Archive for Brighton

Brighton Seafront in Wartime

Posted in Brighton, History with tags , , , on February 15, 2015 by telescoper

Yesterday I stumbled across a collection of old photographs of Brighton seafront. Most of the pictures are charming images of everyday life Brighton, made all the more fascinating by the fact that the city has changed relatively little and all the locations are immediately recognizable. However, in the middle of a sequence of such photographs I saw this:


The view is from the Hove side of the city, with Hove lawns to the left and the West Pier in the distance. Notice that there’s a gap in the Pier. All piers along the south coast of England were cut during the Second World War to prevent them being used as landing  jetties by the enemy. I didn’t know that until I saw the gap in this picture and found out more.

There’s no date on the original, so I initially guessed that it must have been taken in 1940 when the threat of invasion during World War 2 was at its height. However, as Bryn Jones pointed out to me on Twitter, the presence of the white star on the vehicle in the foreground marks it out belonging to the US military. I did a little bit of research (via Google) and discovered that the plain white cross was only used by US troops exercising in Britain in 1942. The symbol was subsequently replaced by a white cross surrounded by a white circle, which is the marking used on all US vehicles in Normandy from 1944 onwards. The photograph must therefore have been taken some time in 1942, although the static defences were presumably put in place much earlier in the war. At a guess I’d say that it seems quite likely that US troops stationed in this area may well have used Brighton beach to train for the eventual Normandy landings

As it turns out, Brighton would have been in the front line had the Germans tried to invade England, as the following plan of Operation Sealion makes clear:


The shore defences in the photograph look pretty fierce, but the planned amphibious assault would have been preceded by parachute landings, so they  may have been seized and rendered ineffective by the time the landings began.

Here is a picture of the same general area looking to the West with Hove Lawns on the right:


The beaches were out of bounds to the general public for most of the war, primarily because they were covered in mines, but in any case they would have been pretty inaccessible through all the barbed wire and other obstacles.

Although the immediate threat of invasion had receded by 1942, Brighton remained on high alert. Here is a picture I found elsewhere on the net, taken in 1943, showing a 40mm Bofors anti-aircraft gun stationed on the seafront not far from the Grand Hotel seen clearly in the background:


The juxtaposition of the comfortingly familiar with the shockingly unfamiliar gives these images tremendous power. It’s hard to imagine what life must have been like under the constant threat of invasion and air raids, but these pictures at least give an idea of how grim it must have been to those of us who are fortunate enough to have never been forced to experience anything like it.



Bargain Bucket

Posted in Brighton with tags , , on January 9, 2015 by telescoper


The Vogue Gyratory: An Accident Awaiting to Happen

Posted in Brighton with tags , , , , on December 21, 2014 by telescoper

Major roadworks have been underway in Brighton, along the route that I take from the city centre to my workplace at the Falmer campus of the University of Sussex, for about four months from mid-August until just recently. These works are to do with “improvements” to the Vogue Gyratory system, a complex junction involving the main road between Brighton and Lewes (the A270/A27 Lewes Road) and three other roads: Bear Road, Hollingdean Road and Upper Lewes Road.

Here is a plan showing the effect of the work, which you can click on to enlarge:


The aims of this scheme are apparently to improve traffic flow through the junction, and to make it safer for cyclists. The latter objective is addressed by changing the bus stop which was originally just outside Sainsbury’s (to the left of the plan) into a “floating” stop and putting a cycle lane behind it.

These floating bus stops have been deployed further up the Lewes Road to good effect; cycles pass behind the bus stop so there is no need for them to attempt to overtake buses which have stopped and no need for buses to wait for cyclists passing the stop before pulling in to pick up passengers. The only problem is that pedestrians have to cross the cycle laneto get to the bus stop, and they sometimes do so without paying sufficient attention. There has therefore been an occasional collision between people on foot and people on bikes. Nevertheless these floating stops have largely been successful and I think are a good idea from Brighton and Hove City Council. This is no doubt why they decided to apply the same principle to the bus stop in the Vogue Gyratory.

Unfortunately, the new scheme is not safer for cyclists at all. In fact it’s a death trap. Don’t take my word for it: on one day last week there were three accidents as a direct result of the changes and another just hours later. These incidents were all caused by the introduction of a hidden kerb at the edge of the cycle lane. All four victims fell off their bikes and could easily have been killed by motor traffic as a result.


The hidden kerb is clearly a piece of idiocy, but can perhaps be easily fixed. But there is a far greater danger lurking in the new system. Imagine you are in a car, entering the gyratory from the southern end (bottom left of the plan) and intending to exit up Hollingdean Road (near the top). If a bus has stopped at the floating bus stop it will completely hide the cycle lane and cyclists on it until the car has passed the stop. However, almost immediately after the stop a car wishing to take an exit left has to cross the, totally unprotected, cycle lane. There are no signs to warn motorists to beware of cyclists coming from their left, no barriers and no lights. This is what traffic planners call a “point of conflict” and the current design of the junction makes this a potentially lethal one, which is exacerbated by the “improved traffic flow” through through the junction, which means that cars often travel at quite high speeds along the main carriageway. A serious accident, possibly even a fatality is just a matter of time.

People have suggested that car drivers should know where cyclists are likely to be, but what about a driver who is using the junction for the first time? You can’t expect motorists to be psychic.

So what can be done? It’s hard to see how such a basic design flaw can be fixed without rebuilding the entire junction, but two immediate steps must be taken before somebody dies. The first is to reduce the speed limit for all vehicles through the junction to 5 mph. That may just give drivers the time to notice cyclists immediately to their left. The second is to introduce much more obvious warnings. The problem with the second of these is where to position the required signs. There’s no point placing them on the island forming the floating bus stop because they would be hidden too. Perhaps there could be overhead signs?

But the best advice I can give cyclists in the meantime is to follow the warning given by this lady on Twitter:

The disruption that the Vogue Gyratory roadworks have caused has been horrendous: four months of almost continuous gridlock and the time taken for my daily trip to work almost doubled. This is in itself shows a disgraceful failure of planning. The area is not primarily residential, so they should have worked at weekends and possibly even round-the-clock to mitigate the impact. I’ve been completely exasperated on a number of occasions as the bus I was on inched up the Lewes Road tailback only to enter the Gyratory and find no work at all going on. I don’t think there was a proper estimate of the disruption the works would cause nor was any reasonable plan made to mitigate it.

Now we find out that all this agony will have to be repeated in order to put right what should have been obvious to the planners, especially the failure to recognize the poor visibility of cyclists through the gyratory. There should really be a public inquiry about this fiasco, but I think that will only happen if there is a serious accident. If that does occur, then the relevant employees Brighton and Hove City Council should be facing charges of criminal negligence or even manslaughter.

Campus Christmas!

Posted in Brighton with tags , , , on December 9, 2014 by telescoper

Now that I’m back in Brighton I thought I’d share this very nice picture of the University of Sussex Campus at Falmer, complete with Christmas tree and decorations. I got the picture from the University’s facebook page. That’s the Meeting House you can see behind the tree, by the way..


Why Cosmology Isn’t Boring

Posted in Brighton, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on October 23, 2014 by telescoper

As promised yesterday, here’s a copy of the slides I used for my talk to the ~150 participants of the collaboration meeting of the Dark Energy Survey that’s going on here this week at Sussex. The title is a reaction to a statement I heard that recent developments in cosmology, especially from Planck, have established that we live in a “Maximally Boring Universe”. I the talk I tried to explain why I don’t think the standard cosmology is at all boring. In fact, I think it’s only now that we can start to ask the really interesting questions.

At various points along the way I stopped to sample opinions…


I did however notice that Josh Frieman (front left) seemed to vote in favour of all the possible options on all the questions.  I think that’s taking the multiverse idea a bit too far..


R.I.P. Richard Attenborough (1923-2014)

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , on August 25, 2014 by telescoper

Late last night the sad news broke of the death at the age of 90 of Richard Attenborough (lately “Lord Attenborough”). Tributes have since poured in from around the world, both to celebrate his career as actor and director and also to acknowledge the many wider contributions of a warm and kindly human being. There was – and will remain – a very strong connection between Richard Attenborough and the University of Sussex, where I work. His connection with the University spanned four decades and was at its strongest for the period 1998-2008 when he was Chancellor of the University in which role he congratulated countless students during their graduation ceremonies.

