Thursday, 10 September 2009

Down By The Seaside

What can I say about Brighton, having recently returned from that coastal resort town? The thing which stands out most in my mind is how it is truly a place of contrasts, encompassing the eccentric splendour of the Pavilion (above) and the unapologetic tackiness of the Pier. That’s the pier with the amusement arcades and funfair, not the burnt out skeletal husk further along the coast, although I and my girlfriend were both inclined to the opinion that the latter had far more to recommend it than the former.

We stayed in the Artists Residence (an eclectic mix of hotel and art gallery) in Regency Square, overlooking the beautiful desolation of the aforementioned husk. Grand old Victorian buildings look down upon a well maintained lawn in the middle of the square, itself serving to conceal a somewhat less than grand old underground car park.

Yes, Brighton is a place of contrasts. It is a liberal town, home to artists and a large gay community, as well as a massive arms company, which has been for several years the focus of a sustained campaign by the anti-war movement. Brighton’s equally vibrant left-liberal anarchist community, of which pacifists often find themselves a part, have a kind of spiritual home in the form of The Cowley Club.

The club, a libertarian social centre/vegetarian café/radical bookshop/members bar/library is staffed entirely by volunteers and can be found on London Road. It is named after Harry Cowley. Cowley was a local grassroots activist who helped organize the unemployed and homeless, confronting fascism in 1930s Brighton and fighting on behalf of the poor and disadvantaged until his death in the 1970s. My girlfriend Jane and I were both impressed by the remarkably good quality Zapatista coffee sold in the cafe, which is a very pleasant energizer after a morning spent wandering the labyrinthine Lanes of old Brighton town.

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