The Brighton Game

There are a lot of things I’ve missed in Brighton through laziness, shyness or just not knowing how to say “yes, and!” to opportunities: magazines I should have tried writing for, famous people I never met, urbex adventures, the Church of the Subgenius etc… But the thing I most regret is never playing The Brighton Game.

The Brighton Game was a weird mix of treasure hunt and I-spy book. When you joined, you were sent a catalogue of missions. These ranged from simple (“gamble £5 on the pier”) to difficult (“be photographed in the mayor’s chain”) to the dubious (“barbecue a seagull”). You wrote in to the game-master with proof of any tasks that you’d completed and every six weeks you were sent a newsletter containing the latest scores, other player’s responses and new missions.

The game apparently started in 1991, and a lot of Brighton’s weirdness in the 90s can be traced back to it. Playing wasn’t cheap but, really, I should have found the money. I don’t know exactly the details of how it ended but I know that it wasn’t good, involving a viking burial near Saltdean that got the authorities involved. The players and the organisers kept a low profile after that. You occasionally find traces of the game – I saw an update letter for sale in a junk shop; and someone once showed me the rulebook, but said it was too precious for me to take it away to photocopy.

I am sad I never got to play The Brighton Game. But now I have the the tools and technical skill to build something similar for myself online. So, I present: Keep Brighton Weird. It’s a web version of the what I imagine the game is like, with some basic ideas inspired by articles I’ve read about San Francisco’s SFZero. It’s currently in alpha (ie it’s playable but  there may be bugs and things that need fixing). I also need to write many more missions, so let me know if you have any suggestions. The name Keep Brighton Weird was inspired by the Keep Portland/Austin Weird campaigns (I wrote about the Keep Brighton Weird slogan back in 2015).

And, if anyone reading this knows where I can get hold of any original mission catalogues, I’d love to include those in the game. But I’ll probably miss out using the challenges that caused so much trouble first time around.

Pilgrimage Maps

Later this month, I will be part of a group of people engaged on a great journey. The full details are yet to be widely revealed, but traces of it have emerged: in Daisy Campbell’s show Pigspurt’s Daughter, in a recent Psychedelic Detectives podcast, in a hashtag. It’s an amazing caper and one of the strangest things I’ve ever been involved in.

The other week I took lunch with a friend and mentioned the trip. He asked my why, and I didn’t have a snappy answer. It’s part of a larger story, one that goes back over fifty years; maybe longer, a lot longer.

A number of things have led me to this moment, but one of the most powerful (a true wampeter) was John Higg’s book on the KLF. I bought the first version of the book, back in December 2012. The story John told amazed me, and I ended up drawing a map of how many of my obsessions were linked through it. Threads could be drawn out to William Burroughs, Abbie Hoffman, Punch & Judy, Stone Circles and the Invisibles. Higgs’ book placed the KLF at the heart of a network of myth, magic and creativity.

A map of interesting things in the John Higgs book

That map now feels like comic-book foreshadowing, like when the Avengers found their future timeline laid out in a map.

As well as John’s KLF books, there were other things leading to the pilgrimage. I saw a crowdfunder for a discordian festival, paid £23, and ended up going along to Festival 23. Rosy began working on her one-person show, part of which is set in CERN, and also refers to David Bowie, whose Blackstar is a touchstone for the pilgrimage. Then there was an event in Brighton organised by David Bramwell, a launch event for Michael Coveney’s book on Ken Campbell.

Threads began to cross too. I got in touch with Cat Vincent after using some of his research in a talk about Internet brown notes. I met Cat for the first time at the launch of John Higg’s second book. Cat would later work with me and the Indelicates on the October Ritual event, where we cursed Brexit. The links go back to my late teenage years, doing a degree in Theoretical Physics. Or to the Invisibles comic book, with its concept of a hypersigil, a work of art that functions as magic.

One of the things I loved about Brighton was how many people I knew with secret identities. Some of them had buried old names with old, unwanted identities. Others had their performance names, which turned their ‘real name’ into a secret identity. I stayed the same, like Rick Jones. But this pilgrimage has brought me an alias.

