The Pinball Wizard and the Funky Pavilion
05.06.2004 - 05.06.2004 75 °F
OFF TO BRIGHTON
Friday, June 5, 2004. The plan was for Vidal and I to go with Naomi, Lottie and Shane to spend the day in Brighton, but Naomi had to back out. We piled into Lottie and Shane’s new Mini at 11 o’clock, ready for a day by the sea. The day was chilly and typically gray, but we had high hopes for a great time, with or without the sun. Brighton was a town on the south coast of England; it has been around since before the Domesday Book of 1086, becoming popular in the 18th century as a health resort. Today’s Brighton is known for its seaside and piers, The Lanes’ shops and pubs, the crazy Pavilion, and of course the Pinball Wizard.
WHERE’S THE BEACH?
We were looking forward to taking our shoes off and getting sand between our toes on English shores, but we quickly saw that would have to be elsewhere, as the grains of sand in Brighton were quite big, as they were large pebbles and stones. Somehow it just does not sound as appealing to say you cannot wait to walk on the beach to feel the stones between your toes- it sound more like a foot problem… Anyway, that did not seem to bother the beach goers, as the beach was full of wooden lounge chairs and beach umbrellas ready to be rented. Not many takers that day, but the day was still young!
DOWN BY THE OLD WEST PIER
Walking along the promenade, Lottie and Shane pointed out where someone tried to eliminate Margaret Thatcher with a bomb, and the nearby burnt remains of West Pier. Opened in 1866, it was closed down in the 1970’s with hopes to renovate it, as it was a huge part of Brighton’s history. More recent years brought disaster in the form of 2 fires. We stared at the sad skeleton of what had once been a treasure; part of the local culture. While we had not had the pleasure of seeing it in its glory, my always vivid imagination made it possible for me to picture it as the grand lady it must have been...
WARM YOUR COCKLES
We walked down the promenade, glancing around to our amusement at the stalls offering tarot and palm readings as well as tattoos. Seafood shacks, fish and chips and the like on the right, a few artists scattered in between; New Age crap on the left! There was a rather important building on the beach side- the Brighton Fishing Museum… about the size of a dollhouse. Vidal had to try one of the local specialties that Shane raved about: Cockles in vinegar. Cockles? Isn’t that something that you are supposed to keep warm? What?! They are sea cockroaches? Hey, now that sounds appetizing, count me in! - A cup of cockles and whelks, with a side order of jellied eels, please! Okay, I admit I really did try the cockles and whelks (being the crazy American fool that I am-although I balked at the jellied eels); they really weren’t bad!
We headed for the Palace Pier, recently renamed Brighton Pier. It was built in 1899 and acknowledged as the finest pier ever built. Acknowledged by whom, I am not sure. We passed the carousel on the promenade, waved at the horses trying to leap off in vain; we entered the pier to the sounds of arcade games, pinball machines, video games, tin can alley, toy grab-it ‘slot’ machines, music, laughter and cotton candy; the whole nine yards. We watched the kids, the old and the young, play their games. Vidal and Shane took their part as well in a Soccer kick-the-ball game; Vidal won a stuffed shark (in case you have never been to a carnival, that would be a stuffed toy, not a meal of a stuffed fish); he gave it to Lottie as a thank you gift. There were a few rides as well; Lottie and Shane had told me about the roller coaster at the end of the pier, so of course we went to check it out; I’ve never been one to turn down the chance to scream on a roller coaster!
DIG THAT CRAZY MOUSE
The Crazy Mouse roller coaster. Sounds harmless enough, right? Winding turns with the obligatory high drop at just 50 feet, it almost sounded boring and looked very much like a quiet ride in the kiddie area of a carnival. But they said they had a great time the last time they had been to the Pier, so we got in line, Vidal volunteered to stay behind with the shark, as fish were strictly prohibited on the ride without a Green Card. The line went quick (stats state 900 rides per hour); up we went, chatting and giggling away like teenagers, to a slow start. I was ready and willing to try out my Hollywood scream for kicks, but as I still thought of it as a tiny tot’s ride, I sat back for a pleasant ride with a view of Brighton. The view was fabulous; the tracks sat right at the edge of the pier, and at points it seemed we were just hanging off of it. The obligatory slow creep to the top, with the car swinging right, then left… Then the car started to spin, then it began to rock, and we hit the winding upward curves a rockin’ and a rollin’! Basically it could be best described as Tilt-a-Whirl meets roller coaster; it was a really good thing my motion sickness prone husband sat that one out! A slight drop to pick up momentum and the car started to spin out of control, up and around the winding turns, my Hollywood scream was working hard between squeals of laughter. We stopped afterward to check out the photo taken of ourselves, it was hysterical!
