Sunday, 31 August 2008

Like a cakeshop in heaven!The San Diego Quilt Fair is on this weekend, and I was lucky enough to be able to make a day of it today with Natalie, a fellow blogger who lives just a few canyons away from me. You should check out her report as well!
We had a fantastic time — there were hundreds and hundreds of quilts, and stalls selling all manner of quilt lovelies, from irresistible bargain-bundles of fat quarters to long-arm free-motion quilting machines that cost and arm and a leg.
Lots of local quilting groups were represented, showing quilts that had been team efforts. This friendly quilter was from the Chula Vista group, south of San Diego heading towards the Mexican border, and she was dead keen to show us the square she had made for this exquisite quilt.
There were all sorts of colour combinations, some more successful than others, and some really effective ways to use fabrics It was amazing to see stalls selling piles and piles of vintage quilts, many of them in superb condition and intricately made. One whole wall was devoted to historic quilts, including one beauty which had been recently finished by a woman who had found the top — which was made in the 1800s — in a store. Recognising all the work that some skilled needlewoman had put into this top all those years ago, she finished it for her with batting and quilting. Such a great idea!Can you imagine the hours and hours of work and concentration that must have gone into getting all these circles and points lined up (below)? Again and again and again — hundreds and hundreds of pieces in this huge cathedral window quilt. I think I'd have lost my mind!There were more curves and points in this beauty — way beyond my skills, but I loved the reds.
:: David and I are off on our northern jaunt tomorrow, so I'll sign off for now and see you all in a couple of weeks — unless posting opportunities present themselves en route.
See ya!!

Friday, 29 August 2008

When all else fails ...... show a nice picture! These were taken on the drive from Albany to Perth on Tuesday three or so weeks ago. I was driving with my Melbourne mate, Sue, whose son, his partner and their dear little baby girl have moved to Albany from Perth for all that fresh air, gorgeous views and healthy living.The sky was heavy with rain, but the sunshine made the paddocks of canola (mustard) sing with colour. I've never seen so much canola in flower — it was breathtaking.
:: I don't have much to report, because when I haven't been quilting like buggery, I've been watching the amazing and theatrical events at the Democratic National Convention on the telly. It has been absolutely riveting. So many people having such a brilliant time — yee ha!
I've just heard that Susan Sarandon is there somewhere, of course. Waiting for her chance to posture. I'll just have to go back to the sewing machine when she gets going!
:: Will has started his year at Mira Costa College and so far so good — he likes all his tutors, and the classes have piqued his interest. He has yet to start sculpture, which is the one he's looking most forward to.
:: David and I are getting ready for another roadtrip, heading back up north to take in the coast of northern California, the redwoods, Mendocino, Portland in Oregon, Olympia where we'll pick up Lily and Nick, Seattle, Orcas Island in the San Juans (Nick's mum has a house there we're borrowing), and Victoria in British Columbia, Canada. It'll be beautiful at this time of the year — can't wait!

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

It rained here today It was lovely to hear it and smell it. It lasted just long enough for David and me to sit out under the umbrella and drink our coffee this morning.
:: Oh dear, oh dear — I've succumbed to the facebook phenomenon. It's too, too distracting by far, and I have so much quilting to do!
Oh, and I've switched from hand-quilting to machining — so much faster and easier. I should have Larissa's quilt finished by the end of the week, just in time for next week's big trip north.

:: The Democratic Convention is on telly all this week, live from Denver, Colorado. So much fun to be here through a presidential campaign.
Everyone's been talking today — endlessly — aboutwhat the Clintons will do and say, and what Michelle Obama will have to get across in her speech (what a great chap hubby is, and what a great person she is, etc) some time tonight. She'll follow Teddy Kennedy (a hard act for her), and there's also been endless chatter and panel talk about whether he'll be well enough to talk (he hasn't lost the faculty of speech, apparently), and what he'll talk about, and the effect of this significant gesture by the last of the Kennedy brothers, the family which has come to represent the Democratic Party all by itself.

Saturday, 23 August 2008

Cracked me up ... Superb cartoon by Ariel Molvig in The New Yorker, August 25 '08.
:: I was much aggrieved to hear a former Congressman — can't remember his name, I'm sorry — paraphrasing Abraham Lincoln (on how to vote in the forthcoming US Presidential election) by saying something along the lines of: 'Abraham Lincoln would say, vote for the best candidate,
irregardless of ...'
I am also much aggrieved that my computer doesn't register that egregious word as impossible, or at least a mistake, by instantly putting a red dotted line under it.
NB: I am prepared to look kindly on the offending former Congressman as he is a Republican who is determined to vote for Obama. Seems there are a lot of them, which kind of gives you hope ...
:: The US equivalent of our Returned Services League is the organisation called Veterans of Foreign Wars. But isn't the word 'foreign' redundant in its name? There cannot be any vets of the Civil War still breathing, and how many other wars have Americans fought on home turf?

:: I read in the LA Times that singer Ricky Martin has paid a woman to be a surrogate mother. She has just delivered his twins. And he has just taken delivery of them.
:: We still have not heard from the local Home Owners' Association, who sent us a very nice letter a few weeks ago, headed 'A polite request', telling us that our browning front lawn was upsetting the neighbourhood and affecting house values, so would we please water it more often.

We wrote back surprisingly promptly, explaining to the nice people at the HOA that Governor Schwarzenegger had long ago declared a statewide drought, and that we were watering our lawn with the same frequency with which we watered our lawns at home in Perth, which has twice the rainfall.

We lightly, and respectfully, told the HOA that grass was as tough as old boots and that a slightly browning, thinning front lawn was okay in summer and not nearly as worrying as the sight of hundreds of thousands of gallons of drinking water running down our gutters every day from over-watered lawns and gardens.
We lightly and respectfully suggested the HOA call in experts in waterwise gardening to tell home-owners how to landscape without grass and with gravel and pavers instead.

As I said, we're awaiting a reply.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Street art
We had fantastic opportunities to see street art in England — just the tip of a very big iceberg, really — and it's a very exciting and fascinating phenomenon.
We'd seen work by the best-known of them, the British artist Banksy, in Los Angeles and were amazed, one day in Brighton, when we were walking from the station to the hire-car place, to find this one on a corner pub wall:Shortly after, also in Brighton, we spotted this:Nick recognised the tag of a French artist, C215. He is also a poet, and does portraits commercially as well as on these paste-ups.
A lot of street artists paint, or print with stencils, on paper which they can then paste into place quickly without being seen. Painting directly on to walls is a lot harder to do without being arrested for vandalism. I suppose it's the sudden appearance of art by someone well-known, or just of something that's really good, the occasionally political nature of the works, and this sense of the subversive that have brought about all the mystique surrounding these artists.
And I have to say that it was exciting to find stuff like this, unannounced and a little bit mysterious. It must be so much fun to live with an art movement evolving and going on all around you, out in the streets, free, irreverent and often humorous.
In New York in April I'd come across this piece — — by a Brooklyn artist, elbowtoe, in a SoHo doorway.
There's lots of street art, and out-and-out graffiti, in big cities like this, but the good stuff really shines among the dross. The fact that it's put there so quickly, silently and (almost) anonymously, and that you could walk straight past it without seeing it, means that when you do notice it, you feel included in it. That's awesome.
In London, though we'd run out of time to examine anything at length inside Tate Modern, we did get to see the six huge works on the wall facing the river. This has been London's first big exhibition of street art, and it finished this week. (Does this mean they'll be washed off?)
The three artists (from left to right) whose works are in the pic above are Sixeart from France; JR from France — this is a huge paste-up of a very sinister looking guy who at first looks as though he's pointing a gun at you as you approach the building, but eventually it's revealed to be a camera; and Faile from New York.

