Once sleepy, this seaside town is today a cosmpolitan paradise, full of genteel party animals who just want to be themselves, writes Lalita Panicker.india Updated: Nov 28, 2008 23:52 IST
Let me get this out of the way before I even get started on Brighton. Yes, there is a restaurant called Brighton Rocks, and yes, it was clearly inspired by Graham Greene’s iconic book Brighton Rock. What do you call a place that has showcased Jimi Hendrix, the Doors, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and introduced Abba to the world in the Eurovision Contest? Brighton. Oh, and Fat Boy Slim lives on Shoreham Beach and was in full flow when I was there last month. Now you’d expect that with all this, this once sleepy, sloppy fishing hamlet would attract hell-raisers from all over. But it doesn’t, the sort who flock to Brighton are nightbirds all right, but genteel party animals who are almost apologetic about their ‘up all night, sleep most of the day’ lifestyles.
Rip-off versus self-service
Just an hour away from the raucous chaos of London, Brighton is where you can rest your jangled nerves. Set in the soft, muted watercolour landscape of Sussex, Brighton is like any seaside resort in, say, Crete, except that at the edge is the icy English channel. With five million tourists pouring in each year, it is no surprise that it is dotted with overpriced hotels with none of that ‘may I get your bags, sir?’ service. If you don’t happen to be the last of the big spenders, hire a flat or studio apartment. You can get one for as little as $930 for 10-12 days — I certainly did — and fend for food yourself.
And that should not be a problem in a place that has more restaurants per person than any other place in England. But, be warned, it is not cheap. A nice dinner for two with a bottle of plonk will set you back 40 to 50 quid.
As you rattle around the narrow lanes, be sure to brace yourself against a stiff breeze. At all times, be assured that a walk through Brighton will see you arriving at your destination looking like a deranged haystack. In true touristy manner you will head for the Royal Pavilion. As you near, you will exclaim, “Is it a mosque, is it a Kremlin rip-off, is it Xanadu gone mad?” The answer is none or all of these. Built by the Prince Regent, after he allegedly had a drop too much in the 19th century, it is quite a sight, for want of a better word, with its minarets, gilded palm trees, chinoiserie and domes. Pop into the cheesy souvenir shop and buy a replica that you can take out now and again to tell people that you’ve been there, done that.
For the gastronomically inclined, as I said, there is no dearth of food and drink. Stick to pubs like the Druid’s Head or the Sussex where you can throw several ales or beers down the hatch while you sup on roast pork, steak and kidney pie, and, of course, fish and chips. At the more fashionable restaurants, you will get the usual crisp asparagus spear poised on a seared tuna bit resting on a reduction of something or the other. All very Jackson Pollock but not for you if you are the meat and potatoes sort.
The Brighton Pier, the jewel in the crown of this little town, is so overrated as to almost put you off. It looked, at least to me, like a hick town fair trying to be Las Vegas. Never mind, you think, let us perambulate on the shores. The shores are made of pebbles and if you fancy seeing endless seagulls swirling around over your head like Alfred Hitchcock’s Birds, well, Brighton beach is the place for you. A walkabout — you need considerable stamina to negotiate the sloping lanes — and you can come away with jewellery, antiques and all sorts of bohemian knick-knacks that you don’t really need.
Brighton also happens to be a magnet for the gay community. As you pass pub after pub, you notice they are mostly filled with jolly, hearty lads all drinking away in boisterous harmony. Years of carefully nurtured political correctness deserted me as I thought of covetous eyes from one of these watering holes falling on my luminous son who studies in nearby Sussex University. Ok, I’ve said that, and will forever be damned by the causeratti. But, yes, if you are in luck, you might even catch a ‘commitment ceremony’ between same sex partners on the naturist beach.
Calling all ye literature lovers
When you get tired of whooping it up in the pubs, you might want to imbibe a bit of high culture. Head out to Rottingdean nearby — plenty of buses plying — and take a look at Rudyard Kipling’s home. If the outdoors is what does it for you, take a swing around the Kipling Gardens. And you could visit the chapel where William Blake prayed. And for the less temporally inclined, you can get some pretty nifty sandwiches in the tearooms of Rottingdean.
Punch of Prejudice
But unto each cosmopolitan paradise, some rain must fall. At an Italian café-cum-restaurant, my husband and I and our ever voracious children had ordered up a storm, among which was a plate of pork chops and roast beef. This led to enormous consternation from an old biddy sitting nearby who gesticulated at us wildly, pointing to my husband’s beard. When we realised that she was not having a seizure of some sort, we deduced that she was telling us that Muslims are not permitted pork. She subsided only after my son, in the true polite fashion of young people today, told her to mind her own business. Ah, yes prejudice is alive and well, even in this mecca of accommodation.
And this is what makes Brighton so attractive and unpretentious. You can be yourself, let it all hang out and believe, just for a few days, that life really is one big party.