Vintage clothing, nudist beaches and slap-up teas: Caitlin Moran explains why you can’t beat Brighton, then or now
In the 90s, there weren’t cheap flights to Prague, or spa weekends with the girls – you never really went on holiday, unless you went to Dorset and stayed with your parents in a caravan, sulking.
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Although it’s only 50 minutes from London by train, you’d always drive so you could leave home in your mate’s battered old car screaming “SCRUBBERS!” out of the window at people, like Withnail does when leaving for his holiday in Withnail And I. It was important to channel Withnail at all times. You would have to say, “We’ve come on holiday by mistake,” at least 12 times a day.
Back then, Brighton wasn’t the hipster paradise it is now. It was, as the writer Keith Waterhouse put it, “a town that always looks like it’s helping the police with its enquiries”.
Now, you can go down The Lanes to buy a Victorian locket or an antique Clarice Cliff tea set. In the 90s, you’d go there to buy a 1950s gown with a bloodstain on the front, or a gun. My father, who lived there in the 1970s, gave me the number of a man he claimed “can get you a monkey. If you want one. He knows a bloke in a zoo. Fifty quid.”
The pier took care of an hour of retro fun, but then you’d attempt the real attraction of 90s Brighton: trying to find the fabled nudist beach.
Now, of course, you can Google where it is in seconds (it’s by the Black Rock stop on Volk’s Electric Railway) but, back then, you had to go up to strangers and ask, “Do you know where the nudey place is? I want to see the willies,” and you were always too scared to do this.
Food-wise, I learned that if you “dressed posh” you could go to The Grand hotel and get a cake and a pot of tea for £3. If you kept your eyes peeled, you could minesweep sandwiches, cakes and half-drunk champagne left behind by dignified old ladies after their slap-up afternoon teas while saying, “Where’s grandma gone?!” in order to fool the waiters.
I had my first romantic break with my future husband in Brighton.
As you can see from the picture, there was no sense back then of packing a series of delightful outfits for a dirty weekend away. Brighton was a place that allowed you to conduct the early, red-hot part of your relationship in a pair of brown leggings from M&S and a floppy velvet hat – to indicate your bohemian tendencies.
We stayed in a very cheap B&B with a very elderly waterbed in the room; whenever you moved, the whole thing sloshed alarmingly from side to side. I actually became seasick and insisted we drive home at 2am. I shouted “SCRUBBERS!” out of the window at drunk people emerging from clubs, then whispered, “We’ve come on holiday…by mistake,” before puking out the window.
THE BEST OF BRIGHTON NOW
The hotel My Brighton’s rooms – names include Carousel and Heaven – are bright and futuristic. Enjoy a chicken kolhapuri curry at The Chilli Pickle downstairs or a bonnie bramble cocktail at bar Merkaba. (Rooms from £105 a night; 17 Jubilee Street, BN1; myhotels.com/brighton)
The restaurant If you’re craving fish, head to The Little Fish Market inHove for intensely tasty hand-dived scallops, mussel curry and Gigha halibut. (10 Upper Market Street, BN3; thelittlefishmarket.co.uk)
The shop With clothes and homeware by new designers and Scandinavian brands, ODE (Our Daily Edit) is the place for stylish souvenirs. (23 Ship Street, BN1; ourdailyedit.com)