blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Brighton Rock world

Written on 4th Feb, 2016

"That clock's always right,"
the man said. "It doesn't 
stand for phoney alibis."
"The tide ...washed against the piles of the Palace pier."
I have been rereading Graham Greene's novel Brighton Rock of 1938, which I picked up in a bookshop in Hove on our first day there, this week, and have subsequently devoured. (I finished reading it on the train to Reading tonight.) Not much has changed since the days of "Kolley Kibber" and his criminal associates. Brighton is still London-by-Sea, sleazily old-fashioned, perhaps sleazier than ever. It reminded me of some of the older beachside suburbs of Sydney. The pier was opened in 1899; the little stalls on it still sell cockles, whelks, toffee apples, candy floss (in a bag or on a stick). In the gypsy caravan, painted green, fortunes are still told. The fairground at the end of the pier has a merry-go-round, with one of the horses symbolically named Grace, and there's a rickety helter-skelter with the paint peeling off. The Victorian aquarium on the front is preserved for its original purpose. As you walk up the hill to the station on Queen Street you pass pawn and antique shops, Ladbrokes betting shops, shoe repair shops and money lenders. The Metropole Hotel stands proudly next to The Grand, still in competition with it. You can order teas at the Royal Albion, as Greene did, but not before 11am, and gaze out through the large dirty wet bay windows, hung with rather scruffy drapes, from its lounge. Buses still trundle up the hill to the Kemp Town racecourse. Between the arches below Kings Road, they offer bike repairs, fishing boat repairs, Tarot readings and other Old Time Amusements, including a hall of distorting mirrors, but these outlets are mostly boarded up for the duration of the off-season, including the Brighton Rock stall where they murdered Hale in the book. They left his body to be discovered in a shelter on the prom near Hove, you know; the shelters are still there too, in a spaced out row.

"... he got down onto the beach where he was more alone, the dry
seaweed left by last winter's gales cracking under his shoes."

"He came up the parade cautiously, from the Hove end, from the
glass shelter where Hale's body had been set ..."

"You could be saved between the stirrup and the ground ..."

"... to the little covered arcade where the cheap shops stood
between the sea and the stone wall, selling Brighton rock."

"They were drinking cocktails
[at] the Grand ..."
Maybe it was because I was so immersed in Greene's novel that I didn't much notice many 21st century additions to Brighton; I deliberately walked around looking for the things described in his book. A new eyesore makes its presence felt, though, the concrete pole that later this year will support the revolving observation station 400ft above ground, just outside the big hotels. It is topped by a red light after dark and clashes rather with the regency terraces  round the square in Hove, newly painted yellow, but not with the ferris wheel on the other side of the pier. The West Pier is just a rusty skeleton now, a vivid momento mori of all endeavours and fashions. The gales we experienced on our last visit in 2014 had washed away its last link with the shore.

It was windy this time too, though not so extremely. The waves looked more under control though they had thrown the pebbles a good distance up the shore just before our arrival on Monday. On Tuesday evening we met Hyder, Lea, David and Margaret in the foyer of The Grand, and once again had a very congenial supper with them at the Café Rouge in the Lanes where I'm afraid our merriment may have disturbed some of the other diners. On Thursday I treated myself to a plate of fish and chips elegantly presented in the glasshouse on the pier, the Palm Court (with real palms).

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