Beside the seaside: sun-soakers on Brighton pier during the 2013 heatwave
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Squeezed Middle: should we sell up and move to Brighton?

A town where my fantasy of Georgian terrace and Ottolenghi expense account can finally intersect with Curly’s rural idyll.

I heave the buggy out of the station and stop to inhale the complementary fragrances of stale chip fat and fresh sea air. Gulls swoop overhead and I think to myself: hmmm, Brighton. In days of old I came here on many a student bender. More recently, it has been the site of several jolly family days out.

But today Brighton is not about fun. It is Serious. Moe and I have come to look around a house. It is time, Curly has informed me, that I started thinking seriously about moving out of London. There is only so long we can bring up two boys in a slightly-too-small flat; our downstairs neighbours have suffered enough. Besides, there must be more to life than this grubby, overcrowded, overpriced city. Larry is starting school in September, so if we’re going to move, we should do it now.

Curly has in mind a rural idyll in which he will brew beer and fashion wooden spoons out of sticks and where the years on end he has spent sitting in a dark room doing data entry will seem nothing but a long-distant nightmare. I’m holding out for the lucrative, high-profile media job, wisteria-clad Georgian terrace and Ottolenghi expense account. Brighton, we’ve concluded, is the very place to reconcile these two wildly irreconcilable visions.

Moe points at things as we walk along the seafront, which has put on its Sunday best for us. Look! The sun glinting off the sea! A row of dinky pastel-painted houses! It’s all so lovely, bracing and fresh. We approach the house. So far, so good. It is on a pleasant street not far from the centre of town. It is of an ample size, and not noticeably derelict. A little flight of steps leads up to a nice green front door. Is it possible that Curly and I could live somewhere like this?

Inside, the pleasant surprises just keep on coming. The house has a fully functional kitchen and bathroom. It has enough bedrooms for the whole family. It has an almost leak-free roof and double glazing. It is, in other words, a fully fledged Family Home. The owner, a friend of a friend, escorts Moe and me to the local park, where a selection of ruddy-cheeked children are feeding the ducks. Am I getting carried away, or do they actually look healthier than children do in London?

Afterwards, Moe and I sit and throw stones into the sea. We eat some deliciously soggy chips and I turn the Brighton plan over in my mind.

There are two discernible flaws. One: neither Curly nor I have any means of earning money here, though perhaps that is not insurmountable. Two: Brighton does not have the people I love in it. Could I survive without them? It’s a terrifying question. I pop another chip into my mouth. Food for thought. 

Alice O'Keeffe is an award-winning journalist and former arts editor of the New Statesman. She now works as a freelance writer and looks after two young children. You can find her on Twitter as @AliceOKeeffe.

This article first appeared in the 26 February 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Scotland: a special issue

Photo: Getty
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What happened when a couple accidentally recorded two hours of their life

The cassette tape threw Dan and Fiona into a terrible panic.

If the Transformers series of movies (Transformers; Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen; Transformers: Dark of the Moon; Transformers: Age of Extinction; and Transformers: the Last Knight) teach us anything, it is that you think your life is going along just fine but in a moment, with a single mistake or incident, it can be derailed and you never know from what direction the threat will come. Shia LaBeouf, for example, thinks everything is completely OK in his world – then he discovers his car is a shape-shifting alien.

I once knew a couple called Dan and Fiona who, on an evening in the early 1980s, accidentally recorded two hours of their life. Fiona was an English teacher (in fact we’d met at teacher-training college) and she wished to make a recording of a play that was being broadcast on Radio 4 about an anorexic teenager living on a council estate in Belfast. A lot of the dramas at that time were about anorexic teenagers living on council estates in Belfast, or something very similar – sometimes they had cancer.

Fiona planned to get her class to listen to the play and then they would have a discussion about its themes. In that pre-internet age when there was no iPlayer, the only practical way to hear something after the time it had been transmitted was to record the programme onto a cassette tape.

So Fiona got out their boom box (a portable Sony stereo player), loaded in a C120 tape, switched on the radio part of the machine, tuned it to Radio 4, pushed the record button when the play began, and fastidiously turned the tape over after 60 minutes.

But instead of pushing the button that would have taped the play, she had actually pushed the button that activated the built-in microphone, and the machine captured, not the radio drama, but the sound of 120 minutes of her and Dan’s home life, which consisted solely of: “Want a cup of tea?” “No thanks.” And a muffled fart while she was out of the room. That was all. That was it.

The two of them had, until that moment, thought their life together was perfectly happy, but the tape proved them conclusively wrong. No couple who spent their evenings in such torpidity could possibly be happy. Theirs was clearly a life of grinding tedium.

The evidence of the cassette tape threw Dan and Fiona into a terrible panic: the idea of spending any more of their evenings in such bored silence was intolerable. They feared they might have to split up. Except they didn’t want to.

But what could they do to make their lives more exciting? Should they begin conducting sordid affairs in sleazy nightclubs? Maybe they could take up arcane hobbies such as musketry, baking terrible cakes and entering them in competitions, or building models of Victorian prisons out of balsa wood? Might they become active in some kind of extremist politics?

All that sounded like a tremendous amount of effort. In the end they got themselves a cat and talked about that instead. 

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder