It was my first time in Brighton this summer, sometimes known as little London by the sea. I love coastal cities. I love the way they bring two worlds together and offer everybody everything all in one beautiful sprawling landscape. But Brighton has more faces, more aspects to its character, than I think any other I’ve been to.
The pebble beach and the famous long pier are pure English seaside with stripy deckchairs, amusement arcades, ice creams and carousels. Central Brighton houses the train station and block after block of M&S, H&M, and D&G. Then there’s the old town, the lanes, where pavement cafes and boutiques huddle on the bends and curves and corners of these 13th century streets, burnt down in the 15th century but still following the same original plans and tracks.
It’s here in the old town that I found the most intense selection of restaurants I think I’ve ever come across. Every few meters and there’s a restaurant, mostly independent, and far more than I could possibly try in my three days in Brighton. These narrow streets are cobbled, and the small squares littered with café tables and chairs clang with the sounds of crockery and cutlery. And yet, despite these busy cosmopolitan, concrete streets and squares, small pockets of greenery, plants and flowers, decorate and punctuate everywhere you look.
Brighton has parks and vast openings of green spaces. You don’t have to go far to find them. But it’s in the winding little lanes and the pretty old town where the tiny touches of greenery are most effective. Sit outside any café and you’ll only have to turn your head a few inches in any direction to see hanging baskets with pink and purple pansies overflowing on the walls of the old lanes. Choose from any of the vast amounts of restaurants and you’ll see troughs of flowers above gutters and planters amid pavement tables.
Maybe it’s the narrowness of the streets and the nearness of the buildings that make these small clusters of nature so noticeable and so needed. Or maybe it’s just another delicate detail to the multifaceted character of Brighton.
I only just scratched the surface of this city in the three days I spent there, and I already can’t wait to go back. Next time I might ignore the pier in favour of the marina. I might shun the shopping centre and seek out small vintage stores. But I will go back to the old town and the little lanes. I’ll try a different restaurant each night and I’ll drink tea in the pavement cafes, and I’ll feel the lull of the hanging baskets and the gutter flowers. I don’t think I’d ever get tired of that.
Samantha Priestley is the author of the Folded Word short-fiction chapbooks Dreamers (2014) and Orange Balloon (2016). She’s a novelist, playwright, and essayist who spins words into gold from her home in Sheffield, UK.
To read the first page of Orange Balloon, see a sample illustration, or purchase direct, please visit our shop: