Friday, 15 November 2013

To Brighton

I do find it slightly discombobulating, even frightening, that I can remember quite so vividly my first visit to Brighton.  The scary part is that the visit in question was over 50 years ago.  That - gulp - is more than half a century.  The day in question would have been in March or April - the school Easter holidays.  Or maybe it was during the half-term holiday in May?  Not that it matters whether the visit was in March, April or May.

My father was due to retire from the Royal Navy after 22 years service and he had secured a job which was to be based in Brighton.  Or Hove, actually.  As Brighton was an easy day trip from the Medway towns, where we were then living, we came to see what was in store for us.  My mother had heard of a part of Brighton called Woodingdean and she thought it sounded a rather nice place to live, so we went there first.  It proved to be rather too far out, so we went on into town.

Dad's usual method of seeing new towns was to drive until he thought he was near the centre, park, and then walk into the centre of town, usually asking for directions to "the shops".  That is just what he did on this occasion - and it was just as well that he asked for "the shops" and not "the High Street".

Perhaps I should explain that last little bit for those readers who are not familiar with the English way of life back in the 1950s.  Most towns then, and quite probably now as well, have a High Street.  This was the street where could be found the largest shopping centre with food shops, clothes shops, even department stores in some towns.  But not supermarkets.  These had only recently been invented and they were few and far between.

Had my father asked for directions to "the High Street", we would have formed a very different opinion of Brighton.  You see, Brighton's main shopping centre was not in the High Street; it still isn't.  There is a High Street in Brighton, but it is a little back street running between Edward Street and St James's Street.  There aren't any shops in Brighton's High Street, not even a corner shop.

We did find the shops, although when my father first asked for directions the response was, "Which shops?  There are three shopping centres."  We were astounded by the number of buses running along Western Road (which is where the big shops were - Marks & Spencer, British Home Stores, Woolworths, Littlewoods, W H Smith et al.  (Just typing those names brings back a few memories as well!)  We also discovered a supermarket - the first we had ever seen.  My mother decided she needed to buy something so Dad, my brother and I stood outside.  We watched in amazement as customers queued at the checkouts with their wire baskets - all new to us.  Dad noticed the money being rung up on the tills - there were five, I think - and announced in amazement, "Each one of those tills could take as much as £75 in a day!  That would mean a day's taking could be £375!!"  Bearing in mind that only a few years before it would have been possible to buy a house for £500 and that later that same year my parents would buy their house for £2,300, the day's takings of £375 represented a considerable sum of money.

Somehow I have managed - once again - to drift miles away from what I had intended to write.  Maybe we'll manage to get there tomorrow.  Or then again, maybe not.


Yesterday I posted a picture of Vitré, a small town not all that far from our French village.  Here is another  shot.

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