I wasn’t born in Brighton, but I was brought here when I was two years old from an obscure rural retreat. Bearing in mind I hadn’t, up to that point, lived anywhere else through choice, I guess that makes me a native Brightonian. For general purposes I would regard myself as born and bred, even if my birth certificate says Camberley, well Frimley Green, well, does it matter… and actually that is the point of today’s piece.
It would be easy, with a little bit of research, to come up with descriptions of Brighton as made by notable scholars and journalists. Easy, yet pointless. Just because a person has the talent to create edifying prose, and the facility to maximise the use of mass media, it makes their opinion no more relevant than yours or mine. Nothing is gospel, all is subjective, and Brighton proves the point. There are many opinions about the place, and for me most of them have some substance, but within that there are two words that when used cause me to sigh and switch to defensive mode when I hear them. Those two words are ‘True (or Real) Brightonian’, words built on the assumption that a certain group of people, whose local ancestry is the longest standing, should hold a monopoly on the social and political direction of the place.
I was adopted into a Brightonian family of many generations. A minimum of 120 years (I don’t know about before that) and I have never heard anyone in the family assume any superior right over latecomers as a result of this, or suggest their opinion should be any less valid. Given the history of the town, it is a strange position to hold.
Brighton has always been an evolving and developing place. In numbers and culture.
Throughout the last two hundred years or so it has seen population explosions fuelled by things such as its royal influence, the industrial revolution, and the railways. I’ve always been of the belief, although I cannot back this up, that many people whose families have been here for generations probably have ancestry that can be traced to London at some point. This is telling insofar as what exists of a local accent here is very cockney like. Innit…
The thing I love most about my hometown is how the homogenisation of provincial culture seems to have had far less effect here than anywhere else I know. Granted, I have not travelled much outside of England, but this country I know better than most. Brighton is a place that seems to sit easy with itself, despite the parallel opposites of human life we see and experience here. For me that kind of experience is essential to my own development of character, as well as my ability to understand and relate to others.
The town (city if you wish) has a history stretching a long way back which incorporates a personality that attracts quirky socialites, and, having seen off Tunbridge Wells as a rival of this order many years ago, has gone on to create a cultural bubble. Admittedly Brighton’s Corinthian nature invites detractors and a ‘live and let live’ attitude may be a must, but even the most puritanical of folk must enjoy the challenge that offers to their ideology of character.
Brighton will always be a venue of newcomers, a place that should never go stale. It will attract cultural extremities, unique peculiarities, and will be the subject of praise and disdain, often both in the same breath. Very few stories will be the same, very few lives mundane. There will always be plenty of things to enjoy, and above the average share to moan about. If you are the type of person who enjoys taking an interest in other peoples lives, Brighton is the place for you. A great study in social anthropology.
All I resolve to know is that I love this place, and I love its transient nature. I’m proud to be a Brightonian, and welcome as equals any good folk who wish to join me, whether born here or not.