It is very sad to lose a person so universally loved and admired, especially since he didn’t live to see the completion of the Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts scheduled to open on campus next year.

I’m doubly sad in fact because I never had the opportunity to meet him, having arrived here only last year some time after he stood down as Chancellor. Though I never interacted with him personally, I shall of course remember him through his great career on the big screen, first as an actor then as a director. Much has already been said about his contribution to the world of film by people much better qualified to comment than I, so I’ll just say that I’ll remember him best as a superb actor. He was chillingly believable as the real-life serial murderer John Christie in 10 Rillington Place, a film that also included a wonderful performance by John Hurt, but I think his finest screen role was in the classic 1947 film of Graham Greene‘s novel Brighton Rock.

This is a great film, not only because of superb central performance by Richard Attenborough as the young sociopathic gangster, Pinkie, but also and more generally because it is a rare example of an authentic British Film Noir. A nihilistic central character is of course an essential noir element but the expressionistic use of lighting, deep shadows, and strangely disorienting camera angles, exemplified in this clip turn this into a classic of its genre.

In fact, I think I’ll spend this wet Bank Holiday evening watching the whole DVD of Brighton Rock and drink a few glasses of wine to Richard Attenborough’s memory.

R.I.P. Richard Attenborough (1923-2014)

Solly’s Story

Posted in Biographical, Brighton, History, LGBT with tags , , , on August 9, 2014 by telescoper

I don’t know why I suddenly remembered a long-forgotten character I knew when I was in Brighton as a research student, but I thought I’d write a blog post so I don’t forget him again.

I moved to Brighton in late September 1985 to start my DPhil. I’d left it quite late looking for accommodation because I’d been working in Newcastle through the summer after my graduation. In the end I had to settle for a bedsit in Hove, quite a long way from central Brighton in a road called Goldstone Villas, not far from Brighton & Hove Albion’s old stadium, the Goldstone Ground.

Round the corner from my place was a pub – I’ve forgotten the name – which became my local. After a few visits there I became friendly with one of the regulars there, a man in his sixties who was known to everyone as Solly, short for Solomon. He was, as I soon came to realise, something of a local celebrity.

Solly was a tall man, always immaculately dressed, and (I would say) handsome for his years. He was also (quite obviously) gay and (also quite obviously) Jewish. He had a great sense of humour and was a wonderful raconteur, but at the same time very kindly and self-effacing; he was liked by everyone in the pub (which wasn’t a gay pub, by the way).

Like everyone else I took an immediate liking to Solly; I greatly enjoyed his company and we had dinner together quite a few times in addition to conversations in the pub. On one of these occasions he told me his life story, or at least some of it. It turns out he was of Anglo-Austrian extraction, with an English mother and an Austrian father, although he had no trace of an accent. He was born in Austria, but his parents sent him to live with relatives in England during the 1930s because they could see what was going to happen there as the power of Nazi Germany grew; he never saw either of them again.

Solly arrived in Brighton when he was about 11 and he was 17 when World War 2 broke out. He immediately tried to join up, but was refused because he was too young. When he reached 18 he tried again but was still refused. He went to London (at the height of the Blitz) to try enlisting there, but was also refused, possibly because of his German-sounding name (and also possibly because of his sexuality).

Having failed to join up he returned to Brighton in late summer 1940 and joined the Local Defence Volunteers (the “Home Guard”). Given his appearance in later life I imagine he would have looked at this time rather a lot like Private Pike from Dad’s Army.

I remember many of his hilarious stories of how shambolic the Home Guard actually was, as well as how they were largely engaged in helping the Police deal with crimes such as racketeering and looting, but there was one particular striking incident that has stuck in my memory.

On 7th September 1940 the War Office issued the following communique:

Message to all UK units: codeword CROMWELL. Home Defence forces to highest degree of readiness. Invasion of mainland UK expected at any time.

After being informed of this signal Solly and his comrades turned up to be issued with the equipment with which they were expected to stop the invasion. In his case it was an ancient pre-WW1 vintage rifle, three rounds of ammunition, and two improvised grenades. With these meagre supplies, they were supposed to hold their positions until reinforced, possibly for up to 7 days.

