PC 14 Hove can’t be the centre of the universe – can it? (Or should that be ‘Hove Actually?)

It’s funny being back here in Hove after so long in Rio de Janeiro, but at least we had some relatively warm local weather to welcome us back. Even places familiar to one seem strange at first but you soon get back into the grove …… and you notice what’s new, what’s changed and what’s stayed the same …… if you keep your eyes open. There are those lovely lines from TS Eliot’s poem “The Four Giddings”:  “….. the end of all our exploring, will be to arrive where we started ….. and to know the place for the first time.” To know the place for the first time, huh! So we walk, looking, observing, finding the familiar and the new, unconsciously remembering and realigning.

Our neighbours had said that the sea had been extremely rough in January and February; we walked the 200 metres down to the shore. We looked; it looked at us, benign and calm at low water with relentless small waves lapping the sand. Had it really been rough? Had tons and tons of pebbles been hurled up off the beach, up onto the Victorian promenade, up against the beach huts? It looked so innocent, this sea that lapped the beach, as though it was teasing …. as though it was disclaiming all knowledge of its power.  Woes betide us when we forget, when we disregard the power of nature.

A photograph from February shows the whole promenade, some 20 metres wide, covered with pebbles to a depth of 50 centimetres or so ….. and the ‘beach’ only sand. I suspect the council shovelled it back, and the sea threw it back on a few more occasions before those winter storms finally abated. Can the sea have a sense of humour? Although it’s not alive as such, it acts, in cahoots with the moon and the wind, as if it is, doesn’t it? I bet a few council staff looked at the sea and said: “OK! Don’t do that again!” And of course it did, like some naughty boy, testing, teasing. Looking at the calm water shimmering in the afternoon sunshine, it’s easy to forget its power.

But I’ve experienced the same sea, turned malevolent and churned into turmoil by gale-force winds, when I’ve been sailing. Storming into The Solent past the Needles on an overnight trip from The Channel Islands many years ago, it doesn’t take a moment today to feel the lurching of the boat, the torrential rain and the sound of the screeching of the wind on the rigging; it was gusting severe gale force 9. Sure, I shouted at the sea: “Enough! Enough!” ……. and it ignored me! I never forget that power, that power of the natural forces on this planet; one is safe at sea because you develop a very healthy respect for the sea and understanding that makes sailing such an exhilarating sport. But I digress! Hove, Oh! Yes!

Further along the beach that destructive power has wreaked further havoc on the old West Pier, one of only two ‘listed’ piers in the United Kingdom. Closed since 1975, it was always going to be refurbished. Sadly, in 2003, just as money was allocated for its rebuilding, a fire completely consumed that which could be consumed. The Victorian ironworks have stood, twisted, bent and actually rather beautiful, abandoned in the shallows off the beach since then; a red buoy sits to seaward, warning of the danger. And now the power of the sea has reduced the remnants still further, large pieces having given up the survival battle and surrendered to the elements. I sense it’s time for the council to remove it completely, if only to save this magnificent Victorian structure further embarrassment.

Funnily enough this gaunt skeleton of past glories reminds me of some of the regular daytime drinkers at The Clifftonville Inn in nearby George Street!! (“Oh! God” Where’s he off to with this PC?”). Pedestrianised George Street is one of those streets that seems to attract certain types, and Hove is full of ‘certain types’!! In nearby Tesco’s you occasionally see Elvis, but it’s George Street which has the full panoply of life, in all its rich pageantry!! There are Goths galore and then those delightful old men and women who insist on dressing up before they venture out, never mind the hat, scarf, lamé suit and brogues or the smudged lipstick. Turkish men smoke and drink coffee at the outdoor tables of the café, the busker tries his luck with boxed musak accompanying his songs, at another café a regular has animated conversations …. with herself (!) and then there are those who congregate for a snifter. For them a drink or two and a smoke are essential elements of the day. Of course the stereotypical black clothes, the gaunt face, the odd pony tail and numerous tattoos don’t help to challenge my prejudicial and judgemental observations! The men look as though their ‘food’ is in a glass, the women exhibiting that rather ‘smoked’ look, taut paper-thin skin and wrinkled, from too many cigarettes … and their voices betray the smoker’s cough! If you’re feeling a little low, go and walk up George Street; you’ll soon feel better! Here the cry “Don’t forget your ‘5 a day’!” has a different meaning; more likely 5 pints and 25 cigarettes (roll-ups in this case) and not a piece of fruit or a carrot in sight! I wonder how they got to be the way they are, for surely it’s not healthy; maybe they don’t care, just enjoying the lift of alcohol and nicotine ….. I know I did!! But that’s another story!

Richard Yates – richardyates24@gmail.com

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