FISH AND CHIPS
It was probably a good thing we had eaten nothing more than a handful of cockles, whelks and mussels before going on the ride; all that laughter had made us hungry, so we went for fish and chips on the pier. I had yet to have proper fish and chips served in newspaper, and was looking forward to the tradition. Sadly, they were served on plates… We were told it was rare to find fish and chips in newspaper something about it not being sanitary. Sanitary? How’s that? As far as I knew, the newspaper had no print on it, so no need for ink poison worries; my guess is that unless one eats more paper than fish and gets a belly ache as payment for their stupidity, then maybe the fuss is really about saving a tree or two? Well, the fish and chips were great, topped with a bit of malt vinegar (although I hear that the added taste of paper gives it an extra kick).
STROLLING DOWN THE LANES
Having laughed and stuffed ourselves silly, a good walk was in order, so we headed off the pier, past the New Age weirdoes and the fish and chip shacks (ahem, serving them in NEWSPAPER!), across the street and over to The Lanes. The Lanes were mostly narrow pedestrian streets filled with street musicians, shoe shiners, artists and boutiques in 18th century houses (antique shops, artsy fartsy shops, jewelry shops, Chocolate shops, clothing stores, and souvenir shops) and pubs. Oh, and of course a handful of New Age shops; we did a double take when we saw a sign advertising the sale of Mexican Magic mushrooms. Hmm. Maybe they cater to vegetarians? We got a good laugh from that, but they made no sale with us…
THE TAJ MAHAL IN BRIGHTON?
Our next stop was the Brighton Royal Pavilion, built in the 19th Century as a seaside retreat for the Prince Regent (Victoria’s uncle, who later became King George IV) due to his gout. Indian on the outside, Chinese interior; it was very exotic, very extravagant. We were not allowed to take photos inside. A kind guard told us that he was supposed to tell us we could not take photos because many objects had just returned from Buckingham Palace, but in fact it was because there was a gift shop at the end, he said with a wink. Well, if the Royal Pavilion could be cheap, so could we; we used our student IDs once more for a £3 discount each…
TOO MUCH MONEY, TOO MUCH TIME; NOT ENOUGH STRANGE OBJECTS TO PURCHASE
‘Extravagant’ is too kind of a word. Gaudy, bizarre, excessive, even ridiculous are more appropriate words. The rather small dining room sat a mere 50 people. A lot of red rooms, a lot of dragons here and there. There were the obligatory smoking room, card room, breakfast room, and music room. The king’s apartment had so many patterns going on it made me feel nauseated. I do admit that I loved the kitchen with its 4 cast iron column-palm tree trunks with painted copper palm leaves.
THAT QUEEN HAS TASTE
Queen Victoria reportedly said the palace was strange when she first saw it. She gave the pavilion to Brighton (got rid of it; pawned it off…) as a gift early on in her reign; her apartments are still kept. Of interest in her apartments were her 4 poster bed with the sheets pulled back to reveal 6 mattresses (okay, so they were only like 3 inches thick each, but still seemed a bit Princess and the Pea), and her Water Closet. They had cleaned that up for the tour, but sorry- no photos allowed!
TIME FOR TEA AND A MAD HARE
On the upper level was the Queen Adelaide Tearoom; we stopped to have a proper tea with scones on the veranda. My scone was positively awful; Vidal had chosen a brownie that came with a free strand of hair. He exchanged it for a hairless fruitcake. The tea, however, was very good, and the perfect way to end our day trip to that charming 18th century seaside resort.
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