I had first visited Brighton a couple of years ago for work and James joined me for a day or so after the conference. We had both felt it warranted a second visit and booked this trip last autumn. It turned out to be a good time to be heading south rather than to Scotland with wintry weather blocking roads up there. On the day we arrived the University of Sussex were holding a graduation ceremony in the theatre near our hotel. There were many Chinese families taking photographs along the sea front. We did get a couple of breaks in the rain for a bracing walk on the mainly pebble beach in the late afternoon where the supports and the remains of the old West Pier are.
We spent some time wandering around the lanes where there are some chain stores but also many independent shops including some very quirky ones. One thing I did notice was that people we encountered in the hotel, cafes and shops were very friendly, unlike some other southern cities I have visited. Several years ago I stayed with a friend in Southampton in December and while she was at the university, I went into town to do some Christmas shopping. The only person who said anything more to me than the bare minimum to carry out the transaction was the Big Issue seller who was from Manchester.
Having visited the pavilion on our last trip, this time we explored the Museum and Art Gallery. It has a number of permanent galleries including one on 20th century furniture and art.
I was particularly struck by this lift compartment installed in Selfridges on Oxford Street, London in 1929. Designed by a French artist, Edgar Brandt and entitled ‘Les Cignones (storks) d’Alsace’ they remained in place until 1971 when they were removed because of new fire regulations.
There was a gallery devoted to Brighton in the 20th century with displays of mods and rockers who clashed on the seafront in 1964.
Other galleries contained their pottery, china and fine art collections, John Pipers aquatints of Brighton, performance and toys, youth projects in Brighton with youngsters from different countries exploring their culture and traditional costume including New Ireland, Myanmar, Peru, Canada and Alaska and Mali. There is also a collection of ancient Egyptian artefacts and the Museum of Transology.
All too soon it was time to head for home. Had it been drier I would have liked to walk the Undercliff Path which heads east for 3km and also to explore the huge amount of street art in the city including a Banksy.
We drove to the station for an early train while it was still dark. Some people still had their Christmas lights on, visible through the mist hanging in the fields. Euston and the Royal Society of Medicine where we were staying were very quiet. The main reason for coming down so early in the year was to see the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at the Natural History Museum but I had booked that for the Monday in the hope it would be quieter. This turned out have been a good idea as the woman on the desk said that it had been full over the weekend. The museum is a wonderful building with the obligatory dinosaur hanging in the main gallery.
You could spend hours looking at all the exhibits but we confined ourselves to the photographs which were outstanding.
Oxford Street still had its lights up, the same ones that I photographed a few years ago but not all were lit.
We found some bargains in the sales although James’s search for a particular style and colour of sweater proved unfruitful until the last afternoon. Another interesting find was that Waterstones in Piccadilly has a floor of Russian books. I had only on Friday morning put a stressed Russian translation of Dostoevsky’s ‘Crime and Punishment’ on the bookshop internet sales site which I thought was a little unusual for us. Having done our little bit to help the economy, we spotted Joe Lynam and a BBC film crew setting up to report next to House of Fraser presumably on seasonal spending. Just before our evening meal in a local restaurant we had a drink in the Cock and Lion pub in Wigmore Street. The walls are covered with photographs of Edwardian London. James however, was a little more interested in the live sport they show.
James wanted to look at the market in Camden Passage. We had coffee in a boulangerie where frangipane tarts decorated with crowns for on sale for Epiphany. The bakery across the road had to stress that it was an English one. Only in Islington do you find a gluten-free bakery shop and the charity shops very few clothes in sizes above a women’s 10.
Later, en route down Regent Street to Liberty we passed the Canada Goose shop which opened its UK flagship store in November 2017. Then, there had been large crowds of animal rights activists with claims that coyotes and geese are mistreated to make the brand’s products. They have been accused of producing parkas with trims made from coyote fur. PETA claim the coyotes are caught in the wild in steel traps. On the day we passed by however, there was only one man demonstrating. In Chinatown where we ate on our last evening, the protest was about banning live organ harvesting from Falun Gong practitioners. The RSM had an exhibition entitled ‘Women and their olive trees’. The paintings were produced by an art class in Israel of 35 women aged 17-80 from Lithuania, Umm al-Fahad, Tiberias, Romania, Nazareth, Isfaahan, Argentina and the Caucasus who were from a variety of religious and backgrounds.
The exhibition has travelled throughout Europe and is due to travel around the UK. All too soon it was time to return to the station and I was coming down with a virus so needed the comfort of home for a while.
During our journey to Edinburgh just after Christmas, the radio was reporting snow, ice, blocked roads and closed airports elsewhere but northwest England and southern Scotland were bathed in winter sunshine. Not long after we joined the M6, a line of vintage tractors crossed a bridge over the motorway, presumably heading to some tractor fest event. Wildlife spotted on the journey included two buzzards perched on fence posts, mute swans on the River Eden and a roe deer just behind the crash barrier. There were several skeins of geese in the blue sky and snow on the Cumbrian peaks. Our only delay was an accident on the M74 before we were driving on the A701 through snowy landscapes.
In Moffat the ram was still wearing his Remembrance Day poppies.
There was 6-9 inches of snow all around and the hill sheep were digging holes to find grass. In Penicuik, children were sledging down the hill opposite the barracks. Unsurprisingly there was less snow in the city although there was a snow shower the following day while we were shopping and the children next door were building a snowman when we returned. It stayed dry later and which was a blessing as I had booked us to see the Botanic Gardens’ Christmas light & music display which we had never been to before. It runs every year in December.
The remainder of our time was spent catching up with relatives and friends and a lunch and football match for James on his birthday. I had pondered trying to get some photographs of the torchlight procession which takes place on the 30th but it started to rain heavily just as I got back to the flat so I gave up that idea. Storm Dylan arrived on the 31st and at one point Princes Street was closed to pedestrians as some staging had collapsed. I decided not to go up the hill to photograph the midnight fireworks as the wind was still very strong and I had visions of slipping down the hill in the mud with my camera & tripod. We did see some of the earlier evening fireworks on the way to and from the Candlelit Concert in St Giles Cathedral. It was performed by their choir and Camerata and organist and included Handel’s Dixit Dominus and Bach’s Mass in F, both of which I have sung before and Handel’s Organ Concerto Op 4 No 2 in Bflat. Despite being described as candlelit, there were only a few candles at the front. I must return and have a look round the cathedral at some point as it has seen a lot of history. We decided to stay in on our return and saw the New Year in very quietly. Back home we discovered that the cellar pump had failed and it was flooded but managed to it going again before the storm due to hit us tonight deposits even more water on us.