The fate of Rabbit Island

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BN1 Game card by Paul Stapleton

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.

Brighton Fringe Festival Highlights 2016

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. .

Some of the other events I’m looking forward to:

  • There are three other Odditorium events: Rupert Sheldrake, Everett True, and Boing Boom Tschak, a night devoted to Kraftwerk. I’ve bought tickets to all of these.
  • 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!

Cheeky Walk: A Perfect Walk

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?

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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.

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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:

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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:

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Back to the Cheeky Walks: Sex and the City

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)

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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:

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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.

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We have nine more walks to go, most of which are far outside Brighton.

The Power of London Road’s Stone Circle

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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”.

The ‘South Lanes Burger King’ Petition

I missed the fuss about the recent petition against a new Burger King in Brighton’s Lanes – the only post I saw on facebook simply questioned the petition’s reference to the ‘South Lanes’ (now corrected). But it looks as if there is a planning request for “Installation of 3no. air conditioning units, 2no. chiller and freezer condenser units and other associated alterations.” at Clarendon Mansions, evidently for a new Burger King.

I’m not a fan of burger restaurants that aren’t Grubbs, and haven’t set foot in a Burger King for about a decade. Even so, this petition made me uncomfortable. And that’s not just snark about the misnaming of the Lanes (although, as one signer suggested, “if we’re concerned with the history of the area let’s get its name right”).

  • Why did the petition only go up just before the deadline? The petition’s creator implies that the annoucement was delayed to prevent protest. Is this the case? I assume there is some sort of standard consulation period. Was this really not followed?
  • Are the “independent Burger provisioners … already resident around the street serving up far better nom noms?” really competing with a Burger King? Maybe people who don’t use words like nom-noms have different requirements? Some people genuinely prefer visiting a chain they are familiar with.
  • “the move to open more chain shops on East Street signals the beginning of the end on a irreparable slope of genericism, that sees our local elected council try ever so hard to turn our city centre into a carbon copy of every other British city” – Any evidence for this?
  • The petition refers to “proven fake evidence supplied by the police” against the Northern Lights bar. The petition owner needs to publish this proof. And, while there have been some bitter arguments over licensing recently, there have also been some venue owners distorting the facts significantly.
  • Whitbread, who own the lease on the building have left it empty for three years. Is an empty pub really better than an open restaurant?
  • “The council have decided, Brighton’s lovely vibe now needs more corporate sponsors”. Is there any evidence for this claim, given that the planning request was from a private individual?
  • 10,000 signers in 24 hours is impressive. What are the signatories doing about other things that are far bigger problems in our city, like the housing crisis, lack of mental health provision, collapsing seafront infrastructure, parking problems and poor public transport? (And where were they when the petition for a life-size replica of the West Pier was published? Why weren’t there this many objections to the strip club just down the road?)
  • The planing applicant was previously a franchisee of the Aquarium redevelopment, one of the few business to survive there. No question here, just wanted to point out how awkward that area would have looked without a Burger King.

As the Argus points out “The petitioners [sic] concerns may not be considered valid planning objections because the building already has permission to be used as a pub and will not need permission to become a restaurant…”

A lot of the objections are based around the idea that a Burger King would be the ‘wrong sort of development’. For whom? This idea of Brighton as a utopia of independent businesses is one that I love, but it needs a lot more thought than simply rejecting businesses people don’t like – particularly when the same street has a number of chains on it. We need a stronger vision of Brighton than snobbery.

I’m not saying that this restaurant is a good thing, but I am sick of these knee-jerk petitions (particularly ones with this many typos); and I am tired of ill-thought outrage about planning, when there is often a little more to these stories than the things announced on social media.

The i360: Sauron’s Trojan Horse

An artist's impression of the completed i360
An artist’s impression of the completed i360

A week or so back I realised I could see the i360 from my flat. When I mentioned it on Twitter, a friend said that its red light reminded them of the eye of Sauron. And there is something oppressive about the way it overlooks everything.

I’ve written a lot about the i360 over the years (see here and here). I try not to resent the project but given the disruption to the seafront, the decay of the Terraces and the associated development, I really wish it wasn’t going ahead.

Scribe tweeted me a recent celebratory article from the Guardian which talks up the project and its organisers. As the piece points out, the i360 probably will make a profit (see my discussion of the Council’s loan document). The piece goes on to acclaim it as an exciting development, linking it to the Pavilion and the West Pier itself. The article claims that most people are in favour, but there is something bullying about the tone:

It will loom over the seafront, more or less where Brighton meets Hove, and nobody in either town will be able to ignore it… It seems presumptuous to give a quarter of a million people a new symbol that they didn’t ask for, but that is unavoidably what’s happening, which makes the emotional stakes extremely high.

