Julie Burchill has been happily retreating into the joy of solitude that only an only child understands. But finds there’s a place she just can’t visit during lockdown…
With characteristic bumptiousness, I’m very pleased with the way I’m dealing with lockdown, especially as for the past four decades I’ve been something of a convivialist. My idea of heaven is a big table in a warm restaurant, the table glugging with the pouring of wine, shimmering with the laughter of friends and me picking up the tab.
But long before I was a lunch-monster, I was a solitary and self-contained only child; one of my earliest memories is begging my mother to send putative playmates away when they called for me.
It’s that little me which chose to isolate in my new flat on Hove seafront rather than stay with my husband in the marital home – and there’s not one moment I’ve regretted it.
Happy in solitude
From my balcony I have a beautiful view of the sea, from one window I can see all the way to Worthing, and through another the start of the sprawling Sussex countryside. I couldn’t feel less hemmed in and every morning I settle down to write my book, aware of how fortunate I am to live in a place I love, doing work I love. And due to lockdown and the lack of entertainment that spring/summer usually tempts me with, I fully expect to hand the book in on its October delivery date.
I love my early morning walk to the neighbourhood mini-marts and seeing the small shopkeepers thriving now that supermarkets seem so full of hoarding hordes seemingly unaware that if you’re squashed in with several hundred similarly-minded souls, you’ve got every chance of catching that virus you’re banking on all that toilet paper to save you from.
“…nothing during these two months has left me as sorrowful as that walk from Hove Lawns to Brighton Pier”
But though the seafront is at the other end of my street, I keep away from it. Because the Sunday after lockdown, I decided to use my hour of allotted exercise to return to the scene of so many good times – and though I’m a cheery person and rarely let anything get me down, nothing during these two months has left me as sorrowful as that walk from Hove Lawns to Brighton Pier.
The sun was shining, the canned cocktails were cold – and I felt like I was walking towards my own gallows. For some dumb reason, though the bars and restaurants of my mainstreet ‘hood were closed, I imagined for some reason that the seafront at the bottom of my street would still be open for business.
Why? Because I saw it as some fantastic fiefdom which was a law unto itself, I think; Narnia with hen parties. But rather than cheering me up it caused the only fit of the blues I’ve had during the entire experience because of all the memories it prompted.
A melancholy sea of lost love and laughter
There was the Metropole Beach, where I snogged my girlfriend that summer when we came here for the weekend to escape the tabloid door-steppers. There’s the Metropole Hotel, where I bagged her brother’s virginity a few weeks later. There’s the shingle where I almost bit my best friend’s earlobe off after drinking too many Hanky Spankys at the Salt Room.
There’s where I took Rebekah Brooks to have her fortune told, and she came out laughing that the gypsy had told her she’d never succeed in her chosen career. That’s where I was standing by the carousel next to a beautiful mixed-race couple obviously down from London for the day and the girl turned to the boy and said ‘O, it’s just like Sugar Rush!’ There’s the walkway where I watched Sugar Rush being filmed.
There’s the i360 tower that I’ve been up with half a dozen times with out-of-town mates – and I can’t remember any of them because I was so drunk. I wish I didn’t remember all the fun I used to have at the Palace Pier, where I’d take my son Jack every weekend after I lost custody of him, because he committed suicide five years ago.
It’s the melancholy unique to abandoned pleasure domes which makes Brighton seafront so sad. When I was a little girl, I had a recurrent dream of a pier burning down and the horses from the merry-go-round all lying at the bottom of the sea, their big grinagog faces oblivious to their own ruin.
That’s how I feel about the seafront now – that it’s the graveyard of all the good times. I won’t go back there until we’re alive again.
Julie Burchill has been a published writer since the age of 17 – she is now 60. Her hobbies include spite, luncheon, philanthropy and learning Modern Hebrew. Her book WELCOME TO THE WOKE TRIALS will be published by Little, Brown in 2021