Brighton rocks to the sound of heavy metal amid arms-trade protests at EDO
Protestors in the English seaside town challenge preconceptions
Brighton Royal Pavilion
Brighton, the Sussex resort, is changing fast. As always, the railways tell you that; English life was often given graphic form on its railway posters.
For instance, in a bid to tempt visitors to a place often whipped by winds blowing straight from the Russian steppes, the railways created a poster of a windswept holiday maker in the North Sea resort of Skegness, bearing the motto “Skegness is SO bracing”. (“Bracing” was at the time clearly railspeak for “chilly”.)
To the south, on the coast of Essex, the overnight ferry to the Hook of Holland was commended to travellers as: “Harwich for the Continent”.
Recalling the town’s raffish fame as a last-minute refuge for lovers – married and otherwise – the poster often bore the irreverent scrawled caption “and Brighton for the incontinent”.
Today, in company with thousands of daily commuters, the incontinent fraternity rides non-stop and sickeningly fast by rail from London in 52 minutes, though the luxurious express Pullman car Brighton Belle has disappeared.
With uniformed attendants, it ran twice a day from London, from 1933, and gave a certain je ne sais quoi to any tryst, until it was withdrawn in 1972.
Visitors would then seek accommodation for their liaisons in the hotels and boarding houses that surround the Prince Regent’s palace, the Royal Pavilion.
The Pavilion, the supreme Oriental folly that cost a fortune, was built at the end of the 18th century to a design by John Nash for the prince, later George IV.
Known to his many friends as “Prinny” he wed twice-widowed Maria Fitzherbert, a beautiful Catholic a few years older than him, in a marriage approved by the Vatican but illegal according to English law.
Newly restored, the Pavilion, a true witness to past magnificence, stands separated from the English Channel by acres of tulips, the pier with its fish-and-chip shops and sticks of Brighton rock, and a stony beach.
Today a muscular Brighton is expanding in an unlovely way over the hills of the South Downs.
It is no longer merely a place for jokes; it is becoming a real force in the land and a focus for serious political controversy over the arms trade.
One seat in the constituency of Brighton Pavilion is occupied by the only Green MP in the House of Commons, Caroline Lucas, who won her seat from Labour in 2010.
Having rejected three main parties in favour of Lucas and the Greens, Brighton has woken up to political causes.
Lucas and many locals defy the arms trade at Moulsecoomb, beside a golf course in a wooded suburb, where a US-owned arms manufacturer EDO supplies weapons inter alia to the Israeli armed forces.
Since 2004 it, and another weapons plant, Applied Kilovolts, at nearby Worthing, have been the focus of a sustained and successful campaign by protesters with enormous legal consequences countrywide.
Protests have included the establishment of three peace camps in woods next to the factor and roof-top occupations.
There have also been several marches through Brighton city involving hundreds of protesters and several arrests have been made by Sussex police.
The protest campaign against EDO in Brighton, began in 2004. It continues to this day, with demonstrations last month involving discordant music being played at the factory, in a protest akin to the US campaign to unseat president Manuel Noriega of Panama.
In that case heavy metal sounds were blared at him as he took refuge in the Papal nunciature, the Vatican’s diplomatic representation in Panama City, at Christmas in 1998 during the US invasion and temporary occupation of Panama.
In January 2009, campaigners broke into the EDO building in Moulsecoomb and damaged equipment worth some £200,000. Despite bids, from supporters of Israel, for a legal injunction to gag them, the court found they were acting legally by preventing Israeli war crimes during the 2009 invasion of Gaza and acquitted them.
Meanwhile perhaps Brighton needs an updated railway poster to match its politics. What about: “Show your feelings – demonstrate in Brighton.”