TRAVEL: THE PLACE THAT CHANGED ME - PETER POLYCARPOU
He still finds himself drawn to Brighton, where he spent the first six years of his life in a children's home
Sunday 28 November 1999
I was born in Brighton but my first memories are of the home and I didn't see my parents for a long time. In fact I didn't really know them until much later in life. Apparently they came to visit us. I have snapshots of me on a donkey riding along Brighton beach, and also riding one of those motorised elephants, the children's rides on the pier that you have to put a penny in to make them move. My father is alongside me in the photos so he must have come for visits. But my first memories of them are when my sister and I were about six years old. We were picked up by my parents who told us ,"We've come to take you home". And all I could say was, "Who are you?" I really did not know who they were.
We still have a lot of family in Brighton. There is a big Greek Cypriot community there - they own all the steak houses. Preston Road is practically one long row of steak houses. But most of my memories of Brighton are of being taken, crocodile fashion, to the Saturday morning picture show. And of the sea. It was always in view from the upper floors of the home. And rather like that policeman in Under Milk Wood, I always had to go back and check that it was still there.
There is something very special about being on the beach and looking out to sea. At the risk of sounding pretentious, it is where I now like to go to meditate. Water has a wonderful effect on me. Brighton is the place I come to settle my mind. I know that it is where I can relax. And I have an incredible sense that everything has come full circle. St Angela's has now turned into a Buddhist centre and Buddhism is something that is very important in my life.
I guess I will always associate Brighton with my emotional learning. A few years back my sister helped on a documentary on Channel 4 about middle- age crises in men. It ended up with my sister and my father going back to visit Brighton. The first I saw of the programme was when it was broadcast. The visit had such a profound effect on my father and seeing him being very emotional, and on television, was very moving for me. I had seen him cry before - we Greeks are naturally emotional people - but it was still strange.
The atmosphere in Brighton is very special. It is unlike other coastal towns I know, and I have played in quite a few (including Brighton Theatre, too). I would say of all the places that I have been worldwide, Brighton is the place that has the most pull for me. I love living in London but Brighton is a place that I keep going back to. It has such a very special community feeling and I love the fact that there are all sorts of disparate groups living side by side - so many ethnic groups, a big gay community, lots of artists and actors. You always meet the best people travelling down from London on the train!
Peter Polycarpou (aka Chris Theodopoulopoulos, Pauline Quirk's husband in BBC1's `Birds of a Feather') will play Bologna in the new musical `Dick Whittington' at Sadlers Wells (tel: 0171-863 8000), 16 December-29 January.
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