It is a bleak and blustery Brighton afternoon. I am windswept and waterlogged in a room of a hundred, somewhat taken aback by an earnest talk on optimising my Tinder profile. An average day in the life of a content writer? Not quite. This is BrightonSEO at its most surreal.
The room is filled with Britain’s finest pastel-haired, tattoo-sleeved analytics experts, taking studious notes on state-of-the-art tablets, occasionally exchanging glances as the speaker shares her ‘failproof’ Tinder conversation tips.
Bemused, I shuffle in my soggy sandals and tug at the branded lanyard around my neck. This is the first conference I’ve attended as a professional, and I’m feeling a little out of my depth. The walk here has left me messy-haired and rain-drenched, out of place in the shabby-sleek aesthetic that my generation seems to share.
Uncertain applause and paper susurrus. I fall into the foyer amidst bonbons and business cards, and battle my way to the free coffee. The gentleman in charge of the urn politely enquires as to whether I want a full cup. I raise an eyebrow.
Paper cupped, I push through clusters of smart-casual millennials discussing key takeaways and swapping social handles, arriving at last at something reassuringly real. Past the branded deck chairs, through the thick glass frontage, the grey-green sea is glowering.
I stand transfixed as Brighton’s brightest move around me in studio-lit time-lapse. The harbour hotel’s copper-topped turret stands stark against a radiating slate sky. Grey bleeds into grey, like ink devouring blotting paper. And ever the churning green mocks false verdigris, without apology.
They say it’s the people that make this city, but today they’re lost and anonymous against the immensity of negative space, like the toothpick-trusses of the blackened pier.
I tune back into the hubbub of progress behind me. It is true that this is the future of Brighton. These commingling creatives, keen to throw caution to the wind. And yet it’s the very wind that calls me away.
Yes, this is the future of Brighton – of Britain, of the borderless and often banal world wide web. But the bleak and beautiful seafront that I step out onto unnoticed is the present.
And baby, there’s no time like it.