Let me start by saying, I love Brighton. I came for the weekend when my dad found a cheap deal in the paper. I was 13 and even though I was on holiday, I felt like I’d come home.
Something about the faded seaside glamour excited me. The cracks in the pavement seemed to hold better stories than the staid cobblestones of home. I loved the higgledy piggledy pastel houses and the way the birds rode the wind like it was something other than a nuisance to hair styles and umbrellas.
I came on a wet rainy day, with the pavements stinking of stale beer and staler still urine. I wandered along the mismatched seafront and thought if the Grand Hotel could still look beautiful next to the unapologetic ugliness of the Brighton Centre, maybe I could be beautiful here too.
Brighton fit me like I’d had it tailor made, grimy, alternative and a little bit unbalanced. I root for the underdog and don’t drink alcohol. Growing up in a Tory town that only had pubs to offer didn’t make me want to stay (Yes, I know Rottingdean is also middle-class, but I like to think I’m slowly dragging it into the working-class gutter with my foul language, tattoos and obnoxious attitude).
I’ve always felt slightly smug about where I live now. We are green and 70% of us voted ‘remain’, but coming back from my trip to Manchester, I’ve realised we are missing something, ethnicity.
Manchester is like the song Melting Pot by Blue Mink “Take a pinch of white man, Wrap him up in black skin, Add a touch of blue blood, And a little bitty bit of red Indian boy, Oh like a Curly Latin kinkies, Oh Lordy, Lordy, mixed with yellow Chinkees.”
I was awed by the colourfulness of Manchester. We have a diverse range of tofu, humous and homosexuals, but when it comes to rubbing shoulders with BME (Black and minority ethnic), we’re lacking.
The first time my daughter saw a black man, he was getting in the swimming pool. She was so scared of the ‘monkey man’ she refused to get in. I’ve never been more horrified in my life.
In that respect, Brighton’s no different from where I grew up. I still remember the day a boy called Govind joined out tiny C of E Primary school. I stared, unblinking at him. He was the most exotic, exciting person I’d ever seen in my life. Everything he did fascinated me. I remember that he had to keep his name badge on for a year because no one could remember or pronounce it.
My husband is eight years older than me and went to the same school, way back when. He vividly remembers having a special assembly for a ‘special boy’ called Sapvinda- the-Sikh. He was told the boy would have brown skin and would be wearing a special hat called a turban which no one was allowed to touch or remove. You can guess what happened to Sapvinda’s turban the first playtime. The fact my husband’s almost 45 and still remembers Sapvinda’s name is further proof of how ignorant our village was.
There was also Nikita from the local corner shop, who called herself the ‘token Pakistani’, and Chris Chen, our one Chinese person. He still lives there. When I go back to visit family, I feel a thrill of joy when I see him on the High Street. That is how diverse my home town was, I still remember their names.
I sat in traffic in Manchester City Centre and literally watched the world go by past my window. It was incredible. Skinny boys in skinny jeans, white tube socks and loafers (what’s that about?) bustling along (as quick as their budgie smugglers would let them) among hijabs, hipsters, hen do’s, and Hindus. Jamaicans, Muslims, Africans came spilling out the local school. Finding a white person among them was like playing Where’s Wally.
I was envious. The only time I’ve seen more than one black person in Brighton is when I went to see Black Panther at the cinema down the Marina.
I never went travelling. I’m not upset I didn’t spend two months off my head at the Moon Festival in Kho Phangan, Thailand, but I wish I could have travelled for the people I would have met and the stories they could have told me.
All my friends are white, many of them have blonde hair. It makes me feel like a racist. My Mancunian cousins grew up with friends called Demaine, Lemarr, Winston and Jamel. The most common names in Brighton are Poppy, Oliver, Amelia and Charlie.
I’m tempted to move to Manchester but I can’t understand the accent, the soft water makes me hair go frizzy and it rains all the bloody time.