Everyone knows the saying. As the UK saw the hottest day of 2014 so far, the media frenzied and so did the general public.
I include myself in that because along with what seemed like a million other people, I had decided to escape the city and head to Brighton.
I was poised to ask directions as I alighted the packed train but didn’t need to worry. Colourful and laden swarms of trippers, followed nose to tail like camels being taken to market. The procession clearly only went in one direction: towards the shimmering slice of blue that I could just make out through a gateway of tatty pub facades. I obediently pursued the masses, hoping that this wasn’t in fact a Lemmings computer game that would see me facing a cliff off which to unwittingly hurl myself at the end of the road.
I did eventually reach a ledge, albeit a pleasant one. An old, slightly unkempt mint green balustrade supported my weight as I looked out to the water beyond. Unusually for Britain, the day was so warm it had created a white haze that completely obscured the horizon. Water drifted into sky and sky fell into the darker blue of the ripples below.
The beach and its backdrop of shops, bars and restaurants were heaving.
People of all shapes, sizes and hues, some much redder than others, draped themselves over pebbles, deckchairs and stonewalls: Human throws on the furniture of Brighton’s famous strip.
Massive seagulls oversaw proceedings from higher vantage points. In contrast to the lethargy below, they positioned themselves erect and aware atop pavilion stands, burger bars, and traffic lights. Was the look on their small faces one of disdain at the activities below?
I made my way down some steps to join the throngs. Progress was slow, but I gradually slipped over the warm stones towards the derelict and eerie ruins of the old pier. Rising out of the sea amid the quivering heat like a mirage, jagged black pillars of different lengths seemed to organize themselves into a perfect avenue into the depths. Another lap took me past Regency Park, some beach volley-ballers and dilapidated Georgian terraces.
In less than an hour I saw far more than my eyes or brain could process. The people-watching on this short stretch of coastline was nothing short of spectacular. The best and worst foibles of British society were thrown before me in a kaleidoscope of half naked women with beer guts and men with boobs, drunk Stags, Octogenarians enjoying interpretive dance and skateboarding and pampered pooches with their very own buggies!
The sideshow was so overwhelming I decided to bunker away from it all in a smart seafood restaurant where the atmosphere took on a milder tone. Protected from the hectic catwalk of the weird and wonderful world outside, I observed from a distance while munching on sour dough doused in mackerel pate, crispy whitebait and a mountain of seafood risotto.
Afterwards, I resisted the temptation to nap, and turned right towards the famous pier and its endless amusements. The diluted sense of evening was in the air. I could smell the paraffin of early BBQs and a lady’s husky voice bounced out over a gritty sound system as the bars began the evening’s entertainment. If I listened carefully I could just make out the high-pitched squeals of terrified roller coaster passengers. That was my destination.
Strolling along the pier felt a little bit like being aboard the Titanic. White washed iron railings and wooden backboards lined a double promenade that was bustling with tourists and locals. Families paused for photos, young couples relaxed in deckchairs to stare romantically out to sea and small children generally yelled for candy floss, arcade games and the Tea Cup Ride. I was satisfied with a brief stroll of this famous protrusion into a very English sea.
Dusk was approaching quickly, the intense white of a few hours earlier giving way to a grey-blue mist. Brighton would be partying on into the night but for Londoners like me it was time to join the sultry uphill parade towards the station. My return was fraught with both my tiredness and other people’s.
Very British shiny red foreheads bobbed and wilted against the carriage seats. The atmosphere was tainted by our combined acknowledgment that Monday morning was just around the corner and that, as always, we had all had a little too much sun.
So the saying is true, well almost: “Only mad Englishmen and pampered pooches go out in the midday sun”.