My first trip to Brighton was booked and planned in a reckless haze of lastminute.com and Trainline. No, I did not mind spending 100 Pounds on a hotel room if it meant that I could take a train through the countryside and listen to The Shins, whilst pretending it was 2012. Ever since my first trip to England way back in 2012, I’d had this inextricable association between The Shins and the English countryside. I spent some of the happiest days of my life driving around England listening to the lonely laments of this melancholy band. I was happier then with no mindset. But that’s not the point.
Let me start out by saying that I had never been so unprepared for a trip in my life - I’d barely taken a glance at Google’s directions from the train station to the hotel, and I’d not even bothered to search for things to do in Brighton. It was time to be impulsive, and this was about as impulsive as things got.
Of course I got to Victoria station an hour early (hey, I said impulsive, not idiotic), and scoped out where our train was departing from, whilst miss Catherine raced across town to make it in the nick of time. “OMG, friend, I thought I wasn’t going to make it - you would have killed me!” I sure would have.
The National Rail train was almost empty, except for two girls sipping something that looked like chocolate milk, but definitely was not. We watched the countryside speed by outside the windows, and I almost felt as though some of my enthusiasm for England was returning. What am I saying - it was definitely returning … within 45 minutes I was positively squealing about the adorable little houses, my voice approaching dangerously inhuman levels.
We stepped off the train in Brighton, and I breathed in the familiar smell of sea air - something I’d not experienced since January. The quaint streets of the town were abuzz with bank holiday weekend tourists, bustling through the shops and eateries. The magnetic pull of the ocean drew us towards it, and we managed to find the seafront without even using a map. D’you want to go to the seaside? The Kooks’ song begins to play incessantly in my head, and continues for the rest of the weekend.
Although neither of us are big fans of fish (or ‘fush’, as we Durbanites apparently say), there are certain traditions that simply need to be observed at the seaside, so we popped into the nearest fish and chip shop, and proceeded to wolf down a healthy portion of the stuff - of course slathered in a flavourful mix of ketchup, vinegar and enough salt to send my blood pressure through the roof by the time I’m 30.
Our hotel is just a stroll from the famous Brighton Pier, and is the cutest, quaintest little thing I have seen in my life. Strawberry Fields. As if I needed another song stuck in my head for the weekend. Or, well, forever. After cup of tea, we feel revitalised, and ready to take on the town.
And so we headed for Be At One bar and seated ourselves to prepare for the wonder that is a peanut butter cocktail. But this particular one was made with Reece’s Pieces are Bourbon, and let me tell you - The Killers were right all along. Bourbon needs to be left on the shelf, and only consumed in situations equal to or greater than you planning the demise of your girlfriend, Jenny. It got better as we got further along though, and by the time we had enough Bourbon in our bodies, it was really quite pleasant. We cleansed our pallets with another gem, the Candy Pants, and then headed back to the hotel room, but not before a pit stop at Tescos for chocolate, and another at a local pizza restaurant for a takeaway. We drifted into a happy slumber, to awake the next morning to a slight drizzle and chill in the air, but after spending a winter in London, I was not to be deterred!
We headed out for a buffet breakfast, complete with a range of teas, pancakes, nutella, bacons, sausages and yoghurt - though none of the famous brown sauce. I watched the rain fall on the window pane opposite the our table, and reflected on how beautiful the view of the pier must be from this spot in the summer. And speaking of the pier…
I’d never seen anything quite like the massive structure that sits in the sea in this tiny English town. No, this isn’t like KZN’s own Margate pier, which you’ll find in varying states of decay, and filled with ‘fisherman’ in varying states of vaalie. This pier is filled with cute food stalls, arcades, viewpoints, and right at the end - a funfair.
Ah, rollercoasters. We couldn’t help ourselves, and boarded the biggest one, light drizzle spattering on our faces, and already frozen fingers locking tightly around the safety rails. Rollercoasters - of course - always seem like a good idea until you’re hanging 50m above the Atlantic Ocean, praying to Dave Grohl that everything will be alright - the likelihood of the Brighton Pier, collapsing at this very moment are slim, right? Right? I shut my eyes tight and told myself that if I could survive Ratanga Junction’s ‘Cobra’, this thing was child’s play.
All rollercoastered out, we hit the streets again, wandering through the town in search of a market, and getting waylaid for hours in the cute shops hidden away down the alleyways. We eventually landed in a tea shop called the Mock Turtle, where I spent a good half hour trying to remember what a ‘mock turtle’ was, and decide whether or not the guy at the table next to me was a member of some obscure rock band. The Mock Turtle (named after a character from Alice in Wonderland, ha!) took ‘quaint’ to a new level - looking like a cross between a bakery and the living room of an sweet, little old lady from the early 1900s. The scones were excellent.
Our final day dawned bright and sunny - the clouds had evaporated, and although the mercury was only peaking at 11 degrees, it was pleasant to walk along the beach (in long pants and coats, of course). Imagine the surprise of a Durban girl to discover that the beach here was composed not of soft, fine sand, but rather of layers and layers of rounded, polished rocks. But somehow this strange beach has its own beauty, one I can’t comprehend fully. The only thing I know is that I never want to leave. It’s the first time I’ve ever been reluctant to get back to London. The Kooks were right - I fell in love on the seaside, though it wasn’t with a person, it was with England. I fell in love with the country all over again.
After a beautiful weekend of friendship bonding, we got on the train home, where I sat back with my iPod and my ‘Best of The Shins’ playlist. This was what I’d been dreaming of doing for three years, and now I was doing it.