The periods before and after a pilgrimage are as important as the journey itself. People are drawing together, collaborating on new things (check out Pilgrim Radio), making a new myth. There is a story unfolding.

Brexit Hiking: Who had the better march? (part 4: judgement)

(I tried to write a blog post about the March for Leave, and it’s ended up being about 3,500 words. Also available: part one, part two and part three. But this is the best bit, where I finally get to the point and judge the marches)

Settling the issues that we face as a country through the medium of hiking makes as much sense as anything. Given that Tory MPs have only just received training on what a customs union is, picking whether to leave or remain based on how good each side’s marches were is no less arbitrary than Parliament.

The Put it to the People March took place in London on March 23rd, and involved up to a million people walking through a small area of central London. The March to Leave was a hardier affair, travelling from Sunderland to London over the course of 16th March to 29th March, arriving in London to what was expected to be Brexit day but wasn’t. Both sides have mocked each other, but which one was better?

I am actually the best placed person in the world to answer this question. I’ve lectured on Brexit and hiking; and I’m a pretty keen hiker myself. I might be partisan, but I can promise to be unbiased – hiking is more important to me than the political fate of this nation.

When I attended the March to Leave in Sutton Bonnington, there was serious shade thrown at the March to Remain as being an easy stroll through London. While Remain-Twitter mocked the March to Leave’s smaller numbers, it was never intended to be a mass protest, with a limited capacity of core marchers. And attacks on the charge to the walkers missed the point: £50 was a very fair charge for accomodation and two meals a day, while preventing the march places being taken by spoof sign-ups.

A lot of energy went into mocking the March to Leave. I saw it referred to as the ‘Gammonball Run’, which sounds funny when you first hear it – but then you think about it for a second, and realise it’s a shit pun. The Guardian got some good quotes in their article on the march (“I don’t want my grandchildren being conscripted by an EU army likely led by the Germans.” LOL) but they were never going to be supportive. The march’s entire website was soon copied and rewritten with massive snark by remain campaign Led by Donkeys – a depressing and juvenile contrast to their clever billboard stunts. I do wonder how effective this scorn is, beyond amusing remainers and boosting social media page impressions.

The Leave walk also faced a challenge from nature, with appalling weather, but they kept going. Richard Tice, the man in charge, was quoted in the guardian, “We showed true grit. You softies in the guardian would’ve delayed it a day but we pushed on, we had hundreds out it was amazing.

As if no guardian reader or journalist has ever done a proper hike, right? Richard Tice cannot contemplate his grand act without comparing it to the other side. Rich, please: I read the Guardian, and I’ve kept walking in some really grim conditions. You wouldn’t believe the grit I showed crawling up Pen-y-ghent in a storm. I had a great time, and it never occurred to me to compare it to people I know who plan their walks for more hospitable months of the year.

But there are rules about hiking.

Let’s set aside the things like numbers and distance. My sympathies are with the March to Leave, as far as pedestrian feats goes. But what does it take to say you’ve ‘done’ a hike or a trail? have you ‘done’ the trail if you don’t do it in one go (“through-hiking”)? What if you’re using a baggage service and not carrying your own gear? Are you allowed to get into cars during the hike? If you miss a section through getting lost, do you need to go back to it?

Some people are very firm on these rules. Just look at Wikipedia’s article on through-hiking: Certain thru-hikers, referred to as “purists,” take this emphasis on continuity to obsessive lengths. Some touch or kiss every blaze of white paint along the trail, while others carefully line up their shoes, like Japanese slippers, in the precise spot they entered a lean-to, so as to know exactly where to resume hiking the next day.

But there are other things about hiking than just the walking. On the Pennine Way last year, one of my favourite things was meeting people along the way. We found ourselves drinking with someone who was hiking between jobs, having just finished working for a pro-Brexit think tank. I didn’t feel like ruining a hike by starting a row – some things are more important than political point-scoring. This person arrived at one pub three minutes after they stopped selling food – so I shared some of what I’d ordered. Hanging out with someone I disagree with, who I wouldn’t normally be speaking to, that was a pretty good way to spend an evening. Maybe, what we need when this is all over is a March for Moving Beyond the Brexit Fiasco.

