Although this weekend was also that of Leeds Pride, Wolfie and I took off on Friday evening to drive the five hours down to Brighton to attend their event. There were a few reasons why we did this, the main one being that we had been invited down there by my university friend Jenny, who was looking for an excuse to go to all of the afterparties. She has a husband and a young family now, but she saw it as an opportunity to go out, while we had actually been invited last year but the notice was too short to be able to do it.
The journey down was uneventful, although we did stop off in Wakefield for Wolfie to finish a job before completing the trip to the South Coast. This fifteen minute job turned more into an hour, leaving me wandering aimlessly around the small pit villages which littered this salubrious area. Fortunately, we had set off from home at 3:30pm meaning we arrived in Brighton shortly after 10pm, with us easily finding car park space on the road where my friend lived. Unfortunately all of the roads in Brighton seemed to be wonky, so parking straight proved difficult, not aided by Wolfie's tiredness after a full day of work and a long drive. Jenny met us on the street and took us to her house, where we discovered that she was the only one still awake. This didn't stop us opening the bottle of white wine we had brought though and catching up in the front room, having an enjoyable two hours or so before heading to bed.
Breakfast was a vegetarian feast of sausages, fried egg from our mutual friends' chickens, toast and beans. We needed sustinance as we had a long day ahead, but it did take quite a while for us all to get ready. This wasn't aided by the fact that I had to do my make-up, with my eyeliner pencil breaking en route and me not having sharpener with which to sharpen it. During this period, we played with Jenny's five-year-old daughter Lena, who called Wolfie 'Moron' throughout, encouraged by me. This was thrown back at me though with Wolfie asking Lena to call me 'Mushroom', which persisted throughout the day. It was the four of us (Wolfie, me, Jenny and Lena) going out to Pride on what was a wonderously sunny Saturday. We decided to board the bus as the journey was a little too far to walk, and soon we had descended onto London Road, the main street that runs towards the seafront. It was along here that the parade was due to be run, and we caught it just in time, finding a spot outside a local bar. The carnival atmosphere was electric and very enticing, and we were soon caught in the moment, watching all of the floats and people on the march go by. I started taking a number of pictures and posting them to Twitter, where the digital editor of the local newspaper requested whether he could use them. I agreed with credit and this only encouraged me to take more.
There were so many highlights of the Parade it is hard to detail all of them. 'The Oldest Gay In The Village' at the age of 94 rode by on his buggie to the sound of huge cheers while those marching in solidarity of gays in Chechnya and Uganda were certainly the most poignant. The same was the case for the various mental health charities, all highlighting the importance of events like these. Of course, interspersed between all of this were the usual floats with dancers and corporate sponsors, with the huge yellow dog from the Dogs Trust being a particular highlight. Of course, the best thing for me was all of the costumes, with so much gorgeous and glamorous attire. The people dressed as ice creams were perhaps my favourite, although the cards from Alice In Wonderland were also worthy of a mention, as was the burlesque troupe towards the end. Ultimately though it was one huge party and everyone really did play their part.
As the Parade ended, the heavens opened, and we sought shelter in the BrewDog bar, which was just further down the road. Understandably it was rammed, but this was the other reason why we had come to the city, so it was good to get it in early. We did manage to find a seat (well three of us did, I had the job of ordering the beer and standing) and as Jenny was curious about the different styles of beer, I opted to buy a number of different ones (Cloudwater IPA, Weihstephaner blond and Salty Kiss Gose from Magic Rock). We had only really intended in staying in the bar for one, but the rain was exceptionally heavy and we didn't want to get drenched, so we wisely stayed behind for another. As the rain subsided though, the numbers thinned out, and we got to see the wonderful arrangement of the bar. Very similar in style to the others, I particularly liked the booths which were like cages from which you could order table service for your beer.
After this, we decided to have a walk around Brighton, with me having only visited the place once before in 2008. We stuck to the centre, going up and down some of the narrow side streets which formed the old town. This was after we had looked at the unique Indian-style architecture of the Pavilion, with a number of revellers sat on the grass enjoying Pride Weekend. The shambles were particularly interesting due to the older architecture they contained, with some of the courtyards opening out into very pleasant drinking spaces. The highlight down here though was the chocolate shop Choccywoccydoodah, which had a huge number of animals crafted out of chocolate in the shop window. There was a tiger, dogs, cats and rabbits, the latter of which were campaigning for trans rights. Meanwhile, inside there was a cornicopia of chocolate to buy along with a small restaurant on the top floor. We gave Lena the choice of which chocolate she wanted to get and she opted for chocolate buttons, which we gratefully shared as we walked around the little independent stalls which make up this area. We popped in a few of them - an interesting t-shirt shop, a Native American store - but with the skies darkening yet again, we thought it best to grab some dinner, with the time approaching 5pm. Jenny suggested Pho, a Vietnamese chain which she thought was just a South-East thing until I said we had one in Leeds, where I had some excellent noodle soup with beef brisket and meatballs. It was so full of flavour and a definite winner, certainly something to fill us up as we headed into the evening's festivities.
We walked along the seafront a little bit after this - and after the rain had stopped again - but didn't really have time to go onto the beach, much to Lena's dissatisfaction. To be fair, she had just done about five hours of walking but she was becoming a little grumpy so Jenny thought it best she take her home, arranging to meet us at the main Pride party in Preston Park a little later. This saw us get separate buses at Old Steine, us the 5A and Jenny the 5B, as we were heading to different places. We followed our progress on Google Maps as the bus drove north towards the Park, but it turned out that the trio of women sat behind us were doing exactly the same, which resulted in a conversation. We all got off at the same place and chatted as we walked along the perimeter of the park towards our respective entrance gates - with two of them going through Gate D, one through Gate C and us at Gate AM. Our gate was surprisingly easy to miss and we walked past it the first time, before we asked security, who directed us the way. It was different to the other gates and there was talk about getting escorted into the event, which made me wonder about the tickets I had bought. I had gone on Jenny's advice and I can only assume on reflection later that we had inadvertently picked up disabled access tickets rather than the general ones, as we were given wristbands that got us a lot closer to the stage. It was a genuine error, but at least we did get our own toilets, which turned out to be somewhat useful due to the horror show that was there.
The event itself was very much like a music festival, with a number of ancillary music tents and a main stage in one corner. There were a number of fairground rides along with the usual eating and drinking concessions, although it was a little annoying that the only beer there was Carlsberg and the only music on show was dance. I do think it's ironic that for all the talk about diversity in the LGBT community, that diversity doesn't seem to extend to music and drink, which is one of the reasons I rarely visit gay bars. Still, there were a number of interesting stalls, including one where we picked up a Pansexual Pride bracelet. At the one and only sex stall in there, we signed up to their newsletter and got a free gift of a chocolate condom, which was nice. Meanwhile, we spent the rest of the time just wandering around the complex, grabbing a few beers, looking at the amazing array of clothing on offer (I loved all the people dressed as unicorns) and generally soaking up the party atmosphere. While we were getting our second drink, Wolfie started speaking to some people from Amsterdam (who were massively anti-Brexit) and I did think it was amazing to see so many different nationalities in attendance here. It truly was a global event.
I tried to get into some of the dance music but it really isn't my thing, and I was more concerned with my lack of reception as I didn't know where and when we were going to meet Jenny. Indeed it wasn't until we were in the toilets at the top of the hill that I got enough signal to get her message, some forty minutes after she had sent it. Still, she guided us to the ice cream van in front of which she was standing and we were soon moving closer to the stage as the Pet Shop Boys were due to start. They were the main headliners and although they started a little late, they went on a full half hour after the curfew, playing a near two hour set overall. I only really know their main hits if I was being honest, and for me the opening half of the show was a little lacklustre (not aided by a woman wearing a red feathery fascinator who kept buffeting me), but the final half an hour in particular was amogst the best live shows I have ever seen. Wheeling out the classics such as 'West End Girls', 'Go West' and 'Always On My Mind', they combined this with a spectacular laser show which was just gorgeous to observe. Wolfie was perhaps a little patronising by inquiring whether I knew their main songs, but soon I was dancing and really enjoying the music, with the crowd incredibly receptive. It was a good way to end the show and I am glad I had seen them live - it wouldn't have been a band I would have seen normally.
The party disgorged just after 10:30pm with the vast majority of people heading down the closed London Road back towards the city centre. We followed them, taking about half an hour to reach the point where we had seen the Parade earlier. The crowd had barely thinned out and having been on our feet since Pho, we decided we needed a sit down. Jenny knew a vegan-friendly pub down one of the side streets, the Prince George, and upon arrival we noticed there were seats, so we nabbed them. I ordered three VPAs (Vegan Pale Ale, a buttery toffee ale) for everyone and we chatted for a while, delighted to be off our feet. In the toilets, a camp gentleman dressed as a sailor noticed my pink tail and urged me to do full dog at the street party on Sunday, but alas I didn't bring him down, which was a shame. He was a friendly guy though and we left the bar half an hour later with nothing but happy memories. We decided to try and catch an afterparty but it would seem most were closing at midnight, including the main one in the Pleasure Gardens. This seemed an odd question of timing considering the time of conclusion of the main event, but alas it was what it was.
This meant we headed up to Kempton, Brighton's gay district, with the bars on the seafront having huge queues outside. It wasn't really my thing, but it would have taken just over an hour to have gotten into these typical generic nightclubs, so we forged our way deeper into the district. I had read of a bar called Brighton Rocks on the appropriately named Rock Street so after viewing four generic dance bars all exceptionally busy, we opted to go there. The road itself was cordoned off and there were a fair number of people on the sidestreet and in the bar itself, but service was swift and the atmosphere good so it here where we ended the night. There was an Australian lady sweeping up all of the rubbish on the street - there was a lot of it - who told me she was quite drunk while we got chatting to one of the security guards who was interesting. However, with time ticking on and Jenny promising her husband she would be back by 1am, we sadly had to leave after just one drink. Still, the view of the shimmering English Channel with the full moon reflected in it, which we could see through the railing which had closed off the street, made our final drink of the night all the more memorable.
Wolfie and Jenny both had hunger pangs and so on the way back we called off at a place which specialised solely in the Belgian style of chips. They were chipped with fluffy mashed potato and with any choice of toppings, they were one of the best takeaways I had ever had. I had the typical mayonnaise and ketchup and it was absolutely divine, so much so it makes me want to move to the city. The queue was quite long though and they must have lost a small amount of money as they could no longer offer the large portion having run out of the appropriate size bags. While in the queue, two guys wearing gold T-shirts wanted to pull my tail, to which I consented. We then ended up talking about furry, BDSM and the meaning of my collar, which was quite fun. They told me that they were staying at one of the campsites at the top end of town and that it was freezing. Rather them than me, I thought as we headed for the nightbus, we had a nice house in which to stay. The nightbus was understandably rammed, with a drunk prick swigging a bottle of Buckfast ruining the journey, but we were soon home, albeit an hour later than we had intended to be after a really fantastic day. It was particularly heartening to see so many young people really getting into it and it does give you hope for the future, despite the many negatives about this country.
Sunday was a far more sedate day, particularly as we had a long drive ahead of us and we didn't get up until approaching 11am such was the nature of the day preceding it. We did manage to arise and pack though (with Lena more interested in chewing my bracelet, which she called 'chewy'), deciding to go for lunch at The Plough in Pyecombe, a village just outside of Brighton proper. We drove there, missing the turnoff initially and encouraging the deathly stare of an elderly gentleman who was not happy we were turning around on his driveway. The pub was rather odd - a village setting but with staff who were largely immigrants serving an eclectic menu that went from pasta and pizza to Sunday roasts and a huge range of curries. During the summer months they have a BBQ on site and I opted for the minted lamb steak, which was gorgeous. Wolfie had the BBQ burger, which was equally exceptional. We grabbed a couple of local ales and chatted about artificial intelligence, robotics and the ethics and science surrounding this. It was all rather interesting, before we headed up to Devil's Dyke, which was once described by the painter John Constable as the best view in England. It overlooks the Wolds and is not too dissimilar to the views across Teesside from the North York Moors. It was incredibly windy up here though, bitterly so, although this did aid the three people who were flying kites. You could hear the plastic whoosh against the wind in a very satisfying manner, while the view was stunning over the countryside. It was a nice way to end our stay in Brighton, as we had to leave shortly after that, dropping Jenny and Lena off at the house and having a cup of tea before setting off.
Brighton is a fantastic city and we really enjoyed our visit. Next time, we hope we can stay longer, although we don't know whether we want to miss Leeds Pride next year. I guess there's quite a while to decide.