Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Where the sky meets the sea

Time for another round of flashback blogging – this time, about my day-trip to Brighton in the south of England. Historic seaside town and royal romps-ville.

The main thing I remember of Brighton is the colour, an overriding muted blue-ish grey, probably owing to the fact it rained all day (it was late October). It wasn’t exactly bleak, though it’d be hard to convince someone else otherwise. I mean, look at it:

For me it felt like a dream, slightly haunting, and very mystical. The sky melted into the sea in a strange mixture of white and pale green. Everywhere I looked it was faded and soft, like an old photograph, which went really well with the sense that this was a place full of history and intrigue.

In the late 1700s when Brighton was still a small fishing village, people came here to bathe in the waters they believed would cure them of every illness. The king also visited regularly for his debauched holidays, to escape the stifling regularity of the court in London, making the gossip-mongers go wild. And still it remains one of the most visited cities along the country's rocky southern coastline.

On the whole, it all had me feeling lost in time, just out of reach of decades of drama. I can’t exactly say why I liked Brighton, only that I did. It fascinated me. I got the impression – as cruel and unfair as this sounds – that it’s a place that tries to preserve the old years of excitement rather than keep it alive today.

I had fish and chips on the famous Brighton Pier. Despite the bad weather, there were still lots of people about who, like me, were determined to make the most of their day. As I walked over those oh-so very old and rather loose wooden planks, distrustfully reading the signs about how much money they put into maintaining the structure to ensure safety, I began to feel uneasy.

I could see through the gaps to the sea beneath my feet. The arcade house was groaning with countless hyperactive teenagers and their exacerbated parents giving them strict instructions not to get lost. Bored couples were lining up to go on the rickety rides, which I listened to clanking and shaking with no small amount of trepidation.

I don’t consider myself a fidgety person, but I was suddenly met with vivid images of a bumper car crashing through the barriers, of a giant teacup breaking free from its rotating saucer and flying into the air; in another instant, I imagined the entire pier shuddering and then collapsing into the cold grey water in a massive pile of splintered matchsticks. I felt a bit silly, but I had to get off that pier!

I must have been onto something because as soon as I hit the promenade, I saw this little sunburst fight its way through the blanket of cloud over the horizon. It sounds cheesy but it really was mesmerising.

My day in Brighton actually started off very frustrating. I woke stupidly up early to catch my train, which ended up being diverted twice and ran horribly late. When I finally did arrive, there was nowhere to store my backpack! Many places in the UK removed their luggage storage facilities years ago due to security concerns. Most hotels won’t take luggage from non-guests. So beware if you are planning a trip there – pack light! I spent the first half of the day walking around with my 60L pack on my back, negotiating an umbrella in my arms, trying not to hit other people with it.

I later found out that the delay-causing “incident” was a very unfortunate track death, which sadly put my problems in sharp perspective! But what really turned my mood around completely was the kindness of all the lovely people I met. The staff at the train station, a guy selling the only good coffee I’ve ever had in England, a man working at the Brighton Toy & Model Museum, a lady at the Brighton Museum & Art Gallery - they were all so helpful, sincere, and patient. I always say that nothing beats good customer service, and it was never truer than on this day. A simple smile or gesture really can make or break it, especially when you're on your own.

For a pound, I managed to squish my pack into one of the large lockers at the Brighton Museum & Art Gallery cloakroom, which made me feel like I’d achieved some huge victory! The beautiful building was packed with families. Where else do you take your kids when they’re bored and restless and it’s pouring outside? When you’ve got a museum with a huge array of diverse collections to suit everyone, as well as free entry, the answer is obvious!

When I was there, I had to stop myself laughing out loud at a few funny things I overheard some very articulate English children say in the restrooms. A couple of good ones:
Mummy, I like it in here, the girls toilets are a lot better than the boys, I think I’ll go here from now on. 
And my favourite:
I’m afraid I’ll fall in! 
I also wandered North Laine and The Lanes, getting lost like a rat in a maze. My travels around Europe have been far from short of centuries-old winding cobblestoned shopping alleys, but they're still one of my favourite parts of old cities. I got a kick out of the cosy pubs, the tea parlours, and the retro shops selling cute vintage knick-knacks. I wanted to buy everything! Of course, the only safe thing to do was to buy nothing.

The entrance to The Lanes. Is it just me, or does the sign say "Fresh to Death"? I hope they're referring to the produce on sale, not the customers!

I finished off my day at the Royal Pavilion, which I enjoyed more than I can say. I never had an appreciation for interior design before my holiday. I find it a great mix of history, culture, art, and humanity. I'm sorry I don’t have any photos for you because photography wasn’t allowed inside, and even the outside of the building was obscured by temporary construction. But it's a stunning piece of architecture, and if you ever find yourself in Brighton, please don’t leave without seeing it!

"Oh, I want to go to Brighton!" She got there in the end.

My last memory of Brighton is of how many times I ran through in my mind a particular scene from one of my favourite novels, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen - when Lydia Bennet had a temper tantrum because her father refused to take the family to Brighton on holiday, even though Mrs. Bennet herself admitted that “a little bit of sea bathing would set me up forever!” It made me feel very lucky to be there.



  1. I love the writings on the toilet wall! Made me laugh - thanks for sharing!

    Take care