Saturday, 16 September 2017

The iPhone X. Any real-world advantage?

Hmm. The iPhone X is now officially revealed, and it looks very nice, but not very different from my Samsung Galaxy S8+. Popped into a case, it will hardly be distinguishable. Will people say to me, 'Oh, is that the new iPhone X?' or will they say 'That's the Galaxy S8+, isn't it?' Assuming that people ever do take that kind of interest nowadays.

Ten years of smartphones have rather dulled the capacity to feel more than mild curiosity about whatever phone is in somebody's hands. The subject has tended to become trivial, a mere conversation-opener, a chat-up line. One might as well remark 'That's a fantastic laptop/tablet/sports watch you've got there!' As if you would.

Smartphones do remain very personal devices, and they say something about one's tech savviness, brand loyalty, income bracket, and spending priorities. Or at least they can signal those things, if signalling to others is important. Grown-ups and serious users surely don't care.

But they are as ubiquitous as Ford Fiestas. It has become the norm to own a smartphone, high-end if possible, budget if not. Putting it in another way, you have to make an effort, a carefully-researched purchasing choice, and be capable of resisting the steering efforts of a shop salesperson, to end up with a completely simple, uncomplicated phone. Simple phones are undesirable, have no status, and there is probably not that much of a market for them. Who now aspires to own an 'old-fashioned' phone with a small screen and buttons to press? Senior folk, who only want to make voice calls, possibly read emails, and dabble tentatively with Facebook?

What about style? Well, iPhones previously set the pace here, but nowadays the necessary protective case has become the prime indicator of personal taste and sense of style.

The range of cases is enormous, from the lurid and tacky to the discreet and quietly luxurious. Cases conceal what makes a phone different from the rest. And cases quickly degrade with usage, so that after a year or two the average case looks tatty, dragging down the eye-catchiness of any phone. The signature features of my own phone - notably the curved edges of its screen - are half-concealed by the enveloping case. And the leather sleeve I made for it effectively hides my phone from view. Indeed, the same sleeve might contain my sunglasses - which, of course, is exactly its point: disguise. It may no longer turn heads to flaunt a high-end smartphone in public, but the upwardly-spiralling value of these devices when freshly launched (what, £1,000 or so?) makes them a hugely tempting target for theft, slick or brutal. One way to counter that is to hide it, or pretend the thing is actually something else.

No doubt Apple will sell a lot of its latest flagship. Its fan base isn't going to mutiny. They will cough up the required fee, and defiantly remain with a brand they love beyond reason.

And I can see that the Apple brand has a genuine pull, even though Apple has gradually become, in terms of sales, a one-product company. I don't personally find its image appealing. There's something about their approach to marketing, and their treatment of customers, that I find offputting. Not that I am by any means a cheerleader for Samsung. Samsung can flop as easily as any other company. And they have in the past. As many other companies have. Nobody is immune from disaster.

Really, purchasing preference rests on small differences that seem to hardly matter, but in fact do. I like being able to customise my Samsung phones so much. I do like using microSD cards, that I can transfer from phone to phone (at least for now). I prefer the letter 'S' to the letter 'A'.

When I last checked, Vodafone's deals on the Galaxy S8+ were scarcely unchanged from those of five months ago, when the phone launched. Clearly demand has been strong and it has sold well. That's five months of good profit for Vodafone, and of course for Samsung. Even if newer phones like the iPhone X divert attention, I expect the S8+ to carry on selling well because of its modern design, large clear screen, responsiveness, and good battery life. These all tick fundamental boxes. When all is said and done, the iPhone X offers nothing very different. There is just the Apple name, the Apple thing. I wonder if it will be quite enough.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Being different

The last post (on rejecting Facebook) has prompted this one. More and more I find myself caught in the middle of two opposing tendencies.

