Back to Brighton

This week, almost a year after I left, I went back to Brighton. I’d deliberately left it this long – I thought that going back too soon after the move might give me ‘buyer’s remorse’ and wanted to be sure I felt settled in my new life before I revisited my old one.

It turned out to be a good decision. Leaving a big enough gap meant that I could enjoy all of the things I loved about Brighton – the sea, the city, my friends – without wondering if I’d made a huge mistake in leaving. Brighton will always have a place in my heart, but it’s no longer my home, and I’m not at all sad about that.

Desperate for a holiday and with the excuse of a pending theatre visit to London – which we’ll come back to – I decided to tag on a couple of days and stay with my friends R&A (and their gorgeous cat who, yeah, I miss more than I miss most other things) and spend a little time in the city.

My timing couldn’t have been better. A few overcast moments aside, the weather was gorgeous – so nice, in fact, that I decided to cancel my theatre trip so I could spend longer in Brighton, hanging out with an old friend from Scotland and her daughter who I haven’t seen in 16 years and who just happened to be in town the same week. Not all my friends were around – which was fine, as I couldn’t have fitted them all into a 3-day trip, especially since 2 of those 3 days were mostly spent on trains – but I managed to squeeze a lot in.

Day 1 I arrived late afternoon, so just chilled in the garden with R&A and the cat, before R cooked one of her magnificent meals.

Day 2 I met my friend M for lunch in Hove, in a restaurant called Billies and styled, with a degree of cheek, after the more famous Brighton institution Bill’s. Not sure why they felt they needed to, since I actually preferred it: we both had a delicious veggie breakfast, served in the style of a hash and smothered in cheese, that made me feel better for all the alcohol I had consumed the night before.

After that, A and I went to see Spider-Man: Far from Home, which I have been dying to see. A and I used to go to all the superhero movies together (R not being a fan), so it was a fun thing to do, and I was glad to get a chance to go back to Duke’s at Komedia, which is one of my favourite cinemas.

We then went to another one of my old stomping grounds, The Plotting Parlour, where we met R for drinks and I revisited one of my old tipples, the chilli and ginger margarita. For dinner, we went to VIP (Very Italian Pizza), a Brighton institution at the bottom of St James Street that serves some of the best pizza in town. (Pro-tip: if you can, sit downstairs – it feels more spacious than the oft-crammed upstairs, and you are less at the mercy of the constant stream of people coming in to collect their takeaway orders).

Best of all? I walked down my old street and didn’t even feel a pang. Though maybe as it was covered in scaffolding and full of workmen – the noisy bane of my existence when I lived there – that helped.

Day 3: My theatre plans abandoned, I had a much more leisurely and relaxing trip than I’d planned. My friend S’s daughter wanted to see the Upside Down House, so we met there. It’s a fun idea, though a fiver seems a little steep to enter what is basically one big selfie set, and it didn’t help that I was slightly hungover and S has vertigo, so neither of us were particularly good at handling the strangely disorientating, sloped interior. Still, we got some fun photos.

We then decided to try Compass Point Eatery. Run by a lovely Anglo-American couple, Compass Point was one of my Kemptown stalwarts when I lived in Brighton, but they have now relocated to nearer the seafront and a short walk from both the Upside Down House and the 306i.

Though it’s much larger inside and out, the place retained much of its quirky charm. Unfortunately by the time we arrived they’d run out of pancakes – the house speciality, and so popular you need to get there early to guarantee you can get them – but we had a very generous lunch anyway, and the staff (much extended from the Kemptown days) were lovey: my friends made plans to return.A wander round the Laines then I was back into London, for a quick drink in Vinoteca with another friend before getting the train home – feeling happy I went, but not sad that I left, which is the best of all feelings. Plus I got to see the cat.

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A trip to Liverpool

It’s been decades since I last set foot in Liverpool, so was delighted to have an excuse to visit when one of my friends relocated there recently.

Certainly, the city decided to show off its wares at its finest. It gorgeously sunny for my trip, and I managed to squeeze an awful lot into a short visit (aided by the fact the city is both very friendly and well sign-posted, so my usual ‘getting lost’ time was significantly reduced.

Day one I had a wander round the Walker gallery, which is just across from Lime Street station and was hosting a small but interesting exhibition called As Seen on Screen, besides housing an impressive array of art and sculpture.

I then wandered towards the Everyman Theatre, where my friend works, stopping for some much-needed food at the café next to the cathedral and a sit in the sunshine looking at the impressive structure and reading my book.

(This was also one of my favourite Liverpool exchanges: I went in as the café had finished its post-lunch rush so was winding down. Not wanting to hassle the man, I said he needn’t bother giving me a side salad to go with my lunch. “Oh, have a Tunnock’s tea cake instead, then,” he said, which is the kind of substitution I can get behind…)

A quick drink in the pleasant (though slightly dated) surroundings of the Everyman bar (all that black wood makes it look a bit 80s), my friend and I went along to another theatre – The Unity – to see a show she’d suggested, Wild Card Theatre’s Electrolyte.

Although it was well-performed and energetic, neither of us *loved* it – the story felt disjointed and unconvincing, and though it was clearly well-meaning in its efforts to highlight mental health issues, it could have done with a much tighter hand on the script. Still, the Unity is a great space, the staff were lovely and the drinks cheap – I’ll definitely return.

It was such a lovely evening that we decided to drink outside, so went to Kazimier for wine and chips, which we polished off in no short order before heading back to my friend’s place for… um, more wine and whisky. Day 2 was gonna be fun…

Glasgow jaunt – West End

When I lived in Glasgow, it was the West End I called home: over the years I lived in a good half dozen places, ranging from just off Great Western Road to along in a then-pre-gentrified Partick. I studied at Glasgow University, and also worked in the University bookshop, so if any part of the city is etched into my memories, it’s the West End in particular.

