Roman Holiday UK


Brighton rocks

Pier to Pier

“I need someone else to cook for me for a week”, came the call from the kitchen. “OK”, I said. During the next week we visited the local travel agents and booked a coach trip to Brighton for five days. Perfect we thought! The due day came for our departure and the taxi arrived to convey us to the pick up point at eight o'clock in the morning. The coach was there, but the woman driver was in no hurry to load us onto the coach. Eventually at the correct time we all embarked and settled down in our seats.

The holiday was being run by a company called National Holidays based in Anlaby, a suburb of Hull. The four year old coach, built locally in Scarborough by a company called Plaxton, was adequate for the job it was about to do. We pulled away from the pick up point and away from the town. Our woman driver introduced herself as Brenda and told us to use the seat belts and where our first stop was to be. We did not hear another word from her until we were about to pull in for a coffee break. We were told it would be for 30 minutes and the coach would be locked until the time of departure. Another break for lunch was undertaken before our arrival in Brighton at about four o'clock.

The Duty manager then came aboard and introduced himself on behalf of Britannia Hotels who run the Royal Albion Hotel outside which we sat. Then we all disembarked to find no porters to manhandle the luggage up the steps and into the small lift, whilst collecting our keys on the way. Many of the passengers were elderly and some were having difficulty walking let alone lifting their cases into the lobby and into the lift. However, after a period of time spent queuing for the lift we managed to get to our rooms. The room had been made smaller by the addition of an en suite bathroom, which on closer inspection revealed a steel bath that was chipped and had black coloured sealer round its edges, but gave the impression of being clean. Unpacking the suitcases we found the drawers interiors uninviting for clothes. However after laying on the bed for a while, there was only one chair, our lost energy was refreshed and we ventured down to see what the hotel had to offer.

Walking into the foyer a strange smell greeted the nostrils, as it had on our arrival, which increased as you got near the lounge. The lounge was furnished with ordinary tables and chairs which displayed threadbare seats in maroon material. Passing into the foyer again a chain and padlock met the eyes securing the alternative door to the dining room. Wood panels were coming away from their frames and dowdiness presented itself and that smell followed us. It must have been the carpet or what was under it. We made for the fresh air outside.

A walk along the promenade gave us a view of the pier in full spate before we walked west towards a crumbling wreck in the distance which turned out to be the other pier. On the way there we had passed facilities for the children and adults beach side, and expensive hotels on the landward side. The sun shone as cyclists whistled by us at speed on their track, separated from the pedestrians by a painted white line running parallel to the pavement. If you were not concentrating it could be exciting.

Arriving back we made our way to our room. I tried the television which had seen better days, but it worked, Freeview or Sky were not one of its features. After making ourselves ready we made our way to the dining room via the one open door. We had been informed that our tables displayed green serviettes, other visitors had different colour signals to guide them to their tables. It was a serve yourself arrangement so we chose a table and made our way to the servery. Order was not a strong point, with cutlery displayed at different places for each meal. The choice was the usual self made salads or soup of the day with a freshly thawed bread roll. The displayed menu made no provision for special diets such as vegetarian, gluten free or diabetic.

The staff were all from abroad learning English, and made no effort beyond clearing the tables and seeing that adequate supplies of the day’s meal were available. A rumour went round that all the food was brought into the hotel, certainly the desserts were bought in. So what did you do if you had special dietary needs, despite giving the information when the holiday was booked at the travel agent. No one at the hotel seemed interested and little provision was made.

Apart from newspapers being available no entertainment was provided by the hotel and non advertised. The bar and coffee and conversation with the other guests the only other recreation was to lay on your bed and watch television, venturing down to get a jug of milk with which to make coffee until sleep overtook you.

Next morning we had an excursion to Arundel and Chichester. Arundel was a pleasant little village set around the castle. We were told we had two hours and most people spent the time walking the quaint undulating streets or sitting in a cafe drinking a beverage of their choice. At Chichester we were taken to a coach park near the railway, some way out of town as the coach company did not have a pass for the main coach park. The coach disgurged its passengers and having been told our time limit the coach was locked. Walking along the road we asked the way to the theatre, as we knew there ware grounds in which to walk or sit. We asked the way from a local bus driver who suggested that we make our way to the bishop's garden across the road from where we stood. This turned out to be first class advice and we found that most of the locals were spending their lunch hour there. It prompted us to have a very pleasant picnic lunch in bright hot sunshine as we savoured the view of the flowers and shrubs as we ate our lunch. After that we had time to kill and spent it visiting the cathedral and walking the town which displayed all the usual high street shops. The cathedral proved to be very with it and was preparing for an evening concert. We used their cafe and spent some pleasant time there before making our way back to the coach. The driver suggested that we take the long way back along the sea front. We saw a very large industrial estate edged by sea before we hit a traffic jam, arriving back at the hotel exhausted and questioning the lengths of stay at the two destinations.

