was somehow shameful. I also found that London was a place where you really needed money to have a good time. People always say that there is so much free to do in London. That is true, but once you get to them it is free. I find TFL horrendously expensive.
So, what is it about Brighton that I miss? I have no particular ambition to live there but I find it such a tonic to go back there now and then. The first is just that it feels a lot more laid back. The other day I was on the Tube wearing a suit and I looked around at the multitude of other people wearing suits and I realised how normal that had become to me. Sometimes when I get the coach to Brighton I know that I am getting close to my final stop because the number of people who look like they have got dressed in the dark has reached a critical level. No disrespect, Brightonians, I’m no fashion guru myself. But it is a noticeable difference. People look like they have popped to the local shops in their pyjamas but they are actually walking through the middle of town. Second, I like the sense of being in a place that punches above its weight. Brighton is not too big, not too small, not too showy or pretentious, but known and loved by so many people. Often if I introduce myself as being from Brighton, either in this country or more surprisingly, abroad, a dreamy look will come into my conversation partner’s eye and they will tell me that they lived there themselves, or have an aunt there and will treat it with the reverence of say, a child who has seen the sea for the first time, which in this case could indeed have been their initial encounter. Ah the sea, that’s something else I like. I like the wind that rises off it and a special quality it imparts to the air that makes me gasp like a fish with the joy of it when I get there. I like being near to water, having a grandfather who was a fisherman and being able to swim practically before I could walk. I like to see the power of the waves crashing onto the walls of the Marina near where my family live. I like the indefinable sense of familiarity I have when I am in Brighton. In London there are times when I still feel like a guest- a guest in the most fascinating city I’ve ever been in, but a guest nonetheless. Over time, that is changing day by day, but I hope to still always feel like a Brighton boy.