I went up to London last weekend. The trip left me simultaneously drained and exhilerated at the same time, as it usually does. There's something inherently exhausting about London; even whilst I am still on the train I can feel a certain kind of tiredness descend as soon as I see the rooftops peeping back at me, the Thames blinking into view.
I feel a wonderful adrenalin comedown just at the thought of all those bodies rushing about in their own personal bubbles, trying so hard not to knock against each other in case they might pop. This small act of vulnerability, this knee-jerk response to the giant mass of human life thudding in all directions, a million beings swarming in their own dreams and poverty, riches and frustrations, I find myself falling inline with almost as soon as I've stepped out of the station.
A slippery ambition coats London streets, and Brighton can feel like a lurching lost soul in comparison, steeped in an opium haze, watching the sea roll in, roll out, roll by. It holds a drink to its lips, lazy ardor running through its veins. Brighton sleeps for days.
On the other hand, London has speed and cocaine running like shuttles through it's blood, and it never sleeps. It naps between the noisy car horns and the fumes, the terrorist threats and the boats going up and down the river taking Japanese tourists to Greenwich. Between the housing estates and the delis with their £4 loaves of bread, indifferent shop assistants with concrete faces and eyes like treacle, Tower Bridge sits, luminous and ever watchful over the skyline.
In fact, I did very little whilst I was there, my reason for going, as usual, to see the people I most love, and to remember who I am again, remember the parts of me that come alive when I am with them on some busy dirty London street. A slightly different Clare. And I never leave without some pang of longing for the busy streets and the caffeinated conversations, the deep bonds with people, and the buildings that rear up, jagged, around the Thames, like a shock, like a broken jigsaw, pieces oddly fitting together, but somehow forming perfect symmetry. London is so beautiful I could weep. And it's a beauty that can't be owned. It is its own mistress; rude, loud, manipulative and slutty, but utterly honest in it's unquenchable, ravaged thirst.
If Brighton didn't have the seafront, I'm not sure I'd still be here. Maybe that's a hasty thing to say, but really, without wanting to sound arty and pretentious, (and no doubt sounding so anyway), of all Brighton & Hove's creative life, the seafront is my real Muse. Whereas London surrounds you like a loud, heaving crowd, this part of Brighton stretches out flat like elastic. It feels like it will go on forever, and you can fade into the blues and greys of the horizon, be swallowed up behind the piers and cast into a cloud of black wings, as the starlings swirl like a lava lamp, taking you with them up into the marbled sky above. It is whirling life, breathless poetry speaking in tongues, it is a windy squawking silence that makes me sigh over and over again until my lungs are entirely emptied.
I wonder where my place is. I think about Syliva Plath, buried up North in Heptonstall. I think about the Moors that surround Yorkshire and Lancashire, and allow myself to be swept up in Emily Bronte and the harsh murderous truths that shout across Saddleworth Moor. I think about Manchester (oh yes, still so much to answer for) and North Wales, my home, that took so much to get away from, that has such a pull, like a magnet that both draws and repels.
How long I'll be in Brighton I don't know, if I will stay South of the border or if I'll return to the place of roots and shadows, love and that pain of growing up somewhere I longed to escape from. The truth is, wherever we are, we always want, at some point, to escape the very things that drew us there in the first place. Like a long-term lover who shows you, because they know you so well, too much of who you are underneath the facade, and so you long to be someone else again, reinvent who you are and what you might become. To cast off the cloaks of habit, come hurtling through the tunnel into a new world, a new self, a baby in a fresh universe full of possibility.
I know enough now to know that whatever you run away from, comes back to you at some point, that we take all our selves with us, wherever we go. But change must happen if we are to be still alive, for the blood to not coagulate in our veins until we become stiff and unyielding, rigor mortis in our brains, hearts like vapour, ever drifting off over tree-tops to somewhere where the grass is greener, then returning with a bump of resentment when we find ourselves still here, in our stilted, safe reality. So I'm thinking of moving; whether or not that involves me packing a suitcase, I still can't say.