One is to let myself be part of the mainstream of life, taking my place as an accepted member of several interlinking circles of people, mostly local, and very definitely real-life. It's a world of older women in the main, of course - mostly women in their fifties or older, but with a sprinkling of younger women too. And to function in that milieu, a certain amount of conformity is needed. It doesn't seem contrived or unnatural. But extreme or disturbing behaviour is out of the question. To my surprise, I've managed to conform successfully, and there have certainly been rewards for doing so. Not only have I made a string of friends, there was (for instance) the joy of being voted (local) Slimming World Woman of the Year last month. How I treasure that accolade! Truly now a member of the Sisterhood. Especially as it was awarded as much for being an 'inspirational person' as for losing significant weight. (That's being 'inspirational' on what the people who voted for me could see and hear, without knowing my history)

But I feel the pull of the other tendency also - to be myself, to preserve my individuality, and insist on making plans that keep my life simple, solitary and free from entangling connections. And as I find myself sinking deeper into 'normality', so that contrary pull is becoming ever more insistent. I don't think it will ever become a stark choice - one life or the other - but striking a balance between integration with mainstream womanhood (and all that entails), and a freewheeling personal life in which I can at all times follow my preferences, is bound to become harder in the years to come.

One thing I don't want to happen is to find myself besieged by some man wanting to know me better and accept his attentions, whatever his motive. That would be so not what I'd want. Whatever his charm, whatever his gifts, whatever the material advantages on offer, I will always value independence far above a gilded imprisonment. I will be nobody's possession. I don't even want to be anybody's dream or aspiration. I must be uniquely me, beyond desire or imitation. And most definitely not an object of lust (reality check: fat chance), nor someone with assets to covet, a target for deception and robbery.

Another different, but related, scenario would be an offer from another woman to pool our resources and live enjoyably in a combined life with wide internal freedoms. But we'd have to like each other very much, and my own previous experience of teaming up with likeable people is that intimacy develops, and with it a certain enslaving mutual dependency. It becomes a kind of marriage. And absolute personal freedom is incompatible with marriage. Instead, there must be absolute loyalty to a common purpose. I haven't got it in me to commit to such a thing. I really don't want to try yet again, and inevitably fail.

So I feel different, and destined by temperament and self-knowledge to stay separate, and be in some way a permanent outsider. For me, that's a natural, comfortable position, and in no way a daunting prospect. It has its own advantages too, some of them rather enviable. But even if it were a way of life fraught with constant problems, I now know for certain that I would have to follow it willy-nilly, and never look for an escape.

Recently I've had the opportunity of watching several Super-Hero films based on Marvel Comic characters. Now there are a set of people who have no choice but to live strange lives. If they look like ordinary human beings, then protecting their identity and being careful about using their powers is paramount, and normal life is denied. If they look alien, then they absolutely must live secretly, hiding perhaps on some remote island. They won't be able to attend the local pilates class, nor have a good chat at Slimming World. They have no choice about it. Now that would be really sad!

Social networking and instant messaging

I'm starting to feel out of step with a lot of people, for not having a Facebook account. Apparently I am missing out on what's happening in other people's lives. And there's a suggestion that people are not going to send me special me-only messages if they have already posted something up on Facebook. They expect me to 'be on Facebook', and dip into what's going on, and generally be part of it all. And if I won't, then sadly I'll just have to miss out.

Well, judging from the trivia I often see when friends look up something they want to show me, I don't think I'm missing anything very important, although I do acknowledge that I'm standing apart from the rising generation of people - billions of them, I suppose - who share their lives online. For blogging isn't quite the same thing. Certainly, a lot of my life is there, in my posts, but you only get a disconnected picture, not a stream. And you don't see who all my friends and family are, and what they might be getting up to. And although the photos posted up on Flickr reveal where I've been, and what catches my attention, they share no confidences. I can inadvertently say silly or indiscreet things on the blog, but as each post has structure and has to be carefully composed, the likelihood of a slip is much smaller.

When writing about Facebook before, I've highlighted the distressing fact that its quick-fire nature promotes flippancy and encourages carelessness. Too often I see - on other phones - people I know undermining themselves with terse or stupid remarks, and offhand commentary that does them no credit. Facebook clearly has abundant potential to stir up dissent, and create disharmony and misunderstanding. A far cry from the original benign notion of linking up people, re-establishing contact, and letting them come together again. There are too many tales nowadays of damage done with hurtful or bullying messages, and untruthful rumours spread that trash reputations. Then there are all the dodgy opinions, misinformation, and gossip from people who claim some kind of peer-group connection, designed to influence or destabilise or subvert one's point of view. And Facebook's own policies on how it handles all the information fed into it by its users are open to question. It regularly changes its rules for handling sensitive data, and lets people down on protecting personal security.

