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.


Fairlie said...

What great pics! They bring back lots of memories for me.

M said...

The burnt pier looks spooky, yet very architectural. An attraction in its own right.

ru harper said...

hate to be picky, but it's the West Pier :)

Lesley said...

Of course it is! Sorry Ru!