Alive Reynolds reminisces
In October 2008 I went back to the place where I grew up - 11 Over Street, Brighton. It was a very nostalgic trip for me even if Dad's old brass plate that used to be screwed onto the wall had gone.
My publishers, Alexandra Wilde and Bob Gillman, who are also good friends of mine, collected me from my flat in Erith and we drove to Brighton, stopping for a coffee break at Pease Pottage with a lot of the familiar place names coming up en-route.
Lots of changes
Brighton was obviously not the same as it was in my youth. I don't know how badly it was bombed during the Second World War, but a lot of 'pulling down and putting up' had occurred in the meantime. In some parts it was almost unrecognisable. Nowadays, there is a very confusing (for strangers to Brighton) one-way traffic system for cars but at last we managed to find parking reasonably close by and went the rest of the way on foot.
The street looked much the same
Walking down Over Street, it was as I had remembered it, comprising 52 terraced houses, with three storeys. They used to be a light brown, but are now off-white. When we reached No 11, we saw an estate agent's noticeboard stating that it was for sale. A brave Alex knocked on the door. It was opened by a very pleasant lady. Alex explained who we were and that I had grown up in Over Street - I was 18 months old when we moved into the house and I was 18 years old when I left! The lady very kindly invited us in to look round.
In my mind's eye
I could still see in my mind's eye the grandfather clock and hallstand we had had in the passage - we didn't have 'halls' in those days. The wobbly banister (that my father had cut to give the room required to bring in pianos that he would repair) had gone, and the two rooms which had been our sitting room and dad's workroom adjacent to it, had been knocked into one. I was surprised to realise how small the rooms must have been and the new arrangement was a vast improvement.
Where things used to be
At the end of the room where my dad's sewing machine used to stand, patio doors had been installed, letting in a great deal more light than we had had previously from the sash window. The old scullery had been turned into a very smart and convenient galley kitchen. In the yard, the place where our dog Bess's kennel used to be and where she used to dive in with her crust and dripping for bedtime, now holds flourishing plants. It all looked very pleasant.
Alice as the May Queen
I could still feel the family around me
The black slate-marble fire surround in the front room had gone, probably sold by a previous owner (that would have fetched a nice price) and although there were many changes, I could feel all my family around me, especially 'The Girls', who used to get dolled up in their 1920s finery to go dancing; and my mother, sewing or knitting by the fire, whilst my dad played the piano. It was extremely kind of the lady who allowed us to encroach on her privacy and it was much appreciated.
Lounge waitresses at the Metropole
We went on then to the Steine, and thence to the Metropole Hotel - now called the Hilton Brighton Metropole Hotel. Again there were changes all along the seafront, but the Metropole was still the same and the welcome as warm as ever! We were greeted by Felicity Nicoll from the hotel, and Sam Stephenson, a photographer from The Argus. Of course 'The Brighton Argus' is the name I always remember from the earliest time when I could read a paper! After an exciting time of having photographs taken, the Metropole treated us to a delicious cream tea. We sat in the lounge, near the window, so we could see the sea and everything that was going on.
Again I had happy memories of the time when my sisters were lounge waitresses at the Metropole - Brighton's most famous hotel and where all the well-known and most important people of the day stayed, which, I am sure, is true to this day.
With roses on our table, staff who were caring and friendly, it was a great day!
[Also published in the North Laine Runner, No 196, January/February 2009]