This was my first visit to Brighton, a seaside town along the English Channel. I had heard quite a lot about it before arriving. During the 19th century, it was a get-away playground for the rich and famous. Dukes, princes and wealthy industrialist caroused here. The Grand Hotel and stately mansions still flank the Victorian seafront.
Most notable is the Royal Pavilion, a retreat for the Prince of Wales, who later became King George IV. The prince hired designer Henry Holland and later John Nash to build the outlandish Hindu-Gothic monument. While George frolicked here as a young man, the city of Brighton eventually bought the pavilion in the 1850s. During WWI it served as a hospital for Indian and British soldiers coming back from the front. Later it became a tourist attraction. It was also the site for the first legal gay marriage in the UK in 2014.
Then there is the landmark, Brighton Palace Pier. This amusement park of a dock stretches over 1700 feet out into the Channel. It houses game arcades, fast food stands and fairground attractions. It is a fine place to see the English attempt to enjoy a stony beach with frigid water or watch the world’s most aggressive seagulls eat tourist scraps.
I also wandered The Lanes, twisting alleyways from 18th century Brighton. I could not help but think I was back in the 1960s. Incense and pot smoke wafted through the warm afternoon air. Music stores sold only LPs, many 30-40 years old and had walls covered with posters promoting past concerts of The Who, Jimmy Hendrix and the Kinks among others. Even the street wall murals reminded me of Pearl Alley in 1960s Columbus rather than a British seaside town.
After Africa, Brighton was striking. I was back in the modern western world but decidedly one stuck in another era. It was slightly disconcerting. Had I flicked the wrong switch in the time/travel machine? I lodged at an apartment at the new Brighton Marina, but then would spend the day walking through memory lanes. One evening as a waitress approached our table of eight, she greeted me as if I was one of her regular customers. I politely mentioned that I never had been there before. She was more than slightly embarrassed. I should have just said hello and, “Give me the usual.” Brighton was a bizarre mix of space and time, ice cream and ale, fish and chips. Plus Italian food from the waitress who thought she knew me. It was time to head back to London.