I first visited Brighton as a child in the 80s. However, I didn’t see much of the place as we spent most of the day in the launderette! We were on the beach, playing our favourite ‘chasing waves’ game where we’d run down to the sea and then wait until the very last moment before turning and running up the beach away from the approaching wave. My brother waited a bit too long, tripped over, and consequently got soaked! Mum was not happy. Hence spending the day in the launderette. But we managed to enjoy a bag of chips on the pier – joined by a few greedy seagulls who kept trying to steal them – and I remember being fascinated by the bandstand and carousel, and loving the colourful beach huts lining the promenade.
It was several years later before I returned. I discovered the town had changed. It was no longer a rundown seaside town filled with cheap housing and amusement arcades, but a vibrant, modern city filled with culture, diversity, and ex-Londoners who wanted to own a trendy dwelling by the sea. Various celebrities have made Brighton their home, Chris Eubank, FatBoy Slim, Nick Cave, Heather McCartney and David Walliams, to name but a few. But my favourite story is from 2005 when the band The Kooks stayed in Adelaide Crescent for the summer and used to sit outside on the lawn practising their songs. Imagine living next door? You’d get a free concert every day!
Brighton is also famous for its architecture, which ranges from ornate structures like the Royal Pavilion to the Prince Albert pub with its intricate graffiti designs. And then of course there’s the famous piers. In December 2002, the old West Pier partially collapsed during a storm and the walkway connecting the concert hall to the pavilion fell into the sea. The following month, the concert hall in the middle of the pier also collapsed leaving the entire structure close to crumbling. And then on the 28th March 2003 the pavilion caught fire. Fire crews were unable to save the building from destruction because the non-existent walkway prevented them from reaching it. The cause of the fire remains unknown. According to local legend, a boat was seen leaving the pier thirty minutes before flames were seen and rumours began to circulate that the owners of the new Palace Pier might be behind the fire. . . but of course this is only supposition.
The burnt out West Pier still remains, a rusty relic situated within sight of the shiny new Palace Pier further down the beach. The new pier is a fascinating place to visit. It has a helter skelter, dodgem cars, amusement arcades and an inflatable castle. You can eat candyfloss, sticks of rock, toffee apples, and traditional fish & chips. There’s even a concert hall, a wine bar, along with the more unusual attractions, such as Ivor’s Tarot Consultant.
I’ve never had my fortune told, but I wonder what it would reveal? A lottery win? Far-off travels? Or perhaps just the onset of varicose veins? Maybe it’s better not to know.
Away from the pier, Brighton has the added appeal being quirky and unique. It’s not uncommon to stumble across Rolfe from the Muppets playing a piano. A zebra busking. Or a mobility scooter customised to look like Herbie. My friend told me about seeing DJ Guru wearing a bright orange cat-suit and leading fifty dancers around the streets in a silent disco. She also saw an elderly chap wearing yellow jeans, cowboy boots and a pink fluffy jacket and. . . wait for it. . . a Pickelhaube (a spiked German military helmet). My encounter with a man in period dress riding a Penny-farthing seemed quite tame after that.
As we approach the festive season, it would be amiss of me not to mention the shops. And boy, is there something for everyone. Yes, you’ve got the usual high street brands, but if you’re looking for something a little ‘alternative’ then Brighton might be the place for you. Let’s start with the best shoe shop in the entire world (in my opinion) Irregular Choice. I’m like a kid in a candy shop, the designs are exquisite and I end up spending a fortune. Then there’s Choccywoccydoodah for those of you with a sweet tooth, and Pretty Eccentric, Collectif, and Tuff Tarts if you’re into retro clothing. There’s a multitude of higgledy piggeldy junk shops, hidden in the narrow lanes, like Snoopers Paradise, where you can buy trinkets and unusual gifts. The North Laine area is my favourite, it’s a great place to browse and be entertained, even if you don’t want to buy anything. It’s filled with market stalls, street entertainers, and eateries selling all kinds of produce. If you happen to be vegetarian or vegan, then this is the place for you. They even have a vegan shoe shop!
So, whatever you fancy doing this Christmas, shopping, theatre, or just wandering around the streets taking in the sights, Brighton has so much to offer. Happy festivities!