The Grand Tour '07: Brighton ~ 23rd - 24th June
Thursday, the 12th of June, 2008 - 16 past 1pm
Current Song ~ 'This Weather' by Patrick Wolf.
Our trip to Somerset was the product of internet research and a touch of serendipity.
In contrast, when we set forth for Brighton, it was with one aim: to attend an evening of poetry and prose arranged by the lovely people at ABCtales.
In Dan's case, this would involve doing the actual prose-reading bit, while my role was more along the lines of moral support and space-filler.
First though, a small apology: while we did see a number of things during our stay that would have made fine illustrations for this entry, I photographed precisely none of them.
It was one of those weekends where I either lacked the time to stop for photographs, or the lighting conditions, or, most crucially of all, the camera.
I'm really going to have to do better on future Brighton excursions, for it's a varied and visually interesting place.
There is the obvious seaside element: beach, pier(s), multitude of local fish shops, quite a few of which can't spell 'plaice'... You get the general idea.
On top of that, you have the bonus of George IV being really quite taken with the area, and deciding that it would be the ideal location for an insanely fancy palace.
(We only walked around the outside on this occasion, but thanks to a previous outing, I can vouch for the Pavilion being as cool as the website suggests, if not more so.)
The thing that really made me regret the lack of picture-taking opportunities, though, was Brighton's pronounced tendency toward the quirky.
It's home to hundreds of strange little independent shops catering to almost every need - even (or especially) if your needs include vegetarian shoes, 18th century firearms, or the simple joy of buying a garment from a shop decorated with zebra stripes.
There are also more than enough opportunities to purchase original artwork of all shapes and sizes, from the fairly normal to the constructed-out-of-driftwood-and-propellers.
Of course, our first priority was to find and check in to our hard-won bed and breakfast.
It was one of those townhouses that resemble a regular house that's been given a firm squeeze. Imposing height, decidedly modest floor space, and much of what space there is taken up by staircases.
Under those circumstances, I was not expecting our accommodation to be huge. I must admit, though, that its sheer tininess still came as a bit of a surprise.
Our hosts had somehow managed to crush a double bed, sink, coffee table, chair, wardrobe and television into a room that could, at a push, have comfortably housed a small futon and some scatter cushions.
Throwing two bags on wheels into the mix made moving about in the room rather challenging. However, we couldn't hang about playing luggage tetris, for there were plans to meet up with writer-y people for a quiet drink in the afternoon.
We arrived at the sea front, where I immediately achieved that sought-after wind-whipped look, and tried to locate the venue that we were supposed to be meeting people at.
It proved more elusive than anticipated.
Armed only with a printed-out Google map and a very flakey knowledge of Brighton landmarks, we didn't twig for some while that the Honey Bar is in the arches underneath the promenade.
We must have walked straight over it at least a couple of times before we found it.
The place was virtually empty. This was not particularly surprising - it's a 'pre-club bar' (according to the internet), and while I'm no expert, I'm guessing that most clubbers don't go in for a full ten hours of pre-club drinks.
That said, it appeared that we had just missed seeing the bar being descended upon by a ravenous horde of brunchers.
Large parts of the food menu, which had started out fairly concise, had been ruled out with black marker pen.
There was no sign of our people when we finished our drinks, so we decided to be antisocial and check out other lunch options.
Using our tried and tested method of wandering in the direction that looked most likely to lead to a pub, we found the Fishbowl.
Actually, it would have been pretty difficult to miss, what with the bright blue paintwork and the big cartoon fish. (The exterior can be beheld in all its glory here.)
I'm generally a bit wary of trendy-looking pubs, but it looked okay, and the menu outside used the magic word 'couscous', so it seemed worth taking a chance on.
When we walked in, the background music was Johnny Cash, and as we sat down, it changed to Nick Cave.
It was clear that we had come to the right pub.
The food was all very tasty well-cooked stuff, and when the (very nice) girl behind the bar came to clear the plates, she asked whether the food was all right, 'because if there were any problems, let me know, and we'll have the chef taken out and shot.'
Now that's added value that you don't find at just any pub.
(I refer of course to the banter, not the ruthless approach to the catering staff.)
Duly refreshed, we found the writer-y people already settled on leather sofas back at the Honey Bar.
The acoustics were not on my side, so I don't know what anyone said to anyone else, but I got the impression that a good time was had by all.
I kept myself occupied trying to take photographs of Dan without him noticing, in a bid to inject a bit of variety into my collection of photographs of him in classic 'I don't want to be photographed' pose.
The group went their separate ways after a couple of rounds, leaving those of us who weren't local to do touristy things.
