The last time I visited the Santa Monica Pier in sunny southern California, it was pouring with rain so I suppose it was only justified that my visit to the Brighton Pier in Sussex, England, should be equally soggy.
Of course, where I live in the Los Angeles area you are never really prepared for the wet stuff, and when it does fall from the sky you can never totally accept that it is raining. In England, you expect rain and give thanks when the sun is shining.
But on this day I was prepared. For several years now I have visualized myself eating fish ‘n chips in the rain on Brighton Beach as a present to myself for making it to a certain birthday (it isn’t necessary to go into detail about which one!) I was born in Brighton a few decades ago but had not been back to visit the place in twenty five years.
Before I left LA I bought a ticket online for the hop-on, hop-off double decker bus tour of Brighton and Hove. That way I would be forced to do the tour or waste the money. I arrived in Brighton late morning, and as the weather was already not very welcoming, I was glad I had the ticket. The bus stop was directly across from the train station and I didn’t have to wait too long.
Rather than a live tour guide, the bus had a canned narrative that didn’t always line up with the location we were passing. But I actually learned a lot about the history so I didn’t mind too much. As a tour guide myself, I would have preferred a human being, but whatever…
The first time around (yes, I took the bus tour twice just to make sure I didn’t miss anything) I got off at Brighton Pier. It was already lunchtime and I was ready for those fish ‘n chips. But first I decided to walk the length of the pier to see what my options were.
There are plenty of things to do and see on the pier including restaurants, food and coffee kiosks, sweet shops, an amusement arcade, carnival games, rides and plenty of places to just sit. I enjoyed the informational plaques at intervals along the pier with historical facts.
Before I left LA I had planned to buy some Brighton Rock for a souvenir, but when I looked at it in the shop it gave me an instant toothache. Knowing myself only too well, I could see myself sitting in my hotel room in London breaking my teeth on the stuff instead of packing it in my bag, and it just wasn’t worth it.
Back at the beginning of the pier, I bought my fish ‘n chips. They came in a box, not wrapped up in newspaper like I remembered. A little disappointing but maybe more hygienic… although what’s a little hygiene compared to tradition?
By now the rain was really coming down. I found a dry seat, opened my box and tried my best to capture the moment so I could remember it for the rest of my life. Brighton Pier. Fish ‘n chips. Rain. My birthday. Ah, I was living the dream!
The rain let up for a while. I did the circuit on the bus again back to the pier and got off. I walked along the pier one more time, realizing I would probably never be back. Then I walked along the sea front in search of souvenir stores.
I found one that looked suitable and bought some Brighton trinkets. A metal tray, a shot glass, a tea towel and a fridge magnet. And don’t forget the postcards. Now I could prove to myself that I had actually been in the place of my birth.
As it happens, the sales lady at the shop was planning to visit California in the summer. One of the stops on her tour was Santa Monica. She wasn’t very excited about that. She said, we have a pier here, why do I need to see another pier in Santa Monica? I was almost lost for words but I did my best to explain how she would enjoy the beautiful sandy beaches, the view of the coastline and the city of Santa Monica itself, which is so different from Brighton. Well, what can you do?
I was ready to hop on the bus back to the station and the train to London. I had achieved the number one purpose for my trip to England and the rest was all icing on the cake.
For those of you familiar with Brighton, you may be wondering why I didn’t do a hop-off at the Brighton Pavilion. I decided to forgo another tour of the place as I still have photos and vivid memories of it from my previous visit. I was probably shooting slides in those days, so I must search through my file cabinet in the garage and scan them… yeah, right, I am sure I will take the time to do that… well, maybe. It is a fascinating venue and not to be missed if it is your first visit to Brighton.
I was very, very happy with the way the day had turned out. Originally a friend was supposed to accompany me but he opted out at the last minute. I was actually glad as this was MY day and I am sure anybody else would have been bored silly.
I was the only passenger on the way back to Brighton Station. But I think my smile must have filled the entire bus.
(Photos copyright roslyn m wilkins)