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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Keith Haring at Tate Liverpool

I’d decided to tie my Liverpool visit into not just theatre but the Keith Haring exhibition at the Tate Liverpool, a gallery I have never been to. The show itself was fantastic – a huge range of material curated with real care. It was of course heart-breaking to revisit his work: an activist in the fight against HIV/Aids, Haring died of the disease at just 31 – but it was great to see such a major retrospective of his work.

Also at the Tate was Constellations, a fascinating collection that included pieces by Warhol, Miro and Kandinsky, though the pop art floor did little for my hangover.

Luckily an avocado and halloumi brioche at Peabody Kitchen sorted that out, allowing me to have a wander around the docks in the sunshine before taking a slow stroll back into town for my train.

All in all, Liverpool quite won me over – can’t wait to go back.

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…

London trip

Last week was a crazy busy week, with trips to London both midweek and at the weekend. The first was for business, though I did manage some socialising, and the second to catch up with a bunch of my best and oldest friends. Although we see each other throughout the year in smaller clusters, the usual reasons (work, money, family, location) mean we are limited to getting together en masse a couple of times a year (I say that like there’s a dozen of us, it’s only 5!) so it’s always a joy.

We picked Casa Tua, a restaurant near Kings Cross – which was good, as my train was delayed both there and back so I’m not sure what state I would have been in had I had to sprint and negotiate a tube journey. It’s a nice place – decent veggie options and friendly service, though I had forgotten how expensive prosecco is in London!

Anyway a good and boozy time was had by all, which did mean my train journey home – where the catering facilities were scuppered by a missing order and the trip was delayed by a lineside fire – was a bit grim. Worth it, though!

Glasgow jaunt – city centre and Merchant City

This week saw me back in Glasgow for the first time in 6 years. I love Glasgow, it’s a city that will always own a piece of my heart. It’s where I went to university, where I lived, on and off, for almost 10 years – where I studied, worked, loved (and lost). Like Newcastle, it’s a city that has a memory around almost every corner, and coming back after such a long break felt both familiar and strange. At times it felt like I’d never left, at others, memories leapt out as me, vivid as hallucinations, but they felt oddly distant, like clips of a film and I could begin to doubt I’d ever been there at all.Luckily, I still have plenty of friends in the city, and even more with roots there – part of the reason I was visiting was because an old friend was over from Japan, and I managed to catch up with a Brighton friend who was in town for family matters.Day 1 saw me revisiting the shopping delights of Princes Square and Buchanan Street, where I succumbed to the Vivienne Westwood sale (justifying it because there is no longer a Westwood shop in Newcastle – with terrible timing, it closed just as I moved!) and bought the shiniest purse in the world.Having met my friend R for coffee in the station as she waited for her train back to Brighton, I then went for drinks in Tabac in Mitchell Lane with our mutual friend D. It’s a nice if not stellar bar down a lane that has seen better days (even the presence of art gallery The Lighthouse doesn’t stop it from looking a bit run down). The bar gets surprisingly busy – I returned on Thursday to meet a theatre bod I know online, and it quickly became rammed – but is a convenient place for a quick drink.Dinner was with a bunch of old uni friends in a friendly and laid back tapas bar towards the Merchant City part of town, Brutti Campadres, which accommodated a large group of us – all arriving at different times – with good grace and was surprisingly affordable.I was back in that part of town the next day, meeting my friend E for cake and coffee in Singl End, which I have heard very good things about and which didn’t disappoint. We had a drink in Stereo, in Renfield Lane – another slightly scruffy lane not far from the station, and a surprisingly busy bar that strikes me as better enjoyed by night, as the unforgiving early evening light made it look a bit careworn.Slightly more glam were cocktails in The Citizen, based in the old headquarters of the newspaper of the same name. A bar / restaurant that also apparently does a nice line in afternoon teas (in the Editors’ Suite, which name alone makes me want to try it), they did a very tasty espresso martini, while my friend opted for a gin-based Clydeside St Clements. Definitely a place I’d go back to…

Tom Hiddleston in Betrayal

Yesterday I did another day trip to London to see a Betrayal in the West End (Yup, it’s insane that I can live here, and can afford to make two (advance booked, obvs) first class trips to London to the theatre a month and STILL save money on what I was paying in Brighton for rent.) I admit I booked the ticket as much out of FOMO as anything else: several of my theatre friends had seen it and seeing Tom Hiddleston seemed like the year’s ‘hot ticket’. But in truth, once I booked the ticket, the excitement started to wane: I’m ambivalent about both director Jamie Lloyd and about Pinter, and I’ve already see the play Betrayal (in the same theatre!) and I don’t love it as a play.

