I lived for a year in Brighton where everything always felt like it was happening at once. The pace of life is much faster than anywhere else I have lived and often frayed my nerves. From watching junky catfights to jugglers in a park known as the Level, it’s a place always full of surprises.
At the time, end of Summer 2005, I had just moved to Brighton with my then boyfriend Matt. The only person we knew in Brighton was my ex-boyfriend Dave, who lived in a bed-sit. It had been quite an unplanned move and we hadn’t thought as far ahead as finding somewhere to live. Our living arrangements were a little odd: unbeknownst to us, also staying in the bedsit was another ex-girlfriend of Dave’s – Lauren – and her border-collie dog Henry. Thrown in to the mix was his current (soon-to-be ex) girlfriend’s lizard.
Strangely enough Lauren and I got on very well. We were quite similar, and not just because we were both short and slim with dreadlocks. The day started off innocuously; I awoke to the sound of seagulls screaming viciously, the smell of sea salt and the sensation of something landing heavily on my chest. It was the lizard. Matt and Dave were laughing. I was not.
We decided to wander down to the seafront and Matt dragged his tall, skinny frame out of bed, bed being a floor covered entirely in two mattresses. I have weird nostalgia for this uncomfortable time, though I’d hate to be back there in reality.
After breakfast we wandered past the cartoon-colourful shops along the lanes which I loved the way a magpie loves shiny glass, finally making our way onto the stony beach. As always the walkways, restaurants and bars along the seafront were alive with tourists. In the distance you could always see the two piers, one clean and shiny and the other broken and stooped, half of it having burnt and fallen into the sea many years ago.
I let Henry off the lead and watched him race towards the sea and then back away when he remembered being frightened of water. I stuck to the walkway, occasionally throwing a toy for him. Eventually we reached the Fortune of War pub and its benches sprawled outside. Only something was different.
It was the noise that hit me first; it wasn’t the usual level of noise from people at a party, it was something far bigger. Putting Henry back on the lead as we neared, I saw it. The place we had arranged to meet a friend was swamped by pro-foxhunting protesters, and I was wearing a green tie-dyed top, baggy jeans and dreadlocks. They were swarming across the beach, onto the benches of the pubs and congregating over the pier, the logos on their blue jumpers and signs blazing proudly. “Maybe they won’t discriminate,” I thought hopefully.
As we sat down I overheard a livid debate on the table next to us as a local and a protester argued their different perspectives on hunting. We made a point of talking about crisps. As we discussed the shrinking of Monster Munch from the days of old Henry began sniffing the older couple on the table next to us. If I’m looking after a dog I’m always conscious of whether they’re bothering people and I called him nearer to me. “We don’t dislike animals” said the lady. I struggled to hear them over the drunken shouting, but I could see their blue jumpers.
We got into a discussion about dogs, something they’re always handy for. As I chatted with the white haired couple, several protesters lurched off to another pub further down the seafront asking Matt if he wanted a fight. “No, not really,” he replied to a crash of laughter. Turning back to my conversation I saw something I knew I wasn’t going to like; a policeman and woman, making their way through the crowd towards me.
“I’m really sorry,” said the policewoman genuinely, “but we’ve had a report from someone that you’ve been seen doing drugs.” I laughed. Then I stopped.
“Oh, you mean really?”
They apologised again and said they’d have to search me. “We’ll just take you a way down the beach away from the crowds.” The older couple defended me and offered to look after Henry. I handed them the lead and got up, much to the enjoyment of several protesters nearby. We I wandered down the beach, trudging over the pebbles. I chatted to the police about the protest while I emptied my pockets, all to the sound of raucous laughter.
“Yeah, haven’t really had any trouble from them apart from this” said the policeman as he filled out a stop and search form. “You keep a copy of this form to show we didn’t find anything,” he explained, handing it to me. ‘Searched for illegal substances’ it said. I decided to put it on the wall of my new flat when we moved in. I said goodbye and meandered back to our bench, deciding to get another drink.