There's also work by Os Gemeos from Brazil (I didn't get a pic, strangely); Nunca from Brazil — showing an Indigenous Brazilian sipping a cup of tea with his pinkie extended, in a dig at the fact that a street artist has made it on to the walls of one of England's grand Establishment institutions; and Blu from Italy.The massive face is cut away to show the nightmares going on in his head:
While Lily and I were at my cousin's wedding, Lily's boyfriend Nick went back to spend the whole day at the Tate. An accomplished illustrator and cartoonist with a strong political element to his work, Nick went to a panel discussion at the Tate that night, with English street artist Pure Evil and an art critic and journalist debating the trend to see street art as a commodity — note the perspex sheet over the Brighton Banksy!
When Banksy was in LA for an exhibition a couple of years ago, signed and numbered prints of his work were on sale on opening night, with Hollywood stars and other social hotties picking them up for $500 a pop. And you can buy greeting cards with his designs on them.

It's definitely the latest Big Thing.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Stitching by the poolWell, I'm actually in the dining room looking out at the pool. I'm stitching in the ditch, trying to get this quilt finished for Larissa in time to take it up to her in Olympia when David and I drive north at the end of the month. The machine's out because I'm also trying to finish piecing Lily's quilt.
:: Talking of pools, the health authorities are checking all the pools in San Diego county by helicopter, looking for green ones. Apparently, with declining housing values, there are now a lot of empty houses about, the result of foreclosures as much as lack of sales. Neglected pools in this warm summer can soon turn green with algae (like ours did last year when the pump died) and the dreaded mosquitoes start to breed. The big fear here is the spread of West Nile fever, which is mozzie-borne. If the helicopter crew spots a green pool, the owners are then encouraged either to clean it or to put some fish in it to take care of the mosquito larvae.
I haven't seen a mosquito in San Diego that I can remember — or a blowie, or even many flies. But apparently West Nile fever has spread into California from the east as far as the Salton Sea, which is about 120 km from here. So caution is a good thing.
:: Went to see the therapist about my back on Saturday. Fixed! She calls herself a 'holistic healer', and she has a sports medicine background to which she has melded some alternative therapies — amazing. It took two and a half hours of being pummelled like Mike Tyson, from head to toe, but I woke up the next day completely pain free. A-n-d she even loosened up my right hip, which has been clicking and stiffening up for a few years. Very grateful for my friend's recommendation.

