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Brighton Beach Memoir

Between eating and jogging there is little time for shopping, which is just as well, since there is not much to buy. This does not mean that you should not take the time to slog through The Lanes and the North Laine, with their charming alleyways of bijoux boutiques and art galleries. Though the strong British pound and the globalization of retail have sucked the fun out of vacation shopping, there is no denying that wandering around the stores is still the best way to mingle with the locals and catch those great snippets of Joe Orton dialogue. The best eavesdropping can be done in Café Revive (you'll find one in almost every Marks & Spencer, including the one here, opposite Churchill Square). Two of my recent overheards: "I draw the line at digging out me own corns, don't you?" and "Our Lilly had it all taken away last week, bless her."

When is the best time to visit Brighton?Much as I love Terry and Shelagh's adopted city, I have to admit it's a bit grim in the winter. May is my preferred month: a visit will coincide with the Brighton Festival and related arts events and carnivals, one of which prominently showcases a mysterious troupe called the Lady Boys of Bangkok. I have yet to visit Brighton in the spring without being assaulted by ubiquitous posters adorned with images of bejeweled Lady Boys. When I asked my sister who the target audience for this show was, she replied, "Hen nights. It's the new Chippendales."

Where to stay?If you are a high-maintenance Four Seasons–loving kind of person, you may prefer to commute from a luxe hostelry in London. (The trip from Victoria to Brighton takes less than an hour and provides endless opportunities for cell-phone eavesdropping.) Less demanding tourists may happily opt for T. S. Eliot's Metropole. Be sure to ask for a front room with a sea view, or you'll end up staring into a car park. If you are a big Thatcher fan, there's always the historic neighboring De Vere Grand. (Remember the IRA bombing that nearly did Maggie in?) Glamour-seeking, boutique-hotel lovers should stay at Drakes, on Marine Parade, which has those oval bathtubs like the one Cate Blanchett was craning into her house, or the aforementioned Blanch House, which offers, among other accommodations, a themed room called Boogie Nights.

What to wear?Despite its penchant for questionable behavior and flashes of cheek, Brighton has always been a stylish town. A dollop of fashion panache is much appreciated. Just make sure you bring a Windex-able outer garment. You never know when the seagulls are going to show their appreciation, too.


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