When the big day arrived the sun was shining and the sky was blue, which was good, but not that unusual for May, with summer just around the corner. We duly caught the train and in no time at all we arrived at Thameslink Station, where I took great delight in staying put in my seat! From that point onwards the journey became less familiar, so more interesting. It only takes around 2 hours to get to Brighton but the journey was just beginning to lose it's novelty value when a brood of bawdy 'hens' burst into our carriage giggling, and adding some amusing and temporary distraction. The slogan on their bright pink tee-shirts suggested this clutch of chicks had every intention of making sure the 'bride-to-be' would make the most of her last weekend as a singleton. But when the train let them loose on an unsuspecting Brighton public to have their fun, it was also our turn to have some, but fun of an altogether different kind!
We left the station and headed straight for the sea-front, keen to see what Brighton beach had to offer us in terms of fun - which for us is, of course, photography. The first and most obvious photo opportunity was the poignant sight of the now derelict West Brighton pier, constructed in 1866, closed to the public in 1975, and devoured by fire in 2003. All that remains is the twisted metal skeleton of the end section, left abandoned in the ocean seemingly without repair or raison d'etre - apart from being excellent photographic material of course - and the roosting ground for tens of thousands of Starlings who regularly pull in a crowd by performing their synchronised swirling, swooping and cartwheeling displays at sunset. Having wanted to see this spectacle for some time, I was looking forward to a sunset with an exciting difference!
The Kings Road arches that line the Lower Esplanade also provided us with some fun, and not just of the photographic variety. There was indeed the occasional vertical boat and strategically placed bicycle waiting to be immortalised on 'chip', and more than a few arty archway galleries with their open door invitations. But it was also lunchtime so we decided to check out one of the attractive archway eating establishments. Soon we were tucking into tasty toasted cheese Ciabattas, accompanied by an amplified helping of soundtrack, as the evening entertainment band began turning up, tuning up and ''testing ... one, two, three'', throughout the meal, pausing only when deafening feedback made it impossible to continue ! With our stomachs full and our ears still just about intact we decided to head off into the famous 'Brighton Lanes' to hob-knob with the artisans and tussle with the tourists!
The Brighton Lanes' historic quarter, once a fishing town called Brighthelmstone, is now a maze of twisting alleyways (known to locals as 'twittens'), offering an extraordinary mix of shops from quirky to designer, antique to contemporary and everything in between. To liven the experience of the Lanes you can shop to the accompaniment of live music, to jazz, and buskers. If you're all shopped out and need to collapse in a weary heap you can do that in style too, in one of the many trendy coffee bars and colourful cafes. After experiencing both, we decided to explore another quarter of town, one where the skyline is full of minarets and domes.
The unmistakable skyline that now dominates Brighton belongs, of course, to the famous Royal Brighton Pavilion. This opulent seaside home was remodelled in Indian style by John Nash between 1815-1823 for George, Prince Regent and later George IV. After the death of George IV in 1830, his successor King William IV also stayed in the Pavilion on his visits to Brighton. However Queen Victoria disliked Brighton and the lack of privacy the Pavilion afforded her on her visits there (especially once Brighton became accessible to Londoners by rail in 1841) and after her last visit to Brighton in 1845, the Government planned to sell the building and grounds. The Brighton Commissioners and the Brighton Vestry successfully petitioned the Government to sell this Bijou residence to the town for £53,000 in 1850!
If you've assumed that the Brighton Pavilion is 'all external show and no internal substance' then you might want to think again. The interior is a lavish combination of Indian and Chinese-style decorations with magnificent furniture and furnishings, adorned by gilded dragons, carved palm trees and imitation bamboo staircases. And the daring and inventive colour schemes used throughout are like an explosion in a paint factory! A truly unique eclectic style that mixes Asian exoticism with English eccentricity. Unfortunately there are no photos to illustrate this, as no cameras were allowed, but the images remain in our memory albums.
Once we'd had our fill of lavish Chinese carvings and luscious carrot cake in the cafe, we made our way back to the beach for a walk along the pier - Brighton Central Pier, that is, not the burnt bereft bit of the West Pier! But by the time we had reached the seafront the whole place had taken on a new and more dramatic appearance altogether ... .
Sadly the sky was not full of swooping Starlings, so true to form I was going to miss yet another 'must see' widlife spectacle. But the sky was about to put on it's own display. Having turned from blue to steely grey, the sky was now full of dark moody clouds racing across it with threatening attitude. Storm force gusty gales had replaced the fresh breeze of the morning, transforming the placid sea into a seething mass of churning water. Huge rolling waves crashed heavily onto the beach and smashed into the pier and jetty, sending explosions of sea-spray and volumes of squeals sky high, as the sea repeatedly deposited itself on unsuspecting onlookers. Great fun watching and great fun to photograph too! That is, until we took one risk too many, and maybe one step too far in our attempt to get closer to the spectacular performance - resulting in a drenching, and giving mother nature the last laugh on our fun day out in Brighton.