As they walked to their posts all the volunteers were certain that they had no chance and that none of them would survive the night. The talk was exclusively of the need to make all their shots count. If each man could kill at least one German before he himself was killed then the invasion might be thwarted. Solly certainly had no intention of allowing himself to be taken prisoner, as he knew all too well how he would be treated by the Nazis.
After an agonizing wait, and several false alarms, dawn broke. The Germans never came.

As it turns out, if they had come, Solly’s platoon would have been right in the front line: Operation Sealion (the planned invasion of England) involved the landing of paratroopers on the Downs just behind Brighton with the intention of securing the high ground behind the landings and the main road to London ahead of the invasion:


Solly did finally succeed in enlisting, but his good knowledge of the German language meant that he was given a desk job, translating documents and such, until the Normandy invasion when he finally got to fire a weapon in action, although he landed some weeks after the initial assault, when his unit was attacked south of Caen. He didn’t hit anyone.

Incidentally, the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings passed in June 1944 but it’s worth noting that the German defensive lines were not really broken until August. In fact, on this day in 1944, British and Canadian forces were engaged in heavy fighting about 6 miles from Falaise, while the Americans were executing a wide encircling manoeuvre designed to surround and trap the German army.

Anyway, back to the 1980s. I didn’t stay long in the Hove bedsit and moved out early in 1986. About six months later I happened to be in the area so popped into the pub to see Solly. He wasn’t there; he had passed away suddenly of a heart attack in the Spring.

From Brighton Pride to Sussex Pride

Posted in Biographical, Brighton, LGBT with tags , , , , , , , , on July 31, 2014 by telescoper

Brighton Pride is coming up this weekend. I heard some people on the train the other day saying that they didn’t think such events were needed any more because “gays have everything they need, especially in Brighton”. Although I was tempted, I didn’t interrupt, though I did disagree. Things have indeed changed a lot over the last twenty years, but they could easily change back if we get complacent and Brighton has its fair share of intolerance and bigotry still.

I was myself beaten up on Brighton’s seafront many years ago, during my previous existence at the University of Sussex as a PhD student and a postdoctoral researcher. There was no doubt why I was attacked: the four young men who surrounded me and punched and kicked me to the ground were shouting just one word over and over again, “faggot”. It’s still a word I hate to hear used, even if purportedly in jest. That event left me with deep psychological scars that contributed to a breakdown I had as recently as two years ago.

Thirty or so years after my encounter with the queerbashers, attitudes have definitely changed, and so has the law. Certain types of criminal offence are now officially recognized as hate crimes: the list treats sexual orientation as equivalent to race, gender, religious belief and disability in such matters. The Police are now obliged to treat these with due seriousness, and penalties for those found guilty of crimes exacerbated by homophobia are consequently more severe. All Police forces now have special units for dealing with them; here is an example.

These changes are mirrored in other aspects of life too. For example, employment law relating to discrimination or harassment in the workplace now puts sexual orientation on the same footing as race, gender, disability and religious belief. In many universities in the UK, staff have been required to attend training in Equality and Diversity matters not only to raise awareness of the legal framework under which we all have to work, but also to promote a sensitivity to these issues in order to improve the working environment for both staff and students. Now we have equal marriage too.

This training isn’t about over-zealous busybodies. Under the law, employers have a vicarious liability for the conduct of their staff with regard to harassment and discrimination. This means that a University can be sued if, for example, one of its employees commits harassment, and it can be shown that it did not make appropriate efforts to ensure its staff did not engage in such activities.

Of course not everyone approves of these changes. Some staff  have refused point-blank to attend Equality and Diversity training, even though it’s compulsory. Others attend grudgingly, muttering about “political correctness gone mad”. You may think all this is a bit heavy handed, but I can tell you it makes a real difference to the lives of people who, without this legal protection, would be victimised, harassed or discriminated against.  It is, also, the law.

I think the efforts that have been made to improve the legal situation have been (at least partly) responsible for the changes in society’s attitudes over the last twenty years, which have been extremely positive. I’m old enough to remember very different times. That’s not to say that there’s no bigotry any more. Even in this day and age, violent crimes against gay men are still disturbingly common and police attitudes not always helpful even though many police forces do now have Lesbian and Gay teams, something that was just unthinkable 25 years ago.