Sunday, 17 August 2008

The CapitalThis is my favourite pic of Lily and Nick in London, staring up as Big Ben strikes ten o'clock, after a long, crazy day in the city.
When I was a kid growing up in Norwich in the 1960s, London was the centre of the universe: Big Ben, the Beatles, Carnaby Street, Nelson's Column, the queen in her palace, safe as houses with all those soldiers dressed in bearskin and scarlet with shiny brass buttons, looking after Her Majesty and us, her loyal subjects, all over England!
We had two trips up to London from Brighton.
The first was organised around Lily's appointment for a student visa interview at the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square. The embassy was scary: a couple of the roads alongside it have been blocked off to cars, there are cameras everywhere and high perimeter fences patrolled by cops in flak jackets holding machine guns. Machine guns.
Anyway — Lily's appointment ended up taking about three hours, and by the time she emerged she knew she'd got the visa okay, so with great relief we skedaddled and did some serious sightseeing as night fell.My mum had told me, earlier in the day, 'When you go to Trafalgar Square (above), take some pictures of yourself and Lily with the pigeons [check — though there are very few pigeons left these days] and on the corner, opposite the National Gallery, there's the old jewellery shop where Dad bought my wedding ring — see if you can find it!'
We didn't find it, though we walked right around the square looking at every shop on every corner. No jewellery stores any more!
We had a fabulous time: dinner in a (grotty) pub in the West End, a walk along the Thames at Westminster with the London Eye glittering across the water, listening to Big Ben chime in the hour, and a nod to Westminster Abbey, where my g-g-g-g-g-g-grandfather (one more -g- for Lily) is buried. We were too late to go in and give him our love this time, but Lily did that in '96 so we didn't feel too bad.
On our second day in the capital, we started early with three objectives: the Victoria and Albert Museum, Tate Modern, and King Lear at the Globe with Alice, one of Lily's oldest and dearest friends from Subi Primary School days.
We found ourselves unable to tear ourselves out of the V&A (allow at least a week — there are over five million things to see, all of them fascinating), so we had to forgo the Tate. I'm saving it for my next visit, when I'll give it a week as well!
The Globe, which is the low white building in this pic from the Millennium Bridge,is almost next door to the Tate. It was fantastic. In its way. I'm no fan of Shakespeare, or live theatre — throw your rocks at me now — so the combination could've been fatal but for all the wonderful people-watching opportunities. The acting seemed like a contest: who can talk Elizabethan English fastest with the most emoting, alas my liege. David had very cleverly booked our seats online and found us a box, the Gentlemen's Room, with four of the very bloody few seats in the place, and on top of that, four that had backs on them. (I'm all for a genuine experience, but authenticity can be taken too far. I pay therefore I sit.)We had a splendid view of the stage and the audience — lots of those standing up were dropping like flies in the stuffy heat down there — and I spent three and a half very happy hours looking at the costumes (Where do they get the shoes from? Do they have costume underwear on under all that? Does he have make-up on his legs? What is he going on about? Where did they get the thunder machine? Is that real fur?) and staring at the building, and wondering if the columns were real or painted marble, and how long the musicians had had to study to play their wonderful old instruments like the sackbut and crumhorn ... And did the developers of this re-born theatre know it was directly under the flight path from Heathrow, with a plane roaring over the top every three or four minutes ... ?But Alice, Nick and Lily are far less philistine than I and they loved every minute of it!

Saturday, 16 August 2008

Young and oldThis is Lily and me at Trafalgar Square in London a few weeks ago. It was surprisingly late, maybe 8pm, but the sun was still up we'd been on the go all day. Wonderful!
Lily is in Chicago at the mo, having driven for two weeks across the top half of America to take two of her friends from Perth from her house in Olympia WA to their new uni in Champaigne, Illinois.
Every two or three days, we'd get excited calls from her en route: "I'm in Yellowstone!" "I've just seen a baby grizzly bear!" "I'm in Minnesota!" "I'm in Wisconsin!".
I'm very happy that they're finally in Chicago, staying with our lovely friend Sue in Naperville , who doesn't mind at all being invaded by a band of excited young people.
Lil's boyfriend Nick has flown to Chicago to join her for the drive back to WA (spooky that her home state in the US has the same abbreviation as her Aussie one). They have to be back by August 20 to see Radiohead in concert in Auburn. I'm so grateful to Nick for going to all that trouble. (Such a lovely laddy!)

From then on, my two youngest kids are virtually on tour through California with Radiohead. Will and his mates are seeing them in San Francisco on August 22, in concert with Beck (I just do not understand his appeal to young people — so poppy and wimpy!).
Then Will and Lily see them again in LA at the Hollywood Bowl on the 25th, and two days later here in San Diego. Lily will have to zoom back up to Seattle to be at Bumbershoot, a huge three-day music and performing arts festival starting Aug 30. Exhausting, but so much fun.
Wish I was thirty years younger ... though Dave and I have just bought ourselves tickets to see the Dandy Warhols in concert in Solana Beach. It's an over-21 event so yah boo suck to the kids. (I do wonder, though, if we will look like ancient senior citizens among the five or six hundred 21-year-olds likely to fill the venue. Hey! Too bad!)
This is what I look like today:
I've buggered my back, right where it becomes my hip. I did it in Perth on Saturday, and since then it's been sort of been okay off and on, until I lie down. I go to bed okay and wake up not okay. Today, though I am in the mother of all pain, right down my right leg to my knee, and I just can't find a position that is anywhere near comfy.
I'm off to see a therapist tomorrow. She's also an ... ahem ... love coach, so that'll be a learning experience — but a trusted friend who lives near us highly recommends her, so I'm suspending all cynicism.
Perhaps this is my poor old bones telling me to slow down and sit still and shut up for a bit.
Hope I can find a comfy position by tonight, though, cos we're off to see Jacques Loussier live in concert in La Jolla. I am such a fan. I just love being in America!