There are rules about hiking – very definite rules. Some people condemned the March to Leave for not walking point-to-point, with buses between sections. But the thing about the rules for hiking is, you pick them for yourself. The big rule is, you should be happy about the hike you’ve done. It’s not a competitive event. Don’t compare your walk to other people’s just walk, breathe, and enjoy the world.

Which is why it’s so weird that the March to Leave is so insistent on comparing itself to the March to Remain. The March for Leave should have been a grand gesture, a celebration of… something. It was self-evidently an interesting and worthwhile project, and the people on that walk obviously thought it was worth doing.

The fact that Richard Tice had to continually defend the March to Leave against the Remain March suggested he has no real confidence in it. Just the same as Leave keeps defending their stupid, shabby and failed project of Brexit, when it’s success ought to be self-evident by this point. The depressing thing about the March to Remain, and the entire Brexit project, is that nobody seems to believe in it. Which turns them both into mindless, pointless fucking slogs.

Tory pop culture and magic metaphors

Once the extension to the Article 50 people is agreed, I should get on and finish my essay on Brexit, Hannan in Spandau. I have about 16,000 words to wrangle, but in the meantime, Cat Vincent asked me about “the Tory use of pop culture magic metaphors”.

I’ve been collecting references to children’s literature and fantasy related to Brexit, and have copied a few of them below. Please let me know of any I’ve missed.

Game of Thrones

Tolkien

  • Daniel Hannan in Conservative Home: What I Learned about the Hobbit From Reading it to My Children: “When the editor of ConservativeHome phones me, he often begins by wryly declaiming some line or other from Tolkien. If I can, I reply with the next line, and so on. He tends to get the better of our exchanges: his knowledge of the text is encyclopaedic.
  • In his book What Next? Hannan compared his years campaigning on Brexit to Galadriel, “fighting the long defeat”.
  • From Aaron Bank’s book The Bad Boys of Brexit, describing his visit to Donald Trump: “we found ourselves walking down Fifth Avenue towards the famous skyscraper which the liberal cry-bullies had officially designated as America’s answer to Barad-dûr.
  • From 2005 in Conservative Home: J R R Tolkien: Lord Of The Rings (Tory Version)

Watership Down

Others

Brexit Hiking: Who had the better march? (part 3)

(This is the third part of a series. The first post discussed the background to the march to leave and the second post described our arrival there.)

On a sunny Sunday morning, having missed the march to remain, my Dad and I popped along to the march to leave. Mainly because it was nearby and we wanted to check it out for ourselves – which was why we were in a car park full of union jacks before breakfast.

Generally, when one sees a lot of union jacks in my hometown, it means the March for England are visiting. But, with two exceptions (see below), the leave march were a pleasant enough group, a great contrast to the facist supporters intimidating people in parliament on Friday evening.

The Leave Bus drew into the car park and started setting up for the march. Once they were ready to leave, Richard Tice, founder of Leave.EU gave a speech from the bus’s upper deck:

“What a wonderful sunny day! Doesn’t the sun shine on the righteous. And we’ve all grown up to believe that the sun shines on democracy. But the truth is, ladies and gentlemen, democracy is under threat in this nation. Dark days lie ahead… tomorrow, MPs are going to try to wrest control of the government agenda… almost like a mini-coup in Westminster… thousands of people marched through a few hundred yards of London yesterday, they didn’t march miles and miles the length of the country… they also don’t believe in democracy… we’re marching for the future of our great nation. We believe in Britain.”

Tice is not the first person to claim that the weather will be better under Brexit (see, for example, Angela Leadsom referring to the “sunlit uplands” ahead of us). Better weather seems as likely as an economic boom, something that used to be raised as a Brexit dividend, but is mentioned less these days. Now, the argument relies on points about democracy, that the referendum decision needs to be enacted at any cost. But a new dimension to the debate is that of hiking and marching, the idea that your belief in democracy can be performed by marching across the country in a sort of magical performance.

