Friday, December 03, 2010

Ten Years in Brighton: A Retrospective

On Monday I am moving back to Eastbourne, after a decade of living in Brighton. Most people, when I tell them this, look at me in a puzzled way and ask "why would you want to do that?". Or politely lament my departure whilst clearly thinking the same thing. There are many reasons for the move, not least the desire to live in a bigger place with an upstairs and the prohibitively expensive housing market that makes doing this in Brighton impossible. It's also about family and friends, many of whom are there. 

Brighton has been so much fun and I have absolutely loved every moment of living here - even the dramas, fallouts, bust-ups and hangovers. I've met some truly inspirational characters who I hope will be friends for life. I have lived it up and indulged in all the cultural and hedonistic pursuits that this brilliantly bohemian city has to offer. And I don't plan on giving those things up, but I do find myself increasingly craving the peace and quiet of home. 

To be able to walk all the way along the seafront - from the marina to the beautiful Italian gardens at Holywell, even on a Saturday - without having to fight my way through hoardes of holidaymakers, merrymakers and troublemakers. To walk through town without being bombarded by f**king hipsters at every turn. To be able to walk round to Mum's or my sister's and to help out more with my gorgeous nephew, who is growing up so quickly.

As I sit here surrounded by boxes, getting ready to move, I can't help but look back on all the events and happenings of the last ten years in Brighton and all the wonderful things about living here. Here are a few classic memories and Brighton traditions that spring to mind.

New Year's Eve 1999/2000, aka The Millennium Party

Although I wasn't officially living in Brighton at this point, Ant was, and we were in the first heady days of our courtship - the beginning of our Brighton adventure together. Pedants may say that strictly speaking the millennium was the following year, but everyone knows that we partied like it was 1999 in, well, 1999. Both of us had stinking colds that day, but after dosing up on Day Nurse, Red Wine, Cava and some unknown substance scored from a bus driver, we managed to scare the germs out of our bodies and have the night of our lives. After fireworks and other entertainments in Victoria Gardens, we gatecrashed the Hobgoblin festivities via the back door and ended the night with some legendary table dancing (sorry James).

Moulin Rouge Party, 2002

There have been many fabulous theatrical parties over the years, but none  quite compare to the Moulin Rouge party we threw at our first Brighton flat together in Bedford Place, not long after the film had come out. There was Absinthe, debauchery, campery and misbehaviour - well it's not a real party if you haven't thrown someone out by the end of the night. As I handed round a bowl of skittles mixed with M&Ms (a sure fire way to confuse drunkards), I remember someone saying "this is the best party ever". I think they were right.

Big Beach Boutique, 2002 

It was one of the 'were you there?' events that has gone down in Brighton history for both good and bad reasons. 250,000 revellers (twice the population of the city) hit Brighton  beach to catch Norman Cook (aka Fatboy Slim) and friends do their thing. Many had come from out of town and were stranded at the end of the night as public transport struggled to cope. Luckily we only lived a couple of minutes walk from the sea and were able to saunter home easily and provide sanctuary to friends who could not get home. Ant couldn't cope with the crowds and made a bid for freedom before Fatboy Slim's epic finale, but I had a brilliant time bouncing up and down on the pebbles, making friends and chastising boys with whistles. I'm not sure I could cope with such a night these days, but I'll always remember it as the epitome of Brighton hedonism.

"What Noise Does the Tardis Make?" 200?

Ant and I were on a night out, we'd been for dinner at Blind Lemon Alley I think, and were in high spirits. In the tradition of the "did you ever have a poodle?" Eastbourne episode (which is another story entirely), we decided to start asking people in the street to demonstrate the noise that the Tardis makes. Some people just looked at us with puzzled expressions and scuttled past, others gave it a shot, then wandered off red-faced as they reasiesd that it's trickier than you'd think. But one group of guys embraced the challenge with gusto, spontaneously breaking out into a symphony of sounds and accompanying movements that had Ant and me in stitches. It always sticks in my mind as one of those 'very Brighton' happenings.

Kneel Before Ming, 2003, 2004, 2008 & 2009

Of all the Brighton fancy dress get-ups Ant and I have concoted during our time in Brighton, Ant's Ming the Merciless was without doubt the most impressive and frequently revisited. First created for our Bitches & Baddies party at the Sanctuary, it was also trotted out for Halloween later that same year, the Greatest Hits party I had with Neel and as a camped up 'Ging the Merciless' variation for our Spaced Out party. But the first outing was the most memorable, mostly due to the reaction it got when we arrived on-mass for a post-party boogie at the Gap Club. I had arranged guest list for our motley crew of scoundrels and villains, and Ant led the way as we paraded past the queue outside, proclaiming "kneel before Ming" - which everyone did without hesitation. Inside, he continued to steal the show, with some excellent podium dancing and shape-throwing. Only the Ring Wraith falling down the stairs that night was funnier (sorry Mark).

Getting Married, 2004

Our wedding was unconventional in that we didn't spend two years planning it, or a small fortune paying for it. 20 of our nearest and dearest witnessed us tie the knot at Brighton Town Hall, where my mum recited The Owl and the Pussycat and Natalie sang a moving rendition of Let It Be Me, which made even the registrar shed a tear. We had lunch at the (sadly now no more) Strand restaurant and a big party for all our friends in the evening, upstairs at the Freemasons. We didn't hire cars - I walked to the Town Hall along the seafront with Neel fussing with my hair along the way and a trail of assorted family behind me, and walked back with my new husband, getting whoops and cheers from people along the way. The most expensive thing about the day was the Choccywoccydoodah cake, followed I think, by Ant's boots. How very us.

Poppet & Marcel, 2005-2010

I suppose I could have listed 'buying our first home' as a top memory, but truthfully, the most exciting thing about moving into our flat was being able to make it a home to a pair of rescued cats, Poppet and Marcel. And one of the most emotional things about moving out is the feeling of leaving behind Poppet, who we sadly lost earlier this year. In between all the parties and socialising and eating and drinking, my mogs were always here at home to keep me company and keep me grounded. I hope that dear Marcel will not mind too much being an Eastbourne cat.

Pub Quiz, 2005-2010

The tradition of Thursday nights at the Barley Mow is one I shall miss greatly. In our glory days (before Jo got pregnant and Tim moved to Lewes Road), we rocked the quiz on a weekly basis, even sometimes when it was just Ant and me on the team. In the last year or so, the prevalence of smartphones and people blatantly using them to cheat has made it less appealing, but it didn't stop us form going to one final quiz last night. And missing out on victory by half a point. Gah.

La Clique, Brighton Festival 2006

Every Brighton Festival has brought its thrills and merriments, but one year in particular stands out. It was when the Spiegeltent first came to town and was pitched down on the Steine gardens. Damien, Natalie, Ant and I went to see La Clique, where we also bumped into and ended up sitting with Sham and James and their friends. It still stands up as the best cabaret entertainment I've ever seen (and I've seen a lot), not to mention one of the most fun nights out. I wrote about the show here if you want to know exactly why.

Cocktails

A signature feature of Brighton life, and one I'm not sure we'll be able to replicate to the same extent in Eastbourne. Bar Koba and Bar Valentino have been the main sources of our obsession with Cocktails, though there have been plenty of experiments at home, including the notorious Sicilian Martinis evening of which we do not speak. At Koba, the chocolate martini was always a big hit with everyone we took there and Valentino's Bonzo Dog concoction has tipped me over the edge on many a late night session.

I could go on, but these are the sort of things that have made living in Brighton a pleasure and an adventure. If you're reading this and have been one of the people with whom I've shared the ride over the last ten years, thank you. And please leave your own memories of our escapades and special moments in the comments below - I am sure I've forgotten some classic ones.