My faith in British urban life has been restored – after a weekend in Brighton!
Our visit – to attend a conference – just happened to coincide with “White Night”. No, I’d never heard of it before either but now I’ve discovered it I want to go back for more – and help spread it to other UK cities too. No longer shall I be one of those who complain that continental cities always do it so much better!
I have to own up: we ducked out of the formal conference dinner quite early – prompted partly by fear of missing out on what a young guy behind the bar of the Mash Tun pub had told us the day before would be the next biggest night out to New Year’s Eve in Brighton. I’m just not familiar enough with Brighton to know if his assessment is absolutely true but it certainly was a great night out and a real city celebration – the sort of thing that brings out the best in urban living.
Halloween had brought the normal crop of ghouls, ghosts, vampires and mummies on to the city streets – well, I say the “usual crop” but to be honest Brighton takes dressing up to a whole new level; they’re just so professional about it! The big difference though was that rather than it all just deteriorating in to a late night of drink-induced shouting, sickness and brawling, White Night gave everything a real carnival feel – in fact I’ve not experienced any celebration that combines intoxication, exuberance and good humour so well since I enjoyed the wonderful experience of being in Trinidad for their carnival (some of which I do actually remember!). Brighton’s pubs, restaurants, cafes, galleries and other places stayed open late (although not quite as late as promised in the publicity!); the Old Steine (a green bit in the city centre) hosted an “Alternative Village Fete” with some truly amazing performers; there were street entertainments everywhere for kids, families and adults, all mixed and phased pretty seamlessly to make this a real, and massive, community celebration of – well just of being alive and being together really! Now, I’m sure there must have been a few “incidents” and unpleasantnesses – although I certainly didn’t see anything unduly disturbing (apart from some of the fashion items, that is!) – and I’m sure some people will have felt the need to focus on the negative aspects – but what really came across so strongly was that this was a great way of celebrating urban living, urban culture and the urban environment. The only way you can get anywhere close to this sort of thing out of town is to set up a big festival – but what the festivals really do is create temporary urban places in the countryside. A city – even a small one – already has the structure, the infrastructure and the people: all you need to do is add the life, the fun and the pleasure of being together and you’ve got it made!
If you’d like a flavour of White Night, have a quick look at these YouTube clips: