Chapter 6 Southern Rail to Brighton

Wednesday 12th July 2017

Arundel Castle, with Rainbow (1824) J.M.W. Turner

Arundel Castle, with Rainbow (1824) J.M.W. Turner

One of the joys of travelling to and from the boat has been Southern Rail. No I’m not sarcastically referring to the strikes and overtime bans, though I have to admit I didn’t enjoy the mad dash to Emsworth this morning to catch the 6:47 because there wasn’t another train to Brighton for two hours.

The joy comes from looking out of the window at the green and pleasant land. Even before I get on the train I spy the wildflower meadow to the north of the station crossed by a rickety fence, perched upon by a solitary wood pigeon. Today, like my journey coming the other way yesterday, the sky is foreboding. The earth, framed by the darkness seems like a metaphor for this country of my birth

On the train after Emsworth I notice, not only the fields of wheat, but also large areas of fallow land. As we approach Chichester, a massive patch of purple Buddleia clusters around a chain link fence as if to say this is how to create a proper impenetrable barrier. After stopping, we pass through the city and its quaint though maddening level crossings, almost as maddening as the roundabouts on the A27 bypass, which are not quaint at all.

At Barnham a cyclists gets on with his bike and proceeds to mend a puncture. I consider offering help as he carefully searches the removed tyre for the cause of the problem, but as I don’t have my bike and therefore my bike tools, I have nothing really to offer. This is much how I feel about the UK right now.

As we leave the station at Ford we cross the river Arun. I can see the castle at Arundel in the distance as if rising from the pages of a Tolkien novel. While you get a better view on the London train, when it passes close to the town itself, from here you get more of an understanding of the castle’s former strategic importance. We pass a large array of solar panels that act as a bottom frame for my view of the castle. I look up to see the cyclist has finished his repairs. Would but my country’s woes be so easily addressed.

Coming into Angmering I spy two wood pigeons making love on a tv aerial. At Goring-by-Sea the flowers in the station are briefly lit by the sun. As we pull into Durrington-on-Sea I can’t help but think of Walmington-on-Sea, the fictional setting of Dad’s Army. I recall the bumbling characters of the Home Guard unit, that according to my father, who was himself a member at the start of the war, were penned so well by Perry and Croft. I find myself comparing the cast with my country’s current leaders. The politicians do not come out favourably.

At Worthing I am struck by how many of the passengers look concerned. Is it a feature of Worthing in particular or the country as a whole? From Shoreham the industry and mobile phone towers give way to the bowling greens and tennis courts of Southwick. We pass car dealerships outside Portslade and a level crossing with more concerned faces. Maybe it’s just the time of the morning.

The train slows and we arrive at Brighton. I sense the same sort of feeling I once had arriving at West Berlin in the 1980’s when the wall was still there. The city shines like a beacon of liberty and diversity surrounded by a largely monocultural hinterland. Even some of the police cars celebrate this difference with the word ‘Pride’ in rainbow decals.

I haven’t eaten yet, so I pop into the appropriately named Bystander Cafe for a bacon sandwich, a decaf tea and some people watching. As my sandwich is delivered, an old boy in a overcoat, incongruous in the warm weather, enters, knocking a chair before he sits down. His apology for this minor misdemeanour is just the start of a tirade against the people of Brighton. We learn, all of us in the cafe, that he is ex Royal Navy, and has spent most of his life in Southampton and Portsmouth where the people are decent, not like the scum in Brighton who he feels add nothing to the country. The waitress turns to me me with a smile, and appropriating the word says quietly in her eastern European “I must be scum then” I answer with pride “me too”.

As I walk from the cafe to catch the no 7 bus to the marina, I reflect on what was meant by “adding to the country”. A quote from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy comes to mind:

“…. man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much - the wheel, New York, wars and so on — whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man — for precisely the same reasons.”

That small interaction with the waitress has warmed my heart and reinforced my love for this city. If I do return to these shores one day it could well be to Brighton; where perhaps the majority of residents will be happy for me to just muck about in the water and have a good time.