Finally, after a whole summer of damp dreariness, we were blessed with an entire weekend of virtually uninterrupted sunshine. Yes! It so happened that the other half and I were scheduled to be in Eastbourne for the duration, looking after Mother's mini-menagerie while she was away on her annual pilgrimage to Walsingham. I found myself falling in love with my hometown all over again as we made the most of its balmy climate (they don't call it 'The Suntrap of the South' for nothing you know) and genteel charm, for what felt like a proper mini-holiday - complete with traditional English seaside pursuits.
Having been born and raised in Eastbourne, I moved to Brighton in my mid twenties because it offered a more diverse range of cultural activities, and is generally more open-minded and tolerant than its nearest rival resort; but there are drawbacks to living in such a popular and 'trendy' destination. We rarely venture down to the seafront in the summer months, wary of the heaving crowds and rowdy daytrippers; whereas in Eastbourne we were able to wander along the prom in relative peace. Down at the elegant Holywell end of the beach on Saturday morning, there was nobody about but a few eldery sunbathers and the occasional dog-walker, as we strolled right down to the cliffs, basking in glorious sunshine all the way. I only wish I'd packed my bikini - the sea looked so inviting. Our intended lunch destination, The Ship in Meads, had a 'no dogs' policy, so we ended up across the road at the Black Cat Café for a perfectly pleasant sandwich instead.
After dropping Pascha the dog back at Mum's, we ventured into the town centre, partly just to see what was new, but mainly with the legendary Camilla's bookshop in our sites. I used to spend hours in this place as a book-hungry teenager, then later as a penniless undergraduate looking for cheap textbooks, and am happy to see that despite the increasingly ramshackle interior, it is still going strong. I bought myself a selection of paperback novels - including original orange Penguin editions of The Severed Head by Iris Murdoch and The Echoing Grove by Rosamond Lehmann - for our upcoming trip to Hungary and Croatia; while Ant browsed the military history section looking for some obscure tome.
I managed to drag him away on the promise of an ice-cream at Thayers, where we also met up with my sister, her boyfriend and their delightful new baby Nathaniel (who arrived nearly two weeks late on Friday 5th, in case you were wondering) for a ceremonious scoop (or in Ant's case, two) in honour of the new addition to the clan. We've been going to Thayers since I can remember - it was originally called Dayvilles and has always sold an amazing selection of flavours. My favourite (and my sister's) as a child was the now near-mythical 'Daiquiri Ice' - sadly no longer available, though still much talked about, and doubtless responsible for my subsequent penchant for cocktails. Despite the disappearance of certain retro flavours, the decor and furniture has hardly changed since the 70s, and the same jolly guy has been running it as Thayers for the last 15 years or more. Rather sweetly, he always remembers me, even though my visits these days are few and far between. I've yet to discover a comparable old-fashioned dedicated ice-cream parlour in Brighton - if there is one, someone please tell me!
On Saturday night we dropped in to my old local, and setting for a many a rites-of-passage, The Marine, for a quick drink before dinner. After a brief speculative wander, we ended up at what has lately taken over from good old Solo Pasta as Eastbourne's most popular and reliable Italian restaurant, Pomodoro e Mozzarella. The place was buzzing with birthdays and hen-nights, but nothing too disruptive, and the service was excellent considering. I chose a simple spaghetti and sun-dried tomato dish, while Ant went for a more indulgent calzone - the biggest I have ever seen! It was the size of my head, I'm not kidding! Amazingly, he still had room for dessert (a Tiramisu-style ice-cream sundae), though was happy for me to help him out.
On Sunday we took to the Downs with the dog for a circular walk from Butts Brow via Jevington, stopping at The Eight Bells for a cup of tea (it was too early for lunch) half way, and marvelling at the incredible panoramic views on the way back. A final weekend indulgence was cream tea at the Pavilion tearooms, where we sat reflecting on what had been a wonderfully relaxing weekend, and complimenting Eastbourne on its previously unappreciated virtues. I'm not quite ready to consider moving back there just yet, but would certainly recommend it as a haven for anyone wanting to escape the seemingly endless cycle of hedonism and wanton-eccentricity that tends to define weekends in Brighton. It was especially nice for me to be in the comforting surrounds of the familial abode, but without the usual chores and errands of a weekend at home hanging over my head. I came back feeling utterly refreshed and revived, resolving to spend more time re-acquainting myself with the place I once called home.