Travel: On the A23 to the past

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The Independent Travel
BRIGHTON has its royal face, its provincial face, its bohemian face and, for anyone who grew up in Crawley, its status as The Only Place To Be. Every step around the town reverberates with intense personal history. Life for adolescents in this New Town was simple: when Elaine Elliot (the object of a massive collective crush by the entire male fifth form) rejected your advances, or you could not face another evening at the bowling alley, you hit the A23. A dim suburban echo of the Kerouac spirit resounded in Crawley; there was usually a huddle of hitch-hikers at the roundabout leading to Brighton, 23 miles south.

In the area around the station the clock seems to have stopped some time back then in the Seventies. The shop where I bought a Belgian army surplus greatcoat (long since incinerated by my mother) is still there. The ethnicity index hits an all-time high on Gardner Street and Kensington Gardens. Beads? Joss sticks? Vegetarian shoes? Brighton still feeds those needs.

Virgin Records' second branch opened next to Brighton's clock tower 20 years ago, and most of the original clients are still hanging around. The Quadrant pub is where old hippies go to drink, and to enjoy Bachman-Turner Overdrive and Python Lee Jackson at improbable volume. After closing time, I recall, we used to go the Art College Basement for solid soul music. I assumed it had long since been turned into a tapas bar or an estate agency, but here it is, with the same cheap drinks and a scratched copy of Motown Chartbusters Vol 3.

The basement is opposite the King and Queen, where a bunch of us were busted for being 17. My friend Mack and I escaped a criminal record because we had taken ages to get a lift to Brighton. We arrived just in time to see the police drag out our chums, but we got our come-uppance on the way home: the ride we were in crashed into a lamp post on the A23, causing concussion and a commotion back at school. Yet Elaine Elliot never even asked how I was.

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