London and Brighton: A Fam-Jam Adventure

As with all things involving my family, music is important. So, this post has a soundtrack.

Act one: The Family Arrives in London

Song:  London Skies, Jamie Cullum

Every year my fam-jam does a family vacation in the first week of July. Usually its a bit of a struggle to figure out where to go–too expensive, too far, not able to be done in a week and a half, or no one but my dad wants to go there (yes, I’m talking about you Saskatchewan). This year my move to London kind of decided it for us. Since I wasn’t sure about whether I could get time off, the Fam opted to come here for vacation. This choice was odd in itself because my dad usually hard lines against going back to places we have already been. But there they were, wandering of a plane at London Heathrow looking for me and the coffee I promised to bring along. In exchange for the coffee, they brought me a suitcase of things that I wanted but couldn’t fit in the first time around. Truly Christmas in July.

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London Adventures

 

We did some of the touristy things, like Buckingham and Big Ben. Also some off the radar things like the cemetery in Abney Park. A much more common option for those into that kind of excursion is Highgate Cemetery, however, Abney has all the creep factor and none of the crowds. A bit of a trip out of central London, but really not that bad. Or at least I don’t find it that bad since it’s my usual commute and Abney Park is walking distance from my flat.

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places like Abney Park call for black and white photography

This was an unusual vacation for us since I had to work part of the time and because I was staying at my flat rather than with them. We tried to make it work as best we could, but it was definitely an awkward balance at times. Next year I’ve proposed we meet somewhere in Europe, that way I can actually have a vacation too.

Act Two: Onward to Brighton

Song: Seaside, by the Kooks 

One of the full days that I had with them we used to go to Brighton. Having seen a lot of London by that point, it was time to get out of the city. Other than Ascot, this was the only time I’ve gotten out of London–something I really should do more of. Train out of Victoria Station and an hour later we were at the sea side.

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What passes for a beach in England

Brighton truly uses the term beach in the loosest sense of the word. Though technically a beach in that it meets the criteria of “a place where ocean and land meet with enough space for you to sit and have a drink,” after that it stretches the definition. It’s rock, not sand. And when I say rock, I mean rocks the size of a child’s fist. It’s really cold too. I wore a sweater the whole time and the few brave souls who went into the water were wearing full sweatsuits.

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More seagulls than people and all the buildings along the waterfront look about to crumble

For those who are not bat shit crazy enough to go swimming, there is the town of Brighton itself and the pier. Brighton is a strange city, half tacky tourism with a veneer of the nearly abandoned and half actually beautiful city with tons of shops and restaurants.

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The pier can be quite pretty when you selectively photograph it

 

 

 

The pier is part of the strange touristy side. The oldest parts of the pier are Edwardian and beautifully kept up. Layered on top of that is a strange world of neon and fair ground rides. I think it may be more fun when you are either five years old or drunk. Both of which I pretty sure are the best ways to do Brighton.

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The Royal Pavilion, designed for the Price Regent who liked a good party in Brighton

We didn’t see the other side of Brighton until we were trying to find a place for dinner. Heading out from the Royal Pavilion (proof that having money does not equal having taste or good judgment), we found ourselves in a network of beautiful little streets full of boutiques, restaurants and bars. It was the kind of place you want to sit out on the patio (assuming the weather is actually decent that day) and have a coffee or ice cream. This is more what you want out of a tourist town, but not actually what I expected to find in Brighton–a town half of which looks post-apocalyptic. Once again proving that when we just slow down and give a place a chance, amazing things can be found.

Act Three: In Search of Quadrophenia

Song: Love, Reign O’er Me, The Who

My father and brother are huge fans of The Who’s Quadrophenia album and film. We could not go to Brighton without trying to find a couple places that were from the film. PS, if you have neither watched the film or heard the album, you really really should.

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The hotel where Ace-Face (played by Sting) works as a bell boy in the film Quadrophenia 

Our first find was The Grand Hotel where Sting’s character works as a bell boy. Sadly not still in the same uniforms, the current bell boys were actually really friendly and let us have a picture with them. There has been remodeling done the the front facade, but the spot where Sting parks his bike is still there.

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Our second stop was to the cliffs where the film ends with a scooter (and debatably the hero) going over the edge. There is a bus that runs from the city of Brighton down along the coast. We didn’t go all the way down to Beachy Head where the scene was actually shot, but stopped in at Seven Sisters County Park instead. This is a start point for a series of trails that run along the white chalk cliffs.

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Ridiculously gorgeous. Pastoral to the point that there were actual pastures with actual sheep that you could actually walk through. As we didn’t have a lot of time there (a reality when you can’t get everyone out of the hotel and to the train station until almost noon), we opted for a divide a conquer method. My mother and I took the beach tail and my father and brother went up to the top of the cliffs. We would meet later at the cows to compare photos.

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I think we were the ones who won in terms of views. With the tide out were were able to get far enough back to see down the line of the cliffs and at the same time get close enough to really feel the scale of the rock above you. However knowing that the trail is running above does make you wish for a hard hat. Thoughts of what would happen if someone up top decided to chuck a rock over the edge make you want to stand well back. Apparently my father had been thinking about doing just that and didn’t realize how bad the idea was until later when he saw us walking down below.

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It would have been nice to spend more time out there, but with the light fading we needed to make our way back to Brighton and eventually back to London.

A week passes quickly and before we all knew it, it was time to make the long trek back to Heathrow and from my family to go back to Canada. I had to also go back to work and back to my regular life here in London.

Fade music; Fade to black; The End

 

 

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