I was really happy to see this sticker a while back:
Long ago, around the turn of the century, the Bob Dobbs symbol was everywhere in Brighton. Inspired by the American Church of the Subgenius, Jim Bob began to use the Dobbs head as a symbol for parties and general mayhem. He gave an excellent talk on this at the Wellebourne Society a few years back.
As with most interesting things going on in Brighton around then, I knew it was happening and never did much about it – although I did enjoy one of their pre-election fundraisers at the Concorde 2.
At one point, in the ’90s, the Brighton [group] had a whole “Bob” storefront… they almost won a local election with “Bob” – Rev. Jim in a Giant-Dobbshead mask — running under the Dobbs Free Party banner; PISS, an air guitar band with Kiss-style Dobbsheaded members, had an actual recording contract… To many [Brighton people], the Dobbshead had always signified only a great party at Jim’s. They’d no idea that there were also dozens of books, CDs and films, assembled by hundreds of Subgenii from every other place in the world BESIDES Brighton. It was an almost Galapagos-like evolutionary situation, whereby a whole species had been cut off from its fellows and had advanced along completely different evolutionary lines.
It’s good to see the Dobbshead turn up about the place again. I may not have been anywhere near this when it happened at the time, but it’s still a sign of the Brighton I love, a place of odd stories and strange societies.
Last night I went for a walk along Brighton seafront. The i360 was dark, as if ashamed of its recent breakdowns. Crueller people, including the BBC, have labelled it ‘faulty tower’. The tide was out, meaning it was possible to walk along the sand. We could have walked among the West Pier ruins, had they not been demolished to make way for the i360.
Further along the seafront the carousel had been erected ready for the summer season.
I don’t know exactly when it went up this year – it’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve been down this end of the seafront.A few years ago, I performed a piece called Two Towns, about how Brighton was two places, one in summer, another in winter. Brighton can be a depressing place in the cold, but it’s glorious on a sunny day. The return of the Carousel means the year has turned (see also: 2010, 2016).
Last weekend, it was bright enough that I got my first sunburn while I was out hiking. The town is filling up with visitors and the clocks have gone forward, giving everyone a couple of hours between work finishing and dark. While there are people out swimming every day of the year here, it will be soon time for the summer swimmers to join them. It’s good to be in Brighton right now.
John has been running The Smallest Bookshop in Brighton for some time, with tiny batches of books available at different locations around the town. The new venue doesn’t really qualify as small, as there are lots of books available. Some really good ones too – the shop sells a number of books that I love. On my first quick visit I replaced a book I previously owned that had been surrendered before my last house move.
(I think that is why Brighton has so many good second hand books available – most people don’t have room to keep many, and have to discard books they would otherwise keep)
John is also owner of Invocations Press, which has published a number of excellent books. Among them is Bookends, John’s “Partial History of the Brighton Book Trade”. It records many much-loved and much-missed shops, and includes a bibliopolyography listing all known Brighton bookshops. It is also a very amusing book, with some brilliant asides – my favourite being the claim that “all books about Brighton are legally obliged to mention [Aleister] Crowley”
4/3/17 – Over on Facebook, John wrote: “Worth mentioning too that it would have been impossible without the help of Mark at Ububooks in the Open Market who shares the majority of the Unit as well. So, a greater range of books than you could shake a stick at. Which you are welcome to do. As long as it’s not muddy and bits don’t fall off it. And you buy something after you’ve had your unusual fun.“
In May 2010 I wrote a post about the Lost Bookshops of Brighton. Visiting Brighton’s bookshops in the 1990s was one of the things that made me fall in love with this town. Over the last 20 years, most of the country’s second hand bookshops have closed, caught between Amazon and a surge in charity shops (who avoid many of the overheads of second-hand bookshops). I miss hunting for second hand books, something I used to spend whole afternoons doing.
Another Brighton bookshop is about to be lost. PS Brighton is covered in 50% discount posters, a ‘To Let’ sign hanging above it. This was an excellent source for cult novels, rock biographies and art books. It’s going to be replaced by another coffee shop.
The day after taking the photograph above, I walked down Trafalgar Street. The shop at the corner of Over Street, most recently a bike shop is being refitted. A ghost-sign has emerged from one of the shop’s former incarnations as the Trafalgar Bookshop. I can no longer remember the specific layout of this place, only that it was one of the places I enjoyed hunting.
Rabbit Island was a bit of Brighton folklore. An overgrown roundabout on the way out of town, you’d sometimes see rabbits peeking out from the undergrowth. The story was that someone had placed a couple of pets there and they’d raised an empire. I’m not sure that makes sense – putting rabbits there rather than the neighbouring park would be ridiculous – but there were definitely a lot of animals trapped in a small area. It was a leporine equivalent of the TV show Lost.
Earlier this year, the council cut back the vegetation on Rabbit Island. There is no cover, and there are no rabbits. All that remains on the island are a few pieces of metal piping. Apparently this was for safety, although the excellent Brighton Bits website points out that the foliage cut down headlight glare. It’s also a poor welcome for visitors to Brighton.
My friend Vicky Matthews asked what I was going to in this year’s Fringe. I thought I’d do a quick blog post in case anyone else is interested.
