Brighton, Stratford, The Troubles, & A Gay Author Pays Us A Visit


We’ve been out on a couple school day trips this week. First we went to Brighton, which has a fascinating history. Brighton was a getaway town for many aristocrats and people who didn’t exactly fit with societal norms. Prince George built a Royal Pavilion there, in the late 18th and early 19th century, to throw extravagant parties and have opportunities to rendezvous with liberal women. During our trip we took a tour of the Pavilion. Both the exterior and the interior are so ornate and fantastic, it is almost a challenge to believe that anyone could have lived there. It looks like something you would find in a theme park, like Disneyland. The dining hall was decorated with elaborate chandeliers, with massive dragons and other mythical animals, that weighed a ton. I’ve never seen anything like it. Unfortunately, photography was not allowed, so I have no photos to share. But some can be found here and no doubt elsewhere online.

Though we only had a few hours to spend, I did my best to see as much as possible. The Lanes were filled with little shops to browse. One of them is the homebase of the shoe brand that I buy, Vegetarian Shoes. I knew this beforehand and had been holding out for a year and a half to replace my old boots. I was very excited to get my new boots! Next was a visit to the museum where I spent most of my time in the LGBT exhibit. Brighton has a strong LGBT community and has long been a safe haven for LGBT people. The exhibit boasted that Brighton is the gay capitol of Europe. Appropriately, the Banksy original of the policemen kissing is in Brighton, lovingly framed and protected by locals. Of course none can resist the draw of the beach. I grabbed a dark cherry cider and sat by the ocean in the sun. At first look, the beach is covered in gravel and seems uncomfortable. But the rocks and shells are all smooth from the tide and warm from the sun. It was quite comfortable and there was no need for a walk to find interesting rocks to keep as souvenirs. Also, no sand in the pants! I spent the rest of my day there on the shore until time to catch our train back.

The next school trip we took was to see a Shakespeare play in Stratford, his birthplace. There wasn’t much time to spend, so we only did a couple of the attractions next to the theatre. We saw his daughter’s house, which is like something straight out of a fairy tale. Beautiful exposed original beams everywhere and massive stone tiles. The yard was unbelievably well kept and quite large for a British home. The grass was like stepping on astroturf, like a modern football pitch. After that, we went to see Shakespeare’s tomb in his church. Like most old churches in England, it was very beautiful. Though admittedly, I’m growing a little bored of them. Such is the abundance of beauty in historical architecture and interior design everywhere in the UK. The theatre was unfortunately incredibly uncomfortable. The railing in front of each row nearly blocks out the entirety of the stage and leaves an opening underneath to kick the head and shoulders of the person below you. In order to see, you either have to crouch down or lean over the rail, depending on what part of the stage you need to see. I have a bad back from years of doing construction and other heavy labor jobs and was unable to sit there. I had to stand through most of the 3 hour performance. Though it was very cool to finally see a performance of Shakespeare that wasn’t a modern reinterpretation.

On the way back from Stratford, I got into a tricky conversation with the theater teacher about the British perspective on the troubles in Northern Ireland. I was very astonished at what the British public was told about what had happened and the behavior of the British military forces. It was tricky to maintain cultural sensitivity while asking questions and contrasting the information to what I had been previously told about it. Thankfully, she graciously entertained my questions, despite the fact that it was a bit of a sore subject. Given the insight she shared with me, I can see why so many of the British public were either indifferent, dismissed it as a matter of religious differences gone mad, threw their hands up, or were bitterly angry about the bombings. Some were even lead to believe that the conflict was primarily antagonized by the question of women’s rights. Many people seem to not see the British relationship to Ireland as one of imperialist/colonial exploitation, believing that Ireland was just a part of the UK that up and decided to split for mad, outdated religious reasons beyond their understanding. The British government told the English public that they were sending troops to protect the Irish from the British Scots and that, if not for the Loyalists, they would have no reason to not support reunification of Ireland. I don’t really have enough information to know if government’s claim is definitively true or not. But I do know that the Irish were massacred regularly by the military and demonized as violent, while the Loyalists got a away with murder. The story doesn’t add up with what I know. She didn’t seem to know about that. All they knew was that suddenly the IRA was bombing innocent people in England. Without any of the necessary context or Irish perspective, how could anyone possibly understand what was happening, let alone feel any sympathy? It reminded me of conflicts in US history, in a way.

So often the media and politicians oversimplify conflicts. Sometimes this is to distort and manipulate. Sometimes, I think it genuinely is an attempt to help the mostly un/under-educated American public to understand complicated conflicts and to sensationalize them enough for people to pay attention. It seems that this is highly damaging to our ability to grasp the complexity of humanity. If we are expected to boil everything down to polarized this vs that, the sacrifice is a nuanced understanding of all the history and the diverse interests that comprise any given situation. It sabotages the possibility of viable solutions and inhibits people’s ability to vote on or discuss issues competently, from the global to the local level. As a result, we keep seeing the same mistakes/injustices of history repeated over and over, just dressed in the modern sociological fashions of the time. I wonder what would happen if we just let our explanttions of conflicts be as messy and complicated as they actually are. How might our societal understanding change? Would people engage more or less? What would social responsibility start to look like?

Anyways, in my internship, we had an author do a presentation on why it’s important to become and support authors who are writing from LGBT perspectives. He shared his experiences with literature growing up in a closeted world. As a child, he would read a story that inevitably included a heterosexual love scene and be thrust from being immersed in the story to feeling like a spectator. It was only later in life, when there could be characters with diverse sexualities represented, that he discovered a love of writing and literature. So, after 30 years of teaching math, he decided to write fiction that LGBT adolescents could relate to and soon was published. Many of our young people were very excited by this and had lots of questions about how to get published and what his writing methods were. He seemed to really spark their imaginations.