John Lennon may have been the Walrus, but after a day in Brighton, I am the lobster
Since getting back from Paris, I've had a bit of a stressful week and a half. Not bad stress, just a busy calendar running errands, going on job interviews and planning for my upcoming move, so when I saw a free day on my calendar and a weather report from the BBC that said sunny and clear skies, I decided I deserved a little beach holiday. So on Thursday I packed a towel and my swimming trunks and caught the train to Brighton.
Brighton is due south of London, about 80 miles from where I live right now. The first order of business was figuring out how to get there. London and the surrounding area has a dizzying array of transit options. Most people are familiar with at least a few of them - the iconic black taxi cabs, the red double-decker buses and the extensive tube network are known even to those that have never been here. I admit when I first arrived in London, I was a bit of a tube snob. If I went anywhere, I went by the London Underground.
As I have settled in, though, I have figured out that there are a few other options to getting around that can be quicker, cheaper and more comfortable than the tube. Specifically, I figured out that there is a train station called Cricklewood which is as close to my house as the tube line, and has frequent trains that run into the city and beyond. In fact, I could have saved myself some time had I known when I went down to Wimbledon, instead of taking two underground routes that stop frequently, I could have taken a commuter train straight through the city to Wimbledon station.
The trains are run by First Capital Connect, which sounds like a bank but is really a train company. A very popular one, it seems, as the first time I tried to take one of their trains was from St. Pancras to Cricklewood after returning from Paris. Ticket in hand, my train pulled in. It was only four cars long and full of people. Despite the 100 or so people on the platform trying to cram on the train, we weren't all going to fit, and a large number of passengers, including myself, were left on the station when the train pulled away. The next train wasn't for another 40 minutes, so I hauled my stuff all the way across St. Pancras station to the tube line.
Luckily, I had no such trouble getting on a train yesterday. I even got a seat once we'd passed Farringdon station, though I didn't get to sit long as I had to change at Blackfriars. Normally I wouldn't mention something as tedious as changing trains, but I wanted to mention how much I like Blackfrairs station, which is partially out over the Thames river.
There was a woman standing on the platform across from me who was staring out at the river. She may have been happy for all I know, but for some reason I got it in my head that she was sad, sitting there staring out at the water and wishing that her train wouldn't come today, so she could go back home and go to sleep.
A few minutes later a train pulled in and three of her friends got off. They walked away smiling and laughing, so it turns out my imagination was wrong. My train pulled in, and off we went.
A little over an hour later I was in Brighton. The walk to the sea-shore from the train station is about 10 minutes downhill. You pass the clock tower and a few minutes later, the wind off the ocean is hitting your face.
The beach is incredibly rocky and the water is testicle shrinkingly cold, but that doesn't stop the masses from coming out to the beach. Because the water is so cold, few people venture into it, and if they do, it's usually only for a quick dip and then out into the sun again to let the sun dry you off.
There are two piers at Brighton. Well, at least there were two piers at Brighton. The west pier has fallen into disrepair, and is mostly just rusted metal pilings and beams in the water now.
There are development plans afoot to build a massive tower and pier where the ruins of the west pier is now. The plans are nice enough, but I feel it's a bit of a shame really. I like the rusted and derelict nature of the present west pier. It's like a piece of art, a statement on the transitory nature of all things.
The east pier is definitely not in a state of disrepair. It is a lively tourist attraction with amusement, arcades, casinos, bars and restaurants. There are also a lot of signs reminding you to make sure that you put out your cigarettes thoroughly so you don't burn down the mostly wooden structure.
Seeing the Helter Skelter put The Beatles tune in my head.
If the fear of a flaming wooden pier keeps you from going out above the water, there are still lots of amusements along the beach to keep you interested.
Heading east from the pier, you find the Volk's Electric Railway. Operating since 1883, the electric train runs from the Aquarium and pier in the west to the Marina in the east.
The eastern most station, by the marina is called Black Rock. I've been watching Lost on DVD all this week, and one of the key locations at the end of the 1st season is the mysterious Black Rock. Seeing the station name replaced The Beatles Helter Skelter in my mind with thoughts of the TV show. Damn media infiltrating my brain! Can't I just enjoy Brighton without having to contextualize it within some media-created framework.
I didn't take the train. There was a big sign on the train station talking about how important it was to get exercise, and that it's a good thing to walk, which persuaded me to hoof it to the Marina.
If I was going to walk all that way (it's about a mile), I figured I needed something to power me up, so I grabbed some lunch. Given the seaside nature of where I was, I figured I should eat from the ocean, so fish and chips with mushy peas was on the menu.
There was a place just down from my lunch spot that was selling muscles and cockles, and it made me think of Sweet Molly Malone, calling "Cockles and Muscles - Alive-Alive-Oh!" Another song in my head...
The marina is just that, a marina, with boat slips. There is also a number of restaurants and shops.
I wandered back to the beach and settled into a spot on the beach at Duke's Mound, just to the west of the nudist area. Yes, there is a nudist area. No, I didn't take any pictures. I did take a peak into the spot. Mostly it was clothed people sitting around looking at the few brave, naked and male souls.
There were no change rooms close by, so I changed into my swim trunks using the old towel round the waist method, and headed into the water. It was freezing, and as the tide was high the bottom was all rocks. Further out, or when the tide is lower, there is a sandy bottom, but when I was in, all I could feel was cold water shocking my system and rocks stabbing at my feet. I was out of the water in less than a minute.
I lay down on my towel and let myself air dry, every once and a while sneaking a peak at the two beautiful Indian girls sunbathing topless just down from me. Much better viewing than the male-heavy nude beach.
As the waves washed in and out, it moved the rocks on the beach, sounding a lot like someone carrying a bag of marbles. That's the sound of the ocean in Brighton - waves, gulls and rocks banging together.
Once dried off, I headed into Brighton. Lots of little shops and some nice pedestrian areas for strolling.
Not interested in buying anything, I eventually made my way back down to the sea front and found myself a table at the Gemini Lounge and Beach Bar. The place has a huge patio with a band playing, and a built in temperance mechanism in the form of some of the slowest service I have ever received.
I slipped off my sandals. My feet were killing me. Not only did I walk a few miles in sandals (not the most supportive shoes for hiking in the world) and have the rocks of Brighton beach stab at the bottom of my feet, but the tops were lobster red from the sun. Actually, only half of the top of my feet were lobster red. The parts that were under the sandal straps were alabaster white. There is an interesting red-white zebra stripe on my feet now.
I settled back, resting my feet and sipping on my beer (once it finally arrived). The band announced that they were going to play one more song before coming around to collect donations and then taking a break. In honour of the sunny weather, they played Beautiful Day by U2. Despite the fact that the singer didn't seem to know any of the words and mostly just mumbled a tune, I still gave them a pound when they came around with their collection bucket.
I sat back and let the sun shine on me (while keeping my feet safely under the table in the shade), and just watched the people roll by. The beach may not be white sand, the water may be somewhere close to the freezing point, the service may be slow as molasses in January and the band may not know the words to the songs they sing, but no bother. The sun was shining and I had a day off, without any stress, and that was a damn fine thing.