Thursday 13 January 2011
Julie Burchill: Living by the seaside is like having all your Christmases come at once
When I was a kid growing up in Bristol, we would go on day-trips to the nearby seaside town of Weston-Super-Mare. It was popularly known as Weston-Super-Mud, as the "sea" (the Bristol Channel) was always miles away, and we would have to trek for what seemed like days across the soggy sand in order to paddle. The donkeys were depressed (no cracks – I was a veritable sylph back then) and there often seemed to be more water falling from the sky than there was in the alleged "sea". Nevertheless, I loved Weston, and as a somewhat unbearable brat, it struck me as a complete and utter outrage that I had to go home at night while less intelligent children than I actually lived there! I remember many a silent train trip back to Bristol shooting my poor parents evils, unable to forgive them for the deadly sin of living in a landlocked city.
When I came to live in Brighton & Hove, as we're meant to call it, 16 years ago, it was like all my Christmases had come at once – even if they were covered in seagull muck. Some people call them flying rats, but I love seagulls, the way they perve over your food with their sideways eyes, then do that indignant shuffle when you turn to stare them down, denying that they want your chips. "Go on, you fat cow, fill your boots! Do you know how many calories you're consuming? I wouldn't have them if I were you – WAUGHHH!" And off they fly after the ones you've scattered. Sometimes you actually see two of them fighting over an actual abandoned burger, pulling it to and fro, and that's priceless. They're natural comedians, but they have sad cries; I've always said they're inhabited by the souls of Londoners who always meant to move to Brighton but died before they got round to it.
Now I'm the one who never has to go home, and who always wants to when I'm away. Even when I'm abroad in the five-star sunshine (even in Israel!) staying at some hotel where Mrs Obama or Miss Rihanna recently laid their heads, I get excited when I know I'm coming home, like a kid at Christmas – "Two more sleeps... one more sleep..." Tragic but true. I'd bet it's probably unusual to feel that way about somewhere you've lived for more than 15 years – and it's all about the seaside.
That's why Billy Bragg gets off the hook. If he was living in a £1.5m house in the countryside, then those Neanderthal detractors currently making a song and dance about his desertion of Dagenham for Dorset would have a bit of a point, albeit a badly-punctuated one. If you're going to champion multi-culturalism and then push off to a place probably marginally whiter than Switzerland (where another Socialist scold, Annie Lennox, somewhat interestingly chose to live for some time – NOTHING to do with the tax benefits, of course!) you could possibly be accused of hypocrisy. But he moved to the seaside! Even if it is a clifftop mansion in Burton Bradstock rather than a hovel in Hastings, you can't really blame a man for that, even a man who wrote the worst lyric about sex ("Safe sex doesn't mean no sex/ It means use your imagination" – thank you, Mr Pamphlet!) ever.
It's like Nick Cave, who lives in the same street as my husband, in the most gorgeous seafront square in Hove, of all places. (Where Kirk Brandon, late of Theatre Of Hate/Spear Of Destiny could be seen walking his dog on Hove Lawns sometime back, no doubt thinking dark, epic thoughts but seemingly having quite a pleasant time.) You know in your heart of hearts that to be true to your soul you should be shacked up in a Mexican bordertown brothel, or an Easterhouse shooting gallery, but... it's just so nice for the kiddies, innit, having the beach as their playground.
Should architects live in glass houses? Nine times out of 10 you find the most extreme practitioners of concrete brutalism tucked up tidy in Georgian piles, so why shouldn't your average self-immolating desperado have a bit of fun with a KISS ME QUICK hat when the sun shines? Of course the seaside has a dark side too. The cautious paddler in the tame British brine is the stuff of Donald McGill postcards, but just last week a man drowned on Brighton beach after seeking to rescue his dogs, struggling in shallow water. The Brighton writer Ann Quin walked into the sea at the age of 37 in 1973, and was taken by the undertow. It's quite vertiginous to look out to sea some days and remember just how much the sea always meant historically to this country, in terms of war and trade and everything that made it what it was, for good or ill. And now it's just a place to get your feet wet...
Still, the British seaside is like a Smiths song out of season, and like a hymn to hedonism in the summer. Who could ask for anything more from the place they call home? Not me.
Real life is rarely quite as simple as Heroic Left versus Bullying Right
In the simple-minded Janet And John world of heroic Left vs bullying Right, the Big Lie is of a monolith of faceless, white, powerful men oppressing everyone else. The real world is so much more complicated, of course. Whistle-blowers are accused of rape. Muslim men pimp out infidel girl children. Romanies reveal a virulent loathing of homosexuality. The BBC victimises middle-aged women in order to boost its ethnic diversity quota. Eastern European immigrants are shocked by how many black Britons there are.
I've been accused of both anti-Polish and anti-German "racism" during my short time at this paper (we're actually all the same race, but logic is never the strong suit of this sort of hissy-fitter). And so naturally my mischievous little heart skipped a beat when I heard of the book Under German Beds by 'Justyna Polanska', a young Polish woman's account of working as an emigré cleaner for more than a decade. And WHAT a – stingy, dirty, devious – picture Justyna paints of her hosts!
Who is one meant to back here, Horrified of Hampstead? Justyna, for being exploited by the Germans? Or the Germans, for being stereotyped by Justyna? Don't hurry your decision on my account!
Sorry, but a woman who arranges her own death isn't really real
The eye-poppingly, jaw-droppingly beautiful actress Gemma Arterton says she is "longing for the day" she loses her looks and is taken seriously as a character actress. She reminds me of myself (in thought and word, it must be said, rather than in physical appeal) at the age of 15, when I would tart myself up in hotpants, crop-top and platform boots, then blind with mascara and dumb with lipgloss sashay down to the local dance-hall and spend the evening cringing in the toilets because "those men are looking at me!"
How does she plan to remedy this state of affairs? By playing Nicola Six, the heroine of London Fields, in the proposed film of the Martin Amis novel. Miss Arterton sees this as a step forward, it seems. "I read so many scripts and they're all the same... What I want to do is find characters who are the focus, like Nicola Six; sexy and real women."
A broad who engineers her own murder for sex-kicks – real? REALLY? I know a LOT of freaks, but not one who's ever done THAT. For Miss Arterton to talk of this role as a step towards thespian self-respect is a bit like hearing a black actor banging on about this new part he's up for that takes him a step further to realising his full potential as a dignified, complex black man – and then finding out that the role is that of Stepin Fetchit.
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