I have just returned from a few days off in Wales.
Wales is beautiful but I don’t belong there. I belong in Brighton. I was born in London near Parliament Hill and went to school in Highgate and later attended a very dicey Secondary Modern School in Kings Cross. Dicey or no, the history, English, modern dance and biology teachers seemed pretty good. Mine was not the kind of education that Tony Blair or Maggie Thatcher would have liked. They wanted pointless non-descript kids that failed the 11+ to be trained for work rather than educated. In fact they might have liked the occupants of Starcross Secondary School to be rounded up and sent to the poor house, but luckily 19th Century compassion and 20th Century Socialism deprived them of this opportunity. I don’t think they liked the idea of history or languages being taught to the likes of us.
History is useful, although I could never fathom the logic or the horror of people being exiled, until I was much older. For Dante it seems to have helped him a lot, he appeared to have written some of his best stuff in exile, but English people exiled in the 12 and 13th Centuries probably had a gruesome time. At school I thought exile sounded fun, like a prolonged holiday for those that had been naughty, but with the passing of time I realise that exile is a real pain, and downright horrific in the 20th and 21st Century when it involves entire communities being forced to live in refugee camps far from their place of birth. Exile is not pleasant; in fact it is so unpleasant that we prefer to imagine those that are forced into exile as being different to ourselves. The word ‘refugee’ sounds different to ‘exile.’
Belonging and living in the place of ones choice is a massive privilege. I am very aware of just how blessed I am, having met refugees, and also Chinese people who like refugees did not (until recently, I think) have much choice as to where they could live. I belong in Brighton for a zillion reasons. Originally it was the early 19th century architecture that drew me – I was born in a Regency Terrace, and I don’t think I have ever got over that wonderful light, or those beautifully proportioned rooms. I did live in Brunswick Square, but now I occupy a Victorian House, and I still long to sit and dream in a Regency room from time to time. Brighton is full of people that don’t come from Brighton – my friends are Londoners, South Africans, Northerners, Midlanders, French, Italian, Americans, Essex folk… with a couple of native Brightonish thrown in. This place is a microcosm of the UK, with its great diversity of people, ideas, culture and architecture; the major difference between here and London is that people talk to each other, love the sea, thank the bus driver and have the best Member of Parliament in the country. Belonging: it’s about spirit and connection.