Fired up by the speech, the march set off. My Dad and I lingered back so as not to be counted among the supporters. This meant that we got to listen to a man ranting on a loudhailer about “traitor” Anna Soubry. He said that she had lied about being told by the police it was not safe to go home, since she had been in London for the remain march. Soubry is the MP for Broxtowe, in the Nottinghamshire area of London: the man in question was as ill-informed as he was unpleasant. Democracy cannot survive an atmosphere of death threats and hostility, and this rant was not a good look for the march.

It was at the edge of the car-park that we found a small group of remain campaigners. One of them was singing loudly, “They tried to make us leave the EU, I said no, no, no!” This group were zany and wacky maybe, but they looked a lot more fun than the dour plodding of the marchers.

My Dad and I stood by this remain group as we watched the tail-end of the march set off. On the other side of the gates, a posh-voiced man had a loud-hailer, and was ranting poison. He mocked remain as “socialist workers who’d never worked a day in their life”, before telling us to leave the UK if we didn’t like the referendum’s outcome: “You know where the door is”. I could unpack the ironies of this for hours, particularly given that the leave vote is engaged in stripping away many of my rights to free movement. He also made the claim that remain were supported by elite financiers such as George Soros – a nasty anti-semitic conspiracy theory.

A few marchers stayed to argue with the remain side, the debates centering on democracy and fishing rights. The claim that remain was managed by the elites emerged again, which is baffling. I know you are not your job, but it is worth pointing out that Tice is CEO of Quidnet capital, which has about half a billion pounds worth of property under its control.

I chatted a little with the remainers, all of whom had made it to London the day before. “If they’re in your village you can’t just do nothing,” said one. We were interrupted by someone yelling at us about how leave was walking two hundred something miles, and remain had managed just one. Someone shouted back that the person making this claim was in a landrover

A landrover that was heading away from the march.

I think it’s positive that people are debating fisheries policy at 9am on a Sunday morning. And it was good to see that, in contrast to the shocking scenes in London on Friday, there was no need for police in Sutton Bonnington. Just before we left, a man arrived for the leave march and was disappointed to miss it. One of the remain protestors told him not to worry and gave him directions. “They only set off about ten minutes ago. If you hurry you’ll catch them”. This co-operation was the most positive thing I’d seen about Brexit in some time.

(Continue to part 4, where I finally decide which march was better)

Brexit Hiking: Who had the better march? (part 2)

(In the previous post, I discussed some background of the march to leave, and how come I ended up there. Here, I’ll talk a little about my visit to the march itself)

When we arrived at the carpark in Sutton Bonington, a car was parked across the entrance. A man beside it greeted me as we passed: “Hello, mate”. Like all members of the metropolitan liberal elite, I feel nervous when a stranger calls me mate without a bar between us. We continued into the car park, where the March to Leave was gathering.

Welcome to part two of a longer essay in which spend about 2,500 words trying to talk about Brexit – but instead talk self-indulgently about hiking. Having missed the March to Remain in London the day before, my Dad and I were checking out the March to Leave.

I was definitely in the wrong place: I voted remain in the referendum, think article 50 should be revoked, and loathe much of what leave stands for: the dog-whistle racism of some proponents, the childish economics and the mockery of anyone who doesn’t agree with them. Walking into that car-park, I felt like Agent Philip Jeffries walking into the Black Lodge meeting – and we know how well that went.

That charge of racism is incendiary, and many leave voters would protest it. It’s undeniable that there is a racist element to the leave vote (as shown by the 29th March protests in London). Having the renegade leave.eu campaign running allowed leave to have the unsayable said, while standing aside from it. As former-MP Matthew Paris said of Daniel Hannan, “he has ridden a tiger, and knows the tiger he rides”. But I was also aware that many leave campaigners were not racist, talking about democracy and economics instead. I came with as open a mind as possible, while being very cautious about what I would find.