Friday, 15 August 2008

Crime file
I love a good crime novel. I've enjoyed a great variety in my time, from Agatha Christie (I can remember my grandmother reading her books in the 1960s and eagerly pouncing on the latest editions in the library), the Cadfael mysteries by Ellis Peters, and the upper-class adventures of Dorothy L Sayers's Lord Peter Wimsey and Margery Allingham's Albert Campion, to more gritty contemporary stuff by writers like Minette Walters and Ian Rankin.
And recently I discovered Andrea Camilleri's laconic Sicilian detective, Inspector Salvo Montalbano — so funny and urbane, so very stylish.

So when I was generously offered a couple of detective/crime novels to read and blog about, I didn't hesitate.
Being a terrestrial with no desire for or understanding of sea legs, I was immediately in very unfamiliar waters with Linda Greenlaw's opening words in Fisherman's Bend: 'I stood at the stern facing aft ...' I had to get out of bed, go downstairs and consult the Big Mac so I could work out where I was standing on the boat and which way I was looking (at the back, looking backwards, right?).
But thereafter I was spellbound, as much by the story as by the depth and breadth of this writer's sea knowledge. She writes non-fiction about the sea, and on top of all that she's a lobster boat captain and a former swordfishing boat captain. So well-known and admired is she at the helm of a fishing boat that she was made an actual character in that amazing film, The Perfect Storm, and was played by Mary-Elizabeth Mastrantonio. NB: It's a truly wonderful film, but you may need anti-seasickness pills ...
Anyway, Fisherman's Bend (Hyperion) is set around tiny fishing towns in Maine, a setting just as intriguing as all the nautical elements in the story.
Our heroine is Jane Bunker, a no-nonsense, sensible, hard-working young woman who is perfectly at home on a boat. The book is written in Jane's first person, and she's a very likeable cool-headed woman who (thank the lord) doesn't have tickets on herself, or tell us what she's wearing, or what her hair looks like, or if her make-up is all mussed up — yee ha! In fact, you can make up your own mind about how she looks — it's not important. I liked her vulnerability and self-deprecating commentary. Refreshing.
Jane is a former Miami homicide detective (introduced in an earlier novel, Slipknot) who is now living in Maine and working as an insurance investigator and deputy sheriff of Green Haven.
While investigating some vandalised equipment on a hi-tech survey boat which had been commissioned by a big corporation to determine if the area's seabed is suitable for oyster farming, Jane comes upon an abandoned lobster boat, engine still running, turning circles out in the bay.
The plot soon thickens — sorry. Green Haven is a seething mass of tension, with lobster families who have feuded for generations, oil companies, drug dealers and Native Americans — the Passamaquoddy and the Maliseet tribes — who feel oyster farming will impinge on their ancestral fishing rights.
Greenlaw paints some great characters among the small-town eccentrics, and for a non-boat person, I really enjoyed all the seafaring stuff. I also liked her matter-of-fact writing style and humour, suspecting that Jane Bunker may be ever so slightly styled on Greenlaw herself.
I was genuinely intrigued by the crime, but have to say the denouement came far too neatly and too quickly at the end, which was a little disappointing after so much cleverly built tension. Perhaps Greenlaw's publishers could have given her another 100 pages so she could have let it all unwind itself at a more appropriate pace. And what a shocking, cheap, old-fashioned, unappealing dust jacket they gave this neat little book — spot the nautical cliches! With embossed type to boot. Yuck. Looks like something from the 1950s.
Still, I enjoyed it enough to look out for more Jane Bunker mysteries when the multi-tasking multi-skilled Greenlaw gets around to them.
:: Mariah Stewart's Mercy Street (Ballantine Books) is less impressive. The story has potential — especially the secondary plot, which was way more interesting than the main one but was dealt with too hastily and simply in a 'Oh and by the way, the sniper turned out to be ...' sort of a way.
Four teenagers meet in a park in a Pennsylvania town. Next day, two of them are found shot dead and the others are missing, presumed to have been the killers.
Our detective is Mallory Russo, a former cop who was bullied out of the force and is now hired by a reclusive billionaire to solve this case, prompted by the billionaire's brother, a priest (could not stop envisaging him as Spencer Tracy meets Karl Malden — very irritating) who knows the grandmother of one of the missing youths. She's helped, unofficially, by cop-with-a-past Charlie, and, of course, he's kind, caring, considerate and compassionate, and there's the hint of romance in the air. Which sucks.
Also very sucky is the infuriatingly convenient way the local cops just happen to haul in one of the key characters on a minor charge. Along the lines of 'Hey Mallory? You know that really nasty guy you really wanted to talk to but simply couldn't find? Well, you'll never guess! He had a broken tail light and we've got him downtown! Come on in — and bring donuts!' The plot needs to be a whole lot more complex.
Add to that the way all Malory's hunches about the crime are all instantly spot on, a hooker with a heart of gold, and the totally unbelievable character who's lived out in the sticks for yonks and knows everything about everybody and just happens to be crucial to solving this crime, and you end up with a very antiseptic sort of crime story. No grit, no realism, no real people — not even much bad language.
This is the start of a series, it seems, and the title of the book has very little bearing on this story, being all about the billionaire's decision, in the very last pages, to fund a private crime solving foundation to find missing persons ... like the billionaire's own wife and child, for instance.
If you like cleanish crime laced with cleanish romance, you'd probably like this and the series that's bound to follow.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