There are lots of exciting events, although the best one sold out within a few hours. Alan Moore, John Higgs, Daisy Campbell, Shardcore and others are appearing at the Odditorium for Adventures on the Edge of Culture. I’m particularly excited by John Higgs’ piece Ziggy Blackstar and the Art of Becoming. Also, Alan Moore’s first visit to Brighton since who-knows-when is a big deal. .
A couple of years after his prize-winning show, Chris Parkinson returns with Apostrophe’s. I’m going to the showing on the 27th.
Mathilda Gregory’s show My My Immortal is going to be amazing. There’s an interesting backstory to this but, even if you’ve never heard about it, the performance will awesome. Mathilda did part of it at the last Slash Night and killed.
My friend Kaylee is helping produce a show called ‘Am I Fuckable‘. I don’t know much else about it, but what she’s told me makes it sound awesome.
There are a few other events I’m considering but not sure about. I think I’ve booked tickets to a workshop on pilgrimage, but the Fringe booking system is being somewhat inscrutable. And that’s without even considering the usual free events, open houses and so on. May will be a busy month!
The last entry in the Cheeky Walks book – and the longest outside Brighton – is the Perfect Walk in Arundel. I don’t like to read too much of the walk in advance and assumed Arundel meant twittens and history. Instead this was a country walk, with long, scenic stretches beside the river Arun and deep woods. So, probably best not to do it in Winter. Right from the start it was thick with mud, and Lela had decided to wear her trainers instead of hiking boots or wellingtons. But we pressed on – for 8½ miles.
It was pretty good though. Arundel castle appeared and disappeared, providing a regular reference point. There were turkeys. And there was a wooden suspension bridge. And the least level cricket pitch I’ve seen in Sussex. But the mud was incessant and exhausting. The mess around the stiles did make for fun puzzles – which route to take to avoid getting wet feet?
We didn’t have a hope of a table at the George and Dragon in Belpham, but easily found a riverside table at the Black Rabbit. Sadly the food is less wonderful than it was many years ago in 2012 when the guide was written. They don’t do veggie roasts, and the veggie burger was underwhelming. Still, they had a fantastic location and gherkins that looked like worms emerging from the burger.
One of my favourite things about the cheeky walks is you sometimes feel like the directions are about to lead you wrong, but they never do.As the book gets older, the directions become less accurate. In this one, it warns at one point “if you pass the phone box, you have gone too far”. The phone is gone, but the box is now an information resource:
The weather may have been poor, but we saw the first signs of Spring. Maybe not a perfect walk, given the ground underfoot – but it might be worth trying again on a summer’s day:
Last year I decided I to do all the tours in the Cheeky Walks guide. In the end, I managed 9 out of 21, failing do do any of the ones outside Brighton. It was good fun and this year I’m going to actually finish the book. Not least because it is now four years old, and some of the directions are going to fall out of date.
(29/2/16 – Edit – as Tim points out in the comments, the new edition of the book is now out, with everything updated. I will be sticking with my old edition, as I am determined to finish this book)
Last weekend it was the turn of the penultimate Brighton entry, “Sex and the City”. This walk was less epic or curious than some of the others and, going from Brighton Station to Kemptown, was also less scenic. But that’s not to say it wasn’t interesting – I learned that Aubrey Beardsley was a Brighton resident, and that the houses near St Nicholas church were once a home for penitent prostitutes:
There were also some funny asides in the commentary, and certain locations led to interesting anecdotes. A few of the features had gone, such as an alleyway to a sex shop in Ship Street and the moving of the bodycasting shop.
We ended with a drink at the Barley Mow pub, chosen as the ending point because of its ‘sperm table’. It was a good day.
We have nine more walks to go, most of which are far outside Brighton.
Towards the end of last year, I noticed a couple of numbered stones in the pavement around the New England area. I was curious – there had to be a reason why they were there – but I couldn’t work out what they were for.
During a conversation with Jake Spicer, I found out that the stones were part of a circle laid out around by The Brighton School. This circle was their first work and featured stones laid in pavements, on the Level and in private gardens. Apparently this is the “first urban stone circle in England, and probably the world”. (A good description of the work is here). I love this project – it’s playful and connects to some fascinating English traditions.
Last night I was reading Britannia Obscura by Joanne Parker, a book on ‘mapping Britain’s hidden landscapes’. The third chapter of this was about megaliths and includes an interview with Philip Carr-Gomm, who heads the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids.
Carr-Gomm explains how the stone circles are part of a magical landscape that includes some very modern features: “We don’t worry about time… Whether a monument or a hundred years ago or a thousand, what matters is that it’s important to me today. There’s a reality between linear time.” The druids even worship at some ‘fake’ stone circles made in the nineteenth century – so the London Road certainly has the potential for power.
Parker also refers to the tradition that some stone circles could not be counted. She suggests that this is because it is sometimes hard to tell which rocks should be included, but also refers to folklore – a baker who tried to count the Rollright Stones by putting a loaf on each one, only to find they were disappearing. Given that some of London Road’s stones are on private property, they are equally hard to count.
The chapter concludes by questioning what gives stone circles their power. It can’t simple be their scale or the work involved, says Parker, as there are many larger man-made objects. After considering some sort of healing effect, Parker concludes that they put us in touch with a deeper sense of time: “maybe, just maybe, something of what we are and do might endure beyond our scores of years”.