The march had travelled from Sunderland and is due to arrive in London on March 29th, Brexit Day on Earth-Three. It’s been mocked for the fact that it has not walked the full length between points, and the daily route maps had disappeared from the website, making it harder to find the marchers. Emails about the meeting place were sent quite late, with a time of 8am to 10am for gathering, and a stern warning that we were here at our own risk.

Sutton Bonington is a sleepy English village, with attractive cottages and green open spaces. The march was gathered in a small car-park there, with a playground at one end. Standing by the entrance was a lorry with a video screen. This had been hired by pro-Remain group Lions Led By Donkeys,. Nearby stood a man wearing a keffiyeh, with a sign reading ‘Let my people go’, foreshadowing Boris Johnson’s front page Telegraph column, published the following day.

After passing the parked-car barricade, we walked down a short track. Most of the people there were middle-aged men, but everyone seemed friendly enough. People milled around, waiting for things to get going, and talked about how the walk was going and its representation in the media. Some of them mocked the previous day’s march in London, which might have had the crowds, but was slight compared to what they were doing.

Most of the attendees seemed, you know, OK. I mean, as normal as anyone who is too interested about one particular thing, right. If these men are too interested in Brexit, and they like walking, then they are, in a way, my people. We have the same hobby, we just disagree about how it should be followed, right?

A woman arrived in suffragette cosplay, and people photographed and posed with her. One person commented that it was “as if a Page 3 turned up”. I saw a walker with four spare plastic union jacks in his backpack. The woman beside him wore a sweatshirt with a ‘PARIS’ logo, so I’m not certain whether she was leave or remain. I definitely don’t know her dog’s opinion, but expect they were in favour of free movement of pets, rather than the six-month quarantine we used to have. And more foreign dogs means more interesting new friends to sniff.

Looking at the gathering marchers, before the support bus arrived, my strongest feeling was that these people were fighting a losing battle. I couldn’t see the young people pictured on the march the day before. Despite being close to what they wanted, there was no sense of celebration, just gloom and defeat.

I was surprised by the defensiveness in the speeches and conversation: after almost three years, Leave have not made Brexit sound like the default option, even in their own minds. There’s a sort of flop-sweat about the whole thing. Leave might have won the referendum, but they need to “get on with it” because they know that history is against them, and this is the only chance they’ll have. Even so close to victory, the whole thing felt like an imminent defeat.

The saddest thing is, I think, that the people in this car park are going to be disappointed in the long term. As the writer Tom Bolton put it, they are flag-waving while drowning.

Anyway, that’s part 2, and the Brexit bus has not yet arrived at the car park. Continue to part 3, where I’ll talk about speeches, ask which side is being manipulated by elites, and describe a brush with the dark side of leave. I’ll also get on with actually talking about hiking. Maybe.

Brexit Hiking: Who had the better march? (part 1)

We’re not going to settle the leave or remain argument, so let’s talk about who had the better march last weekend.

 

Long after all this is over, school children will write essays on the 2016 referendum: 15 marks for a summary of whose argument was more compelling, making sure to consider the claims of both sides. The marking scheme will call for answers that provide a balanced argument, with the benefit of hindsight.

None of those children will understand how batshit crazy this all feels, and how irreconcilable the two sides are. Leave or remain is not something that can be solved with rational debate. I’m not even sure it matters – the bitter division in the country might actually prove more dangerous than either option, leave or remain.

How much better if we settled this, not with anger, death threats and eventually violence, but through the medium of hiking?

 

I did a bad thing this weekend. I know I was supposed to go to London to march with the million. But I wanted to catch up with family and, you know, I still feel disappointed over the Iraq march. No, not the big one everyone went to, but the next one, in March 2003, after the bombs started dropping, when most of you didn’t bother. So I went to the Midlands instead of to London.

But then I realised that the other march, the leave one, was passing near the Burt family estate, so I decided to pop by to take a look.

James at the wrong march
Cock. I’ve turned up at the wrong march.

