A Not-Young Man In A Hurry

Tuesday September 3rd. I turn 42 years old. The consolation of which is that thanks to Douglas Adams one now thinks about being the answer to life, the universe and everything. I always liked how for Mr Adams, turning 42 was the year he became a father.

I don’t have anything major planned for the next 12 months  – and certainly not parenthood – apart from doing another year of the English degree in Bloomsbury. That means I have to be in London two evenings a week. Other than that, I’m just on the lookout for the next thing, whatever shape that may take. A step up in my fortunes would, I’ll be honest, be highly agreeable.  I don’t just mean money, though of course I do mean money. In the meantime, I know I have to write, and that I must work on the writing, and that I must get the writing out there.

* * *

A birthday is really a celebration of the body; a renewal of life’s lease for another year. Since retiring from having birthday parties a few years ago, and in lieu of doing something pleasant with a companion (I am still single), I now see birthdays as an excuse to treat my body to a day trip. It’s as if to say thank you, O Body, for being around another year and not falling apart. I am lucky enough to still have working eyes, so it seems fair to give them new sights to see. I am also lucky enough to still have working legs, so it seems apt to give them new places to walk around. On top of that, I haven’t travelled much in recent years due to lack of income, so a day trip helps to make the birthday feel special. For my 40th I finally found out what Margate and Broadstairs were like, and for my 41st I explored Dungeness.

This year I decide on Eastbourne and the Seven Sisters cliffs, partly because there’s a one-off screening of Hitchcock’s Dial M For Murder 3D in nearby Brighton, and it’s a film I regretted missing in London. I’ve explored Brighton itself many times before, hence Eastbourne and the cliffs.

Eastbourne has a reputation as a retirement resort, and certainly the abiding sound of the town on my visit is the clack-clack of walking sticks mingling with the cawing of gulls. There’s a long row of benches on the promenade in front of a pretty floral display, pretty much all of them occupied by a senior citizen.


Surrounding oneself with the elderly in abundance on a 42nd birthday is a good reminder that, yes, 42 is older than young, but not properly old. Just not young. I don’t know what to do or feel about being 42, other than finding something to do and getting on with it. As a result, I march through Eastbourne in a state of impatience, knowing I have not just the cliffs and the cinema still to do, but life still to do. I am a not-young man in a hurry.

I’m enormously annoyed to find the Victorian camera obscura on the pier is closed indefinitely, despite the assurances to the contrary by the brand new Rough Guide To Kent, Sussex & Surrey. First published May 2013, it says, and evidently already in need of an update. I rest in the bar at the end, where there are huge TV screens on the walls tuned to the BBC news channel. News is now literally end of the pier entertainment.


Then to the Museum of Shops, which thankfully is open and consists of agreeably cluttered recreations of shop interiors from the last century, presided over by some spooky mannequins in costume. There’s a wealth of obsolete brand names on all the vintage packaging, their extinction rendering them exotic. The most unusual exhibit has to be the midwife’s scissors used to cut the umblical cord of the infant DH Lawrence.


I take the 13x bus up on the cliffs past Beachy Head and the Belle Tout lighthouse (remembered from The Life and Loves Of A She-Devil) , but decide against getting off and taking a look as there isn’t time – clearly one needs to put aside a whole afternoon for cliff walking. As it is, a thick fog has suddenly appeared, blowing along the road in Hammer Horror fashion as the double-decker takes the steep climb from the town. By the time the bus is level with the cliff edge, the sea has disappeared into the grey altogether. I get off at the Golden Galleon pub by Exceat Bridge as planned, and walk the mile and a half footpath to Seaford Head, hoping the fog will lift. It doesn’t. So I get to see the coastguard cottages – the ones Mr McAvoy and Ms Knightley disappear into at the end of Atonement – without the cliffs behind them. Still, the salt marshes and chalk grassland of the Cuckmere Valley are pleasing enough.


After about another couple of miles of fog walking along Seaford Head – carefully observing the ‘Cliff Edge’ signs all the time, and following an unpleasant encounter with an army of flies who take a liking to my linen suit – I feel I’ve done enough exercise to last me the week.


