Brighton is just as amazing as Lydia Bennet claims

So, without a doubt, I’ve been very busy in the archives.  Since my last post, I’ve docked another, oh…ten thousand, or so, research images.

What have I found?

Medical registers listing administered drugs, for example.  They’re fascinating and nearly indecipherable.  I’ll have to find a nineteenth century medical textbook to make any headway on the abbreviations, but I’m quite pleased to have the opportunity to learn something new and meticulous.  Networks are built on meticulousness.

I’ve also recorded a good deal of financial information:  petty cash lists from the Superintendent, documenting telegraphs and patient outings; stocks and bonds that were traded pre-WWI to bolster the sanatorium’s unrestricted funds; a balance sheet example.

And, I should mention that following the financial records, I closed with the Holloway Sanatorium (for now) and went on to Brookwood asylum.  So I’ve returned to case books, but they’re quite different from the ones I already have.

Brookwood was a working-class insitution, so the patients had less money than those at Holloway, and therefore they were treated in a kind, but fastidious sort of way.  Their case attendants care less about recording family connection than they do about documenting where to send the patient’s belongings after they die.  Because, sadly, far more patients died in Brookwood than in Holloway.  Many of the men present with advanced stages of syphilis or severe epilepsy.  Older men often had late senile decay, younger men were often “congenital imbeciles,” meaning there was little chance of life past age 30.  These were the men that Holloway Sanatorium turned away.

Because of the heavy stories these case books often offer, I’ve looked for outings that break up all the sad.  I can only read about so many suicides, criminal insanity cases, and workhouse transfers before I get a bit down.

Luckily, my home-stay hosts are the most friendly and generous people in the world, and they offered to take me along with them to Brighton.

Brighton.

BRIGHTON

Ok, I’m ok…

I have known about Brighton since I was around twelve or so.  I discovered it as a part of my Sherlock Holmes obsession, and instantaneously enveloped it in a sort of Victorian, seaside myth.  A beach made of cobblestones?  A wrought-iron pier?  Shops encased in the arched street supports?

Surely this place did not actually exist.

Strangely enough, unlike many childhood fascinations, Brighton did not become any less mystical as I aged.  The mystique grew when I found period photos. Handlebar mustachioed gents wandered around in stripey swimming costumes on the shore, talking with parasol-laden ladies who rested in red- and blue-backed deck chairs.  The mystique grew through TV shows about restaurants, beaches, and holiday destination living.  And, anyone who has watched the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice will surely remember Lydia and Kitty Bennet whining incessantly about how badly they want to go to Brighton and mack on all the regimental men.

Whatever. No one wants to look at Lydia.
Whatever. No one wants to look at Lydia.

Needless to say, with this mythic image built up in my head, I was both thrilled and terrified when presented with the opportunity to actually see the place.  What if I hated it?  But surely I couldn’t…  What if it was dirty and horrible?  No, no way.  What if all the Victorian stuff had been torn down?  But who would do such a thing?

Well, I managed to keep my shit together the entire drive there.  I waited calmly for the park and ride, I survived the bus as we descended toward the sea, and then, when I got off the bus, I totally lost it, running around like a headless chicken wielding a camera.

It was everything I had ever dreamed of.

Sure, I had to make some allowances for the necessity of modern updating.  And, sure, the oldest pier has now burnt and survives as a mere skeleton of its former self.  But the atmosphere is exactly as amazing as I thought it would be.

Boats dodge in and out from under the piers, blending into the horizon:

Boat horizon

Arcade games and a carousel lend their chirps and bells to the coastal sounds:

Carousel

Victorian hotels stand tall and strong under their hundredth coat of paint, with art galleries, pubs, museums, and seafood stands nestled into the street below:

20130714_142214

Miles of cobblestone beaches sprawl, littered in red and white striped deck chairs:

Deck chairs

And the view…

View

The new pier:

New pier

And the old:

Old pier

I’m not even sure I could name my favorite portion of the day.

I loved spending time with new friends and watching their little one bury himself on the beach.  We had a fantastic lunch of fish and chips, followed by a stroll through the art galleries, where I bought myself a new watercolor and a handmade silk tie.  And I even rode the carousel.

My horse was named Malcolm and he was horrifying and I loved him.

But I guess, if pressed, I would say my favorite part of the day was my nap on the beach.  I rolled around on the rocks until they molded to my back, and with my shoulders ducked into the shade, and an arm around my satchel, I dozed in the heat and listened to the seagulls and the carnival rides.

And I was so happy.

So sincerely, ridiculously happy.

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Historian, novelist, musician, and imagination professional.

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