It’s hard not to enjoy a trip to Brighton. In fact, you would need to be in a terrible mood not to fall in love with the place, whether you are returning or visiting for the first time.
This time it was for work. A conference with a Gothic theme took me back to one of the least Gothic cities in England. The main mood of Gothic is, of course, dark, and most of us will not see darkness in Brighton. Instead, we are blinded by the cornucopia of colourful tack, the kitsch-chic of the pier, the fairy-wings (as soon as we arrived, we spotted a fully-formed elf entering an off-licence). Burning softly in our nostrils, the iodine makes us high, enhancing our sense, and, making us ravenous. We had the best fish and chips in a long, long time, at the wonderful Bardsley’s on Baker Street, which stayed open beyond closing time to feed our starving mouths. We left with little paper bags of jelly babies, too, a reward for managing to clean our plates!
Like many coastal resorts, Brighton dresses up like a beautiful tart. Trashy, cool, and OTT at the same time. The saturated hues of artificial colourings may cause tooth decay just by walking past any of the shops along the sea front. The Pavilion – built to accommodate George IV’s sensuous aesthetics and general pleasure-seeking attitude to life – might look out of place anywhere else in Britain. But not in Brighton. The king’s excessive tastes, the exotic chinoiserie and oriental exoticism captured by the royal palace in the heart of Brighton, suit the city. The impossible is possible. With the exclusion of Blackpool, where I have yet to pay a visit, Brighton is as close as one can get to the grown-up theme park that Las Vegas is in America.
Brighton is not about darkness. It is a kaleidoscope with a full colour spectrum. Brighton is all about light. The cute fairy lights hanging in small cafes in the Lanes; the boudoir lights of a hotel room; the yellow lights of the Victorian pier; the understated fittings of posher restaurants. Above all, the light reflected on the sea. On an overcast morning it will meet the steel-grey water like a ghost, breaking through the thick blanket of purple clouds to force its way into the sea.
That’s the Gothic in Brighton, then. I wonder whether one could write a Gothic story set in Brighton. What kind of story would that be? A ghost story? Perhaps. What ghosts may haunt the place that’s never dark?
Can we imagine a poltergeist causing havoc in any of the seafront galleries? Zombies ravaging small sweetie shops?
I think of something different. A story about getting lost in the cobbled labyrinth of Brighton’s alleyways. Being stuck on a merry-go-round that never stops spinning. Trapped inside the underground tunnels that run beneath the pebbly beach. Or better still. I saw a man looking for hidden treasures with a metal detector on the beach. The intensified beeping signals a discovery. The man’s cheeks flush with excitement, as he frantically digs through the stoney layers, looking for the sparkle of precious metal. There it is. A wedding band, at last. A tiny diamond, too. A lucky strike, at last. This little treasure will attract a few quid in the lanes. A little more digging. The man frowns. The ring is wrapped around a woman’s finger.