May 15-20, 2000 and some random day in 2001 and 2002
At the Southern Edge of Briton lies Brighton with it's tasteful alternative scene, stone beach and tacky pier, this is the place where London goes for a day in the sun.
Well, it's not always sun they find here, but that doesn't matter. The English are the only people that sunbathe with all their clothes on and carry an umbrella - not to keep out of the sun, but rather the rain.
What's so alternative about it? It appears that you'll find strong groups of just about every civil rights group here, including a high concentration of vegetarians (although there still is a McDonalds hidden on a back street) and a large population of alternative sexual persuasions. For those of you in the New Jersey or Pennsylvania areas, imagine New Hope only 10X the size and strength. Saying that, it's still good clean fun for the tourist.
My host and guide was Andy, a well educated bumper car operator, post officer and traveler that I had met in Spain. Having someone to show me the local area brought me into several local flats, off-beat clubs and the story of Brighton that you won't find at the tourist information centre.
After the pub closed on our first night out, we entered a gay club... nothing suggested this except for the transvestite performer and it seemed like a mixed crowd of all classes and "preferences."
The routine generally went like this: 1 During the day we'd find the best organic ingredients for Andy's special dinner creations 2 Saunter around exploring Brighton 3 Eat - and it was good enough for seconds. 4 Go out to a pub. 5a When the pub closes, go out to a club. 5b Or bump into someone Andy knows and visit their place for some discussion of what will be the next plan against the fascists in England.
Brighton's liberal attitudes and open minded thinking aren't completely by accident. The history of this town I've heard tells about the Pavilion, which looks like a small concrete Taj Mahal, was created for the pre-marital/extra-marital affairs of the king. Far enough away from London to keep the press away from the scandals, the upper class crept in thinking, if the king can do it, so can we, and bed & breakfasts sprang up to accommodate. A Brighton weekend is hints at a bit of fun, if you know what I mean, and I think you do.
There's an excellent global peace & environmental center, across from the vegetarian shoe shop. It's here I can definitely see some cultural issues between being an American and the English folk. GM: In the USA, this means the car company, General Motors, or perhaps the food company General Mills. Here it's Genetically Modified, meaning food. A huge issue through out Britain. There are other view points that the British are strong about that we don't give much though to about education, crime and punishment. Knowing what some things are like on the other side of the ocean makes it easier to see what is hype and what isn't; however, being ignorant of other issues in Europe loosening that footing to put me back on the level of someone curious to learn more. I'll keep my eyes open and see if some of the claims are true when traveling in Eastern Europe. If any concrete change has happened in Brighton for me, it's got me considering vegetarianism more - partially due to Andy's great vegan cooking, I'm sure.
In Brighton, there's so many open minded people, you'd think it would be easy for the press to publish something, but the opposite is true. There's so many activists, you're bound to offend somebody!
There's also so many things to boycott, that I don't know how anyone can put together an ethical living plan for an educated person in the Western world. Perhaps that would be a good plan... compile all this information into a straight forward guide: How to Live. It sounds good, but I'm sure someone would protest against it. Write your own anyway.
Besides Andy, two more Sunseeders, Liz(zie) and Katie, came into town during my stay. A few plays, roller blading near the beach (it almost felt like San Francisco) and sun bathing on the stones with my clothes on were times well spent.
February 23, 2002
Since the time I first visited Brighton, it has gained "city status." The new Brighton City encompasses not only all of Brighton, but also neighboring Hove. But don't get confused between the two like I did, even though only an alley way divides the two. Brighton is full of "alternative" lifestyles. Extreme animal, human and even vegetable rights groups will fell at home here, mixing ethics in a fun young atmosphere. At night, transsexuals can also feel at home. For me though, the strangest site is British "sunbathing" on the "beach." Imagine people laying down on a bunch of rocks, with their clothes on (too cold for a bathing suit most of the year). Actually getting down there and doing it with them doesn't feel so strange, but just looking in is certainly a cultural experience for this Jersey Shore boy.
When some one says "Oh, so you live in Brighton?" to someone who lives in Hove, the typical answer is known to be a snooty "Hove, actually." Brightoners jokingly decided that Hove should be renamed "Hove, Actually" because of this.
Anyway, my boss was having a party and I swore his address was in Brighton propper, so I invited all my great friends I met in Spain. And if they had friends, why not bring them along too. Amy just bought a flat in Brighton too, so we had a place to crash. Hmm, that's interesting. Her map shows the address is in Hove and her funky guide book on the area says it's that square is top architectural part of the city.
Being casual for work, I came even more casual with my friends. We approached the window and saw the guests. "Will they even let us in?" One of my pals said. Amy was embarrassed she wore a purple top and not a black dress like everyone else. That's OK, Amy, you can be bold. "That girl's got something to say and she's not afraid to say it," I teased at what the other guests might be thinking.
We were welcome, but felt massively underdressed. Colin continued suffering food poisoning from the night before and for the most part my group stuck in a shadowy corner. I just about forgot about my blue jeans when Andy showed up. With his friend.
This was the friend who was at the Lewes bonfire on the other side of the fence, arguing with the security (and crowd behind him) that he would not move behind the fireworks insurance boundary line because he was indeed a true anarchist. With camouflage pants, noise ring and muddy boots, he left his mark just as much on some guests as he did the carpet. Now the class system comes subtly into play in the little interactions, but luckily he was not an anarchist today and felt out of place and dismissed himself.
As we wandered home we wondered about our impressions left there. Luckily my boss was cool and said it was fine, "It was a come as you wish."
Amy summed it up with, "I guess Hove lives up to it's expectations."
The next morning I could say good bye to seagulls, pier and sea from Amy's penthouse view. I walked to the train station with Colin and felt comfortable wearing my jeans. I knew I was walking on the Brighton side.