Irrational Encounters With The Modern World


It Could Always Be Worse.

I was in Brighton recently, for the weekend. I had hoped to meet up with a friend who lives there, being five years since we last saw each other and given that we live five-hundred miles apart, but unfortunately she had to work out of town that weekend. That’s the nature of freelancing.

I was going to see a band on the Sunday night – the principal reason for making the trip, since I was close by in London – and had lined up an evening of comedy for the Saturday, since that is my hobby but also an easy way to stay entertained while by yourself. It was only the first day, the Friday, that left me with time to kill.

Being the first time in twenty years that I have been in that city, I took the time to go for a wander in the evening to see what I could see. For a start, I made my way along to the concert venue in order to establish my way there (and back), and the straightest route was along the seafront.

In the preceding days, I had seen the same band three times in as many nights – with about a dozen friends in Glasgow, half as many in Manchester, and the same again in London. Two of my friends (previously facebook acquaintances) made the same gigs I did, and so I had company at all of those shows and often during the day or while travelling too. Brighton was the one place where I would know nobody, and that was part of the draw – when I first saw the band, over several years, I would know nobody at the gigs, and I liked it that way: nobody to lose in the crowd or wanting to leave for the bar or toilet; nobody making you compromise on where to stand (or sit); nobody complaining about this or that. In short, no reliance on anybody, and the knowledge that having a good time at the gig was entirely my own responsibility.

Therefore, I was looking forward to the Brighton gig for its emulation of those days. The downside, as I quickly discovered, was that I found myself in a strange city, with no discernible rock/metal culture (I was taken aback at the absence of band shirts adorned by people in the streets), where I felt like I didn’t fit at all. It felt odd having no companions after such an intense few days, and as I walked along the promenade on this warm, summery Friday evening I began to feel a growing sense of melancholy.

It felt desperately tragic to be so completely alone, and to feel no connection with the tourists sitting outside pubs having a drink or with the couples and families strolling back along the beach. In my head, I began to resemble something from a Camus novel, the fact being that I have only read (though several times) one of his novels: L’Ă©tranger.

Variously translated as “The Stranger” or “The Outsider”, either seemed to fit. It was at this point, as I was on the verge of feeling a little sorry for myself, that I got the wake-up call I needed. Along the cycle lane next to the pavement came, at speed, a lone young man on rollerblades. He was making good speed on them, not least of all because he was going backwards.

Yes, he was just rollerblading backwards, as fast as he could, with occasional glances over his shoulder to see where he was going.

I immediately felt better because I know, fully and without a shadow of doubt, that whatever I do in my life, I will never be that much of a complete dick.