If I had the creative capacity or sheer willpower to write a novel, it would surely be set in Brighton on a summer’s day in June, early in the month of course. It would be set amongst the tourists and tramps, the students and the hipsters, the hipster students and the student hipsters, the former hippies and contemporary pacifists, the tattooed gentlemen and body-pierced ladies of distinction, and the soon-to-be married manchild dressed as a parrot from the waist up.
What better feast for the senses than a stroll through such an environ? Commonplace shops share the street space with the most idiosyncratic and delightful storefronts as undulating waves of the most colourful cast of characters reality has to offer meander on by. Some walk with purpose, others seem lost and in a dream. One and all have come to see and be seen, to slake their thirst with a pint of local ale or a whiff of the sea breeze, or to simply to let their freak flag fly.
That all sorts find themselves drawn to this jewel of the South Coast is a gift from far, far above. God has a stoner side – a simple fact, and I dare you to proffer an objective objection. The gift given is a vibe, an essence difficult to define, even harder to tear oneself away from, and nearly impossible to find elsewhere – in Toronto, to wit, but also in the rest of Josef Camerin’s United Nationalist Kingdom.
The origin of this ineffable aura surely has its roots in the alternative history of the place, but it maintains itself through a hitherto well-maintained aversion to and evasion of development in the way a major city tends to understand the word. Most buildings in the centre are two- to four-storey constructs, be they venerable pubs, historic houses of correction, or simple places of residence. The hotels rise taller along the beachfront but are no monstrosities – rather their whitewashed facades give the coastal walk that distinctly British seaside appearance. Pure Quadrophenia, you see.
Be it the bustling Lanes or the modern-day 1920’s bar (complete with its midnight burlesque shows) this town is surely a backdrop for debauchery, adventure, and the most eccentric of encounters.
However, being located within the aforementioned United Nationalist Kingdom in the first quarter of this god-forsaken 21st century, the place is resplendent with the apparatus of conspicuous surveillance. Cameras, and perhaps drones posing as humans, are fortunate enough to have eyes on this whole scene – and from multiple angles! No doubt one need only splice together the highlights of these recordings to have footage far superior to and more entertaining than the majority of our “popular” television programs. But I digress; soon after what could very well be my final chance to ensconce myself in Brighton’s unpredictable splendour I received a most fitting sendoff.
Parallel to my most favourite stretch of the Lanes is a street I had inexplicably never stumbled upon until now. Rather than storefronts and pub patios this street seemed mostly residential, though these homefronts gave way to myriad vendors displaying their wares on collapsable tables or blankets spread over the pavement in a most inviting fashion. New and used books sat displayed, using the latter strategy, piquing my interest and – to my delighted surprise – that of more than a couple of other passers-by.
Rachel had progressed southward by now, but I made sure to peruse with a finer tooth comb the spot where I had found both an early copy of The Rum Diary and a rare Jim Morrison biography. This reassessment was interrupted by the words: “Sir, I have to show you my passport.” A tall, well-set gentleman in his late forties, with bearded chin and short-sleeve buttoned blue shirt had taken notice of my Zeppelin shirt. Here he had caught me by surprise, but it was only the beginning. Much to my astonishment, his passport – from a country I took no note of, featuring first and last names I equally paid little attention to – proved this man’s legal middle name to be ‘Led Zeppelin.’
He went on to explain that he was on a motorcycle trip across Europe – for what else could this man possibly have been doing? He told me that before he set off he had resolved to show his passport and his back to the first individual he saw wearing a Zeppelin shirt – and now here I was, lucky Number One (apparently there are either no Zeppelin fans in Spain, or a handful of surreptitious ones.) He proceeded to unbutton his shirt and turned so that his back faced me, radiant with the Swan Song Records logo that matched my shirt – though far more detailed and permanent – and the logos of all the band members, also masterfully imprinted. This work of great detail covered his entire back. The magnitude of the work and the chance encounter through which it was revealed to me left me astonished, able to only eek out the words “Pretty impressive” as I stood marvelling at such megafandom.
The proprietor of the table next to the book blanket commented that this was just a standard Brighton event, confirming my exact thoughts. It was a scene that might look out of place anywhere but here, where the locale and surrounding instead provided the most appropriate setting for it to unfold. Based on the backstory given by the megafan this could all have unfolded anywhere our paths might have crossed. The truth is that it had to happen at this exact time and place, in the heart of Brighton.