Generally that is where I spend most of my visits – in part because that’s where a chunk of my friends live – but this time it was a bit more of a fleeting visit, though enough to encounter that mix of change and stability that is so disorienting.

Still, it’s never a visit to the West End without a mix of eating and shopping, and I did manage that, at least. Lunch one day at the Hyndland Fox, which used to be a Peckham’s, I believe, but now does a very line in breakfasts, and where I indulged my love of a potato scone.

On a different day I also had lunch at Bread Meats Bread – which obviously favours burgers and sandwiches, but which did a very tasty grilled cheese sandwich (which came with FREE CHIPS!), which excited me so much I randomly texted someone a photo of it by accident.

Although I’d blown my shopping budget at Vivienne Westwood, my friend and I did have a mooch around some of the vintage shops on Great Western Road, and Waterstones on Byres Road (a nice addition to the street that wasn’t there in my day), and Papyrus, a stationery and kitchenware store that in my youth seemed impossibly glamourous and expensive, and remains a little treasure trove today.

I did get some serious nostalgia walking past my old flats on Otago Street and Barrington Drive, and seeing some of my old local pubs (particularly Hubbards) so changed, though was glad to see some stalwarts still going strong, not least Caledonia Books – where I bought and sold half my college textbooks – and Ian Mellis cheesemonger, who opened just as I was moving (probably for the best, given my love of cheese and the fact it was just across the road from my house), but whose redolent whiff of cheese hit my like my very own madeleine when we went into the shop…

Thornton Street Cafe

I am always on the look out for coffee spots near the station, since I am usually so paranoid about missing a train I arrive super early. So I was pleased to stumble across this cute little cafe across the road from where my aunt lives, just a few minutes from Central Station. Although I only had coffee, the staff were friendly, it has a menu I would be keen to check out and a relaxed vibe. Definitely worth knowing about…

A day trip to Edinburgh

After three weeks without a day off, I finally had some downtime, and headed up to Edinburgh to meet my friend K, who I haven’t seen in years. Edinburgh is only an hour and a half away from Newcastle – and the East Coast train takes you along some of the country’s most beautiful coastline, so it’s a pleasurable as well as a fast trip. The plan was that we would have lunch, do some culture, then have some cocktails before I headed back. And… we managed most of that. You can probably guess which bit got dropped…

I haven’t been to Edinburgh in years – last time was to do some research for A Vampire in Edinburgh, during my unfortunate homeless stint, when two of my Glasgow friends let me stay there when they were on holiday, so I took advantage to do a day trip to the city. I had forgotten quite how gorgeous it is – all those dramatic cliffs!

We started off with a wee wander round the Old Town. Edinburgh Press Club looked promising but we were too late for breakfast, and none of the sarnies appealed, so we settled for coffee then wandered some more. We had planned to do Mary King’s Close but were put off by the cost (nearly £16!) so had a wander around a nearby church instead. Lunch was a couple of wraps at old-school vegetarian cafe Hendersons, which had been much recommended to me, and after that we felt we could justify a cocktail.

I missed my chance to go to the new Ivy in Brighton – it opened just before I left – so was keen to try the Ivy on the Square. K and I are both fans of espresso martinis so started with them. Well-made by the charming and friendly barman, they were very rich and accompanied by a choice of syrups to choose your own (I plumped for Creme Brulee, K – more wisely – Amaretto). After that I plumped for something lighter – a champagne based drink – and then we decided that some shopping was in order.

A quick wander round Jenners and Harvey Nichols followed – while I love the architecture of Jenners, I found HN a bit bland, though I did buy some fancy pasta and a notebook there, partly cos I wanted to buy something. (K bought a Count Gracula garlic crusher, which looked enormous fun). We rounded off the day with cocktails at The Refinery, then headed back to the Ivy for chips and a last drink before I caught the train home – a fantastic day out, and home before 10? I could get used to this…

Backyard Bike Shop

Yesterday made an overdue return visit to Backyard Bike Shop, down next to the river. It’s a lovely place – a cosy cafe that does a small but quality menu, but switches to a cocktail bar after 5. Alas, we were too early for cocktails, but the food was delicious and the staff were friendly.

I normally have the avocado smash – predictable, I know, but the “will they do my egg how I like it?” is my standard cafe test. The lovely waitress explained their avocados weren’t ripe so, prompted to be more adventurous, I had the chick pea pancakes with dahl, and S had the courgette ribbons with goats cheese curd – both of which were utterly delicious.

Now to go back for their cocktails.

Arch Sixteen Cafe

One of the lovely things about being back is seeing areas which were in decline when I left becoming regenerated. This is particularly true in Gateshead, much of which was in a fairly desolate state in my youth.

My friend S now lives in Ochre Yards, an estate of fancy new flats near the Hilton, and so any easy walk from the new bars on the Gateshead side of the river. The railway arches have also become home to a host of new businesses, including the butcher’s/wine shop Block and Bottle, and a fancy new tea shop. It’s also home to great wee cafe, Arch Sixteen.

A funky space that offers a range of coffees, cakes and sandwiches (the food offering looks good, though is relatively limited – though it does include several vegetarian offerings, and they plan to expand the menu).

It was a quiet afternoon when we popped in, which gave us a chance to chat to the proprietor Bob, who was lovely. He told us all about the different events the place hosts – ranging from freelancers’ networking to sewing nights and music gigs – and we were impressed by his commitment to really making the place a community hub.

Plus, I *love* a railway arch. Count me in for a return visit.