Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Journey I – We're not in Brighton any more

The ship docked mid morning. The quay was deserted. We all stood there with our bags, looking up at the hull with some very mixed feelings. On the one hand we’d had enough of the long months of sailing. There was nothing more to say or do and it was time to move on. On the other hand the town was suspiciously quiet, and despite the gorgeous weather, there was something chill in the air.

Today the sun is eye-hurtingly bright on the lime and salt encrusted stones and the chalk cliffs. The sky is breath-stoppingly blue as we look up at what is unmistakably a British seaside town. In fact I’d go so far as to say it seems like Brighton, my hometown, if Brighton was a quaint little harbour town, which it isn’t. It has a marina, but this isn’t it. This isn’t a modern port. The quay, the sea defences, the buildings are made from enormous timbers, held together with huge rust red bolts. Rust red riveted water tanks and cranes and chains stand idle. Ropes and other trash discarded in piles between the buildings and the walkways are black with grease. I smell seaweed and oil. Windows are cracked or missing. Wooden chests and casks are piled up inside cavernous wooden warehouses. This place can’t have changed since Dickens’ time. The water below us is chalky green with an iridescent oil lacquer, and it laps gently on the moorings and under the boards as we make our way in silence along the jetty. The town above us is at the top of a sheer chalk cliff, shored up in places with weathered timber and more rust red bolts. Bleached plants flower in the cracks above and seabirds look down at us from the ledges. We carry on along to a wooden ramp that leads up a slope through a gap in the cliff face, stepping over some rusty rails where a truck stands in a siding. Apart from the clucking waves below, and the distant mewing of nesting gulls, all is absolutely silent and still. Where is everyone?
The guides on the ship tell us that we need to get up into the town before nightfall and new guides will meet us in the main square later. So we pick up our things and head up the steep ramp into town, a definite sense of unease developing. We want to get them to wait and tell us more but they need to get going. We don’t know what’s happening. We all feel a bit let down, but are assured it’ll be ok and to carry on up the slope. I look around for Cathy and Harvey and the others. They’re nowhere to be seen.

The town is actually rather beautiful – town houses, white-washed or brick, with wrought iron balconies. Shops apparently closed for lunch, bars darkened and silent. Leafy branches lean over garden walls above us and cool shady alleys curve round to other roads which themselves narrow into cobbled twittens arched with trellis and the branches of fruit trees. No cars could get about here. We pass steel garden gates revealing oases of colour and rank fragrant vegetation within. Water can be heard trickling somewhere. Insects buzz and birds twitter and brawl in the bushes. A cat comes to look at us and allows itself to be petted. Someone’s washing billows quietly on a line.

Several hours (it seems) later, somehow we’ve got lost. And our numbers have dwindled down to five. We don’t know how. Once we realized what was happening, that there weren’t as many of us as there had been, we tried to keep an eye on each other but it doesn’t seem to have worked. It’s coming on for dusk, and this place is a ghost town, and a maze. We keep walking, the four of us.
In this part of town the houses and gardens are bigger though still only two or three stories high and still mostly in terraces or pairs. It’s a pleasant, leafy turn-of-the-century suburb on a hill. The houses are set back behind gardens, always overflowing with plants, often with children’s toys scattered in the grass. Still nobody seems to be about.
We have a feeling that there are people living here. Lights are on in some rooms and there are the sounds of things happening elsewhere, but we can’t locate them. Finally it’s very dark and the streetlights are weak and there’s no moon. We knock on doors and call but there is no movement. A dog barks somewhere. We don’t want to break in but we’re getting frightened.


  1. It's deliciously evocative - and real. I've been there, through your words. I want to know what happens next. It is the wonder of a shared dream, which in this form (an isolated instalment) is like one of those dream fragments truncated at both ends: you can't remember the earlier parts, and it never came to a conclusion, because you woke up. But in your book, there is hope of preserving the whole dream, and dwelling in it.

  2. Then what I was attempting here has worked perfectly...
    And how often can we say that?


A life backwards

It's in the nature of blogs of course that you come across the latest postings first (or you find yourself in the middle.) Normally it doesn't matter but if you want to read my novel in order, the first installment is as you'd expect, the oldest posting.
Thanks for your patience.