The Null Device
A town that's helping the police with their inquiries
In the wake of Brighton electing Westminster's first Green MP, the Grauniad's Alexis Petridis (best known for his music articles) takes a look at the place
and its various contradictions:
Brighton is, after all, the perennially irksome, unofficial British capital of what the late rock critic Steven Wells once memorably described as "crusty-wusty, hippy-dippy, twat-hatted, ning-nang-nongers". Of course it elected someone like Lucas – who was recently photographed at home, standing, alas, before a shelf laden with self-help books called things like Awaken the Giant Within.
I walk past The World's Least Convincing Transvestite every day, on the way to my office. A man who has made the bold fashion decision to sport a jaw-dropping combination of earrings, eyeshadow, stubble and shaving rash on a daily basis, he has all the bewitching femininity of a rugby league prop forward in a pencil skirt; by comparison, Grayson Perry is the absolute spit of Audrey Hepburn. Judging by his clothes – demure court shoes, tights, pussy-bow blouse – he's en route to a clerical job in an office. For all I know, he might be facing yet another day of bruising homophobia and derision from his colleagues, but it doesn't look like it. He just looks like an ordinary bloke on his way to an ordinary job, albeit dressed as a woman. I've got a sneaking suspicion his workmates just let him get on with it. And if they do, that would be very Brighton.
There's been a lot of talk about the middle-class gentrification of Brighton over the last decade, but it doesn't seem to have impacted much on the city's famous air of slightly seedy licentiousness, on Keith Waterhouse's famous judgment that it's a town that always looks as if it's helping police with their inquiries. It now looks like a town that's helping police with its inquiries while enjoying an organic, locally sourced panini.
As Brightonian crime writer Peter James points out, the city does have a dark side, and it could be that that gives it its edge and keeps it from turning into just another haven for moneyed yuppies to bring up their cosseted kids:
And nowadays, several police officers have told me, it's one of the favourite places for top criminals to live in the UK. You've got two seaports on either side, you've got Shoreham airport with no customs post, you've got masses of unguarded coastline and a quick train to London; in other words - a fast exit. Then you've got the largest number of antique shops in the UK for fencing stuff, and you've got a massive recreational-drug market with two universities, a big gay population and arty middle-class residents. One of Brighton's distinctions – although the local tourist office doesn't talk about it - is that it's the drug-injecting death capital of the UK, and has been for nine years (we lost the title to Liverpool for a year or so, but we've got it back now).
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