I don't trust Facebook. What are its motives and intentions? It has become way too big and powerful. I have a gut feeling that it's wisest to keep a safe distance, as you would a dangerous and unpredictable beast, and not enter its cage just because most other people have. There is every good reason not to feed it with the kind of meat it wants - information about my life that it will secretly use (or misuse) for its own ends.

For similar reasons, I am most reluctant to sign up for Whatsapp - which is now of course owned by Facebook, and shares personal data with its parent company. These two apps together seem to me like overweening machines. Sign up and be bound to them, with no escape. No thanks.

If wishing to stay in touch with friends and family, I still don't see what's wrong with ordinary texting and emailing. I'm not going to abandon Gmail and Samsung's messaging app merely because some people consider them dull and untrendy.

In any case, I don't have the temperament to enjoy being part of a huge community. I hesitate to 'join in'. That's not to say that I haven't joined local real-world groups (like the pilates class, and Slimming World) to meet a definite purpose (so far, though, only a health-connected purpose), but I'm not the sort to belong to clubs, societies and hobby groups. Nor action groups and political parties. I don't want to be a member. I want to be my own person. And if that means being cut off to some extent from the mainstream, then so be it.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

What really matters to me

I overspent this month. There was the unexpected expense of the mower (£269). Then I compounded the financial damage by purchasing two tops, a long cardigan, patterned pants in some silky material, a pendant and a scarf, for a total of £250-odd. They were all from out-of-town boutiques that sell goods you can't commonly buy on the High Street. The tops, cardigan and pants were from a Danish maker. My friends approved heartily.

But suddenly I felt squeezed in the money department. And I felt unhappy that the end-of-2017 savings target I'd set for myself would be missed. 

I'm not a feckless and improvident person, and although there is always slippage in any plan one might make, this was - at least in respect of the £250 spent on clothes - an avoidable self-inflicted financial wound. I could have waited, gone elsewhere, and spent less. I'd had a genuine need for more smart clothes, with specific social events in mind. The items were lovely and went together in various combinations - and would combine with things I already had - so really I'd acquired several new outfits in one go. But I was, all the same, now a bit short of cash. 

I looked for ways to restore the feeling that I was in control, and would yet meet my savings target. There was a way. I had booked nine nights at a Club site in the New Forest in early November. This could be sacrificed. I'd intended to do all kinds of things in that week and a half, but all of it could be postponed to 2018. Or indefinitely. I went online and did the deed before I could change my mind. It didn't save me even £150, but it helped.

Still, I'd looked forward to that week and a half. I'd imagined how it would be, walking around the Forest, enjoying the wild ponies and all those autumn colours; revisiting Shaftesbury, Swanage, Bournemouth, Mudeford and Lymington; possibly lashing out to see the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu; and most certainly treating myself to a day on the Isle of Wight, preferably taking Fiona, but if need be doing it on foot, and catching one or two local buses. I was wistful for these things. But I couldn't afford it all. Something had to give.

I slept on it.

It's funny how sleeping on something modifies and clarifies your point of view. I awoke feeling that I'd done something rather daft. What was important? Did it really matter if reaching a savings target was postponed by a month? What was I saving for? To build up a cash fund for future expenditure. There would undoubtedly be plenty of unexpected costs - something would go wrong with house, car or caravan  - and I'd need to keep putting money away to cope with all that as it arose. But nothing specific was in sight except a new phone in 2021 and a new laptop in 2022. In the grand scheme of things, I shouldn't get upset about savings slippage.

I went back online and rebooked the New Forest holiday. I compromised a bit, booking seven nights rather than nine. Seven nights were enough. It saved me about £33 on the site fee, and maybe £10 for the fuel I might have used during the two days now lopped off the original booking. Not a lot then. But it was a nod towards thriftiness. And I could look forward again to the things I knew I'd enjoy. I was of course taking a risk that it would be seven cold and rainy nights, with the Forest completely sodden underfoot. But indifferent weather would be no problem at all - one can be photographically creative with Autumn mists, and damp vegetation, and empty, eerie beaches. 

Retired people (at least the ones with some spare cash, and sufficient free time) live for their holidays, and I'm no exception. Unlike younger people, you are highly conscious that your active years are passing rapidly, and must be used wisely. So, having made certain that one's house is suitable for less mobile living, the next priority is getting in all the travel experiences one hankered after in younger years when it just wasn't possible. That means getting away on holiday as often as one can afford. It really is 'now or never'. Serious illness and disability loom, and once they strike, the game is over. So it's important to go on holiday, and see the world - or at any rate see the best one's own country has to offer - while doing so is physically possible.

I don't see why any older person has to justify this, nor apologise for holidaying well while they can. The whistle gets blown on it all soon enough.

I'd been silly to be parsimonious about nine nights in the very next county. I won't make the same mistake again.

The first occasion to wear some of those new Danish clothing items will be tomorrow evening at the golf club. After that, the Appledore Book Festival Friends' Lunch with crime author Ian Rankin in mid-September. More on that in another post.

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Penguins

An online article I noticed yesterday on TechRadar prompted me to relive the famous John Smith's Extra Smooth Bitter TV ad from July 1996. This is the one that shows comedian Jack Dee extolling the virtues of that brew against a lurid bubble-filled background inhabited by oversized flame-spouting penguins. But more on that in a moment.

The TechRadar article was bemoaning Google's decision to crack down on apps that copied videos on YouTube. I didn't know any existed. Apparently there were several. Now they are all under threat, and may shortly become unobtainable, with the result that no ordinary Internet user will be able to download and keep their very own personal copy of something shown on YouTube.

I wish I had known sooner that this had been a possibility. It always irritated me about YouTube that although you could watch, you couldn't download. Now it looks as if that's how it will be forever, as Google clearly want to make YouTube's content inaccessible except through streaming.

The article is at http://www.techradar.com/news/a-number-of-third-party-youtube-apps-and-youtube-rippers-are-closing-down. They supply instructions on how to set up - at your own risk - one of the remaining apps that will capture and download a favourite video. I don't think I will be attempting that. Even if it proves technically successful, there is the legality issue to consider. Google clearly regard such downloading as near-piracy - the video equivalent of downloading music tracks one hasn't paid for - and I wouldn't want to invite trouble. (It is however tempting to set up the app in question, and see what it can accomplish...)

Naturally I fired up YouTube and checked what I presently had in my 'favourites'. Not much, as it happens. I am not an avid watcher or collector of videos. But I did have a few items bookmarked that I would consider downloading if I had the means to do so. Among them was the 1996 Jack Dee ad with the giant flame-belching and flipper-waving penguins.

This mustn't be confused with the 1993 series of John Smith's penguin ads, in which Jack Dee would be typically propping up the bar at a very quiet and traditional spit-and-sawdust Yorkshire pub, surrounded by squeaky little penguins whom he is easily able to put down and dismiss with his dry humour. The 1996 ad might be called The Penguins' Revenge. The penguins mock and menace him, as he strolls oblivious over a vast penguin belly, through a frothy and bubbly beer-glass landscape, up through the anus of a humongous penguin, emerging from its gaping mouth, and then finally stepping over beer can lids floating over a beery void. Unaware of his bizarre surroundings, and the near-misses of projectile penguins, he maintains a cool, detached and matter-of-fact delivery. The final custard-pie in his face - and he is still oblivious of this - is to pop him into a silly penguin suit as he walks off at the end.

All the time he believes he is doing his deadpan stuff on an empty set, merely holding a pint of John Smith's Extra Smooth Bitter in his hand, and taking the odd sip. At the end he is assured that the post-production team will project him into a normal pub background. But of course we see that they have an 'action sequence' in mind that he absolutely won't like.

Jack Dee later distanced himself from the penguins. The earlier John Smith ads had helped to make him a household name, but he must have felt that his future career was being hindered by the creatures. I went to see him at the Dome in Brighton sometime late in the 1990s, and his act (and our enjoyment of the show) was ruined by a loud heckler who kept asking him where the penguins were. He had ample reason to dislike them.

By the 1990s beer was no longer my favourite drink, but I thought the 1996 John Smith's ad with Jack Dee was very amusing. It had, at the time, been possible to capture ads like this on a VHS home video recording. And no doubt the variable-quality clips from that time that you can now see on YouTube were originally saved in that way. But nobody in a home environment could then have used a computer to make and preserve a modern video file, the mp4 video format being available only from 2001. What a pity.

