Random Musings: A weekend in Brighton

Last weekend I was in Brighton. This is not the easiest place to get to from Wiltshire by public transport, requiring:

  • a walk
  • a bus journey
  • three different train journeys
  • another walk.

This took around five hours and wore out one of the wheels on my pull along suitcase.

It was, however, worthwhile.

As I was there with my husband to celebrate his birthday, we were booked into a rather fine hotel – the Jury’s Inn on the waterfront. We had asked for a sea view room and it looked out over the promenade and Palace Pier – delightful despite the noise from the nightclub crowd as they congregated and dispersed in the wee small hours of the morning.

Having settled in and briefly explored the locality, especially enjoying the warren of lanes behind our hotel, on the first night we enjoyed a delicious dinner at Il Bistro.

The next day and the day after our daughter travelled down from London to join us which added greatly to the pleasure of our stay. Together we: visited the Royal Pavilion; walked the promenade as far as Hove in one direction and along the Undercliffs in the other; visited the museum and art gallery.

We breakfasted at Cafe Rouge and The Breakfast Club; ate dinner at Browns. On Sunday we indulged in a sumptuous afternoon tea at Malmaison on the Marina.

On our final morning my husband and I opted for a ‘Spoons breakfast at the Post & Telegraph. Having attempted to walk this off on the promenade, we set out on the return leg of our lengthy journey home.

The Royal Pavilion is splendid if somewhat outrageous in extravagance of design and colour. I loved the many dragons – appropriate as the place was built for a King George. Adding to the fun was the Stephen Jones hats exhibition, liberally and effectively displayed in many of the rooms. I had no idea millinery could be so entertaining.

A highlight of the museum was the archeology gallery. In our troubled times it is good to put man’s short and foolish history on this planet into wider perspective, and to be reminded that climate change is a natural, if often deadly, occurrence (albeit affected at times by various outside influences).

I will also mention my experience at the exhibitions: Museum of Transology, and Queer Looks.

The former wouldn’t have warranted a particular mention had it not been for a lady herding small children around the museum as we were browsing. One of her charges entered this space and was quickly detoured. I wondered what the woman feared would happen if the child viewed the exhibits. The displays may have prompted questions but isn’t that the point of a museum – to educate and encourage thinking? I hope that she had better reasons than the obvious – I try so hard not to judge what I cannot know.

The latter exhibition disappointed because, for all the variety of choice and challenge to heteronormativity in choice and design of dress, the displays were all aimed at slim shaped people – a standard definition of beauty. In my experience LGBTQ+ people come in many sizes of body. I found it distracting to consider that fatphobia may exist in the trans and queer community who, of all people, must be aware of the importance of acceptance.

This article from Culture Trip states:

“The fabric of Brighton is woven with inclusivity, equality and tolerance – creating a strong sense of community. It’s part of what makes the city so special and open to all.”

I enjoyed my few days in this small city. Walking ten or more miles a day will have helped my body deal with the effects of the delicious food consumed. It is the sights and their impact that will linger.

(For further, in depth discussion on inclusivity, equality and acceptance, listen to Episode 1 of the Comma Press podcast)


A not so grand day out

Having had a Grand Day Out to Oxford a few weeks ago, as related here, I spent yesterday savouring the delights of Cambridge. This was truly an adventure, although not one that I will be in a hurry to repeat. 

Whereas Oxford is a relatively easy drive from where I live, Cambridge is something of a nightmare to reach. It requires either an arduous, cross country trip across the plague of roundabouts that have infected Buckinghamshire, or a trip into London and out via the motorways that, in rush hour, resemble giant car parks. Naturally, the anticipated three hour each way journey was unlikely to be able to avoid the daily rush hours.

We did our best. Rising at 4.30am I had my elder two children fed and ready to leave within an hour. Traffic was bad, but we crawled along with just a few lengthy stops, and would have made it to Cambridge for the 9am start had it not been for my little car falling apart. Concerned that a major part of the banging and thunking underside was about to detach and render the car immobile, I crawled into the city an hour behind schedule with a snake of held up traffic behind me. Not a good start to the day for any of us.

The reason we were there was to allow my children to attend the university Open Day. The centre of the city, where all the pretty colleges are located, was full to bursting with young people and their parents. I left my kids to explore unhindered by my presence; they will be the ones to choose where to apply, so need to find out what they want to know for themselves.

While they toured colleges, attended talks and questioned the friendly students, I explored the city, river, book and coffee shops. It is a visually attractive place with fabulous architecture. Oxford was more fun as I traversed it with a friend, but I could still enjoy my day.