So I felt a bit of a fake, sitting in the theatre beside all the superfans in a ‘I guess I bought the ticket so I might as well’ way. (I’m not kidding: the woman next to me was an American who had flown over just to see the play, and had also been at the previous evening’s performance: the two German girls in front of me had done the same). Besides, the ticket had been expensive, so I might as well get the most out of it – nearly 100 quid, although admittedly for a very good seat in the stalls.

In the end, though, I was completely won over by the production. The sparse, stripped back staging really worked, and although the cast all felt too slightly young for the roles of jaded old marrieds who’ve been friends for decades, you could forgive that for strong performances (the tired old trope of comedy foreigner can get in the bin, but at least that was a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it scene). Charlie Cox and Zawe Ashton were both great, but it was Tom Hiddleston who stole the show: he delivered a beautifully nuanced performance that wrung both the humour and the heartbreak out of the piece, and the audience hung on every tiny gesture. (In fact, my main criticism would be that his charisma over-balanced the production: since the three main actors were on stage pretty much non-stop throughout, even when they had no part in a scene, all too often the eye was drawn to Hiddleston, standing stoically in the background, rather than what was happening between the other characters.

On top of it all it was a glorious London day – sunny and bright and full of character. (I popped into the Waterstones on Jermyn Street on the way, being passed by a man strolling through the sunshine yelling into his phone ‘I’m working from home today!’. Are you, my dude? Are you really?). I then strolled up to Liberty and spent far too much money in the stationery department before meeting my friends for drinks at the German Gymnasium.

London is always that dodgy ex who tries to charm you and make you forget all its bad points, and every time I go back it very nearly succeeds, but like your dodgy ex there’s always the warning sign: so my ‘I love London and why did I ever move?’ lasted only until I got to Oxford Circus and the Victoria Line was suspended and so I found myself crammed on a packed tube literally pressed bum-to-bum with a fellow commuter who had strangely and intensely warm buttocks. I mean, seeing Tom Hiddleston on stage was worth that – but only just…

Warhol in Edinburgh

As per my previous post, I was in Edinburgh this week. Mainly this was to see a show – Cora Bissett’s excellent What Girls Are Made of – but it also provided a great chance to catch up with friends.

My friend A and her husband moved back to Scotland a few years ago, and I hadn’t seen their new place since, so A & I met for drinks and dinner before the show (an OK-but not-stellar chips and halloumi burger at Red Squirrel, mostly because it was handy for the theatre, though it was a perfectly fine stopping point: friendly staff, very decent selection of veggie options). I stayed the night at their gorgeous house, which gave me major home envy: my room (just one of their guest rooms!) had an en suite, and the whole place was just so lovely and elegantly fitted out, I am now planning to secretly move in and see how long till they notice (it’s a big house – could be a while)…

A and I stayed up chatting till the early hours, so I admit I was more than a little hungover when I went back into town the next day to meet my friend D, through from Glasgow. Still, we didn’t let that deter us from taking in some culture, and decided to head to the Scottish National Galleries of Modern Art.

It’s been years since I have been – I’ve never even set foot in Modern Two – but we started there, keen to see I want to be a machine, an exhibition of Andy Warhol and Eduardo Paolozzi pieces that included many of the famous Warhol prints and movie posters. I’m less familiar with Paolozzi, but his work was a fascinating counterpoint, and the exhibit is well laid out across five rooms, with plenty of explanation as to what’s what and why it matters. It’s also free, which is always a bonus.

NOW at Modern One was more of a mixed bag. A selection of works by Monster Chetwynd, Henry Coombes, Moyna Flannigan, Betye Saar, and Wael Shawky, it covered most of the ground floor, and some bits took me more than others, though as again it was free, I was happy to have a mooch.

D and I then had lunch and a wander, before he had to head back to Glasgow, so before my evening train I met A again for a few drinks in a pub off the Royal Mile (we powered bravely through our hangovers). The pub had a sign on the bar that said ‘those that drink langest live langest’ and at this rate A and I will be around till our 80s…