New Charges at Brighton Museum and Art Gallery, by Jean Calder

I avoid public loos. I especially dislike the loos in the Pavilion gardens. I don’t care how many ‘awards’ they’ve received (I wonder who gives out these things and what contractors have to do to get them). They’re dark, depressing and terribly cold. And as any woman or child will tell you, temperature matters when you have to disrobe in the lavatory.  So I try to avoid them. 

My habit, for many years, has been to use the toilets in the museum and art gallery, though I admit it’s often just been an excuse to visit the museum. I love walking unimpeded through the stone entrance into the building, up to the purring Pavilion cat that my daughter and I used to feed with coins, past Salvador Dali’s red sofa shaped like Mae West’s lips (my daughter was always convinced she’d one day be rich enough to buy it) across to the stoneware bison and the Lalique table with the heavy glass bust of Beethoven. Then it’s on to the Voysey dresser and chair and brass lamp, a stop at the yellow glazed Minton pilgrim flask then right at the plate display and I’m almost there. Whatever my previous mood, by this time I’m happy. I’m walking on air. 

I look at other people peering at the displays and it occurs to me we’re like a family pottering around a well-loved family home that we haven’t visited for a while – along with visitors who haven’t been there before. I must admit I feel pride and a bit proprietorial. It occurs to me that that these are all our things, given, bought and paid for by previous citizens or by us. Sometimes I go upstairs and have coffee and a scone and read the paper and survey my, or rather our, domain.

As a child in South Africa, I visited the Durban library and museum each Saturday. I was too short to see over the library desk – and too young to understand why the only people there were white – but even then I had the same feeling of belonging and civic pride. The Victorian paintings were awful, but I loved the stuffed animals and birds, the lion and hyena, even an elephant and a hippo – and the model of a dodo bird, with a real dodo egg beside it. 

When I first came to this country in 1972, I lived in London and was terribly lonely and had very little money. Every weekend I’d leave my bedsit and visit the national gallery and the museums. They were all free and I’d mix with the people and look for hours at the portraits, especially the Rembrandts and feel just a bit less lonely.

In 1975, I came to Sussex University as a student. One of the first things I did was to visit Brighton’s museum and art gallery and make the acquaintance of its pictures and artefacts. Then my parents settled here and they too came to love the displays.

All this being the case, imagine my distress when, a couple of weeks ago, I decided to visit the museum, but was turned away. I strode in confidently, only to be stopped at a desk by several officials who told me the facility was no longer free to tourists – and that if I wanted to visit I needed to show proof of residence. A library card was not sufficient.

On that occasion, I rummaged in my bag and I was lucky enough to find a letter from my bank. My address was checked and entered on a computer (not a swift process) and I was allowed in, wearing a purple badge. In some distress, I left the museum through the Corn Exchange entrance.

Two days later, in a dream, I walked in again, only to be stopped again. I said “I’m on your computer”, but that cut no ice. I still had to show my letter. I said “This is an awful hullabaloo to go to the loo. Can’t I just go in?” Could I heck. “When was this decided?” I asked “Was there any consultation?”. “Oh yes,” one replied, while another said at the same time “I think they did try to keep it quiet”. Too true, they did – just before an election.

Two days later I visited again, but this time, I remembered. I went in through the Corn Exchange entrance where (note well) there are no barriers. I looked at the displays and visited the loo at my leisure, noticing with sadness how many people wore badges indicating they had had to pay. I somehow found it hard to meet their gaze. 

As I left by the main entrance, officials insisted on yet again checking my bank letter against their computer, presumably to make sure it wasn’t a fake address. As I walked out into the sunshine, past the sad little queue of people wanting to go in, I did not feel proud of my city.

The Brighton Politics Blogger’s Political Awards 2011

As the year draws to an end, it is time once again for the much sought after Brighton Politics Blogger’s Political Awards.

Team of the Year must go to the Green Party for becoming the first Green Administration in the UK. It was hard to see how that party could have followed up their achievement of having elected their first-ever Member of Parliament in 2010.

Campaigner of the Year goes to an Honorary Brightonian who was a leading campaigner in the ‘No’ campaign in the electoral reform referendum, Charlott Vere. She was hardly out of the news and made a barnstorming speech in Brighton during the referendum campaign. Chuck is much missed locally but will no doubt continue her inevitable journey into Parliament at the next election.

For his constant production of press releases, the His Master’s Voice Award goes to Michael Ireland, researcher for Hove MP, Mike Weatherley. Rarely a day goes by without another press release popping up in my inboThe most Inspired Campaign of the Year goes to the Labour Party for LOLA, the Leave Our Loos Alone campaign, to save public toilets from closure.

The Trend Setters Award goes to …. the Labour Party of the early 1990’s for starting the public toilet closure programme in Brighton.