By mid afternoon I had tired legs and achy feet so decided to check in with my kids. They still had people to see and places to go so I parked myself on the steps of a college with my book and soaked in the sun; not a bad way to kill time at all.

By 6pm we were ready to leave so went to catch the Park & Ride bus out to the car. This is when I realised that the centre of Cambridge is not designed for motorised traffic, but neither has it banned such vehicles. We waited in a queue for over an hour while buses crawled through the hold ups, overfull but unable to disgorge passengers as quickly as necessary to clear the waiting lines of people. The students on their bicycles zipped around unhindered, that is obviously the way to travel.

Eventually we boarded a bus and spent another hour crawling out of the city to my car. I then had to face the fact that my normally trusty vehicle was broken and we were over 150 miles from home. We got about 10 miles down the road before I gave up and called our breakdown service. Two hours later they arrived, spent 15 minutes removing the offending part, and sent us on our way, clunk free.

The journey home, along unknown roads, in the dark, feeling totallly shattered, was not something I ever wish to repeat. I know that there are plenty of people who can cope with longer days, longer journeys, more challenging experiences; for me this was just about the limit of my abilities.

Still, I got us there and I got us back. Both children were impressed with the university and I enjoyed my explore of the city, despite the crowds. It was the journey that made it such a challenge. What we needed was a teleporter.    

Back in the day, when I was choosing a university, I did so from a large book listing available courses and entrance criteria; Open Days would have cost too much to attend. These days the young people seem to expect to be allowed to check places out for themselves, although at least mine are comfortable doing so independently. I can only hope that any remaining visits that they wish to make can be travelled to by train. 

There and back again – an overview

No matter how exciting or fun a trip away is, it always feels good to come home. After five days of full on activity I spent much of yesterday recovering. I am not used to coping on five or six hours sleep a night, especially when the days are so busy and active. With much to see and the company of a good friend to enjoy I did not wish to waste a minute of my time away. This did take it’s toll when I stopped. It felt good after all the excitement to have a quiet and restful day at home.

I have experienced so much in such a short space of time. Learning about the city we were staying in was fascinating, but the lessons to be learnt about myself will also be of value. I feel as if I have been frantically filling up on facts and now need to sit back and process all that I have taken in. This was no ordinary holiday, not least because I did it without my husband. I was absolutely myself rather than his wife for the first time in many years.

I was away with my two older children who I hope got as much out of the trip as I did. I made a deliberate decision to try not to mother them while we were away. My aim was to allow them to be themselves with my friend; four people enjoying each other’s company and learning from each other along the way. Ian was a truly excellent host and tour guide; he was also a fabulous teacher of alternative culture. The late evenings and early mornings spent at his flat, where he backed up his pedagogy with music or cartoons, were as illuminating as the history of many of the sights he took us to see. Even when our disparate views meant the discussions became uncomfortably heated at times I felt that I was learning.

Berlin is a city packed full of contrasts, history (ancient and modern), vibrancy and colour. As well as being filled with wonder at the more obvious tourist attractions, buildings, and museums, we were offered background knowledge on more quirky sights that would have gone unnoticed without a resident host who had obviously put significant effort into preparing for our visit. Ian coped admirably with our invasion of his flat and his life making us feel welcome and valued throughout.

Having fitted so much into our short time away I now wish to give myself time to consider all that we have seen and done slowly that I may fully process my reactions. Although we visited the Brandenburg Gate and Reichstag I was more moved by the nearby Jewish Memorial. Our lunch outside the Hansa Studio and subsequent discussions about Bowie’s musical development gave me more food for thought than the typical tourist destination Bellevue Palace (official residence of the German President that has no actual living accommodation inside). The stunning architecture of the city is not confined to the surviving older buildings, but the city offers so much in addition to the incredible sights.

We spent two full days travelling around the city being tourists plus one challenging and thought provoking day at Sachsenhausen concentration camp. I felt it was important to take my children here, but the discussions the place provoked between Ian and I probably brought our views of current government practice closer than I thought possible. It is not a place one can visit and forget.

The remaining days of our time away were spent preparing for and travelling, with much waiting around as seems necessary these days when trying to get from one place to another by public transport. The many train journeys we took allowed us to view the more ordinary aspects of the city so were not wasted. We also ate out a great deal, trying to find a restaurant or cafe that offered cuisine from a different country or culture each time. I was grateful that such activity costs much less in Berlin than it would here at home.

I am immensely grateful that Ian offered us the opportunity to get under the skin of a city that, as he put it, grows on you. Although our visit was necessarily short, the time was used with maximum efficiency without feeling rushed. I do not normally warm to city life preferring the peace and space of rural locations. I think that Berlin could well prove to be an exception.