Although relatively few universities appear in the list of gay-friendly employers compiled by the campaigning organisation Stonewall,  my experience generally, having worked in a number of UK universities (Sussex, Queen Mary, Nottingham and Cardiff), is that they are  generally friendly and comfortable places for an openly gay person to work. So much so, in fact, that there’s no real need to make a big deal of one’s sexual identity. It doesn’t really have much to do with the way you do your work – certainly not if it’s astrophysics – and work-related social events are, as a rule, very inclusive.

However, even in the supposedly enlightened environment of a University there do remain islands of bigotry, and not just about gay or lesbian or bisexual or transgender staff.  Sexism is a major problem, at least in science subjects, and will probably remain so until the gender balance improves, which it slowly doing, despite the actions of certain professors who actively block attempts to encourage more female applicants to permanent positions. Universities still do not seem to me to treat sexual orientation with the same seriousness as, say, race or gender discrimination. I’ve had plenty of experiences to back that up.

I recently took part in an interesting meeting involving various staff from the University of Sussex with a representative of Stonewall. The topic was how we could work with Stonewall to make it more gay-friendly. If I remember correctly, there are 78 UK Universities currently taking part in Stonewall’s programmes. It is a matter of some  embarrassment to me that the University of Sussex is not among them. Perhaps the attitude is that because there is such a large and visible gay population in Brighton it’s not necessary for the University of Sussex to take any steps in this direction. I disagree, and am absolutely convinced that there are many Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender members of the University of Sussex staff who would love to see some action taken to make their workplace just a little bit friendlier and more inclusive, even if that just amounts to acknowledging their existence.  There is a visible and active LBGT student society on campus, but no such entity exists for staff – an absence that is truly glaring. I don’t even think the University has any idea what fraction of its staff identify themselves as LGBT.

No doubt there’ll be many members of the University of Sussex staff on the Pride Parade on Saturday and at the various parties being held around Brighton afterwards. Perhaps it’s time to start some sort of network so that for staff at the University of Sussex, Pride doesn’t just come once a year…?

If you’re interested in this idea please let me know, either through the comments box or by email.

In Thunder, Lightning and in Rain..

Posted in Biographical with tags , , , , on July 28, 2014 by telescoper

A while before 6am this morning I was woken up by the sound of fairly distant thunder to the West of my flat. I left the windows open – they’ve been open all the time in this hot weather – and dozed while rumblings continued. Just after six there was a terrifically bright flash and an instantaneous bang that set car alarms off in my street; lightning must have struck a building very close. Then the rain arrived. I got up to close the windows against the torrential downpour, at which point I noticed that water was coming in through the ceiling. A further inspection revealed another leak in the cupboard where the boiler lives and another which had water dripping from a light fitting. A frantic half hour with buckets and mops followed, but I had to leave to get to work so I just left buckets under the drips and off I went into the deluge to get soaked.

Here is the map of UK rain at 07:45 am, with Brighton in the thick of it:


I made it up to campus (wet and late); it’s still raining but hopefully will settle down soon. This is certainly turning into a summer of extremes!

Ship Ahoy!

Posted in Brighton with tags , , on April 29, 2014 by telescoper

When I was on the way home yesterday evening I was a bit surprised to see a warship, apparently belonging to the Royal Navy, seemingly  at anchor off Brighton beach:


Sorry it’s not a very high resolution picture, but the vessel was some way off and I had to zoom on my phone camera to get anything at all. When I was at school I was in the Navy Section of the Combined Cadet Force (CCF) and could identify all types of Royal Navy vessels from their silhouettes. But that was a long time ago and my eyesight isn’t what it was. Neither is the Royal Navy for that matter; the fleet is not only much smaller now but also comprises very different types of ship. Gone are the Type 21 & 22 frigates and the Type 42 destroyers I would have had no problem picking out!

Judging by the size I thought it might be a frigate of some sort, but the shape didn’t fit any I could identify. Then the tall mast amidships made me think it was a Type 45 Destroyer, but it looked a bit small. Or had I judged the distance incorrectly? But no, there didn’t seem to be enough superstructure to the aft of the mast so it couldn’t be a Type 45.

Turning to Twitter for help, it was quickly identified as a River Class Patrol Vessel. What she was doing there, or indeed which ship it was, remains a mystery. Perhaps someone from the blogosphere can enlighten me?