Walking in the Only Unknown Direction

A map offers possibilities but also limitations. When I’ve lived in a town, city or suburb for a certain amount of time, each direction lies heavy with familiarity. Here in Brighton, South is to the sea; North, to the Downs. West to Hove and, eventually, America.

On down, tired days, I everything in my mind already as I look at the map, like a trailer for a movie full of spoilers.

I had been saving one particular route for just this eventuality: East, uphill, via Hanover, to Queen’s Park. I have been imagining it for months, only to be distracted by this or that.

Tonight, with the moon waxing towards full, I finally coloured the route in with my mind.

Past the familiar Level first, half clogged with rides and mobile homes for an impending funfair; generators humming and warm light behind caravan curtains providing mild privacy in this most radical and incorrigible of Brighton’s green spaces.

Up Southover Street – a serious climb, its contours warding me off subconsciously whenever I went anywhere near on my bike. [1]

Nearly ten pm, the moon dragging me up by the forces of fascination; barely any motor traffic, and therefore the time to linger and the chance for one’s attention to focus, unfocus, and take everything in by osmosis.

Half way up, two pubs, on opposite sides of the road. Both exuding warmth and comfort, welcoming, rival spots.

I walk above them and look back down, wondering which I’ll choose when the time comes, and if the staff of these inns have been running petty battles and ludicrous rivalries for centuries.

At the top of the hill, and past several other inviting boozers – this road would make an excellent, if steep, pub crawl – I was briefly flummoxed, distracted by the main road and unsure where to head next.

My eyes fixed on a sign for a swimming pool, and my inner diviner emerged. Why would anyone reject the chance to head towards water?

The sign took me to a folly. The Pepperpot, or the Pepperbox, a cylindrical tower in the classical style. Built in 1830, in the grounds of a villa; purpose unknown, the villa long gone. Its base spent much of the twentieth century as that most noble of amenities, the public toilet.

Framed by moonlight, and with approving quotes from Ian Nairn on an information board, I was amazed I’d never seen this thing before.

Why had I never ventured up this hill before? Why was I putting it off? What else am I putting off? Or is the timing of this, as the moon disappeared behind cloud, as perfect as it gets?

Pulled forward by the lack of through traffic, I spotted lamps in darkness, a clock tower, and the murky outlines of a park. I had made it, and this Thursday evening of putting off things I ought to to had led me to where I needed to be.

[1] Tonight, the bike is in a shop, borked by a speeding lady on a road bike by the sea. She escaped with cuts and bruises. I did not even come off – and once she’d gone, I realised the front wheel was no longer fit for this mortal world. She had offered me a pint if I’m ever in Worthing. It might be difficult now to find her and ask if she fancies buying me a new wheel instead.

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