I don’t have time to do things twice.
I looked in the mirror; so too did my much younger partner. It was plain to her, to everyone: I’d overdosed on repetition. It was time to go cold turkey: it was time to go to Brighton.
When you live like me, in inland and inclement Scotland, Brighton appears to be a dazzling jewel. And it was. It was everything I’d read and heard about. Indeed it was more, because I - and Suzy - added another ingredient, something absent from the guide books - something absent from all guide books - do it once.
I rented out our home, sold the car, and we arrived at Brighton railway station one mid-summer’s evening. The adventure was ours but the inspiration came from our good friend, Jack Trysil. Not that we could emulate Jack: while always operating within the bounds of legality, he takes the fight against repetition to limits we would only fantasise about. If he’s a PhD at this sort of thing, we were just playing with crayons in primary one. But at least we weren’t in nursery school and soon we were using our joined-up writing skills to sign a six-month lease on a small but delightful flat on the cusp of Hove and only minutes from the beach.
Do everything once: pubs, clubs, cafes, museums, festivals, churches, hotels, theatres, parades, gardens, cinemas, fairgrounds, parks, leisure centres, ‘talks’, extreme sports, dog tracks and race tracks, day trips and boat trips, the sights, the sounds, the barbers, the bakers, and the candlestick makers.
That, anyhow, was the general idea. But it had to be modified. After all, how could I safely go bungee jumping when my blood pressure is 150/110? Or skateboard along Marine Parade when I have acute arthritis in the left knee?
The result was a once-only list that reflected our differing interests, health profiles and energy levels. I called it ‘bespoke in Brighton’. Predictably it included the city’s tourist attractions, but it was dominated by activities and places that appealed to our tastes and idiosyncrasies: belly dancing, the home delivery service from La Cucina, innumerable restaurants, Zen meditation, Hotel du Vin, the Duke of York’s cinema, Gay Pride, Valentino’s cocktail bar et al.
‘Et al’ was a tad long and as we made our way down the list we encountered a problem facing everyone: time was fast running out. My feet aren’t as nimble as they used to be, but my mind is, and no sooner than you can say ‘do nothing twice’ the solution came to me: stay for another six months! Our tenant in Scotland was happy to renew her contract. Suzy was delighted. I was over the moon.
For me, to constantly seek the new and eschew repetition, was like emerging from decades in a chrysalis. Everything had freshness, vitality and vibrancy. I hadn’t known anything like it since childhood. I hadn’t been as happy in years.
Happiness also came from accepting that I could no longer snowboard down K2 and hence knowing that when in Brighton I needed a ‘zimmer-zone’. So that from the moment we moved into the flat, we decided that in its immediate environs we could drink, internet café, and shop as often as we wished. We could relax and I could recharge my batteries – it was like playing hookie. We could also integrate with the local community; enjoy its conviviality and friendliness, and in a pub experience a curiously comforting sensation when the barman would say on our arrival, ‘It’ll be the usual then?’
It was fun, but it wasn’t an unbridled bundle of laughs, for it gradually dawned on us that there were three of us in this relationship: Suzy, myself, and poignancy. I could never return to Brighton, revisit the Theatre Royal or the Dome after a wonderful evening, or go back to Glorious Goodwood. I would periodically imagine myself facing an accusing finger and a painful question: are you doing the right thing, pal? But every time the question was posed I always answered, yes. Poignancy was simply the price I had to pay for feeling so good, and whenever it popped its head round the door, I knew it was really saying, ‘Hang in there, folks. Keep having a ball’.
As our year in Brighton neared its end, with another midsummer rushing towards us, we began to experience a new phenomenon. The ‘first and last times’ that had been the dominating feature of our lives were increasingly replaced with ‘last times’: the last walk on the Lawns at Hove; the last look at Courtney Gate; the last drink in Barney’s; the last donation to the Big Issue guy at the station who always called me ‘Sean’; the last photograph, and then the last day.
What a jerk I was! Kidding myself I could handle poignancy!
Despite being up north again, I’m still looking better than ever - the mirror no longer cracks when I look at it. But to keep in shape, to keep repetition firmly at bay, we’re consulting the atlas, and the question on our lips is, where next? One can’t combine an extended stay and a ready supply of ‘once onlys’ in Frome, delightful as I am sure it is. We have to go somewhere bigger and perhaps abroad - Paris appeals because I would like to see the Mona Lisa before glaucoma kicks in. But wherever we go, we can’t replicate the Brighton approach - that would be doing the same thing twice. We need to find a new slant. We need to throw away the crayons.
I’m looking at an A-Z. I look at the streets. I think I know what to do!