I walk into Seaford town and take the train to Brighton, always enjoying a single platform terminus of a branch line: the satisfying neatness of seeing where a lone railway track comes to a halt.


The moment I get off the train at London Road, close to 6pm, the fog has cleared. It’s a sunny late summer evening. A three-legged black cat crosses my path, and somehow that’s Very Brighton.


My spirits immediately lift; I often sense where I feel more at home, and bohemian, progressive Brighton is one of those places.

At the Duke Of York’s Picturehouse, Hitchcock’s Dial M For Murder turns out to be almost Wildean in style. Well-dressed people in a room being very arch and elegant with each other, thinking through all the complicated outcomes of their cunning plans, and adjusting them when things go wrong. The detective has a moustache comb, and uses it. One completely understands Mr Hitchcock’s choice to use 3D here: to make a stage play come alive without crowbarring in new locations for the sake of it. Grace Kelly’s stunning red evening dress therefore becomes even more stunning – I like the idea of 3D couture.

The discussion on 3D in films afterwards turns out to be with the man off the BBC1 film review show, the one who isn’t Claudia Winkleman, plus a film lecturer from Birkbeck, fittingly. Both are very much pro-3D in the interests of artistic experimentation, but admit there’s currently the problem of the extra darkness, the awkwardness of wearing glasses, and the greediness of cinema chains who hike up ticket prices for 3D films. I ask them to comment on Baz Luhrmann’s citing of Dial M For Murder as the main reason he shot The Great Gatsby in 3D. Mr BBC says he doesn’t care for Mr Luhrmann’s style full stop, while Mr Birkbeck confesses he didn’t see the Gatsby film for the same reason. Taste in artistic style will always come before taste in technology.

* * *

All of which discussion applies to my outing on the following evening, Weds 4th September.  I go to the Odeon Holloway to see the new documentary on the boy band One Direction, also in 3D.  Anna S comes with me, and we use the popular Orange mobile offer, where you get two tickets for the price of one. This still costs us £8.50 each, and we go in whispering ‘How much?’ to each other as if we were visitors to the city, up from the shires.

In the auditorium, there’s a group of girls who must be a little too young to attend the boy band’s concerts; 10 or 11 or so. Whatever age where girls learn pop lyrics and presumably pay to see their idols in a cinema, but who also run around while the film is playing, sometimes sitting down the front by the steps, sometimes sitting on the steps, sometimes sliding down the slope above the staircase. This behaviour is obviously not new for children down the ages, but what is new is that they do all this with mobile phones constantly in one hand. One girl goes from screaming whenever her favourite member appears on the screen, to fiddling with her phone, to taking photos of her friends in the cinema, to running up and down the aisle, and then singing all the words of the One Direction songs. It’s the mix of physical with the digital (her tweeting or whatever she’s doing) that most intrigues me.

Obviously I consider going out and asking the Odeon staff if they could do something about this disruptive behaviour. But I decide against it – I have to admit that they are the film’s target market, not me. I can’t even name all five of One Direction. I’m here because I’m curious about what it means to be a British pop star in 2013, and how One Direction are an old product (a boy band) with a new twist: they owe their success to this new hyperactive use of the Internet by their fans. The digital space empowers a band’s followers to come together in number like never before. I only wish their music was a little better: too much of their repertoire is utterly forgettable and bland. Take That and Girls Aloud managed to have manifestly decent songs, so there’s no excuse. (That said, I still have their ‘Best Song Ever’ in my head as I write this. Oh, what a giveaway…)

The film itself does use 3D to dazzling effect at times: a montage of family photos sliding over each other, for example, or Space Invader graphics flying around the band as they perform. But with the over-stimulated urchin girls of Holloway Road running around me, the 3D experience I take away is rather more vivid than the makers intended.

What with that and the benches at Eastbourne, I spend my 42nd musing on the ways the old and the young are meant to act in public. And I suppose I too conform to a stereotypical way of being my age: going to a panel discussion at an art house cinema, for goodness’s sake. And I enjoyed it.

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