I lost my watch in Brighton

I feel deskilled. My coffee tastes off, not simply because the milk is beyond its use by date – although it smells okay – but because I have not drunk such coffee for over fourteen days and I am not used to it. Nor am I used to sitting at the computer, or the wintry weather.

When we first arrived in England everything seemed so different. We stayed in hotels and bed-sits. We slept in strange beds on lumpy under filled pillows. We travelled in hire cars, on busses and trains, in planes and on foot. We did things we do not do normally here in Australia.

All those other things, the things I had feared, the stuff about getting there, the planes falling from the sky did not come to fruition. Needless to say. Here am I writing this now. In fact often as I sat on the plane listening to the roar of the engines, imagining the ‘footless halls of air’ below me, I surprised myself by my lack of anxiety. Both trips there and back, and the two in between from Heathrow to Shannon in Ireland, and from Dublin back to Heathrow were the best flights I have ever experienced.

This trip has broken the back of my fear. I thought often of what I had written in my blog before I left for England and realised that so much of what I had feared was the fear itself.

Our time away has flown as I expected it might. It rushed past me in a haze of memories. We went to Shillington, first to find my husband’s ancestor’s graves but many of them were no longer visible. The lettering in stone had been worn off by wind and erosion. The plaques in the church were more visible but one had been overlaid by a new altar. The vicar offered to help us in our search for graves but only briefly. The Sunday service was about to start at 9.30 am.
‘Stay for the service or come back later in the afternoon,’ he said. ‘We have afternoon tea.’

We did not stay nor get back. We had so little time. The conference at Sussex University began the next day. So we made our way to Brighton where we stayed at the Granville Hotel in the West Pier room. The hotel overlooked the gravel filled beach and stood next door to the Hilton Hotel Metropole, which in its turn stood next door the Grand Hotel where Margaret Thatcher had stayed several years ago in the early mid eighties. A bomb devastated the front of the hotel during her stay but Thatcher was unharmed. The security guards had put her in a room towards the back.

There was a sign on the door to our room in the Granville, ‘Children are not permitted in this room’. I imagined this was on account of the wall to floor windows that opened out two floors up and looked across the street below to the sea.
Not so strange then that on so many nights during our time in this hotel room I dreamed of babies. Many in danger.

Later that first day we walked along the Brighton pier among crowds of visitors. It was hot by English standards and the pier was shocking in its gaudiness, a dome in the middle housed multiple poker machines and gambling opportunities.

I lost my watch in Brighton, or so I thought until it showed up at the end of the day in the bottom of my backpack. I thought at first it was an omen. In the gambling hall on the pier, my husband held his camera low. ‘No photos allowed’, the sign said. He held his camera low and snapped it from time to time, his middle camera eye unseen directed towards the glaring lights of pinball machines, and half dressed women, sun worshipers of all nationalities, men in tattoos, mothers with prams.

He held his camera in line with one old woman at a poker machine, her back rigid, her eyes fixed at the line of fruit on the screen, seemingly entranced by the clatter and clang of the money as it dropped into her tray. Bright lights the occasional jackpot, and then she gave it all back again.

I thought of my children and for an instant I worried they might be dead. Time had slipped from my wrist. My children across the water, across the sea lost in time lost to me forever, I imagined. I feared I had been careless. I had not kept a close enough watch on time, on them. I had left them behind for the faded grandeur of Brighton and a thousand conference words that would never bring them back.

They were fine of course, except in my imagination for that brief moment, which blended in with the heat and stink of urine behind the Brighton kitchens where we walked after dinner that first night, and stared at the endless queues.

I came to think of England as the land of the queue. But there were compensations, especially in the green of the landscape. Everywhere throughout the countryside I noticed clusters of red poppies, sometimes in small bunches, elsewhere whole fields and every time I saw them I thought of the war poem, In Flanders Field.

‘In Flanders Field the poppies grow among the crosses row on row that mark our place. We are the dead…’

Flanders is in France but it could just as well be in England. Along the Sussex roads the traffic islands are filled with clusters of flowers, red, pink, white and purple. They shimmered on warm mornings as I took the bus to the conference, but the nights again were cold.

Now at last I know what people mean by hedgerows. Now I can use the word in my writing as I have done at times since I was a small child and now I can see a hedgerow in my mind’s eye. Until now the word bore no real meaning other than as a word I had read in poems as a child in British books, the first met in primary school. Now I also know about the green of England and the sight of those Irish cliffs I have seen so often in movies.

At the conference dinner my husband and I sat at a table with none other than Michael Holroyd who had been one of the keynote speakers. He came to the dinner with his young interviewee, Sarah O’Reilly. Together the two had presented a beautiful example of the work Sarah is undertaking for the British Dictionary of Biography, a chronicle of the lives of a number of significant British writers including Michael Holroyd. It was a delight to sit with the man and to chat over wine and food. And again that sense of the brittleness of relationships that spring up in conferences. We will never meet again ever.

The private intimate conversations in which you share so much only to close the door behind you forever. On the last day of the conference I felt the weight of a certain kind of sadness – all over so soon, sad and yet glad. There were too many people, too many events, too many words and my feelings rose up and down continuously like being on the end of a yoyo.

Gradually more memories will come back to me, but for now I must settle for the prosaic and obvious, the weather and the food. It’s good to be home.

57 thoughts on “I lost my watch in Brighton”

  1. Welcome back – you have arrived safely Elisabeth. This post was a wonderful read – sharing your travel experiences. Funny how all those worries seem to dissipate – the amount of time and energy we waste, imagining the worst when we really have no control, I do exactly the same.

  2. It's good to have you home, Elisabeth – filled and fortified.

    A friend once said to me 'never underestimate the power (or the value) of the ordinary.' I must agree… within the ordinary dwells the extraordinary. It'll be good to hear your stories as and when they come to you.

    Happy settling in

  3. Welcome home. Glad you had a safe trip.

    It's a shame your husband couldn't find the graves of his ancestors. I guess time has this affect on headstones though. And I'm sure going to the church and the cemetery was an experience in itself.

    You were very lucky to share a table and conversation with Michael, and I hope you got a lot not just out of that conversation, but out of the whole time you were at the conference.

  4. Hi Elizabeth. I have no idea how you found me but i see we have some common denominators in our blogroll. Would you believe that my Grandma came from Shillington, no shit! Imagine! Nearly died when I saw you mention it there. Small world and I've spent many a holiday there, doing brass rubbings in the little church and enjoying it's tiny pubs and thatched houses.

  5. Sorry to correct you but the main part of the Flanders is in Belgium. For example the Hundred Years' War (which actually lasted for 116 years) started, because the English wanted to rule France and the Casus Belli was the Flanders. In the 14-15th century it was a very precious territory for her textile industry.

    No, I am not a historian, so you should check what I have said. I am going to be an economist-tour guide.

  6. How can any comment from me possibly begin do justice to this post?

    I love Brighton, I prefer to think of the beach as "pebble" rather than "gravel", but I'm a romantic like that. It was lovely being able to see the city through your eyes, though, as a visitor slightly taken aback by the tawdry English seaside. And the endless English queuing. But I hope you liked it.

    I'm glad you are safe, and that despite your worries your children are, too. You were missed in your absence.

  7. I enjoyed hearing about your trip and the thoughts along the way. You are such a good writer. I have spent time in England the last two summers. You made me miss the place a bit.
    I'm glad the travels went well and that you are back.

  8. You experienced the relativity of moving through space and time until you got 26-hours from home and then returned safely.
    It all sounds wonderful so I look forward to further posts when you re-adjust … maybe with those great photos of your husband's?

  9. I enjoyed reading this. Well written. I could see and feel the experience. Bittersweet is the adjective I would use to summarize it. The tawdry is everywhere, it seems. But then there's the beauty. I try to focus on that.

  10. When Carrie first came over here from California one of the things she wanted to do was wander round a really old graveyard. Not so much to look for ancestors although she has some kicking around. I’ve no idea where any of my relatives are buried. Nor, predictably enough, much interest. The one we ended up in was in Edinburgh, Greyfriars Tolbooth and Highland Kirk to be precise which dates back to 1620 so as you can imagine many of the gravestones were old and the writing on them all but gone. I’m with Beckett when it comes to them: Personally I have no bone to pick with graveyards, I take the air there willingly, perhaps more willingly than elsewhere, when take the air I must. When I was a kid I often passed through a graveyard on the way home from school but it’s been years since I’ve been in one, not since that day with Carrie in fact. I don’t think I’ve ever written a poem in a graveyard or even got an idea for one.

  11. If only I hadn't been in my silent phase when I visited England (sigh). This is such a wonderful description of your time there. I really got a taste of your experience. Glad to see you back.

  12. Deskilled. I just read that again and realize that you mean de-skilled. Initially, I thought you meant the desk had killed you. I…need….more….sleep…..

  13. Lovely to find you back at your computer. And jolly glad that you didn't find the flights too arduous, and found your watch.

    I quite like that gaudy aspect of seaside towns in England, though only for an hour or so at a time.

    I wonder why photos aren't allowed in the gambling hall, fear of being seen for the sordid, money grubbing places they are probably.

    Glad you found everything in order when you got home.

  14. Elisabeth, it is good to have you back. Discussions await your comments while we look forward to your further adventures. The mind is a trickster, who else would tell us such horrific things about our children when all was actually going well? I am happy your flights gave you a different point of view of air travel…where will you go next?

  15. Welcome back, Elisabeth!

    As for going off to England, I went there last year during the summer and only sat on a tour bus for five hours visiting only the major landmarks, which was pretty boring if you ask me. I went their for a school field trip, which is why I had to remain on the bus, at all times under teacher supervision.

    I wish I could've explored London a little bit longer and talked to some of the people, but my time there was short. I don't regret going there and seeing the landmarks though. I listened and learned a lot from the facts, but I just wished I experienced some of the life there.

    As for your experience, it was a refreshing read. Entertaining and nostalgic!

    So, write on!

  16. Please don't denigrate your post as merely 'prosaic and obvious' – it was a riveting read that made me travel alongside you as a passenger for a brief time.

    Plus, I'm envious. Would dearly love to visit England again – great memories of being young and silly in London in 1991-92 but also remember wishing I had someone special to share it with. Maybe one day Love Chunks, Sapphire and myself will go there together.

  17. Welcome back. Good to have you with us again. Sounds like you had a great time at the conference. (You were correct, by the way: queueing is what we are good at.)

  18. Thanks., Sylvia. I'm still a trifle jet lagged, if that's a way to describe it, but stronger for overcoming all those little travel worries.

    I love that injunction 'never underestimate the power (or the value) of the ordinary', Claire, and I'll try to take it to heart. Thanks for your good wishes.

  19. Thanks Scoman. I am disappointed that we could not find as many graves as were visible some twenty years ago when one of my brothers visited but he took photos then, s at least we have some record, however faded.

    Michael Holroyd was a highlight of the conference not just meeting him at dinner but also his talk at the conference.

    Aah the conference. I'm still digesting.

  20. That's some amazing coincidence, Baino. Your grandmother lives in Shillington. It's such a delightful village.

    I'm going to try to post some photos once I manage to get hold of some of the better ones my husband took. He takes photography seriously and it pays off. My photos are not so worthy. The photos might bring back memories for you. Shillington has a timeless quality.

  21. You're right, Ropi. Flanders is in Belgium.

    Thanks for the correction. I don't mind being corrected at all, in fact I value it, however else can we learn. And it's lovely to hear from you here on my blog.

  22. I took home a pebble from the beach in Brighton, Come Back Brighter, and it's still with me in the bottom of my handbag.

    You're right the stones are more like pebbles than gravel, they are smooth and shiny, but still a shock to Australian eyes that are used to sand. It did occur to me that those who visit the bech at btighton do not have the sand problems ewe have here in australia. Sand has such away of sticking to everything, pebbles at least stay put except when people like me take them home.

    My husband started this tradition, Wherever we go, whenever we can (within the law and reason) we bring back a stone or rock sample from the places we visit and leave them outside in our back garden. That way our garden becomes a strange sort of representation of the places we have visited.

    I sometimes imagine in centuries to come it might also confuse the archeologists in their land digs. What's a stone from Brighton England doing in a suburban backyard in Melbourne, Australia?

    Thanks, Come Back.

  23. Thanks, Anthony, for your good wishes and kind words. I'm still strangely surprised to be back home. My dreams are even now full of travelling.

    Thanks AnnODyne for your good wishes, too. I promise I'll try to post some photos as soon as I can get them down to size and off my husband's computer.

    He's a perfectionist though and he won't let his photos out until they are just about right. This might take some time. You might just have to settle for some of my lesser quality shots.

  24. Thanks, Jim. I love to visit graveyards. I find the experience of reading gravestones and imagining the lives of those buried there fascinating.

    It might seem a tad perverse but I also reverberate at the poignant notices of those who have lost multiple babies mostly many years ago.

    They always bring a tear to my eye, and I experience a morbid fascination. I want to read more and simultaneously I want to pass the pain by.

  25. Thanks for your good wishes, Kass. De-skilled indeed. I should have used a hyphen. I can't imagine though being killed by a desk. Perhaps you were tired. I hope you're not tired now. I still am, jet lagged that is, but fast getting over it.

    Thanks Eryl. I think you may be right about the reasons for no photos allowed in the gambling halls. They seem terribly decadent and if people were able to show it all the world some of the world's wowsers might jump up and down.

  26. I plan to stay home for some time now, Marilynne, if I can help it. the next IABA conference is to be held in Canberra, Australia. That might be the furthermost I travel for a while now. At least I hope so. I prefer home to travel any day, however enlightening the distant travel can be. Thanks Marilynne.

  27. Thanks, Vachte. Your trip around England on a bus sounds disappointing.

    You can see a lot from the windows of a bus landscape wise but it's not the same as travelling on foot, nor as it is being free to explore at your own leisure.

    You're still young enough, Vachte. You'll get a change again to do it your own way soon, I'm sure.

  28. Thanks for your welcome back Elizabeth and thanks too Kath for your kind words. I don't mean to denigrate my thoughts only there are many times when they seem just that.

    I hope you and yours make it get to England soon. You'd love it. I'm such a stay at home, someone more adventurous would no doubt have a ball.

  29. We queued for an hour at Heathrow Airport to collect a hire car we had pre-booked. We queued for lunch at the university everyday even after the university had done a preliminary time motion plan on how to get 300 plus people through the cafeteria in one sitting. We queued down two flights of stairs and out into the quadrangle.

    We queue here in Australia but you're right in England it seems a way of life and no one complains. At least I didn't see anyone unhappy about it except the foreigners like me.
    Thanks for your good wishes, Dave.

  30. time slipping from your wrist- i've struggled with pinpointing what that feels like for some time. your post has explained myself to me, thank you!

    good to have you back.

  31. Nice you are back home. And i am glad that you have overcame the barrier of the fear, that terrible tyranny. Will we ever win the battle against it?? i don´t know, but it is worth to give a try, perhaps, something great could be lying behind the door, despite it all, life is about it,,about taking decisions and assuming the consequences.
    Regards Elisabeth and welcome back blogging =)

  32. Welcome back and what a return! I loved how you mixed your own experience (the fear) with the surrounding landscapes. And you're right about hedgerows. They're massive.

    It's so nice to see – and read – you again.

    Greetings from London.

  33. Thanks for the welcome back, Alesa.

    I'm glad you now understand what it's like to have time slip from your wrist, Sherry. Thanks for your comment.

  34. It is a good thing to get beyond the fear, Alberto, however briefly. Thanks for your good wishes.

    Those hedgerows, Cuban, cheek by jowl our little car squeezed onto those tiny roads and passing another car was a nightmare and yet people do it regularly and it seems without to many mishaps. Thanks for the welcome back, Cuban.

  35. Hi Elisabeth! You certainly had a great time in England! Brighton is a wonderful place! I love England.
    BTW did you know that Flanders is the Belgium part where they speak Dutch? Flanders is North Belgium, bordering the Netherlands. We call it Vlaanderen. The south of Belgium is called Wallonia and that's the French speaking part of Belgium.

  36. Hello Elisabeth,
    Thank you for visiting my blog and leaving a message!
    Despite the fact that my English is not so overwhelming, I liked to read your trip report. You're a smooth writer.
    Greetings from Flanders in Belgium!

  37. Sometimes traveling is such an odd thing. We are thrown into a new land and new situations, yet we cling to that which we recognize as if it might save us from our own curious selves.

    When we are on vacation we have nothing but time; and yet we have so little time to explore and do the things we actually want to do because getting there is not only half the fun but half the day.

    I hope your travels have enriched you and made you less fearful. Sometimes it is the opposite when we venture into different versions of ourselves.

  38. Thanks for the geography lesson, Reader. I am hopeless when it comes to the location of places, but I know it now. Flanders is in Belgium.

    And thank you for your good wishes from Flanders in Belgium, Annie. what an amazing coincidence.

  39. I think my travels have enriched me, Phoenix, but I thought I’d be over the jet lag by now.

    Last night between the hours of two and five am I could not sleep at all. I’m now exhausted.

    In the wee hours of my sleepiness this morning I vowed never to travel overseas again. The jet lag is too high a price to pay.

    I trust this state of mind, like all other states of mind, will pass, in the fullness of time.

    Thanks, Phoenix.

  40. Your post reminds me of many things and brings back old emotions. I am glad that I found your blog, I am looking forward to reading more.

  41. My first time stopping by since I posted about chess on my blog and you left a comment. That made me think to come back (I have a new chess post) and your title is I Lost My Watch In Brighton and last week at BEAT to a PULP (I'm the ed over there) I published a short story called "The Path To Brighton." Not sure my point,except the word simpatico comes to mind. 🙂

    Anyway, great post here.

  42. Oh, I guess we came back almost simultaneously.;) I mean back to blogging, as I did not travel anywhere, just took a vacation at home.;)
    I loved your whole intro, as I have just this week booked flight tickets to Switzerland. It can not be compared to your long flight around the world, but it is a big step for me, who has not flown since 2004. I am terrified of planes, but somehow recently, the fear has subsided somewhat and feel ready to try again. Perhaps I feel go through similar motions to yours (although I think I might need a stiff drink before departure).;)
    Looking forward to more recollections from your trip, particularly Ireland.;)

  43. Thanks for your visit here, Kat. I wonder about those memories and old emotions of yours. Perhaps you could be more specific.

    In any case, it's good to hear from you here.

  44. Well, David, fancy meeting you here. I suspect in many ways we couldn't be more different, but I just read your most recent post, inspired by your 'Path to Brighton', which I'd like to read by the way – could you please direct me to it? – and remembered my long relationship with a chess buff who read every book he could find on chess moves and then spent his spare time between betting on the horses with playing chess by correspondence. This, in the days before email and computers.

    Thanks, David.

  45. Home holidays are okay, Zuzanna, but a trip to Switzerland might also be great fun.

    Please let me know how it goes.

    I'm glad you're getting over your flight fears. Think about it: all those thousands of people at airports every single day, taking different flights everywhere and by and large they all reach their destinations on time and as expected.

    I'll try to write about Ireland, if I can feel so inspired. The country had a big impact on me.

    Thanks Zusanna.

  46. this is a bit belated, but welcome back, and yes, you were missed. i love to travel. i haven't been to any of the places you describe, nor to your home of australia. your post makes me want to throw everything over, and go walkabout.

  47. Oh! You know a Cuban in London, too! I love how all the dots connect here in the blog realm.

    Hello Elisabeth! (waving) Ah. The footless halls of air, eh? Great phrase. The only thing that separates you and me are footless halls of air – oh and time, of course. I believe it's tomorrow where you are, or yesterday – I can never wrap my mind around it.

    So glad to have "met" you. What a beautiful post. I am a serious anglophile. I love England, the cities, the rolling hills, the beach towns. I can think of no better place to lose a watch than Brighton.

    Very much looking forward to reading more here. Shalom.

  48. elisabeth – i love that you let the flow of experience and connection meld so seemlessly together and the narrative of perception through your eyes of an england so horribly torn between gaudiness and tiny beauties . . .well it's powerful. steven

  49. Thanks, Reya. A serious Anglophile, you say.

    I'm from Australia. We're the colonised ones, hence our feelings about England might be mixed, though I'm Australian by birth and not one of the true Australians, the indigenous.

    I'm glad we're all one world, though.

    Sometimes when I write in nationalistic terms I fear I get myself into trouble, into hot water.

    No matter. It's lovely to meet you here and thanks for your kind words.

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