I've been receiving some careers guidance recently and it has been very useful. Within four weeks I have gone from having no idea what to do with my life to being in a position where I am ready to start training for a new career. Best of all, this advice has been completely free.
During my first session I completed a detailed questionnaire on a computer, which then produced a report saying that I should do a job that involves writing. It also said that the job I was least suited to was working in a shop. Oh dear. Were all those years in bookselling a waste of time?
Today's session was meant to be in Lewes, but at the last minute it was changed to Newhaven. My heart sank.
Although it is only eight miles from Lewes, culturally, Newhaven is on another continent, with a landscape that is unremittingly bleak. Once a thriving port, it is now a depressed town full of charity shops, boarded-up buildings and retail parks.
The billboard says 'IS THIS IT?'. The answer, I'm afraid, is yes. The poster is crying out for some wag to add a SH to the last word.
I arrived at midday. After parking my car I opened a door to a stairwell and was met by a stench of rancid urine. I decided to walk down the ramps instead and as I left the car park, was greeted by a dozen chavs sitting on a bench. I would have loved to photograph them, but I chickened out as I already have enough dental problems. They looked a lot rougher than the young men above and were busy playing with their pit bull terriers and drinking lager. One of them had a toddler in a pushchair.
The people in Newhaven wore strange, shoddy clothes and were either obese or had that gaunt, drawn look that accompanies substance abuse. I contrasted them with the affluent, attractive, well dressed denizens of Lewes and thought of some of my friends who claim that class isn't an issue any more.
This is the River Ouse, which is actually very pleasant a few miles upstream. Here the scene is one of desolation and looks more like one of the more obscure former Soviet republics. The ferry service to France still operates and I can only wonder what the French must think as they catch their first glimpses of England, which include an abandoned warehouse with smashed windows.
A few miles to the east, the Cuckmere estuary is one of the most scenic places on the south coast. Sadly this part of the coast has been completely ruined. The muddy river banks are littered with traffic ones, shopping trolleys and scrap metal and the atmosphere is one of decay. There is talk of regenerating Newhaven and a block of swanky 'apartments' have been built by the seafront, but the town is also shortly going to be graced with an incinerator, pumping toxic fumes into air.
What could be done to improve Newhaven, short of using atomic weapons? I don't know. There are some nice Victorian houses tucked away and perhaps they would attract a better mix of people if the town was redeveloped, but it would cost a fortune to really improve Newhaven. Vast tracts of land would have to be flattened and replaced with a mixture of parks and leisure facilities. Also, to convert the seafront from a decayed port to a vibrant coastal town would take years.
But it would be worth it.
I wouldn't like to visit Newhaven on a Friday night. I didn't feel particularly comfortable being there on a Tuesday afternoon and saw several people glare at me (was it the pink cravat?). However, I did see one smiling face that cheered me up: