Archive for the month “October, 2016”

The by-ways of Brighton

You never know what you are going to see…


… but around every corner, there’ll be something unusual…


… and sometimes something downright scary.



But is it art?


The back streets of Brighton are a veritable open-air gallery of street art – some might call it graffiti.


But, love it or hate it, you have to admire the skill that some of these artists have put into their creations.


Some of them are quite disturbing…



… whilst others just make you laugh.


And then there were these  two contributions, just outside a Primary School.


All part of the fun of living in Brighton!


Aberfan, 21st October 1966.

Everyone of my generation knows exactly where they were when they learned that John F. Kennedy had been  shot.  It was a Friday in 1963.  I was thirteen years old and I had just walked into St Barnabas Youth Club in Swansea. I can even remember who told me.

The attacks on the Twin Towers on September 11th 2001 took place on a Tuesday.  I was a teacher in Portslade in Brighton, but that day was a training day so the school was empty.  I witnessed the attacks on a TV in the audio-visual support room where I was dropping off some photocopying.

21st October 1966 was also a Friday.  I was still at school, preparing to do my GCE exams and in those days I used to go home for lunch.  That particular day, my mother wasn’t home, so she had prepared something for me to eat and left it in the oven.  I switched on the radio.  The news of the disaster at Aberfan was just starting to come through.

At 9.15 am that morning a mountain of coal waste slid down into the valley at Aberfan and buried most of the local Primary School school.  116 children aged between 8 and 11 were killed.


28 adults also died as the slag heap engulfed their houses.  Four of the dead were teachers in the school itself.

I can still remember standing in the kitchen of my house listening to the radio and hearing about the desperate efforts that were going on to try and rescue children from the school and to recover the bodies of the dead.  One teacher had been  found cradling four children as the river of slurry  hadpoured though their classroom.  They were all dead.

It was the last day of the half-term and the school was due to close at lunch-time.  The Headteacher had planned to call the children together again at noon, to formally dismiss them and wish them a safe holiday.  She also died in the disaster.

The radio was talking about men scrambling, with shovels and their bare hands to try to reach the children.  I can still remember the sense of utter impotence that there was nothing that I could do to help.  I was sixteen years old. I couldn’t drive and I had no idea where Aberfan was.  I just knew it was ‘up the valleys’ somewhere.  It was unforgettable.


Today marks the 50th anniversary of the Aberfan catastrophe and this week there have been all sorts of programmes on radio and TV to mark the event.

One programme, which brought tears to my eyes, was about the Aberfan Young Wives Club.  For months after the disaster, the whole village was devastated as parents tried to come to terms with the loss of their children.  Over one hundred women had waved their children off to school that morning, only to have to go and identify their bodies later that day.  It was a truly awful situation.

After some months, the local vicar suggested that the bereaved mothers should get together to form a support group, so that they could help each other through the trauma of their loss.  The Young Wives Group was founded.

On TV this week we saw interviews with some of the founder members of the group, now in their seventies and eighties, talking, with great dignity,  about the comfort and strength that they had derived from being part of the group.  Interestingly, the only topic that was not open for discussion at the Young Wives Club was the disaster itself.  The Club was there to bring diversion and a sense of structure and ‘normality’ to what otherwise were destroyed lives.  It was very moving to see these elderly women re-telling their stories of 21st October 1966. The Club is still in existence and meets regularly.  It decided, a few years ago, that it was time to drop the word ‘Young’ from its title!

Other documentaries this week have dealt with the story behind the disaster.

At that time, coal mining in the UK was a nationalised industry, run by the National Coal Board, the NCB.  The Chairman of the NCB was Lord Robens.

One the morning of the disaster, Lord Robens was informed by telephone about the scale of the catastrophe that had hit Aberfan.  He was due to be invested, later that day, as Chancellor of the University of Surrey and he saw no reason to change his plans.  He eventually arrived in Aberfan on Saturday evening.  Coal Board officials put out the story that he had been directing rescue operations from afar.  He hadn’t.

For years, people had been complaining about the fact that No 7 Tip was unsafe.  Numerous letters were sent to the NCB, complaining about black slurry leaking from the tip and pouring through the village, blocking the drains.  The local council and numerous other groups had raised their concerns about the danger of the tip sliding down into the village. All of these concerns were ignored.

At around 9.00 am on the morning of 21st October, the slag mountain started to become unstable.  Men working on the mountain could see it starting to move but had no way of warning the village below.  The telephone cables linking the top of the mountain with the valley had been stolen and not replaced.  In any case, there would have been no time for the alarm to be raised, as the slurry was slipping down the mountain at speeds of up to 50 mph.

When Lord Robens finally arrived in Aberfan, he offered his condolences but said that there was no way that the disaster could have been foreseen or avoided.  This was blatantly untrue, as the subsequent enquiry found out.  The NCB was well aware they there were springs and water courses beneath the growing mountain of coal waste, which rendered the whole mountainside unstable, but had decided to do nothing about it and to continue to tip more waste onto the mountain.

Eventually the NCB was forced to accept responsibility and offered to pay each bereaved family £500.00 for the death of each child.

The disaster so shocked the world that donations started to pour in to support the grieving families.

At the same time, the NCB realised that they would have to remove Tip No 7 and the other slag heaps that loomed over Aberfan.  In an act of callousness that defies belief, the Government insisted on a contribution of £150,000 from the family support fund towards the cost of removing the mountain of coal debris that had buried their children!

In 1997, some thirty years later, the new labour Government returned the money.

Lord Robens went on to a successful career in politics, even writing a major report on, ironically, Health and Safety at Work. He favoured allowing employers to regulate themselves in this area rather than be subject to legislation! 

No-one was sacked as a result of the disaster.  No-one was demoted.  No-one was prosecuted.

Lord Robens became a director of the Bank of England.

So what is the Metropole’s guilty secret?

This is Brighton’s Metropole Hotel, now part of the voracious Hilton Group.  It stands on the seafront with lovely views over the ocean.


It also stands quite close to the i360, and as you make you stately way up the big grey pole of the i360, you realise that all is not as it seems.

For on the roof of the Hilton Metropole Hotel, unseen by anyone viewing the hotel from ground level, is the most amazing picture.


At first you think “Am I seeing things?”, but No, there it is, as plain as the nose on your face.


Why?  What does it represent?  I have no idea.

Maybe it’s just another example of  “Only in Brighton.”

And if you look across to the east…

… you will see a couple of solitary people sitting on the pebbles,


thinking no-one can see them and a third one probably sleeping off the effects of the night before.

You might also  see the neatly arranged craft of the Brighton Boat Club and an awful lot of pebbles.


Or possibly you’ll get a glimpse of Brighton Pier …


… looking positively serene in the still, blue water.

And then, in the background, stretching as far as the eye can see, you can pick out the chalk cliffs that will take you all the way to the Seven Sisters, then on to Beachy Head and eventually around to Dover. (Brighton Marina, where the rich go to park their boats, can be seen in the foreground.


And the best thing of all is that, as residents of Brighton, we get to go up the i360 for half-price!  Does life get any better?

And… and… on top of all that, we get to discover the guilty Secret of the Hilton Metropole Hotel, which, as Michael Caine might have said, ‘not many people know.’

And as we make our way up the big grey pole…


… be sure not to miss the memorial to soldiers who fell in South Africa between 1900 and 1902 that you have walked past many times but never really noticed.


Then there are the elegant frontages of Regency Square and the Square itself, as ir gradually recedes beneath you.



And then off to your left, you can see the newly renovated seafront with the much-used paddling pool, (well, much-used for the couple of months in the summer when it has water in it and temperatures that are not actually life-threatening!)


Then there’s the little red pub that didn’t know it was being photographed from on high.


And looking out over to the west, with the camera zoom at its maximum, you can just see Shoreham Harbour,


and if you look very carefully beyond the town itself, you’ll see the start of the Sussex Downs that keep Brighton gently nestled against the sea.


Editor’s note:  Sorry about the reflections, but when you are taking pictures from a glass bubble in broad daylight…


Up in the sky … ever so high…


Thanks to a long-awaited visit from some friends from Australia last week we finally got our excuse to go up the i360, Brighton’s latest tourist attraction.


The i360 opened at the beginning of August, way behind schedule, but promising stunning views over Brighton.  It did not have a happy first month.

Within two weeks, the huge glass doughnut got stuck half way up its pole and the 200 passengers inside had to wait two hours before they could be rescued.  Apparently, all of the safety brakes locked into place when the staff opened the bar and dozens of people suddenly moved to the other side of the doughnut in search of alcohol.

Each flight is supposed to take about 20 minutes, just enough time to take some pictures of Brighton from the air and have a glass of wine, if the mood should take you.  No provision had been made for toilets in the capsule itself.  Well, why would anyone need a toilet on a 20 minute flight?  There are plenty of facilities on the ground.

Until, that is, the capsule becomes unbalanced, the emergency brakes engage and the passengers are suspended 50 metres above the ground waiting to be rescued!

By the end of Week Three,  British Airways, who own the installation, had provided an emergency toilet tent, such as you might find on a not-very-well-equipped campsite.  Not elegant, not terribly dignified, but, well, when you’ve got to go…!


The i360 is located just opposite the very grand Regency Square , which, on the landward side at least, is the first thing you see.


Imagine our consternation, therefore, when we saw not one, not two but three fire engines, lined up at the bottom of the square, just in front of the new attraction.


Have a good flight!  Come back soon… if you can!

There’s dogs… everywhere.

This is the latest craze to hit the streets of Brighton.  Snowdogs!


Why they are called ‘Snowdogs’ I don’t know, but they have appeared all over the centre of town.  They have been designed by all sorts of different artists and they will eventually be auctioned off to raise money for a local hospice, the Martlets.

I’m not sure that we will bid to have one in the newly restored garden of Beaconsfield House.  I’m looking for something more scary that will terrify the neighbours’ cats that seem to be attracted to out garden in search of a quiet place to relieve themselves. I’m not sure that these rather chirpy creatures will fit the bill, – perhaps I need a Snowgorilla  –  but they certainly cheer up the streets of Brighton.

Meet Disco Dog.


Or what about the dog that was sponsored by the Brighton Swimming Club?


Apparently, at one time in Brighton’s disreputable history, gentlemen were in the habit of going bathing in the sea dressed in nothing but their moustaches.  T the blue and white striped, all-in-one bathing garment was introduced to try and dissuade them.  Such scenes would certainly have brought a blushto the cheeks of the ladies promenading along the elegant West Pier!

And then there is this rather cheerful-looking fellow.


You can’t see from the picture but the chap in the hi-vis jacket is not removing the policeman’s hat from the statue.  He’s fixing it onto the head of the Snowdog with two big, steel bolts.  The dog is sponsored by Sussex Police.  My guess is that the hat won’t last a day.  Some stag night will figure out a way of purloining it!

Since we returned from our travels, several people have asked if we think we will be able to settle in Brighton.  Our son is on record as saying that he gives us six months before we start looking for some other death-defying part of the world to go and risk our lives in.

Well, all I can say is that a town  that provides bright and breezy Snowdogs to lean on when you’re out shopping will be pretty difficult to leave.





Outraged, I was!


This building was part of my childhood.  It’s not on the side of an Alpine meadow but in the middle of Singleton Park in Swansea, South Wales, just next to theice-cream shop.  It is known locally, with great originality, as ‘The Swiss Cottage’ and I’ve known it all my life.

As a schoolboy I used to look up at the inscriptions on the front and along the side of the building and wonder what on earth they all meant.

Along the front it reads,  –


which means “Live in such a way that you would want to live again”.  i.e Live in this life in the same way that you would want to live into eternity.

Then on the side of the building there is a short poem that says the same kind of thing but in more poetic language.

But then… Oh Horror!  When I last walked past the Swiss Cottage two years ago, just after we were evacuated from South Sudan, it had been gutted by fire.  Very sad.  A little bit of history destroyed by vandals.

But then… Oh Joy!  Two weeks ago, I found myself once again walking through Singleton Park and there was the old Swiss Cottage fully rebuilt, renovated and re-painted! Vibrant in all its new colours.  An old friend restored to full health.  Well done, Swansea Council!

But imagine the depths of my disappointment when I read the poem on the side of the building.


Beautifully written in Gothic script, obviously by a skilled sign-writer, the little poem had two significant spelling mistakes that rendered it complete nonsense.  The last word of the second line should be ‘Gäste‘ , meaning ‘guests’ and the last word of the poem should be ‘ein‘.

If the sign-writer had checked his work with a native German speaker, or even a C-grade A-level student, the poem would have communicated what the poet intended.

Something like:-

“We build here so firmly

And yet we are foreign guests

And where we are supposed to be eternally

There we put in so little.”

For some reason, that I find intriguing, the sign-writer had decided to insert the random English word ‘castle’ into the middle of his German poem, thereby rendering it totally incomprehensible.

I have written to Swansea Council to share my disappointment and my incredulity.  But then we are now living in post-Brexit Britain, so who needs foreign language skills?

I’m still waiting for a reply to my letter.


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