For the past forty years, the month of May has meant only one thing in this neck of the woods: The Brighton Festival. For people like myself, constantly looking for new ways of avoiding work, it’s a godsend. Especially as a lot of it’s free.
The traditional curtain-raiser was of course the Children’s Parade on Saturday the 5th. The Festival programme described it as "spectacular", "climactic", "explosive" and "a riot", making it sound more like a terrorist attack than a parade, but I went along anyway, if only to try and spot my girlfriend’s nephews. The theme of this year's parade was 'Inventors & Inventions', so with that very much in mind, their school had told them to dress up as... um... a brass band. The link may have been tenuous, but you haven’t lived until you’ve seen two dozen kids trying to get a note out of a papier-mâché trumpet whilst being marshalled by a teacher dressed as a tuba. They were only outdone by the school who chose to celebrate the life of that great inventor Dr Who by dressing up as Daleks. They made it all the way round, only to be foiled by a flight of stairs at Madeira Drive.
The Children’s Parade clearly inspired others to hit the streets too, as the following day saw the arrival of the Stonewall Brighton Equality Walk. Which was equally good. Obviously. It wasn’t technically part of the Festival, but I like to support good causes, especially when there’s a chance of meeting celebrities, so I headed on down to the seafront.
The metaphorical starting pistols were fired by chubby glamourpuss Amy Lamé, and sure enough, as I loitered with intent near the pier, I spotted Amy marching across the road, flanked by Mr Gay UK and the camp one off Coronation Street.
You’ve got to admire someone who's not only been on Celebrity Fit Club, but is also the face of Hula Hoops, so as Amy picked her way through the traffic, I gave her a smile and reached for my camera. To my surprise, she smiled back as if she knew me (possibly she reads The Kemptown Rag), and as her fellow campaigners marched off along the seafront, she came over to me instead. I politely asked if I could take her photo, she said "Sure!" in that laid-back breezy way Americans have when they're not trying to shoot you, and we exchanged a few words. It was only brief, but I felt we bonded and I fully expect a Christmas card from her this year.
The end of the Festival’s first week saw the start of the ‘Streets of Brighton’ spectacular, a programme of free (that was the word which attracted me) outdoor events around the city. Looking for an excuse to get out of the house for an afternoon, I spent Friday the 11th sampling a few of the delights on offer. I love the concept of street theatre. Where else can you see a five-piece band playing rock n roll while dressed in wetsuits and flippers? Then there was Fiaschetto, a lady who’d come all the way from Switzerland to prance about on stage with a box on her head. She was particularly good, as was the Bash Street Theatre Company’s resurrection of Buster Keaton, but the show I enjoyed most was The Cuddly Fluffkins. Intellectual street theatre is all very well, but for sheer entertainment value you can’t beat a live show aimed at the under-fives.
Sadly I failed to get tickets for 'Afternoon Tea With Joan Bakewell' the previous weekend, but on Sunday the 13th I did manage to lay my hands on two tickets for an altogether classier event: an evening with Patsy Palmer. It’s the same thing but with more gingernuts. Patsy’s warm-up act was none other than the future Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, so in the afternoon I headed down to the Dome to see if I could join a protest and get on TV.
The thing about militant activists who stop at nothing in their quest for justice, is that they're easily put off by a bit of rain. So with a torrential downpour dampening the rebellious spirit, the expected mass demonstrations were reduced to just two: pressure group ‘Priced Out’ were protesting rising house prices, while a few people in orange spent the afternoon chanting "Bring Omar Home, Close Guantanamo Bay". Frankly if Omar had seen the weather, he wouldn't have wanted to come home, and if he had, he’d probably have found himself priced out of a flat, so I think they were wasting their time.
The evening’s event was an exploration of addiction with Kemptown’s very own Patsy Palmer, who was joined by William Leith, author of 'The Hungry Years: Confessions of a Food Addict'. I was expecting a star-studded event, having been assured by my girlfriend that Patsy’s a close friend of Zoe Ball, and that in all probability I’d be sitting next to Fatboy Slim. Needless to say she was wrong.
But despite failing to win our own personal Spot the Ball competition, the evening’s journey through the world of hellish addiction was a complete success. William was funny, Patsy was witty, and the whole thing was hosted by Peter Guttridge, the Observer's crime fiction critic, who knows a criminal bit of writing when he sees it, and admitted to reading both their books. The most interesting thing, however, was the number of people who were quite happy to sit through a ninety-minute lecture on the evils of alcoholism whilst sipping a glass of wine from the bar. I think I was the only person not drunk by the end.