I missed the Saturday march, which included an appearance from Nigel Farage cameo (described by my friend DaveP as the Earth-1218 version of Sir Jim Jaspers). The times on the march invite were vague, so we went along later, arriving after the speeches happened and the walkers set off. We drove around looking for the marchers, couldn’t find them, and I realised I was near Sherwood Forest, and eight-year-old me is still disappointed at never having seen the Major Oak, so we went there instead. So that was good.

The Major Oak
The Major Oak

The Remain march took place on March 22nd. It was organised by the People’s Vote and travelled a mile or so through central London. Estimates are that a million people took part, making it one of the largest political protests in British history.

The March to Leave is a cover version of the Jarrow March, travelling from Sunderland to London. It set off on March 16th, aiming to arrive in London on March 29th – orginally planned as Brexit day, now just Friday. A core group of about 75 marchers are joined by local people each day, with speeches as they set off. These core marchers paid £50 through PayPal, and received accommodation as well as food and transfers to the start and end points for each day. This is actually a pretty good deal if you wanted to do a hike.

The March to Leave’s website describes their aims:

It is now clear the Westminster elite are preparing to betray the will of the people over Brexit. To counter this, Leave Means Leave are undertaking a peaceful protest to demonstrate the depth and breadth of popular discontent with the way Brexit has been handled. The UK has a long history of successful popular protests, where the establishment have been forced to deliver much-needed reform by widespread demonstrations of large scale dissatisfaction.

One of the most common arguments given by the leave side is about democracy, and the March to Leave claims that, given the referendum saw the highest turnout in a UK ballot, “Failing to deliver a true Brexit will permanently damage the British people’s faith in democracy.

I am not sure what a true Brexit is, as it was not one of the options on my ballot paper. Any research I do for this essay is unlikely to answer any questions about Brexit. And then there are the associated questions about democracy. Throughout the last two years, we’ve been talking about different ways of deciding the ‘will of the people’. Does a referendum trump MP’s votes? Does a petition cancel out a referendum if it hits the same numbers? Does a political party leader gain their power and authority from the country, their voters, their party members or their MPs?

These are not questions I am qualified to answer. Instead I will stick to my area of expertise. I am quite capable of figuring out which of the two events was the better hike: the ‘Put it to the People’ march, or the ‘March to Leave’?

 

Broadly put: remain had the numbers, leave has the distance. Does a million people walking a single mile trump a couple of hundred people walking a couple of hundred miles?

A lot of people are mocking the March to Leave, claiming they are not doing the hike ‘properly’. ‘Proper hiking’ is something I have strong feelings about. I have watched and occasionally participated in debates about whether it counts if you miss a bit, whether you have to walk to the accommodation, and what needs to be carried. I might not be able to solve the Brexit crisis, but I am qualified to judge the two marches as hikes.

But I’ll stop there for now. Next up, will be my account of my visit to the March to Leave.

 

A story of hyperpedestrianism, and two walks

The random page link on wikipedia is amazing. Sampling the site in this way gives you an idea of the shape of the what’s recorded there, and how odd it can be (there is an a list fictional pigs.  Really, fictional pigs!) And the random pages sometimes offer trailheads to strange explorations and wikiholes.

One recent trail led me to Captain Barclay, who trained the bare-knuckle boxer Tom Cribb; but he is more famous for hyper-pedestrianism. In 1809 he took a bet to walk 1000 miles in 1000 hours, walking a mile each hour. A huge crowd gathered to watch him, and kept getting in the way, almost putting his endeavour at risk. People were so excited about the end of the walk that every available guest room in Newmarket, Cambridge and the vicinity was taken.

In 1864, a woman named Emma Sharp set out to duplicate this feat. I’d not heard of her before, but there is a contrast between her attempt and Captain Barclay’s. She completed the challenge on 29th October. Wikipedia states “[Sharp] rested in the Quarry Gap pub in between walking approximately two mile stints every 90 minutes and completing 14,600 laps of 120 yards over the course of 1000 hours.” And then continues, “It is reported that her food was drugged and people attempted to trip her to prevent her from finishing, for the last two days she carried a pistol to protect herself.”

