On my recent holiday, the hotel I stayed at in Brighton had lovely decoration, a four-poster bed and exotic smoothies for breakfast (rather than a thimble of orange juice). I have a slightly ambivalent relationship with Brighton (similar to that of London, but more extreme). In the mid-1990s I enjoyed visiting it as it was one of the few places in the UK with a higher concentration of LGBT people, and there was a relaxed, holiday atmosphere. This still feels like the case. As tolerant as people are nowadays, I still sometimes feel "noted upon" when my partner and I venture down for breakfast in a hotel and are the only same-sex couple. Sometimes it is nice not to be constantly in the minority (and there are very very few gay couples in the town where I live - in fact, some of my friends left Lancaster to move to Brighton for precisely that reason).
So Brighton continues to be a relatively tolerant place - and it was nice to feel "ordinary" for the day that we stayed there. Actually, we ended up feeling very ordinary - to the point of being dull. Because it seems that everyone in Brighton wishes to present themselves as somewhat eccentric and fascinating. White boys walk around with rastafarian hair. Women in their 60s have dyed their hair maroon. Transvestites and pre-op transexuals abound with more confidence than in more judgemental cities. On my last visit to Brighton I had tea with Letitia, a super-annuated escort who dressed like Mae West and left me feeling that I had spent my entire life watching TV. Brighton doesn't do dull.
So if you want to "express" a more outre side of your personality, then Brighton is probably the best place to do it. This is the forward-looking city that has the only Green MP in the UK and boasts Julie Birchill - a fountain of controversial opinions. Middle-aged gay couples are utterly unremarkable, and at a couple of points I felt like I had become a different sort of minority - the boring ordinary person, surrounded by colourful, larger-than-life characters who seemed to have stepped right out of a musical and only required me as their audience. At Brighton Museum, I read a quote from a street juggler who had worked there in the 1990s. He said that he'd gone all over the UK and that in most cities, people were too self-conscious to watch his act. This was not so in Brighton, and he would always get crowds. And that struck me as the key to Brighton - people there are not so much unself-conscious - I think they are very self-conscious - but unlike most British people, Brighton people enjoy attention. They are practically American in this respect.
Aspects of the hotel we stayed in were slightly challenging too. The booklet in our room told us that the managers could "source" us the very best wines or sex-toys (!) Additionally, we could order a "love hamper" for £50. We didn't enquire what would be in it. Suddenly, the enormous mirror propped up at the side of the bed took on a different meaning. Coming down to breakfast in the morning, we expected to see people wearing leather hoods, but they must have left them in their hampers. However, we were treated to a different display of Brighton specialness - the fussy eater.
"I am CELIAC!" announced a middle-class lady to the waiter (and the entire room). "I telephoned the hotel several weeks ago and told them that I CANNOT TOLERATE GLUTEN at all. I would like some toast, but it must be made on GLUTEN-FREE BREAD. And it cannot be made in a toaster that has been used for ORDINARY BREAD. This may result in CROSS-CONTAMINATION and I would become VERY ILL." And so it went on.
This article on today's BBC news suggests that maybe some people are being diagnosed with food allergies and they don't actually have them. It's funny, but I don't know any working-class people who have food allergies. It seems to be only something you acquire once you start earning more than £40,000 a year.