I wrote this piece 17 years ago for fun as part of a series about the life I was living at the time. Some of the elements of it had completely slipped my mind. I’m publishing it now basically to put it to bed. It’s waiting a long time.
On beaches, the sea delivers its bounty. Driftwood, old bits of net, occasionally even valuable items are washed up from the oceans on to the edges where sea meets land. Yet wherever there’s a seaside town, the process is reversed: human beings are washed up from the land on to the edges of the sea, attracted by casual jobs, easy sex, or the sense of freedom that inevitably comes from living by what always looks like an infinite ocean.
Wonderboy is a classic example of the kind of person that washes up in Brighton, the most glorious and transient of all British seaside towns. Escaping from a semi-feudal village in the East Midlands, that hinterland of the imagination where I too was born and bred, she moved down to live with her girlfriend after spending far too long as the real only gay in the village. That’s a common story, here. Although few other Brighton refugees have ever snorted drugs off the back of a man wearing a woman’s Tesco uniform, at least to my knowledge.
What’s less common is what happened next. She split from her girlfriend, and, returning from holiday, Wonderboy found the locks changed, her stuff in the street, and (worst of all) her prized
sofa’ssofas sold. Other people would at this point have fled to parents or friends back home, but like many of those who wash up here, Wonderboy was made of sterner stuff. Instead, she slept on the beach, sharing cans with drunks; opened squats and lived with odd South American men; and sold henna tattoos to the tourists to make enough money to buy the essential Marlborough Reds.
We met through mutual
friends, andfriends and cemented that friendship over pints of cider at the Earth and Stars, Doctor Brighton’s, and the Marlborough, followed by early mornings dancing like idiots at Revenge. Asking her to share a flat with me was so obvious I can’t believe it took me as long as it did to ask her if, in the vernacular, she was up for it.
She said to me once that I pulled her out of the gutter, but that’s bullshit. She needed a place to live, I needed a flatmate after discovering that living on your own is very, very boring, and we got on. The person who pulled her out of the gutter was herself, because she was always ready to move on, to jump up whenever there was a chance there to be taken. All she needed was an opening. All I did was offer a chink of light.
The irony of it is that our council has actively sought to destroy the kind of peripheries that attract people like Wonderboy, in favour of the smooth, slick, New Labour vision of a family-friendly, everyone-friendly cosy little whitewashed picket fenced Islington-On-Sea. But what they don’t understand is that, no matter how many overpriced new “apartment developments” (“CITY LIVING! BY THE SEA!”) they approve, no matter how many times they try and push out the drunks, the druggies, the detritus, they’ll always fail. Because, at the end of the day, those looking for somewhere to find a little freedom will always wash up here. It’s the sea, you see.