When I was a boy I was often taken
to the aquarium on the promenade
by the Palace Pier, Brighton – a resort
and commuter town on England’s south east coast.
It was an hour’s train journey from London
on the Pullman Brighton Belle – with its curtains
and its table lamps – restored to pre-war pomp.
My favourite tank was devoted to sea fish
found in the English Channel – teeming still
from wartime’s cessation of fishing.
There were skate and flounder, dogfish and sole,
mullet and turbot, stingray and dab.
The Channel’s bluey grey waters pushed and pulled
the pebbly beach a bucket and spade away.
Our coastal waters have become the scoundrels’
last refuge, and the continent of Europe
has been cut off from us by a fog,
a miasma of xenophobia
and racism, hatred and envy,
lying and denial masquerading
as patriotism, truth and fact.
Being here at this moment is like
living among a hidden enemy,
aliens disguised as human beings,
a fifth column of racists and xenophobes,
latter-day Platonists obsessed with
abstractions and capital letters.
Piers – their width and length, their cast iron
stanchions and curlicues, the size and range
of their entertainment pavilions, the chance
of swaggering above the briny – were
a hallmark of the best resorts. Brighton
had two – Palace and West, the latter
my favourite as a boy with its small funfair,
green painted wrought iron slot machines,
and glass screens to keep the weather off.
Bankruptcy, neglect, storms, and arson,
over the last fifty years, have left four columns
and the skeletal remains of the tea room.
No one in authority appears
responsible for these vestiges –
which are like some permanent wreckage
of war, a parable of our civic life.