Sunday, 5 September 2010

A Day in Brighton

Friday morning Benedict and I met Professor Michael Fosdal, CAPA's instructor for the British culture course, in front of the WH Smith stationary and book store in the Victoria Railway Station for a day's excursion to Brighton. Brighton is a former fishing village about 50 miles due south of London on the English Channel that had been transformed into a seaside resort when the Prince of Wales, the son of 'Mad' King George III, (yes, that King George) built a pleasure palace around the turn of the 19th century, attracting many of his friends and hangers-on like bees to nectar. We were tagging along with the professor and the SU students, all of whom are enrolled in his class. The station seemed surprisingly subdued for 9 am. Rush hour, at least here, appeared to be over. There were still many people scurrying around, but the cavernous space of the station made it appear that only a few people were crossing the large gap between the tube and railway stations.

We arrived a little early so we had a few minutes to browse in WH Smith, where I purchased the first newspaper since arriving in London nearly three weeks ago. I chose The Guardian, which, generally speaking, is the newspaper representing working class points of view.

The train ride was relatively brief, only about an hour from Victoria Station to Brighton. Our views of the rolling and partially wooded Sussex countryside lasted perhaps ten minutes. London and its suburbs extend farther south than I imagined. I read my paper and Benedict read one of the books in the Artemis Fowler series he borrowed from Ealing's library. Aside from the news of the day, there were a couple of other articles that caught my eye. One described a recent study showing that social class among British white students affected their exam results more than they affected the exam results of British minority students. Another discussed the acceptance of a 15 year old math prodigy by Cambridge University as its youngest student since William Pitt the Younger in 1773. The article gives a brief account of a couple of young students more recently accepted by Cambridge's great rival, Oxford, whose outcomes in life were quite different from one another.

When we arrived in Brighton Professor Fosdal marshaled us together and we marched down the road to the sea past the usual array of shops and tourists on holiday. Brighton's beach is stony, covered by very smooth rocks. We spent a good half hour or so dipping our toes into the water. It wasn't as cold as most of us thought it would be, but still a bit chilly.

Surfs up!?

After several days of cool and sometimes rainy weather, the last few days have been absolutely summery--at least by English standards. The temperatures have been in the 70s and the sun has shined every day. Coats and sweaters were no longer necessary, and our excursion to Brighton could not have occurred on a finer day. In fact, Jim Kilfoyl and his son brought their swim suits with them. They intended to swim in the Channel after lunch. The water temperature reminded Jim of the water temps off the Massachusett's coast in the summer.

Prof. Jim Kilfoyl in shorts, his son John behind him.
Can you guess who Professor Fosdal is? He is the quintessentially English.gentleman smoking the pipe, isn't he? The pier in the background has suffered through several ordeals of severe gales and fires, and all that is left is this rusted skeleton. France is somewhere beyond the horizon.

We were scheduled to be at the Royal Pavilion, George IV's pleasure palace, by 12:30. We only spent about a half hour touring the place, but what an impressive piece of work. The palace, as Professor Fosdal commented, looked as if the architect had been in an opium haze when he designed it. It has an Oriental grandeur that could be easily mistaken for a Persian palace from the Arabian Nights.

Doesn't this look like something out of the old Sinbad the Sailor movies?

  The interior rooms, especially the rooms where George IV--as the Prince of Wales became known--entertained his guests, are lavish. Since few people had been to China or even to the Middle East, the artists and designers were free to use their imagination to dream extravagantly. And dream they did. They adopted a style called chinoiserie that made tangible their fantasies of what an opulant China must have looked like. The photos on the link above certainly don't do the interiors any justice.

The garden was wonderfully designed, and through it people had access to Brighton's art museum.

Another view of the Pavilion.

A fountain in a Brighton park on the way to the pier.