:: Qantas delivered the rest of our luggage last night, about 10 pm, so I spent this morning unpacking and doing the washing. And feeling very relieved that we hadn't lost anything!

:: I have got the quilts all ready to start work on them again, the priority being to finish piecing Lily's top and then to start hand-quilting Larissa's.

With quilts on my mind, I'm also planning a red one of my own. Just look at all the fabulous fabrics I've collected for it already, beginning with this pile of lovelies from my dear friend Laura's stash in Perth:
She has a history for every bit of red in this pile, and she also gave me these all-sewn-up checkerboard strips made with some reds I gave her many years ago to make a schoolhouse quilt. These reds (below) are all from my stash. Some are from Chicago, there's a fair bit from Perth and Albany, and a lot from San Diego quilt shops. I dunno yet what sort of quilt I'll make, but I am thinking that this may be the one I get hand-quilted by an Amish craftswoman, just for the sheer joy of having something worked on by them. So it had better be a quilt worthy of such work!
:: This is my trusty, much-loved ancient Bernina Record, which I photographed at Mum's place while I was back in Australia last week. I've written about this marvellous workhorse on the excellent blog, Zigzaggers, which invites people to write in and tell all about their old sewing machines. It's great fun to read about some of the old machines still in use out there, and it's a great service for anyone planning to buy a used machine. You can read about my Bernina here.
:: Will's had a change of plans and is now going to study at Mira Costa College just a few miles up the road from us here in San Diego, with a view to returning to Perth with us in February (sounds of Lesley whisper-screaming 'Yesssss!'). House after house that we'd found for Will and his mates in San Francisco fell through, then his housemates all found individual accommodation, and then there were problems with the exact course Will was after — so this is a great alternative, especially considering the San Francisco college year starts on Monday! We'd never have made it.
:: All of the above means Will, David and I won't be whizzing up to San Francisco tomorrow to try desperately to find Will accommodation and try to shuffle his course units. So, we can relax, recover from the flight home, put our feet up and put the suitcases away for a spell. Phew ...
:: I've been invited along to a book club! I'm so chuffed! Only thing is, it's meeting tomorrow night and I haven't read the book, which is Peony in Love, by Lisa See. I'm cramming.