We obviously couldn't go to Brighton without walking along the Pier - there are no doubt laws against that sort of flagrant disregard for culture - so we went and did that, and came away with photographs of me trying to convey an air of seaside jollity while at the same time trying not to be blown into the sea.
We then went for a wander on the beach - well, in my case, more of an awkward stagger than a wander. My pebble beach walking skills are a tad rusty.
As well as the Honey Bar and other establishments of that ilk, the Arches house a goodly number of artists' studios and little shops selling things like fancy seashells.
Luckily, while I should never, ever be allowed into a London fossil shop unsupervised, seashells generally seem easier to resist the nearer they are to their natural habitat.
I'm inclined to attribute this to a holiday-induced lack of realism: it just seems silly to pay good money for shells when you're at a beach that must surely be littered with the things, there for the taking!
In practice, there are fewer foot-long conches lying about than you'd think, and you end up going with a bucketful of mussel shells and a very heavy rock that seemed fascinating at the time.
But heigh-ho, at least you will have had the thrill of the hunt.
I was rather less successful in resisting the siren call of the shop that sold peach-flavoured ice cream, but I have no regrets.
We had time to embark on a - surprisingly long - hunt for sticks of rock (the sweet shops are all in a line, so you either find all of them or none of them), and then it was time to reunite with the ABCtales people.
For those of us that wanted to eat before midnight, there followed a nail-biting race against time to make it to the bar in those last precious minutes before the pub stopped serving food.
For everyone else - and that would be everyone who wasn't me - the action was limited to nabbing the good seats and entering into strategic negotiations with the amplification equipment.
As a purely decorative attendee, I was in a tiny but profoundly grateful minority.
When faced with the prospect of public speaking, I become a quivering wreck fit for nothing but hiding in corners whimpering '...are you sure you wouldn't like an aria instead...?'.
So, with that in mind, I really have to admire all those who showed up not only to read, but to read things that they wrote themselves, which adds a whole new level of scariness.
Dan was one of the first people up, having swapped slots with a friend who needed more time to grapple with stage fright.
He read three of his short stories: Endless Communication, Spooky Action At A Distance, and Knocked Sideways.
(I would recommend going off and reading them, on the grounds that they are ace.)
The rest of the programme leant more in the direction of poetry, which made sense: while I'm sure there are exceptions, I think that poetry generally benefits a lot from being read aloud.
(I am, as I type this, hugely excited to discover that there are recordings of Tony Harrison reading some of his poems available here. I've been hunting for those since seeing him on one of my OU course videos! I recommend 'Bookends'.)
I won't run through the whole thing (not least because that would involve hours of trying to match up readers with usernames), but I must take the opportunity to plug Alison Dunne.
She's a terrific poet (more of her work can be found here), and was I think the best reader of the evening.
The socialising continued for some time after the readings ended, and we wended our way back to our b&b some time after midnight. It seemed to have inconsiderately moved further away in the intervening period; but then, I suppose not walking in a straight line would tend to add to journey times.
Next morning we were up with the seagulls (they would make excellent alarm clocks, if only one could teach them to squawk at specific times), in good time to get ready for breakfast and complain about other people sneakily using our bathroom (the fiends!).
We were in a hurry to get back to London, for my local church was having a day of art and music, and I was set to jolly up the occasion with my songs of heartbreak, betrayal, and, just to shake things up a bit, apple trees.
(I'm not sure how my repertoire ended up that way. It's probably best to blame the Associated Board exam setlists and leave my psyche unexamined.)
Alas, that plan was to be well and truly scuppered.
On the walk back to the train station, I was afflicted with a nosebleed - the result, no doubt, of a week of hayfevery snuffling.
The remaining time before our train was spent in a pub, drinking tea while I tried to hold my head back and pinch my nose as inconspicuously as possible.
Back in my neck of the woods, we stopped off for what we thought would be a quick pub lunch, but turned out to be a pub lunch so long that we got a complimentary round to compensate for the delay.
Apparently they were breaking in a new chef.
By the time we slunk into the church, my slot in the programme had long since been and gone, and my nose still hadn't recovered.
So, feeling more than a little guilty about wasting my accompanist's time, I made my excuses and slunk off to drown my sorrows in homemade rock cake.
There were tables laid out for that purpose, and we bagged one that afforded us a fine view of Sunday School artwork; including one drawing that included the intriguing theological statement that 'God is da bomb'.
And that was pretty much the end of that small adventure. Looking back at this entry, it seems like an awful lot of words for one weekend (and it certainly took me long enough to write them!), but then there really was a fair amount going on.
Now to start writing about our third trip away from London...!