On the train from London to Brighton I was excited, looking forward to getting reacquainted with a city I had last visited as a child. My memories were blurry, but I clearly remember the elated feeling of walking along the seafront, marveling at the way English people enjoyed a warm summer’s day lying on the beach fully clad or looking like red lobsters, obviously oblivious to the existence of a phenomenon called sun lotion.
I dropped down in a window seat, placing my oversized bag next to me and was just beginning to doze off when somebody grabbed hold of my luggage. Startled I looked up at a guy who with an intense expression explained in broken English that he needed the seat. I looked around and spotted several free ones, but as I didn’t want to make a scene I complied and let him shift my luggage to the back of the compartment. Silently praying that no one would unload it at any of the next stations.
My new travelling companion’s rare end had not even made a touch down before he started talking. About being Macedonian, not having visited his home country in seven years, commuting to and fro The City every day, how corruption would engulf us all, how if you don’t behave “they” will come and get you, killing you, your family, your kids, your dog and your goldfish if you have one.
I tried getting a word in sideways from time to time, but it was like talking to a tree trunk (which actually works quite well sometimes). He kept on like a broken record, his story getting more and more bloody, violent and scary by the minute. After a while my head was about to explode, and I am sorry to say I was not sorry to see him go when he left the train.
As I retrieved my bag and got ready to get off at the next station, I wondered if he was a typical example of a traumatized southern breed. In which case: what the h… was I doing here. A few minutes before the train came to a halt, I picked up my courage and asked a couple of people for directions. Instantly, my mind was put at rest; everybody within earshot joined in, eagerly telling me of their city’s wonders, uniqueness and set-apartness-from-the-rest-of-England. By the time I got off, I had recommendations enough to last me a decade.
Brighton turned out to be all what I’d been told, and more. I loved strolling around, breathing in both the invigorating sea air and the laid back, yet vibrant atmosphere of the city. The Lanes had a particular appeal, with their quaint little shops, pubs and cafés.
The majority of the older, traditional pubs from the beginning of the 19th century sported names in not too innovative ways combining “prince”, “ king”,” saint” with “Charles”, “Edward” and “George”. Which was all very familiar and cozy. History was embedded in the walls and the atmosphere, while both internet connection and mod hot meals were offered.
What really put a smile on my face, though, were the playful, twisted names of shops and cafés. The idea or background for some of which were intuitively understood, like Soup-Urb and Toast of Brighton (eateries), Oddballs (toy store), Hide and Silk (bags and scarfs), To Be Worn Again (2nd hand shop), Wax Factor (2nd hand collectors’ cd and record shop), Sassy (gaudy clothing). Others needed a little more thinking or investigating. Like Loaded (the shop, the owner or the customer?), The Basketmakers’s Arms (somewhat grotesque?) , Loot (should someone call the police?), Timeslip (my mind does that all the time) and Vegetarian Shoes. The latter probably approved by UC (United Creatures) as all the materials used in the manufacturing are exclusively synthetic.
My favorite, though, was Mad Hatters. Even though hats are neither part of my wardrobe nor in my field of interest, the window display was such a step-stopping mix of shapes and colors that I found myself ascending the stairs and entering the shop. A cute and beautifully made up Michelle, wearing one of her own unique creations, was all smiles and friendliness when I told her I just wanted to have a closer look at her mad hats. The name it turns out, stems from the 18th and 19th centuries when mercury was used in the manufacturing of felt hats, the toxic metal slowly poisoning the brain of the poor, less and less comprehending hatter…
The hatters of today are as sane or insane as the rest of us, but people mad as a hatter still abound. Thank goodness. Not the least in Brighton which has been and still is a place in its own kind; a haven of tolerance for people fleeing from different kinds of persecution and prejudice. A recluse where Joie de vivre is practiced, creativity and diversity appreciated.
The party, according to OnlyInBrightonTour guide Ric, may have started with King George IV (1762 – 1830), the big spender and great pretender who took it all out, living a prodigal life disapproved of by most commoners. According to their hungry stomachs heeding a little too much to the otherwise commendable appeal of a Brighton downtown movie poster: “Now is good” and “Live every moment”. It is not inconceivable that he even borrowed the entreaty wrongly attributed to Queen Marie Antoinette (1755-1793) upon being reminded of her starving subjects lack of bread: “Let them eat cake!”
In Brighton, the party is still on. Less extravagant, but even more fun and life enhancing, with students, professors, check-out girls, retirees, accountants, fishmongers, doctors, shop keepers, artists, waiters, lawyers, you and I on the guest list. Applied in a positive and unselfish way the appeals mentioned above are as relevant as ever. Because, as a t-shirt print in a shop window with unarguably and time independent certainty states: