Monday, 26 September 2011


Well, I've had a month so far of my new daily routine of commuting from Brighton to London in the rush hours.

It's been an interesting but often depressing experience. Until now, I've travelled for work mostly off-peak, when things have seem to have run pretty smoothly. But so far, my regular inbound trains (one of the extended Gatwick Expresses) have been unfailingly late. Sometimes only by 5 minutes, and other times up to 40 minutes. But not one has actually arrived at the stated time: and that is with the slower, peak-time services which all take over an hour from London to Brighton (though I realise they make a few more stops).

Of course, I realise the performance figures refer to trains being on time if they arrive within 10 minutes of the scheduled time, but it seems the figures in the low 90s in percentage terms must be largely determined all those relatively empty trains running off-peak; peak services seem to be much more fragile.

And, is it my bad luck I've had four major incidents - roughly one a week - so far? These include a man who had climbed under a train (5 hour delay), a broken rail (3 hour delay), and the recent problem with Balcombe tunnel (where the lining needed emergency repairs). On that day I didn't even make it into work.

And of course this for well over £3,000 a year. I may rent a room up in town...

Monday, 11 July 2011

Les Vacances de M. Hulot

The other night I visited a friend for the evening and we spent a delightful couple of hours watching the first feature film of the celebrated French mime artist, Jacques Tati.

If you've never seen it, Les Vacances de M. Hulot (Mr Hulot's Holidays) is a wonderfully gentle comedy set in post-war France, depicting the middle classes at play on holiday at the seaside in Brittany. There's no need to speak French: what little dialogue there is plays a very definite second fiddle to the visual comedy. The feel is something like a cross between an Ealing Comedy and Mr Bean: it's all very gentle, subtle yet often absurd, and beautifully executed.

It made me want to rush back to France, yet I know that the world he so lovingly captured has largely gone (except for the food, of course). Our own homage to Tati's cinematography was suitably enhanced by a lovely French Sauvignon Blanc - what else?

Monday, 20 June 2011

Music at St Bartholomew

On Saturday, as I was walking past St Bartholomew's church, a small billboard caught my eye saying "church open: come and listen to the orchestra rehearse".

The said orchestra was the Sussex Symphony Orchestra, being conducted by Mark James with Pavlos Carvalho as guest cellist, and they were indeed rehearsing for the Gala Concert that night (alas, fully booked), with pieces by Mahler, Dvorak and Ravel.

It was a wonderful interlude to the day's chores, magnificent music in the eerie but magnificent setting of this iconic church.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Brighton Station Tour

The annual Brighton Festival and Fringe is rightly well known for its music, theatre, art and some downright quirky entertainment. But perhaps less well known are the tours that take you to some of the lesser known corners of familiar landmarks. And today I've been on one which I would highly recommend to anyone with an interest in local history - a tour of Brighton station, organised and led by the irrepressible Jackie Marsh-Hobbs.

As well as a short talk on the history of the station, with some wonderful old prints, plans and photographs to illustrate it, we walked around parts not normally accessible to the public. Completed in 1841, the main building is unusual for still being in use as an active part of the station, albeit with Victorian and later additions: most of its contemporaries have been replaced or demolished. Designed by David Mocatta, it still has its original cantilevered staircases at either end, complete with decorative ironwork balustrades.

We visited the site of the original cab road, now buried under platform 7; the old subterranean goods tunnel, which runs from the Shoreham lines to the old goods yard - now part rifle range and part disused Second World War control rooms (picture below); and finally the horse hospital (yes, really) and Stablemaster's house on the southern side of the station, today home to a bicycle rental business.But for me, perhaps best bit of all was the wonderful interior view of the 1882 train shed from one of the of station offices at first floor level, looking over the roofs of the trains. The curved, glazed roofs are simply magnificent.

The tours book up quickly: catch one next year!

Sunday, 8 May 2011


Despite Sussex's reputation for bluebells and the famous Bluebell Railway, I'd never done a bluebell walk before - until yesterday, that is.

There's a farm near Arlington, near Lewes, which specialises in bluebell walks through nearby woodland, with a tea shop and stalls selling cards, plants, books and locally made preserves at the end. They've been opening up to the public every Spring for 39 years. (Details can be found at Bluebell Walk Arlington.) Takings go towards local charities.

Although - thanks to the dry weather and recent thunderstorms - the flowers were past their best, the walk was still very impressive. As they say, a picture paints a thousand words, so here are a few.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Brighton Festival

Had a bit of a break over Easter in Berlin. Great place. Will be back.

And have come back to find the Brighton festival in full swing. I've been emailing a friend to try to decide which fringe events to go to, and have decided that it's too exhausting ploughing through the brochure. You can have too much choice...

Instead, I think I'll go for one of the Open House art trails. They are a great way to see a bit of the city and enjoy some varied art at the same time - so long as the weather holds...

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

A spell of good weather...

...really lifts the spirits. I went biking with a mate on each of the last two weekends, enjoying the dry and settled weather. It helps blow the cobwebs away, and we visited a clutch of interesting mediaeval churches in East Sussex last Sunday, following some wonderful back roads, before ending up in a very nice pub (the Six Bells in Chiddingly). Worth going back to at some point, I think...

One discovery was the grave of Malcolm Lowry in the churchyard of St John the Baptist in the village of Ripe. He wrote 'Under the Volcano', one of the most highly regarded novels of the 20th century, but died tragically young, in his forties, thanks to a formidable drinking habit. It would be hard to find a place more different from the setting of the novel: Ripe is as tranquil as rural England gets.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Black Cap and Warningore Bostall

I took a walk last week-end from Falmer to Plumpton, walking via a short stretch of the South Downs Way, passing over the area on the ridge of the Downs called Black Cap.

This is one of the summits of this stretch of the Downs, rising to 206m (676ft). There are signs of Bronze Age and Saxon burials, with a number of low tumuli. The summit looks southwards down onto Ashcombe Bottom, an area of natural woodland, coppiced hazel and areas of open glades, with exceptional biodiversity of plants and butterflies.

To the north are splendid views of the Sussex Weald, as well as an ancient track-way leading down towards Chiltington called the Warningore Bostall.

This is a steep sided track, worn down over the centuries by flocks of sheep being moved up and down the hillside from the Weald to the Downs. It's quite a dramatic man-made feature. This really is a special area, and home to nine species of orchid and - at the right time of the year - clouds of butterflies.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Preston Park

I walked through Preston Park on my way to a meeting this morning. Alas, sans camera, but the weather was just perfect: cool, with a hint of a warm breeze, and glorious, glorious sunshine. After such a grim, grey winter, whose spirits could it not lift?

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

West Pier, Brighton, in the Vernal Equinox

The recent 'big moon' phenomenon, caused by the Moon passing at its nearest distance (perigee) while on its orbit around our home planet, for 18 years. But another facet of this was that the recent Equinoxial Spring tide also resulted in unusually high (and low) tides.

This was captured beautifully by my friend Giorgina, who took the photo above, showing the remains of Brighton's West Pier standing almost above the tide line, the tide was so far out...

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Another grey day

It seems to have been a particularly grim start to 2011.

There are lots of reasons for me in this, but it is not helped by the continued grey weather, interspersed with drizzle and heavier rain. Last Thursday was an exception - a beautiful, bright day, almost Spring-like, and it was noticeable just how everyone's spirits were lifted.

This is unusual for Brighton, in my experience; one of the reasons I like the place is because it has a higher than average sunny day count compared with much of the UK.

Sorry for a grey post. Roll on Spring...

Sunday, 9 January 2011

A jolly Christmas tree

OK, so this about our new home and not much about Brighton, but I thought that now we are in the gloomy and cold post-Christmas period, I would recall some festive cheer with a posting of our Christmas tree, from our first Christmas in the new place.

We had meant to get a real, living tree this year but, with the snow and other commitments, I couldn't find one in time, so we reverted to our trusty artificial tree. I read somewhere that the carbon footprint of an artificial tree is only lower than a real tree after it has been used for 10-12 years, so we're quids in as it is much more venerable than that.

And, having combined two households into one, we ended up with rather a lot of baubles, so it is definitely not what you'd call designer or restrained...