After the Royal Pavilion tour we were on our own for the rest of the day. Brighton has much to offer to day visitors, and it looked as if many in town were there only for the day. Benedict and I joined up with Jim and John for a lunch of fish and chips on the boardwalk. We made plans to meet later that afternoon. Since we had traveled on group train tickets, we could only return to London in groups of at least four; otherwise there might be an extra cost. Benedict and I were headed to the pier, and Jim and John were intent on getting more than just their toes wet in the Channel. Jim found a place for them to change to their swimming suits, and off they went.

Near the Royal Pavilion. Perhaps reflecting Georg's exuberant lifestyle.

Benedict and I, on the other hand, chose to spend the rest of the afternoon on Brighton's pier, a pleasure palace of a different kind. There were two pavilions on the pier devoted mostly to parting people from their money.

Shiny, bright, loud, and maybe I'll get lucky.

 The most popular games consisted in trying to push either 2p or 10p coins, depending on the game, off a ledge into a coin pocket from which the winner can retrieve them. The hitch is that the player must deposit matching coins through one of three slots. It is the addition of these new coins, the player hopes, that will push off a large number of coins into the pocket, thus making a 'profit'. This is, of course, great training for depositing coins into slot machines. Perhaps this is how the couple below began.

But there was also much, if not more, fun to be had outside. There were the normal carnival midway games such as knocking cans off a ledge. Benedict almost knocked all the cans off while I barely succeeded in getting four to fall over. He won a duck fishing, and I got lucky and won a shark in one of those races (dolphins in this case) where players had to roll 4 balls up a ramp into a number of holes, advancing the player's dolphin on its track. There were roller coasters, a haunted house, numerous fortune tellers, merchants of trinkets, food vendors, bumper cars and the rest of those entertainments any self-respecting tourist pier must include. We encountered several Southwestern students on the pier who were also trying their luck, at
least with the carny games.

Many people contented themselves simply sunning themselves before the opportunity soon disappears.

We managed to miss Jim and John at our rendezvous, though I did see Jim far in the distant. He is much taller than the typical English. We were unable to catch up with them, so after some delay we made our way back to the train station. I missed exploring the town itself, but the day was nearing its end and we had to hurry to the station and hope we could talk our way through the gate. Recall that we were supposed to be with at least a group of four.

Still we did see something very startling. A Mexican restaurant!  In Brighton! We have seen almost every other type of ethnic restaurants: various kinds of Indian food, Polish, Persian, Lebanese, Thai, Spanish. But never Mexican. We didn't have time to check the menu to see if the food is authentic, but here is evidence of someone's aspirations.

When we reached the train station, we were fortunate to find some SU students waiting outside the train station so we were able to easily get on the train with part of the group we came with.
Brighton Train Station
Trains leave for Victoria Station from Brighton every half hour, and we were fortunate that we were early before the next departure. We easily found seats, but by the time the train was scheduled to depart it was standing room only. The day trippers, like us, were returning home. We settled into our cushions and rejoined our reading material, Benedict with Artemis Fowler and I with the remaining pages of The Guardian.

One of the most striking articles in the paper dealt with the affects of climate change on Tibetan nomads. There was also much discussion on Tony Blair's just-published memoirs. Most of the commentary accused him of being a traitor to labor. Even the letters to the editor were highly critical of Blair. Not meaning to pick on Blair, I still can't resist quoting the following letter since it sounds so typically English in its expression:

        I have been reading the Guardian for almost 40 years. I consider myself a fairly
        typical reader. I can misspell most words if I set my mind to it and would not
        dream of complaining when a football report does not give the score in the headline.

        A quark is considered the smallest particle to exist. If you took a quark and divided
        it a million times then chopped it in half that would still be bigger than the interest I
        have in anything Tony Blair thinks, says or does. Please bear this mind when constructing
        future editions of my daily newspaper.
        Merion Rice


Benedict finished his book by the time we reached Victoria Station. And the station was a much different place at 7pm than it had been that morning. Compared to the morning, the huge station was noisy and crowded with people rushing to get home.

1 comment:

  1. I'm going to have to remember that quote about the quark. Lovely!