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)

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Book Review: Starlings

starlings

Starlings, by Miranda Gold, is an intense and evocative journey through the mind of a troubled young woman haunted by her family history. Sally lives with her elderly parents in their home in London. Her mother has been ill for almost as long as Sally can remember, suffering from debilitating paranoia. She is cared for by her long suffering husband, a man who has had to put his wife’s needs before his own and their children’s. Sally’s grandparents, now dead, were Jews caught up in the holocaust of the Second World War. The lasting effects of the trauma they suffered left its imprint on Sally and her younger brother, Steven. Steven left home four years ago, escaping to Brighton without luggage or plans.

The story is set over a twenty-four hour period during which Sally visits Steven, an annual excursion fraught with emotion. The sibling’s relationship, although close and happy in childhood, is now shadowed. Sally is afraid that if she raises certain topics in conversation she will lose what is left of the brother she remembers and loves. She clings to those memories and longs for their closeness to return.

It took a few pages before I found the rhythm of the prose. It has a depth that demands concentration but the reward makes any effort worthwhile.

Growing up Sally did not comprehend much of what was happening around her and her brother as they played. They were offered “a palimpset of stories and silence”. Sally ponders how many of her memories are based on first hand knowledge, how much is accurate and what she has missed from the snippets shared or overheard.

The adults survived in a kind of denial caused by fear. Sally’s grandfather was hospitalised when his wife tried to burn off the camp numbers tattoo’d on his arm. The children watched as she wielded her cigarette, yet heard it talked of as an accident. When the truth was suggested the speaker was talked down.

Sally is often told that she has her grandfather’s eyes and understands that this causes her mother pain. Her inability to prevent this adds to the hurts which permeate the family.

Internalising so much from the generations before has left Sally unsure of how to function in company. She longs to spend time with her brother, to leave the never discussed difficulties and the soundtrack of her mother’s demands behind. When the reality of her trip to Brighton does not match the plans she had conjured in her head she recalls other visits dogged by disappointments which she blames on herself. Her mind overflows with comments and questions that she dare not voice for fear of Steven’s reaction. She tries to fathom what his life has become when her own, it seems, cannot move on.

I found the story challenging but deeply moving. It reveals an effect of the holocaust that I had not considered before. Having discovered that it is inspired by the author’s own family history I am impressed by its lack of rancour.

The disconnect between Sally and the more typical Brighton nightlife offers a poignant juxtaposition. She longs to repeat actions that formed her happier memories. Her travel bag contains little, yet she is burdened with thoughts almost too heavy to bear.

The poetic imagery and loneliness of the protagonist create a powerful voice. This is a beautifully written book that I recommend you read. It is a story that I will be contemplating for some time to come.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Karnac.