4 [postcard] Portuguese Barbershop.
A monochrome snapshot of a man being shaved in a barbershop. The photograph is dated April 1953 and is accredited to Michel Waldmann. Mum and dad had travelled to Portugal a lot around this time (2015), toying with the idea of selling up, renting a remote property there. They had always been adventurers, dreamers, romantics perhaps, having lived similarly bohemian ideals over the decades in Dorset, in Florida, in Cyprus, on Dartmoor. But, this Portuguese dream was perhaps always going to remain just that.
The postcard reads – ‘Dear Nick, Thank you for my lovely birthday treat. I really enjoyed our day in Brighton. Lots of Love, Mum x.’
Timed correctly, it is possible to purchase a coffee from the vendor on platform 4 at East Croydon and as you roll into Brighton station you will just be finishing it. Stepping from the concourse, drawing that first breath of sea air, whatever the weather, always feels as if you have arrived at the beginning of a holiday. I’ve only ever met one person who wasn’t a fan of this south coast city; what’s not to like? The panorama from the glorious iron and glass and red brick structure, down Queens Road to the sea? The colourful boutiques and dusty bookshops? The Lanes? The many backstreet traditional pubs? Palace Pier? The skeleton of West Pier? The people? The ambience? Brighton, I might add, is the gay capital of the UK and the nation’s only Green city – how perfect! The neat knotting together of Green politics and Greene, novelist! – As it turned out, it was all of the above that Tammy found repugnant about Brighton, or Notting Hill-by-sea, as she sometimes, cringingly (and incorrectly) referred to it. “Ugh! Last resort of the hippies,” she would say, dressed in her tie-dye and charity, her hair smelling of raw henna and merlot. She home schooled her brood and she forged orange iron into wind chimes and flamingoes. The anvil in her garden shed sang to the dreary and grey Redhill.
We have beer-battered cod, chips, minted peas and Bloody Marys in the Basketmakers, where the walls are crowded with framed photos of grizzled bikers and their hogs, drag queens of yore, and greasepainted thespians, some signed. Tobacco tins, scores of them, are affixed to the walls. The bartender says of the drinks, “I’ll take a few minutes to prepare them. Have a seat, I’ll bring them over.” Many of the tobacco tins contain scraps of paper – love notes, phone numbers and lewd, suggestive propositions.
We wander The Lanes, rummaging old drawers and crates crammed with second-hand this and second-hand that. We trawl damp basements of dead Americans’ clothes and wonder at the wisdom of a neck tattoo. We smile at a mongrel in a neckerchief. A one-man band plays on Castle Square; his reflection and ours, the crowd, blending for a moment in a barbershop window; the glass bowing beneath the boom of his bass drum. A blind woman or possibly a man, sits at the kerb, skirt hitched high, laughing at the funniest thing that’s ever been said. And then, arm-in-arm, linked-in, as is still sometimes heard, but not so often, we stroll the length of Palace Pier. The water spangles between the slats at our feet and stacks of deckchairs, packed against the freshly painted haunted house, can be had for 50p an hour. We lean lightly on the iron-black and orange railings and breath the salty air. It is striped with candy-floss and hot-dog. And here, and here, is laughter. The riders rise up and dip, throwing swathes of screaming shadow. The seagulls shadow, too. A woman in a wheelchair has a Polaroid and she takes our picture. And, as we begin to appear, wondering how we got to be so old, how we got to be stood on Palace Pier on your birthday, linked-in, with our smiles and our scarves and the sea and Hove and further, in the offing, Worthing, howling at how a woman in a wheelchair has cut us both off at the knee, Nick Booth, of all people, appears at my side. “Well, well, well.” Perhaps I am not surprised in the least to find him here, he visits this city as often as he can. He says, “You are Mr. Kolley Kibber. I claim the Daily Messenger prize.”