Wikipedia mentions there was a great deal of money wagered on Sharp, and many accounts so this was why she was harrassed. But this is a story I’d love to know more about – more than can fit into a wikipedia page.

Still seeking the Man in the Iron Mask

There was an excellent article in this month’s Fortean Times, Walking around the World: From the Annals of Human Hyperpedestrianism. This is the first of a pair of articles from Jan Bondeson, and is an excerpt from their book The Lion Boy and other Medical Curiosities.

A few years back, I wrote a chapter in the Odditorium book about a mysterious walker called Harry Bensley. I’ve been obsessed with the story since 1998, when I read about it over breakfast in a Norwich Guesthouse. Over the years I found various English newspapers which described Bensley’s lecture tour in 1908, before he set off. It is claimed that Bensley had almost completed the challenge by 1914, but there is little evidence of him actually making the journey.

Bondeson’s article tells the story of George Matthew Schilling, who was born in Pittsburgh, in 1874. After causing a stir by walking 1000 miles in 21 days, Schilling took another bet and set out on 3rd August 1897 to walk around the world. A boxing-and-theatre impressario had offered a wager of $5,000.

Like Bensley’s challenge, Schilling’s bet had a number of strange conditions, including not being allowed to beg, borrow or spend money. Schilling set off dressed in a suit of newspaper and went from New York to Southern California, where he couldn’t find a ship to carry his dog, causing him to travel yet further to Vancouver. He later travelled Australia, giving talks about his adventures.

By August 1900 Schilling reached Colombo, in what is now Sri Lanka, and reached South Africa in October 1901. Despite an extension due to wars on the way, Schilling lost the bet, and in November 1904 he reached London, giving further lectures around the UK. He remained in Britain for many years, performing stunts to make money. He returned to the US in 1914 and died there in 1920.

The story of Schilling reads like a template for Benson’s adventures, but with more evidence of him actually doing the walk. There are even earlier stories, like a Russian called Greathead, who was bet in a Vancouver club that he could not travel the world without money or luggage. It’s really exciting to learn that Bensley fitted into an ongoing tradition, and a shame I had not found more trace of this myself.

Bondeson’s article is the first of two, and ends with a tantalising mention of “The Masked Walker (who we will meet in a future issue) [who] was a hoaxer who never left England”. Hopefully, Bondeson can settle the story of Harry Bensley.

Some other Brightons

This is not the only Brighton. This is Brighton-1218, Brighton Prime. It’s a nice, safe place to be if you’re a regular person.

Brighton-616 is an exciting one, a world of superheroes; sometimes you see visitors from the Xavier School in Upstate New York, over to visit Braddock Manor to the town’s north. There is Brighton-1705, where a succession of storms wrecked the town – nothing remains, just piles of shingle. Brighton-199999 is made up of the Brightons seen in movies: Quadrophenia and Brighton Rock are real in this universe. In Brighton-54, technology has run wild, but people still aren’t happy. In Brighton-2376 the town has been swamped by the ocean, and amphibious people live among the shells. Brighton-72 is where a local kid became prime minister at the age of 17. Brighton-8311 is populated by anthropomorphic animals – they have mated among themselves and produced chimeras. Brighton-14 is a world of grimdark violence. In Brighton-2149, the dead have risen and everyone has been turned to a zombie; they pace the promenade, no need to work. In Brighton-1602 it is still the Elizabethan age, but as a world of wonders. Brighton-3165 is a world of sentient cars. Brighton-1588 is ruled as an outpost of the American Empire. In Brighton-25, all the men have died from a virus, and women have created a new world. Another virus struck Brighton-2323, but killed no-one – instead their skin turned white, except for lips and noses which became bright red, hair turning green. But an ever-increasing number of the Brightons are like Brighton-11, destroyed by nuclear war, different arrangements of debris. Some were sterilised by fallout from blasts over Newhaven Fort .

So many Brightons, but Brighton-1218 is the safest place to be if you are ordinary.