My invitation came from the lovely Fiona Chatwin, whom we met through the Bondi earlier this year when she was bringing an Australian guitar ensemble to San Diego. And the ensemble, a quartet, only included the guitar virtuoso Slava Grigoryan and his brother, for heaven's sake! Bigger than big! Unfortunately, I missed it due to one of my many dashes back to Australia, but we had a reception at the Bondi befiore the concert, with the lads playing away in the restaurant (can't believe they are not so well known here — at home they'd have been mobbed!) and on the night of the concert, out at UCSD, Bondi provided refreshments in the interval.

Anyway, Fiona and I have caught up since for chat about our homeland and other stuff. She's a soprano from Melbourne, working hard over here to get a community music school, Villa Musica, up and running.
Now I'm going to take a cuppa to bed and get back to 16th century China ...

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Brighton This, above and below, was the fantastic view from my hotel window in Brighton, when I was in England two or three weeks ago.The pier was riveting viewing. Whenever I was in my room, whatever the time of day, I couldn't tear my eyes away from it.That is, once I'd got a hefty young staff member to crowbar open the ancient and crumbling sash window and fix it so it stayed open. I had a breathing gap of about 30 centimetres! Our hotel, the Royal Albion, was built in the 1820s, and looked as though it had last been updated in the 1980s. So much bleached wood and pompous upholstery ... tackissimo. Dirty windows and stained wallpaper. I had a huge room, but my bed — pictured above near the window, with Lily pier-gazing – was so old, thin, lumpy and uncomfortable, with springs poking me in the ribs, that after my second night, teary and baggy-eyed, I complained to the manager. A brand new bed followed me back up the stairs! Yay! The Brighton Pier is one of two along the seafront, but the only one remaining. The Western West Pier burned down a few years ago, and no-one is quite sure what to do about its blackened skeleton, which resembles a delicate sculpture made of burnt matches. I walked out along the other pier one afternoon, undaunted by the noise of the video game arcade and the funfair, and the aroma of beer, vomit and chip fat that lingers despite the salty sea breezes. It's best viewed from a distance.
Inland, well away from the seafront — and the swaggering bands of drunks, pale pink couples blushed with sunburn, ladies in blue rinses and stretchy pants walking deferentially behind their swollen-bellied men, and foreigners looking lost and homesick — Brighton was cleaner, much more attractive and on the up and up.
There are two fantastic districts. The Lanes (below),
is a dizzying complex whirl of tiny, narrow streets, flower-decked pubs, cafes, restaurants and chi-chi boutiques. It brings to mind the fishing village that Brighton used to be, long before it became well-known for its therapeutic seawater — for swimming and drinking! — and a hub of fashionable society, led by the Prince Regent, later George IV, who took up residence in the Royal Pavilion, built and converted to a palace in the late eighteenth century. In the environs of the Royal Pavilion is the district known as North Laine (below),which is full of galleries, theatres, some great old buildings, more restaurants, more quaint pubs, and interesting shops.
Brighton is only 50 minutes from London on the train, and it would be a fab place to live if you were young and had more than an average income — and so long as you kept away from the sticky horrors of the seafront near the end of the pier. Yes, I am a terrible snob.
Not all the seafront is bathed in chip fat, I hasten to add.
Further west, where my cousin lives in a listed 1930s apartment building with the sort of huge sea view that makes you feel as though you're on a ship well out to sea, there are glorious Regency terraces, squares with little parks, and a lot less noise and clamour. It's really a seaside town with a split personality!The beach is all shingle and makes a wonderful crunchy noise as you walk upon it. I could hear people walking on the beach as I lay in bed in the morning. I was forever thinking of Dover Beach, that fabulous poem by Matthew Arnold:
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray

Where the sea meets the moon-blanch'd land,

Listen! you hear the grating roar

Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,

At their return, up the high strand,

Begin, and cease, and then again begin,

With tremulous cadence slow, and bring

The eternal note of sadness in.