And it wasn't going to be possible now. I wondered whether I might instead get the gist of the thing by taking a series of still screenshots on my phone. It would certainly convey the look and development of the 43-second ad, but there wouldn't be Jack Dee's voice, nor the music. Oh well, better than nothing. See what you think.


Nearly all the above were taken as screenshots on my phone. The taller shots were screen prints on my laptop - I thought the rendition might be better, but it isn't. Clearly the YouTube video was derived from a smeary, low-resolution VHS tape! I used to have software that would stretch the narrower shots vertically, but it wasn't compatible with Windows 10, and I'm not going to spend money on having that rarely-used facility.

Gosh, didn't Jack Dee look young then? Well, it was twenty-one years ago, and he was only thirty-five.

I wonder who played the penguins? Unless, of course, they were real...

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Brighton by Night


I first visited Brighton in 1975, as a stop on a long drive from Southampton (where I was still living with my parents) to South London (where I was weekending with a girl friend). We had a look at the sea front, and the still-impressive ornate West Pier, which at that time was closed but very much a candidate for a complete restoration, had the will and the money been there. It wasn't anything like the sad burnt-out skeleton (and offshore hazard) it now is!

But Brighton didn't strike me then (nor on revisits afterwards) as much of a place. It was disappointingly short on style and elegance. It seemed tired and tatty, and even sleazy. Winos and street beggars abounded. Rust, grime and peeling paint could be seen everywhere. It had the lively Palace Pier, but there was nothing very special in the way of shops or facilities. I felt it was trading way too much on its 1950s 'London-by-the-Sea' image. It was like a self-conscious Brighton Rock film set, and it was oh-so-easy to imagine illicit couples sneaking down here for a classic Dirty Weekend, with a daytime trip to the races included. You'd come here for an abortion. You'd come here to dispose of a murdered body in a suitcase.

Admittedly it was also the destination of the London-to-Brighton Vintage Car Rally each autumn, and another film, a charming one, Genevieve, sprang to mind. And there was of course the exotic and wonderful Brighton Pavilion - although the associations that went with that - the fat, petulant and spendthrift Prince Regent and his snobbish entourage, and his not-so-secret and adulterous liaison with Mrs Fitzherbert - couldn't be dismissed. Then there were the incongruous and dingy high-rise tower blocks that were to become even more sordid in later years. And associated with those, the menacing practices of landlords like Nicholas Van Hoogstraten. Brighton felt haunted by crime. You'd be careful here.

But it was still head-and-shoulders above every other South Coast resort, and a magnet for the well-off as well as the have-nothings. Plenty of people thought it an amazing place. A place where they could be free, and live as they liked. By the time I'd moved to Sussex in 1989, it was definitely on the up. Some new buildings had appeared. The Marina was fully-developed. The drunken and abusive winos had been moved on, although the sullen homeless still slept in odd corners in their malodorous sleeping bags, and begged aggressively at times. But the atmosphere wasn't dangerous any more. There was still street crime, but it was petty and not obviously organised. It had become a reasonable place for a night out, for hen parties, and tables for two in interesting restaurants. But I was glad that I didn't live there.

As the 1990s progressed, Brighton began to transform itself into a modern city with a definite appeal for the international tourist. And there was something else hitting the news. It had become the Gay Capital of the UK. And not only was it a place for gay people. There were other groups, such as Goths; and some of them were suddenly visible on the streets. If I saw any of them, I thought them very daring. Even in Brighton, it was still not quite the right time to be 'different'. And a few people did come to harm. I recall the murder of a gay man on the eastern sea front. Clearly it might still be unwise to walk alone in certain places after dark, whether gay or not. If visiting Brighton at night, one stuck to the well-lit city centre, and clearly safe places like the Pier and The Lanes.

I was still only an occasional visitor. I didn't become a regular one - using Brighton as my social and shopping hub - until late 2008. Then, with my old life disappearing, and with new friends to see, for a few years I travelled into Brighton at least once a week, sometimes three times.

