So to Brighton for some sea, shops and cultural enlightenment. Many things have been written about Brighton.. here are just a few of them
“There is a phrase: ‘the sweet smell of success’. And I can only tell you, I’ve had two experiences of that and it just smells like Brighton and oyster bars and things like that.” (Lawrence Olivier)
“Brighton looks as though it is a town helping the police with their enquiries.” (Keith Waterhouse)
“Brighton is still very gay and full of balls.” (Samuel Rogers)
Like Samuel we found Brighton to be still very gay, but more full of second hand record shops than balls.
In fact my slightly daft obsession with collecting second hand vinyl (not valuable or rare vinyl – just second hand) can actually be traced back to a visit to Brighton where I purchased a very battered copy of an early Noel Coward revue – called Cowardly Custard.
First stop in Brighton was Komedia for some jazz in the form of the bearded and very genial Neil Cowley and his smiley trio. Well actually it was Neil and the drummer who did all the smiling whilst the bass player hid behind a fine mop of hair. Neil and Co loved building to a loud crescendo of jazzy ness – which usually involved standing at the piano and making insane body movements to incessantly manic drumming. Meanwhile the bass player plodded on hid behind his hair….It was a great gig …even if Neil’s family insisted in talking through the support act – and even part of the main set itself!!! – families eh?
Anyway here is a clip of Neil on Jools Holland with a tune which is about to feature in some advert…they featured in the video too, until they were unceremoniously cut…I reckon it was the scarves that did it!
Jazz naturally leads to freedom of expression – a freedom we expressed vocally and physically when public transport let us down the following day. First up the tourist information sent us to the wrong bus stop so we missed our first bus. But that’s alright – there will be another one along in …two hours. This time we go to the bus station to make sure we don’t miss it. The bus arrives – we get on – it breaks down. We’re stuck!
It did help we were stuck in Lewes which has several very good second hand and antiquarian bookshops. An early edition Mallory Towers book was purchased and it was hinted (well told actually) that I might like to buy another early edition Mallory for Christmas. So if anyone knows of the whereabouts of one let me know.
We eventually reached our destination – a remote farm house in Sussex, with strong artistic and literary connections, where the inhabitants (and there were many) painted in circles, lived in squares and loved in triangles. Yes you’ve guessed it we’d made our way to Charleston – the former home of Virginia Woolf’s sister Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant and heart of the Bloomsbury group.
It is quite simply an amazing house and has something of the Peter Pan about it. Anything static in the house was painted – quite literally bookshelves, tables, door frames, beds, baths were all turned into art works. Not all good art works admittedly – in fact the styles lunged alarmingly from Picasso to Seurat – but the overall effect is – well – overwhelming. And, apparently, anything that moved was made love to!
And if the art doesn’t get you then the characters and their various stories will. The cast list reads something like this:-
· Vanessa, an artist, who is in love with
· Duncan, an artist and gay man
· Various male lovers of Duncan
· Clive, Vanessa’s estranged husband
· Virginia, Vanessa’s manic depressive sister
· Maynard Keynes – the economist and part founder of the Arts Council. If the media are anything to go by he is the other voice of recession (the other one being BBC man Robert Preston…obviously!)
· Vanessa’s children..by Clive and Duncan (though Duncan’s child thought she was Clive’s – so much for the Bloomsbury school of honesty!)
· Various visitors – some welcome, some not so!
An extraordinary place, an extraordinary story – full of surprises. In fact the only thing that wasn’t surprising was the bus back – it was over an hour late.
Thankfully the extraordinary vegetarian restaurant Terre a Terre warmed us up – simply exquisite food.
Our last day was a cultural feast. First up we went to the Duke of Yorks. I wanted to go because of the Wolverton Cinema Project. The Duke of Yorks is a 1910 cinema, now operated by Picturehouse cinemas. Like Wolverton the Dukes is one large cinema with a balcony. Whilst Wolverton Palace does have this quite extraordinary atmosphere when you walk in in day light its difficult to know if when the lights go down if all rooms loose their atmosphere.
We went to see a matinee screening of Philippe Claudel’s I’ve Loved You So Long staring Kristin Scott Thomas. Now I’m prone to the odd snooze moment in the cinema (most recently Tropic Thunder hit the ZZzzzzzzz button for me) but there was no chance in this film. Completely riveting from beginning to end – first because you wanted to know where Juliette has been and then as you try to understand. The conclusion is both harrowing and uplifting.
From one reclusive character to another – we headed from Brighton to London to catch Kenneth Brannagh perfecting his penchant for crumpling in Ivanov, an early Chekhov (often missed out of his anthologies). Its essentially a study of depression – though at the time Chekhov wrote it such an illness would not have been recognised. But this was a version by Tom Stoppard so lines are blurred and the piece is all the stronger for it. A man who seems to have everything is brought to his knees by circumstance and no one around him understands the depth of his despair. One minute he’s fine (or seems to be) but at the smallest cue he flips into a madness which echoes that of Hamlet. It swings violently from melo drama to being horribly accurate – it makes for riveting, edge of the seat theatre. And Ken was as good as the reviewers said he was.