The evening was much of the same with the usual evening meal and television in your room with self made coffee.

Next day we felt we could not endure another excursion, this time to Lewes, so we made plans to explore Brighton and see some of the high life and recent history. After breakfast we walked along the front taking in the copious children’s attractions and cafes on the beach side and large hotels on the landward side. We arrived at the Grand hotel made famous when the IRA bombed it. Today you would not realise that the place had been damaged. We passed the liveried commissionairs manoeuvring patrons cars and made our way up the steps to the foyer. “Can you do coffee?”, we asked and were shown into the coffee lounge overlooking the sea. Amid very pleasant surroundings we were served coffee and home made short bread biscuits and spent a very pleasant hour taking in the atmosphere before casting our eye round the interior now looking magnificent after its restoration. Sad to leave we made our way into the Lanes.

The Lanes were a disappointment. Expecting antique shops we were confronted with cheap jewellery shops. The atmosphere had vanished. We had expected to see “Lovejoy” like characters scurrying about doing deals to outwit their contemporaries. Finding ourselves outside the council building and looking lost one of two young women spoke to us. “Looking for the Information Centre?”, she asked as we stared at an empty building opposite. “No”, I replied, “Just wondering where the antique shops and the atmosphere had gone?”. “So are we and we live here and we work for the council”, came the reply. It looked run down and wanting help. They made their way off to other more important things.

We made our way back to our hotel which seemed to exemplify most of Brighton. It had seen better times. However all was not lost for having gone back to out hotel to see what they had to offer for lunch we rejected it and made our way to an inviting hotel next door. The Royal York hotel was a joy to enter, it was well decorated and clean and displayed an air of times past. We asked if lunch was available and it was in a bar area that spilled over into a lounge. Furnished with settees and tables themed in blue which ran through the hotel, with pictures of old thespians looking down on us from mantelshelves and walls. We ordered. A light lunch was what we wanted so tea arrived during the short wait for our main course. What a delight when it arrived. It was served in a plate shaped like cloche hat which collapsed on one side allowing you to eat and what was in it was a pleasure to eat. It was a cesar salad which had to be savoured to be enjoyed. Great. Finishing our pleasant time we left for a walk along the pier.

The evening meal was much of the same, which contrasted greatly from our lunch. That left us to watch television in our room during the evening.

Next day we made our way to the eastern side of the promenade, and, having obtained a guide book from the information centre, we walked the streets where the town’s theatricals had lived, such as Lawrence Oliver, Charlie Chester, Max Miller and Flora Robson, as well as walking along streets that had taken up the challenge of being the towns antique area. Many celebrities still live here. Policemen stood about laughing and joking with their sergeant, who had cycled to see them, whilst misdemeanours went on around them. We found ourselves walking round an Indian supermarket where everything seemed to be on offer, even down to specialist dietary foods and it gave the air or adventure. The subject of lunch came up and there was only one place that filled our minds, so that was it. We were not disappointed, a different salad with tuna was chosen and it did not disappoint, whilst we relaxed in splendour of times past. Another great meal.

After lunch we walked along the sea front below the mornings excursion. We soon saw the colonnades used as a backdrop in the film Genevieve. You could sense that John Gregson and Dinah Sheriden were there pitting their wits against Kenneth More and Kay Kendall before their race home to London. As we drunk in the atmosphere there was a crash and a modern car crashed into a screen barrier placed there to stop people speeding along the front. Looking to the sea we saw the oldest electric railway in the world called the Volk’s Electric Railway. Atmosphere bombarded us from ever direction. The walk provided past and present in equal amounts and new amenities for children and adults. We returned to find that the hotel had hosted two teaching sessions, one for a nationwide building society and the other for an academic institution from London specialising in hygiene. One can only wonder what they learnt from their visit to the hotel.

It only remained for us to experience the rest of our stay with the last evening meal, the coffee in our room with the television, and slumber through the noise from the un checked action in the street outside. Heaven knows what the police did all night.

Up early and get your cases to the foyer for the coach trip home after breakfast. © BA

Where will we be next time. I wonder?

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