But life moves on, and nowadays I don't socialise in Brighton more than twice a month, and I rarely go shopping there. People I once knew have dispersed to other cities, or to other sets of friends, and most of the old bonds have slackened. There are other places to shop in Sussex just as good. Some favourite haunts of mine, such as the Museum and Art Gallery, have begun to make a steep admission charge. But it's mainly because driving into Brighton, and getting parked, has become such a hassle. The city's 'green' policies seem designed to alienate car drivers, and discourage anybody from outside the city from going there. In short, Brighton is now Too Much Trouble, and I only visit it when I really feel I want to.

But I really wanted to the other evening. It had been a very hot day. I had stayed indoors all afternoon, to keep in the shade. Now it was cooling down a bit, though still very warm. I decided to leave my evening meal until late in the evening, and meanwhile go off to catch the sunset at the Devil's Dyke on the South Downs. This done, I drove on into Brighton. I didn't expect to park - it was the Late August Bank Holiday Sunday, after all! - but as it happens, I found a space to leave Fiona quite close to the sea front. OK then: the gods have willed it that I should have a space. Let's go with that.

I turned towards the Royal Pavilion first. It was beautifully lit up with yellow and mauve lights. Out came Tigerlily: I was going to have an orgy of photography, the camera on my phone being a remarkable low-light performer. Conditions were perfect for it.


Extraordinary. Even Indian tourists, taking pictures like me, were astonished. Remarkably, no persons walked into any of my pictures. I think the Royal Pavilion looks much better at night than during the daytime. It's such a pity that the splendid interior can't be photographed. They don't allow it. So misguided.

From here I strolled to the seafront, through part of The Lanes. It was seething with people, walking around, outside restaurants, spilling out of pubs. If you love life, and love buzz, it was intoxicating.


Some shops were open, but the big-name fashion shops were now shut for the day. Their window displays still made a good picture.


Then suddenly I came out onto the sea front, with the Palace Pier to my left and the western promenade to my right. At beach level, deafening noise drifted up from a string of club-like eating places. The lights of the Pier and the fairground carousels lit up the beach and the sea.


It was fascinating to look down on the revellers.


A sobering note was struck however by two armed police officers quietly patrolling along the promenade. I say 'armed' because they were both carrying - ready for firing - two automatic machine guns. It gave me a shock, and I wondered if they were hoaxing, but I quickly dismissed the idea. It was the Bank Holiday weekend. Brighton could so easily be a terrorist target. All those crowds... I shot them in the back as they passed.


It meant a return trip of over a mile, but I saw, in the distance at Hove, the new tall tower of British Airways i360, which is a big glass pod that carries paying customers up to the top of a very high concrete observation mast.


It opened last year, but I had never seen it close-up, nor finished, nor at night. It was worth the effort to see it in action. Despite the growing darkness, Tigerlily captured some nice shots as I drew closer. The pod travels up and down only very slowly, the 'flight' apparently taking 25 minutes. It was descending as I approached.


It looked exactly like a flying saucer making a landing.


On a clear night, the view from the top of the mast must be spectacular. I looked the price up on the British Airways i360 website. A 'senior' (a person aged at least sixty - that's me!) would pay £13.50 if queuing and paying cash on the day - as you might if wanting to make absolutely certain of fine weather for your 'flight' - or £12.15 in advance online, taking a chance on the weather. Well, as a one-off, if the night were clear, I'd be prepared to shell out £12 or £13 for the ride. You could take photos. (There would have been no deal if they didn't allow it, of course) I wondered what the precise connection with British Airways the airline was. The website explained that they were an independent company, but had struck a 'partnership' agreement with British Airways for five years, which allowed them to use the name and logo.

Well, this was a venture that had been long in the planning. It was a replacement for original plans to restore the adjacent West Pier, plans that had to be abandoned after the by-then shamefully decrepit pier was wrecked by a storm in 2001, and was subsequently the victim of a fire.

Having witnessed the 'landing', I walked back towards the very-much-with-us Palace Pier. On the way, a succession of big seafront hotels.


And at beach level, plenty of beautification and smartening-up. All done in the last year or two, surely.


But I also passed an old Victorian shelter that hadn't yet been tarted up, with broken glass; and, dimly silhouetted against the light from the Grand Hotel opposite, the outline of a man with a backpack.


He wouldn't necessarily be just resting his feet. He might be planning to use the shelter as his makeshift bedroom for the night.

And so to the Palace Pier. It was packed with people. What an atmosphere.


