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26 September 2017

Walking through Brighton, I wondered which tattoo I was going to get

I gather going about town without some permanent disfiguration is frowned upon here.

By Nicholas Lezard

“The thing about fitness training,” says Ben, “is that it’s brutal and totally tedious. You, though, you’d be better for strength training. You’ve got no fat on you.”

It’s true, I haven’t. I weighed myself this morning and despite stuffing myself more than I have done in months, for days on end, I still only weigh nine stone four. At five foot nine inches in my socks, that represents a high degree of etiolated skinniness. I am, in effect, barely here. And this was the morning after I had eaten five helpings of Ben’s wife Janine’s excellent dinner.

Ben is a fellow writer but is also a licensed bouncer. (There is not much of an overlap in the two professions.) Knowing about training is part of the job. He is also an inch shorter than me, weighs about three pure-muscled stone more, and could give me the thrashing of my life without breaking into a sweat. I have become interested in training because it is always good to hear an expert on any subject, and also because I am in a new town, Brighton, contemplating a new life, or the beginnings of one, I am sensing an opening up of possibilities.

I found myself walking through the Laines and wondering what kind of tattoo I was going to get. If I stare hard enough at my arm, I can almost see its outline taking form, and unless I decide to declare myself as The Amazing Untattooed Man, which might involve some paperwork, I gather going about town without some permanent disfiguration is frowned upon here, if not actually illegal.

But I think I’ve worked it out. Brighton is like London, but with friendly people. Being not fully English, I have never hated the idea of chatting to strangers; but I am English enough, of course, to know when to do so is inappropriate.

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Here the boundaries of tolerance have been stretched; light, jokey banter between myself and bar staff/café proprietors/etc becomes the rule rather than the exception, and when the extremely good-looking young woman at the till of the local Tesco Express calls you “my lovely”, with a smile as wide as the seafront, one begins to wonder why one didn’t make the move here earlier.

And socialising among old friends is easier. Something about the psychogeography of London turns small distances into large ones, particularly if one is psychotic with despair, which I have been for, I think, the past four months. Zoe may be only 20 minutes away by bus, John and Marie-Louise only 25, on the same bus even, but those distances may as well be in parsecs for all I have been able to cover them lately.

And yet in the past four days I have met Sally, Miles, Gideon, Ben, Janine (qv), and in about 40 minutes am to meet Shan (sic) and the Moose. And tomorrow it will be Richard, and if I have any spare time I may blushingly ask Ms Tesco Express if she is doing anything on Friday, although she possibly has a boyfriend who could give me an even sounder thrashing than Ben could.

I also have invitations to see three more people, and if — weren’t in hospital and Paula and Mike hadn’t sold up and moved to Santa Cruz, I’d be seeing them, too. Whereas in the last few months in London I had seen practically no one who wasn’t in the same decaying orbit as me.

And I’m not even alone when I’m alone: there’s a cat in the house where I’m staying; my raison d’être in Brighton, in fact. She is 16 years old and to be treated with respect, as I discovered when I tried to pet her on a part of her body that she has decided is off-limits. (Her back, for crying out loud. I was able to stitch my fingers back on, though.)

However, it took her 12 hours to go from wanting me dead (and, if possible, horribly dead)to deciding that I am one of the finest cat-sitters to have ever walked the earth. She follows me everywhere, walks all over me literally and figuratively, sleeps on the bed with me, and sometimes even lets me have a lie-in before her breakfast, which is normally at around 6.15am. The fact that I am even prepared to get up at such an unearthly and forsaken hour shows what kind of an effect this town is having on me. And I have begun to do those things that indicate absorption into a new environment: buy trousers, undercrackers, socks, soap, shampoo, etc.

However, whether I go to and join a gym, even one containing Ben bellowing at me to lift more weights, is another matter entirely.