“Every city has its own internal logic” – Angela Carter, “The Kiss”.

I knew my city from the first time I saw it. Strange that it is ‘mine’, now, when I was born in Cape Town, but there’s something different about a city that you have chosen to live in. And Cape Town seems increasingly distant and abstract to me now, after six years in my adopted country.

I first ‘met’ Brighton in June 1998, on a gap year holiday to England filled with pubs, pool and boys. It was only for one summer’s day, but it reminded me very much of the seafront in my home city, and I felt instantly at home. I saw it in an idealistic way, and Brighton stayed in my head for long after that.

I spent longer in Brighton during November 2003, when I came up for my best friend’s wedding. The unaccustomed cold didn’t put me off: I was in love with the place, taking photographs of the beautiful University buildings, the Pier, even the pebbles on the beach, to show eagerly to my then boyfriend when I returned home (I was trying to convince him to join me when I moved to England).

Brighton is both more and less innocent than Cape Town with its laundromats and rastafarians competing on street corners with glue-sniffing little boys offering to clean your windscreen. When I first moved to Brighton I thought it was a haven compared to the perpetual threat I felt in my home city. The lurching Big Issue sellers with their cheeky or frozen smiles depending on how much hope is left in them, and the clink of change in Londoners’ pockets as they walked past beggars under Trafalgar Street bridge – all seemed harmless in comparison. All I really saw were the lights and bonhomie of the North Laines, the way people could wear any hairstyle or costume without it attracting ridicule – unlike in conformist Cape Town – and the sunshine glinting off the pebbles on the beach which were still a novelty then.

In Cape Town there was no way I’d walk through the centre of town at night without a man at my side – so when I first came here the freedom was intoxicating. I walked everywhere without fear. Recently, though, I’ve been noticing the underbelly of Brighton a lot more.

Maybe it’s having a child, and an awareness of what I don’t want him exposed to – but the gap between the ‘ideal place to live in’ and the place I actually live in, seems to have become ever wider. Every time I walk down Western Road or North Street there seems to be a fight going on – even in the daytime – and I have to positively gird myself up to face London Road and the Level with the perennial alcoholics at midday.

It’s also the sheer unstoppable force of the city – the way there’s always something stimulating happening, and finding peace in the face of that can be challenging. I feel like I’ve become hooked on it, though, because everytime I consider moving somewhere quieter – like Totnes in Devon, a recent bee-in-my-bonnet, I feel paralysed with fear of boredom, and something missing.

I know that the sheer amount of choice I have on a day-to-day basis in this city is something to be tremendously grateful for. There are centres where we can connect with others in similar circumstances, have access to communal organic allottment gardening free of charge, many different parks to choose from, some of them beautiful, and of course the unchangeable sea – having grown up by the sea, I’ll always have a bit of an attachment to it.

I know that my long term dream is to live communally and close to nature. In the meantime, though, and until I find the right people to do that with, I’m faced with the question of where’s best for a growing boy and his mother? How do we meet both of our needs? It’s clear that Jude loves the city and thrives on the excitement. He’s not yet noticed the things that make me cringe. And I have to sit in the gap and know that sometimes peace has to be cultivated regardless of my surroundings. After all, as meditation teachers say, wherever you go, there you are.

Lately I’ve managed to touch that, but it was only when I decided that I could and eventually would leave Brighton, despite my love for it – that like a relationship with a lover, you don’t have to wait till it’s all falling apart to see the sense in moving on – it was only then that I started to feel the peace even walking down the busy streets with the shouting teenage mothers and the clamouring shoppers. Only then did I start to re-discover all the things I once loved about Brighton, and still do. It had to be a special place to become my adopted city, and often what I hear in people’s voices when they criticise the place, is a cynicism I don’t want a part of – a lack of appreciation for what we have here.

Sometimes it is about accepting that nowhere is going to be perfect. Obvious as it sounds, this is something I really struggle with! For now, it’s about just taking baby steps towards my vision – and right now, that looks like it may be moving to a smaller town or village in Sussex, where Jude can still easily see his father and I can still see my friends here.

It’s not perfect – it’s not rural idyll, and I would be giving up a lot, and facing the uncertainty of having to build up a network of friends all over again. But I’m reminded of the huge risk I took moving countries six and a half years ago, and how I have never truly looked back since. In the meantime, I’m hunkering down for winter and aiming to enjoy this city as much as I can while I am still here.

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