Monday, December 12, 2011

Sussex and Wiltshire, Part 1: The Sea at Brighton

Brighton, in many ways, was something of a disappointment. Perhaps I was expecting to see more remnants of the quaint Victorian seaside bathing town that exists in the popular imagination. There seemed to be very little left of that postcard Brighton of bathing machines and beach huts.

Fat Prince George's Magnificent Turnip Palace was, as Ferret has mentioned, quite stunning, in an over-the-top and powerfully decadent manner. Various guides and pamphlets pointed to this as foreshadowing Brighton's modern reputation as the place to be for clubs, pubs and sundry nightlife-related things.

George's indulgent tastes, while clearly running to debauchery and licentiousness (not to mention fat), nonetheless had an opulent, prodigal character that modern Brighton lacks. There is something glorious in the absurdity of the Prince Regent's immense dinner parties. But there was also a level of sophistication there, both in the design and lavish decoration of the pavilion and in the sumptuous feasts of food and entertainment he offered his guests.

To illustrate more clearly why it felt as if similar refinement was absent from much of modern Brighton, I should mention that the hostel in which we were staying was situated next to a 'pussycat lapdance club' for men, and what was described as a 'men's only sauna'. While I am all for the freedom of straight men to look at naked ladies and gay men to hook up with each other, I hope you'll forgive me if I don't consider these establishments the epitome of class or sophistication in entertainment.

I mean, really.

I know Brighton has theatres and concert halls (none of which were playing anything during our brief stint) but it feels like the whole vibe of the city is focussed around party times. This became apparent when we went in search of breakfast at 8am, only to find that literally nowhere in the city centre was open for business yet save a lone Starbucks. We noticed the night before that around 8pm all the cafes and restaurants seemed to shut their doors and hand things over to the clubs and pubs for the continued watering and feeding of the city. The result is a dense, frenetic hipsterite city with a bizarrely parochial feel. Not quite what I had expected of a place with a population of around 155,000 and a reputation for liberal-mindedness.

This is not to say we had a miserable time at Brighton. For me, at least, the things I disliked were greatly offset by the presence of the sea. You may laugh, but the beach was one of my favourite things. It is hard to describe how I felt gazing out over the sea at Brighton, my boots half-buried in the shale pebbled shore. The sun had a silvery, pastel quality that I've never seen in an Australian sky. How very strange, then, to stand on so distant a shore, and watch this pale sunlight gild brightly the unfamiliar waves as they met the stone-carpeted beach.

Such peculiar delight it was that I later dragged Ferret down to the shore in the windswept night, to peer again across the waves into that hidden horizon where the deep ink darkness of sea and sky became indivisible.

Hard to capture without a more specialised camera, I'm afraid this is the closest I can bring you.

The sensation was one of being at once incredibly near to the places I have left, and inestimably far - both connected and separated by the vast expanse of oceans. By the sea I was at home, both here and there.

~ Bob

P.S. For bonus points follow the links to hear my personal Brighton soundtrack (that is to say, earworms which were stuck in my head the whole time we were there).

- Tango-Pasodoble (When Don Pasquito arrived at the seaside...) from Edith Sitwell's Facade
- A Town with an Ocean View by Joe Hisaishi, from the soundtrack of Kiki's Delivery Service

I am not ashamed to admit may have at some point during our stay mentioned that I do like to be beside the seaside.

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