On Monday night I had the unsettling experiences of having what I thought was an interesting and lively debate with someone I'd spoken to only a few times before, who then, in the midst of it moved right across to the other side of the room, pronouncing in front of the whole room: 'well, we don't have to like each other, do we?'. I was quite perplexed.
Prior to this, outside in the garden, we had had a conversation about the Palace Pier. He had said how much he loved watching things burn, and how he had seen the Palace Pier on fire, a few years ago, and it was beautiful. The Helter Skelter looked like a dalek in flames, he said.
The following morning I walked along the seafront to work. At the moment I am compelled to walk the length of Hove to Brighton and back at least once a day in order to feel human. I need to pass the tumbling West Pier, the wagging tails of the numerous dogs with their owners, The Angel statue, the odd waves of miscellaneous humanity travelling on foot, bicycles, roller skates, jogging... and the outside diners at the Meeting Place Cafe. It's a route for me where ideas and feelings grow, come into focus, are born, reborn, die away, come back again with each sight and each step.
Today, people were swarming all over the beach, attractive women in bikinis, turning their white and polished thighs to the sun.
As I walked past the burnt remains of the West Pier, towards the whites, reds and blues of the Palace Pier, I realised that I don't know one person who actually likes the Palace Pier other than myself - who doesn't either merely tolerate it, or wish that it would fall into the sea, or, as the man on Monday night had felt, burst into flames and be no more.
I have found this hard to understand. I have always loved the gaudy brashness of the Palace Pier. I love the carousel, the donuts, the way it is such a terribly sad and lopsided attempt at what might be called Fun and Joy and Life, but which is in fact pitiful, fake, an air of desperation about it. The poignancy of that I find moving and strangely beautiful. The misplaced dreams of endless cities, full of countless people, turning the dirge of the wheel of their lives into glitter, sparkle, flashing lights, noise. Most of all, I love the fact that it sticks out into the sea like a bleeding thumb: into this vast black mysterious ocean is this silly, ridiculous icon of vulgarity, cheapness, and lost dreams. And it is magical how it glimmers at night-time, fairy lights against the inky dark.
So I have never wanted it to burn down or be reconstructed into something else. Standing on the skyline next to the deathly beauty of the blackened West Pier, which is slowly collapsing into the sea, I usually think, what can be more beautful, more poignant, than the sight of those two piers, anomalies together?
But maybe I am wrong, I have been thinking in the last few days. Maybe it would be better for it to disappear. For there to be only silence out at sea.
Maybe I want Brighton as I know it to disappear. Or to just shut up for a while, stop talking, stop bragging, stop blagging, stop it's banter about how it is on the up, how we're all going somewhere oh so special. The first time I ever came here, I noticed it: musicians on the beach, everybody having a good time, creativity exuding from every crack in the pavement. But the soul of this city isn't old enough; it's too young, too cool. It's still at that age when you think life is going to stretch on forever, and you have all the time in the world to decide what to do with your life. But I haven't got that time anymore, and the parties and the clubs and the fire-sticks twirling bore me stupid. Close down the trendy bars with their red and grey walls; ship all the tourists off to Blackpool. Let this city sleep, let it fall into its own history, let the spinning minds create somewhere else, that we may have some peace.
I was thinking about this as I walked along, looking at the stripes of the Helter Skelter. I almost walked past a post card seller, a little white hut on the edge of the beach. I thought that maybe there would be a good post card of the West Pier I could look at. But instead, the first card that I saw was of the Palace Pier. And what do you know; it was on fire. The ghost train was burning, the night sky around, all ablaze. I've never seen a picture of it before. And the Helter Skelter did look exactly like a Dalek in flames. I bought the card for 80p, put it in my bag. Because it did look kind of beautiful, all that coloured metal going up in smoke, curling up into the night air.