Rachel Clark of the West Pier Trust is quoted as saying that “far more people… are in favour of it than against”, which is fair enough. Most people I’ve met have a weary contempt or make jokes about its ridiculous phallic nature. As to Clark’s claim that the i360 will transform Brighton, “putting it absolutely fairly and squarely back on the map as an exciting, glamorous and daring place to be”? I wasn’t aware the town at any risk of disappearing from the map.

At the same time as the i360 goes up, the old Concorde/Sea-life development remains a ghost town, although there is a new scheme to do something with it. Further East, the ‘artist’s quarter’ near the Concorde 2 is being evacuated as sections of Madeira Terrace are close to collapse. Estimates of the cost of repair are eye-wateringly (fantastically?) high. All the focus on the i360 draws attention away from the very serious neglect of other parts of the seafront.

As much as I resent the i360 for disrupting the flow and calm of a massive area of seafront, I am most concerned about the scale of the associated development. I’d always imagined it being a tower with ticket/waiting area. But there is also a restaurant, as well as a 1000-person conference center. This sounds like a large development, and I find myself wondering if the i360 is little more than a way of redeveloping an area of the seafront. Is there additional development to come? And, if the tower should be removed in the future, will this new development be left behind?

20,000 days on earth

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A month or two back, I saw the Nick Cave documentary, 20,000 Days on Earth. I’m a huge fan of Cave’s music, but I wasn’t really interested in him as portrayed by the film. But it was a great movie, reminding me of My Winnipeg, Guy Maddin’s ‘docu-fantasia’ about the Canadian city.

The film is particularly strange to watch as a Brighton resident. Having Nick Cave move to the city and seeing him about still seems weird – particularly when he’s doing things that seem out-of-character with his artistic persona. The editing of the film makes for some odd geography too. Cave spends much of the film as a sort-of mystic taxi driver, giving lifts to other celebrities. He’ll do things like drive West from the old pier and arrive at the Marina. Zenbullets had similar problems: “Watched (and loved) the Nick Cave film last night. Although as a Brightonian I was distracted wondering where he parks around Brunswick.

(Back in 2004, The Argus had an article on “Rock king Cave” supporting plans to turn the West Pier into a jungle. His friend Doug Leitch was quoted as saying “Nick has this thing about wisteria but I don’t know if it would grow.” Cave was apparently concerned about any pier redevelopment opening the way for developers: “I watched my home town of Melbourne, which was designed on the Brighton model, destroyed in a few years“. It looks as if we will indeed be seeing a redeveloped, commercialised West Pier cultural quarter)

Much of the film is invention. The office Cave uses is, apparently, a set; the heavily-staffed archives of Cave’s life are a means of interviewing without a tedious question/answer format. The film’s makers said in interview that the movie was a fiction that aimed to produce deeper truths. At one point,Cave says about his songs, “It’s a world I’m creating… one where god actually exists,” and the film creates an interesting world around Brighton.

(The sort of imaginary worlds Nick Cave talks about are called paracosms, and there’s a lovely article on them in the NYT: “It’s a paradox that the artists who have the widest global purchase are also the ones who have created the most local and distinctive story landscapes“. One of Cave’s most peculiar works is Bunny Munro, a story set around the outskirts of Brighton. I never expected a character of his to utter the words “Is Newhaven a nice place, Dad?“)

Asked about why he is in Brighton, Cave replies that he used to visit from London. “It was always cold and it was always raining [but] you’ve got to drop anchor somewhere“. Nick Cave has an obsessive love of weather. As an Australian, he found himself upset by the “relentless miserable weather that England has”. Keeping weather diaries was a way of taking control of this, since bad weather is better to write about.

The sky in Brighton is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Living by the sea and looking out of my windows, I feel like am part of the weather itself. Sometimes the sky is so blue and the reflection of the sea so dazzling you can’t even look at it; and other times great black thunderheads roll across the ocean… Funnily enough the more I write about the weather the worse it seems to get and the more interesting it becomes and the more it moulds itself to the narrative I have set for it. You know I can control the weather with my moods. I just can’t control my moods.

(It was also funny to hear that Cave uses a similar writing technique to me: “Then you send in a clown on a tricycle. If that doesn’t do it, you shoot the clown“)

Twenty years ago today…

It’s exactly 20 years since I moved to Brighton. I’d grown up nearby and the idea of attending university here was irresistible. As it turned out, uni wasn’t much fun but, on the whole, this town has been good to me.

Brighton has changed a lot over twenty years. Most of the bookshops have gone, the pubs have smartened up, and the cost of living has soared (not buying a flat back in 1999 doesn’t look all that smart now). But it’s still home, and I can’t imagine being anywhere else.

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I suspect the younger me would be disappointed with how I’ve turned out. But that’s all right: younger me had unrealistic expectations and very little experience of the real world. Personally I’m very happy with my life right now – and looking forward to another twenty years in Brighton.