Sat dozing on the train to work, this morning, I overhear a girl complaining.
“I’ve done it again”, she says. “The Brighton Festival season is over and I didn’t attend anything. Again. I never attend anything”.
Her companion tries to provide consolation.
“Everything is so expensive. And the good stuff always sells out early”.
There was a pause.
“No. I’m just crap. I couldn’t really find anything I wanted to see. I’m not cultured enough for Brighton”.
She just didn’t look hard enough. The Brighton Festival is a lovely event in my city’s calendar, and one that I’m prepared to admit I hardly ever get the best out of. Sometimes I feel the same way my fellow passenger did; there’s nothing much for me – it’s all scones and conversation with Joanna Lumley or ancient sonatas with the Royal Symphony Orchestra. Other times I don’t even look, feeling depressed about money or ambivalent about engaging. I’m being an idiot on all counts, of course, because there’s loads of amazing, challenging, interesting stuff happening above and below my radar, and plenty which is free, or cheap, or worth the risk. Usually Festival season slips by and I’ve barely scratched the surface, and I’m left as irritated as the girl I overheard this morning. Why didn’t I do more.
This year I did, well… I did a bit, and feel glad that I did, and only a little bit disappointed that I didn’t do more. There are things I really wish I’d got my finger out to see, and others that I reflect I might have taken a punt on, but it’s hard to feel too left out because Brighton (apologies, readers, for the smug tone) is just always brimming with possibilities. The Brighton Festival is over. But Brighton is always in festival season, really, regardless of when the posters and bunting are up. The last few weeks have seen The Great Escape (where Brighton disguises what is essentially a big 3 day long pub crawl as ‘Europe’s Leading Festival for New Music’), the Spring Festival in St. Anne’s Well Gardens, all the Festival Fringe events, and the Festival proper. And there are simply loads of events on the horizon which I’m minded to attend: the Loop festival, Hanover Day, Pride, the Brunswick Festival, Beachdown. The lesson on under-attending the month-long Brighton festival is not ‘I must do more next year’, it’s ‘I must engage more, generally’.
At the Spring Festival – a very middle class, cosy celebration of the part of town where I live (7 Dials) – I sat in the park with a friend, drinking coffee and watching a tangle of children and animals weaving through seated figures on the grass. Parents fanning themselves with their Weekend Guardians, children chasing dogs, dogs chasing children, dogs chasing dogs.
“Don’t you think”, my friend said – as we watched people mill around the stalls, munching on cupcakes – “that we’d all be a lot happier if we took more active roles in our communities?”
The answer is surely yes. We work all day so that we can live in the communities of our choosing, and yet when we arrive there we so often limit our interaction to the newsagent and the supermarket, a pair of pubs (one good for winter, one for summer), and the friendship groups we’ve already established over time. I think we should all get dogs. I want a dog and I want to be stopped on every corner by another dog owner, and I want them to know my name. I want to paint watercolours of Montpelier Crescent, St Luke’s Church and Vernon Terrace, and for the paintings to hang on my neighbour’s walls. I want to write for the local newsletter.
I don’t really want this.
I sort of want it.
I do want the feeling of pride I get when I look around the Open Houses during the Brighton festival – where I admire the lovely abstract paintings of Sarah Shaw and Natalie Edwards, the lovely sewn images of Lou Trigg, the mischevious cats screenprinted by Eve Poland (whose own cats used to climb through my window and terrorise me when I lived nearby) – and think “this is the work of my community, my peers, the people I share my city with“.
I feel a bit bad about how infrequently I update my blog, because if I’d have been organised, I could have told you this earlier, in time for you to trace my footsteps through the Festival, if you’d wanted to.