I haven’t been home for four years. Or at least the place I think of when someone says the word “home”. A Victorian terraced house that sits amidst an organised delta of roads leading down to the sea in Worthing. My parents don’t live there anymore; I have few friends in the town. Those childhood friends I am still in touch with were all desperate to escape and move to London. Like moths we moved to the city lights away from the car parks and the rust and those peculiarly distinctive blocks of flats.
I came across this excellent blog by Owen Hatherly which seems to very neatly capture the twin feelings of nostalgia and distaste that the unlovely parts of the South Coast inspire in those who have left them. Because there will always be another us living a life parallel to our own, an us who stayed by that turbid sea because of a girl or a job, and were perhaps happy there. I’m sure some of us return to these places when the appeal of London’s jagged sophistication wanes and we find comfort in the conservatism of the thirties architecture that has relentlessly obliterated the Regency dash that preceded it. We return to the pubs where time’s march is stalled by the thickness of the dust in the air and we sip stale pints and watch nothing happening very slowly.
The four years I have been away must have changed Worthing. Already back then there were signs of a particularly Jerry-built form of regeneration, cheap finance driving renovation projects that turned tired hotels into luxury apartments, tatty boozers like the one above into gastro-pubs with Hoegaarden on tap. I resent those changes. Not only because they were fuelled by bubble-finance nonsense, but also because I don’t want to go back and see Worthing as something other than it is in my mind, bright and alive with the hopes of my teenage years, the nights shimmering with daisy-chains of coloured bulbs strung out along the seafront, the town centre somehow glamorous despite the Guildbourne Centre.
I will go back. I will meet up with my best friend Julian and we will take a morning train down from Victoria, measure out wistful footsteps along the promenade, eat an ice-cream at Macari’s. And we will wallow in the nostalgia and drink too much and talk in majestic sentences about the future and what we will achieve… Because in Worthing everything will still seem ahead of us, even though it isn’t, and even though we are now losing our hair and settling down. We all need a seaside town like this. We all need a Worthing.