Here in a couple of pictures is the difference between places like Mablethorpe and Brighton. Mablethorpe:


Brighton:


No contest. I definitely know where I'd like to be, were I a mermaid! With these side-by-side photo opportunities, it pays to poke your face at the right hole, otherwise the results can be hilarious. It's not intended for two girls together, as here - not that it matters one bit, if you just want a laugh:


The Pier has it all. A view back across the lit-up sea to Brighton, for one thing:


It has places to eat, brash or half-posh.


It has horses.


It has cows. All kinds!


You can get your fortune told. Though unforeseen circumstances had made the fortune-teller close up for the night.


But this chappie was available. Zoltar speaks. A good man at the Brexit Negotiation Table, I'm thinking. Especially in that snazzy yellow blouse.


You can try your hand at one-armed bandits. Three of you together. (This is 'family entertainment' again)


You can win (they say 'collect') genuine 'shimmering' unicorns, in three different varieties:


How a furry unicorn can 'shimmer' beats me, but I'm scarcely an expert.

And of course there are the rides. Dodgems, driven by people I hope never to meet on the open road.


A traditional helter-skelter.


A fairy-tale carousel.


The queue is not for the carousel, but a gut-wrenching ride called Air Race. People queue for ages, and then pay big bucks, to ride on this. They'll regret it.


And here's another ride in the same vein. The saps.


I've recently discovered (at pilates) that pronounced up-and-down movement induces nausea and dizziness in me. It's akin to sea-sickness. Clearly I'd be mad to try any of these rides, and must henceforth and forever be only a spectator. Even a comparatively gentle ride through this establishment might make me puke...


...if I don't die first of abject cold fear. I rather fancy that Brighton Pier's sophisticated Horror Hotel is way more scary than Mablethorpe's yawn-provoking House of Terror.


You just know it is.

Further rides await, each more testing (some would say 'thrilling') than the last. The roller-coaster is one.


I've never been on a roller coaster in my life, but I know that I would black out and die. And who would care?

This next ride is the worst. The Booster. Four seats at each end of a long rotating bar that swoops around in a fashion designed to spray onlookers with vomit, pee and crap. And yet, people gleefully make their wills and get strapped in. Like this girl, who is doing it alone.


The horrible thing about this one is that having filled the seats at one end of the long bar, they hoick you up into the clouds while they fill up the other end.


So you are left high up there for several terrified minutes, as if they have forgotten all about you. 'What a great view you get,' some might say. But what if, like me, you have a phobia for heights? And must have your two feet firmly on the ground to remain sane? I'd be a gibbering, wimpering jelly up there. And then, just when you might be getting accustomed to it, the arm begins to move, and gathers speed, and...


How many Gs do they subject you to? How many before your heart gives out, or you become brain-damaged? Or at any rate you suffer so much internal injury from the appalling physical stresses that you are never the same again?

I turned away. I had to. In any case, I'd remembered those armed policemen. If there was going to be a bomb, or a shooting, it would start soon. Let's get away. It was with a sense of relief that I left the Pier behind. Across the road were two clubs that I'd not been to for a very long time. One was Bar Revenge. I'm sure it was called something else when I last went in there, just the once. It had been a scary experience. Lone men in sunglasses were scattered about in the semi-darkness, drinking quietly, fiercely watching the girls. You felt their hot eyes on you. You were very, very glad to be with friends and not alone. Now it seemed to have a different clientele.


Why was it called 'Bar Revenge'? Did you take your two-timing boyfriend or girlfriend in there to extract a satisfying retribution? Did you plot a dire retaliation against a friend who had turned against you? Next door was Charles Street, which I seem to remember used to be a venue for drag acts and the like. Back in early 2009, this might greet you at the door:


Now it seemed to be just an ordinary club, although the rainbow lighting suggested that Charles Street might still be a place for Brighton's LGBTQ community to gather:


It was just gone ten, and I was getting peckish. Time to go. I was wary of passers-by as I walked back to Fiona, but made it without problems. Twenty minutes later I was home. Within half an hour I was tucking into a steak dinner.


It had been a good way to spend an evening, but I wouldn't want to repeat it in a hurry. There's something not quite right about Brighton. It can excite you, but it doesn't put you at ease.