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Brighton-Season's End

By Robin Tulley

The shore shuddered as the waves crashed incessantly and without respite, sending white flumes of water into the air that peaked, lost their momentum and smashed onto the shingle beneath in a boiling cauldron of foam. They raced over the foreshore sweeping all in their path. Above, seagulls hovered and swooped mournfully crying in the grey, overcast and scudding sky in opportunist readiness to harvest whatever bounty the restless sea had spewed onto the shoreline.

Flotsam and jetsam bobbed in the shallows racing back and forth in the waves to be finally deposited unceremoniously onto the beach. A few hardy walkers trudged and crunched their way along the ever shifting shingle, their bodies bowed against the bracing wind. In those exhilarating moments they were in both awe and at one with nature. Beach huts bore the scars of a long season battling the elements and impatiently awaited the advent of spring when they would be enlivened with a gaudy application of paint to their now flaking exteriors.

A dog ran in a frenzy of excitement picking up pieces of sea smoothed wood in its slobbering jaws. He laid them expectantly at the feet of his encouraging owner and then recklessly dashed into the inhospitable shallows to futilely retrieve a thrown pebble. Children huddled together against the chilling elements with a mixture of apprehension and suppressed excitement looking in wonderment as wave after wave crashed defiantly on the shore. One plucked up the courage to challenge the pounding waves by seeing how closely he could get to them as they imploded and sucked at the beach. A misjudged wave raced over his Wellington boots which sent him squealing in retreat to the comfort of his anxious parents.

Rounded up, children and parents sought the refuge of a weather-beaten café further along the beach. The welcoming owners thoughts were turning to the inevitable advancement of winter and the end of another season’s trading, but as always they were buoyed by the fact that there was always another to look forward to. The family had been trading here for years providing sustenance and humorous banter to customers: they were an established and much respected part of the community. There was some irony in the fact that they, and generations before them, hailed from the sunnier climes of Italy and had sought their fortunes here.

Through the misted windows of the warm and cosy café, hardy and optimistic anglers were to be seen sheltering in the wind of a  groyne that afforded the minimum of protection, and hoping that with the turn of the tide that they would make a successful catch. Pressed against the damp groyne wall, they clutched their rods against the pull of the surging tide. With a resounding thump, gargantuan waves crashed against the groyne sending up a spectacular arching display of sea spray into the salted air scattering foolhardy spectators in their wake.

In the late afternoon gloom, lights twinkled on the sea ravaged pier. Even now,snatches of music and laughter hung on the air that issued from its well patronised amusements. Defiantly, the pier had stood firm against the sea for many years, its interlaced rusting piles bearing the battle scars of a hard won and ceaseless fight. Generations of people had walked its wooden slatted decks, enjoyed its rides and attractions, devoured copious amounts of ice cream and candy floss, flirted and proposed and, for a moment in time forgot their worries as they immersed themselves in frivolous enjoyment and escapism.

Towering in the distant gloom, the illuminated Ferris Wheel, stark against the overcast sky, made its slow revolutions, its pods partly filled with the last vestige of visitors determined to enjoy an exhilarating ride. Beneath the wind driven promenade gaudily lit shops and bars stayed belatedly open in the hope of attracting the last remnants of trade from sparse indifferent customers who, more by chance than choice, were being shunted along disinterestedly by the buffeting winds. Redundant café tables and chairs littered the promenade now bereft of customers.

Kiss-me-quick hats, postcards and cuddly toys looked forlorn and without appeal. The season was all but over, sunny days with never ending blue canvas skies were at best a distant memory, with the beaches overflowing with people and the confusing aromas of fish and chips, hotdogs and beer vying for attention. The arches in the artists quarter that housed a myriad of canvases and art work stood empty and forlorn, devoid of potential purchasers. The potters wheel was silent and redundant, the finished items gathering dust.

Hotels and guesthouses had long since disgorged their guests from the peak of the summer season and resignedly wound down for another year. Now, attracting at best a limited number of opportunistic guests seeking an out of season bargain stay in the lap of luxury. Scaffolding had appeared like magic against the imposing houses in the sweeping Regency squares in readiness to be spruced up with mandatory regenerating paint to combat the ravages of salt spray and sea air. They took it in their stride after nearly two hundred years exposed to the elements. Sometimes a little flaky and shabby but soon to be resplendent and proud yet again in a new conforming cream livery to show off to approving residents and tourists alike.

Half heartedly, strings of lights that were strung between the corroding ornate Victorian lamp posts flickered on as if in a belated attempt to extend the jollity of a now ending season, their twinkling lights reflecting in the puddles on the promenade pavements. Wind battered and flapping bill board advertisements tried vainly to catch the eye, but the information was irrelevant, it was long out of date: the summer shows were just a fleeting memory. The rigging of sailing boats sheltering on the beach flapped incessantly against their aluminium masts issuing a repetitive and melodic cacophony of sound that carried on the wind.

The children’s paddling pool, now drained, no longer echoed to the excited play of children in its inviting shallows. It would now have to face the brunt of a long and punishing winter against the elements before being refilled and rejuvenated in the spring. Adjacent and languishing near the foreshore, the skeletal outline of a storm and fire damaged pier stood stark against the darkening sky. Once vibrant and majestic in its heyday, it now stood forlorn save for the starlings that inhabited its depleted structure.

By contrast, a little further away, the rejuvenated band stand with its intricate framework stood resplendent and defiant after extensive renovation and a summer given over to brass band concerts that were now but a pleasant memory. Sitting in the warm and comfortable café below, parents sipped their lattes, children devoured their ice creams and babies contentedly sucked on their bottles in their cosy buggies.

The promenade was now devoid of people save for the occasional dosser huddled in a shelter seeking oblivion in a bottle of cider. Just a few weeks earlier it would have been alive and thronging with people set on enjoying the attractions of the town. Traffic was intermittent and free moving with car lights reflecting in the puddled seafront road. At the height of the season it would have been at a standstill; as if everyone had simultaneously decided to visit the seaside together.

In the hazy distance, the white cliffs jutted out defiantly to repel the incessant attacks of sea against chalk: a battle that had been played out relentlessly between tides since time immemorial. But there could only be one victor in this miss-matched battle. The sea in all its frightening power had eternally eroded the cliff’s base precipitating a further alignment of their face with successive chalk falls. The arching sweep of the Marina cassions defiantly opposed the surging and relentless waves; reassuringly offering refuge to the boats within its protective inner harbour.

Like the ever changing and relentless tides the seasons come and go, each offering hope and optimism of better times to come. The sea, beaches and the city will remain a constant, only the people will change to regenerate it once again for another exuberant and welcome season.

This page was amended on 09/04/2014
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