Anyone concerned about the environmental impact of the National Speed Trials and Brighton Burn Up a fortnight ago needn’t have worried. As if to offset the carbon emissions from the summer’s various motoring rallies, Brighton city centre went vehicle-free on Sunday with the ‘Streets For People’ event in the Lanes. Car Free Day (which oddly only lasted from noon till five) involved the closure of various roads for an afternoon of live music and organised jaywalking.

Coincidentally, you couldn’t move in Brighton this weekend for ex-Eastenders actresses abandoning their cars and pounding the streets in the name of charity. Patsy Palmer donned her pyjamas for a stroll around Stanmer Park on Saturday, before handing the baton to Hilda Braid, who did the Nana Moonwalk along the seafront on Sunday in aid of the Alzheimer’s Society. Sadly I missed them both (my memory’s not what it was), but fortunately the 'Streets For People' event was a bit easier to find. It's hard to miss a road covered in AstroTurf and a group of Romanian tuba players with ducks on their heads.

I think the first indication that this was Car Free Day were the words ‘CAR FREE DAY’ in six-foot high letters being wheeled along East Street by a group of children who were clearly too young to drive. The programme stated “1:25pm - Giant Letters Arrive”, which is appropriate as that’s the time Royal Mail usually get around to delivering my letters.

Nearby at the Little East Street Bandstand, a variety of musical acts were performing. I arrived too late for the City of Brighton Gay Men's Chorus and the Samba band for pensioners, but I did get to see the excellent Ukes of Hazzard, who were described by compère Dave Mounfield as "the second best ukulele-based band I've ever seen. The first being them about an hour ago".

Following them were a group of saxophonists in turbans who went by the name of Bombay Baja, and were described in the programme as "one of Europe's leading Indian brass bands" (a statement which poses more questions than it answers). Of course, there’s no such place as Bombay any more, but despite that, their music was pretty good.

I have to say, some of the events taking place that afternoon seemed more relevant than others. I can see the point of replacing a road with a village green, doing free bike safety checks, and letting people play snooker in the street (I think), but I can’t help feeling that offering to style people's hair and calling it a 'Car Free Sculpture' was pushing it a bit. Surely all hairstyles are car free? Apart from the VW Beatle cut.

Resisting the temptation to let them tint my hair (mainly because I don’t have any), I moved on past the Giant Jenga, Hula-Hooping children, drum-making workshop, and haunted wheelie bins which move on their own, to the Giant Paint By Numbers, which was overseen by a man called Hugh Jart. I'm sensing that's not his given name. Maths has never been my strong point, so I decided not to take part, and headed instead for the Giant Comic Strip.

I'm not sure why everything has to be 'giant' on Car Free Day. It's probably something to do with big oil. The Giant Comic Strip turned out to be a long roll of paper sellotaped to the road, which had been started quite artistically (possibly by Hugh) with a sign saying "Let's Go!" and a dragon on a skateboard. It went downhill after that. And then around the corner. Personally I was praying for rain, just to see what would happen. They'd probably have to turn it into a papier-mâché workshop.

Having crossed over to New Road for a bit of reggae, I made my way back via the unsigned bands of Market Street and the performance poetry of East Street (where I composed a limerick about a man from Nantucket), and finished off the day with a drink from a pedal-powered smoothie maker. All in all it was an excellent afternoon out, if a little tiring. That’s the problem with Car Free Day – having been on your feet for five hours, you feel like getting a taxi home.

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Published by The Argus on 25th September 2007

Dude, Where's My Car?
by Phil Gardner
   Phil Gardner 2007