The Hundred Year War Endurance Award goes to Steve Bassam and Jason Kitcat for their Twitter exchange on the Council Budget. It might not have gone on for a hundred years but sometimes it has felt that way to those of us who have read and reflected on each and every tweet!

The Individual Award for an Outstanding Election Result was closely fought. The panel of judges commended Sue Shanks for her victory in Withdene and Graham Cox for his Westbourne by-election result, but the award goes to Christopher Hawtree for his stunning individual performance in Central Hove.

The Dear Leader’s Award for Winding Up the Opposition (or on this occasion, winding up the Administration) goes to Tony Janio for wearing his Stars and Stripes tie at meetings of the Full Council.

And in spite of the judgement of the ridiculous ‘Standard’s Committee’, the Champagne Campaigning Moment goes to Dawn Barnett for her stunt in directing travellers in her ward to open spaces in Green-held wards.

The final award, the Who Got It Totally Wrong Award, goes to your Humble Blogger for getting the result of the Westbourne by-election totally wrong.

Congratulations to all award winners. Bask in the glory of your awards, and best wishes to all my readers (Momma Grizzly, Doris, and Biker Dave) for 2012.

Mischievous Geoffrey Bowden, fighting Steve Bassam, and bullish Jason Kitcat

Do you have 3G? I don’t mean the Internet access on your phone or laptop, but Three Geoffrey’s? In the Bible the Three Wise Men travelled from the east to worship the Child God, or something like that. In Brighton and Hove, the Three Wise Men travelled to the west to King’s House. They are the Three G’s – Geoffreys Theobald, Wells and Bowden.

And rumour has it that each of the Three G’s is pulling in a different direction: Geoffrey W to the right, Geoffrey T straight ahead, while Geoffrey B pulling to the hard left (well just left of centre, really). And how do we know this? Well GB has tweeted that “Rumour has it that the Tory’s 2 Geoffreys – Wells & Theobald r @ war with Wells threatening 2 resign Tory whip @ full council on 15th”.

I know little more than what GB has tweeted, but hopefully one of my dear friends in the Tory Party will enlighten me further. Is this further evidence of the split between the Hove and Pavilion Tories on one hand, and the Kemptown Tories on the other?

But Geoffrey Bowden has been stirring it elsewhere. In another tweet, designed to get Warren Morgan spluttering, once again, over hi Sugar Puffs, he wrote: “Rallying Lab troops 2 help in Westbourne Warren Morgan reveals his fears Greens will look @ seat in E.Brighton if not stopped in bi-election.” Naughty, Geoffrey.

Less edifying on Twitter has been the ongoing obsession that Chuck Vere has about where Caroline Lucas lives. Most activists have long accepted that Ms Lucas has her only home in the Brighton Pavilion constituency, and Lady Everton, Alex Phillips, unambiguously made that clear on Twitter. Ms Lucas’s two main opponents at the general election, Chuck herself and Nancy Platts, both wasted little time returning to London after the election. Caroline Lucas is well and truly settled in Brighton Pavilion, and can expect a long incumbency as its Member of Parliament.

But what has been more interesting this week than the split between the two Blue Geoffreys, Labour’s fears for East Brighton, and Chuck Vere’s obsession as to where Caroline Lucas leaves her toothbrush, has been the role of Twitter in the debate on the City Council’s first Green budget. There have been two primary protagonists: in the red corner, Lord Bassam (the former Labour leader of Brighton and Hove City Council); in the green corner, the Green Administrations Cabinet Member for Finance, Jason Kitcat.

Steve Bassam has peppered Jason Kitcat with questions and comments, which councillor Kitcat has patiently answered over several days. This debate has shown two things: the tribal, street fighting, campaigning instincts of Steve Bassam, and the competence in financial matters of Jason Kitcat. For a new comer to Brighton politics, one would never have believed that, as councillor Bassam, Lord Bassam was responsible for cuts of an equal scale (including the closure of more public toilets than is currently proposed) and rate/council tax rises that makes councillor Kitcat look as though he is the true-born Son of Eric Pickles.

Finally, last week I invited supporters of Labour, the Tories, UKIP and the Lib Dems (if there are any of the latter group left) to send me their alternate budgets, saying I would post them on my blog for my three regular readers to review. But to date Momma Grizzly, Doris and Biker Dave have been disappointed. The offer still stands. Perhaps Lord Bassam might oblige …?

The Legacy of New Labour, great if you are into lap dancing and gambling; shame about the post office

Latest government figures show how Britain has evolved under new Labour. Since 1997 the number of lap dancing clubs has increased by 1,150%, betting shops by 39%, and casinos up 27%.

On the other hand public libraries have reduced by 6%, police stations by 8%, schools are down 10%, swimming pools 21%, and public toilets down 23%.

And then there are post offices, down from 19,000 in 1997 to 11,500 today, a drop of 39%. This is the legacy of new Labour. Not a lot more needs to be said.