We arrived in Hove at 11ish, a wonderful stress-free drive from Essex to Sussex, and then spent 20minutes driving in circles trying to find somewhere to park. Brighton and Hove council has an interesting approach to parking it seems. They have streets with one side pay and display, and the other side is residents parking only, and one street along and you're in a whole different parking zone. I refused to become stressed by it all and used my 'flow' approach, letting the parking problem flow around me, confident it would resolve itself, this approach saw me through this and the rest of the day well. This, for someone who's a list-maker, a scheduler of things, is not my natural approach, but now I realise sometimes it's best to let things flow.
Have you ever been so engrossed in something that you really don't want to stop, you're in the zone? That's sometimes called 'flow' because you're so engrossed in what you're doing that other things around you sort of fall away. It can be a wonderful thing if you're reading, writing, even in the middle of a difficult number crunching problem wresting a spreadsheet into submission. This was how I felt about the whole of Brighton Pride this year, the event itself flowed around me and the activities of the day flowed from one to another seamlessly, without anguish. It was wonderful.
After dropping our stuff at BF's friend's house, we got a taxi to Seven Dials and before midday, had bacon or sausage baps with ketchup or brown sauce, while sipping champagne in the garden. I had serious kitchen envy as I munched my sausage bap, stroking the granite work tops, lit cupboards and space-age extractor fan hood. I told the two guys who owned the kitchen and one of them tried to make me feel better by saying the extractor fan hood looked better than it was, and the other one said, 'Wait until you see the bathroom. You'll need to brace yourself for that.'
Sad isn't it that some people behave like this. I've no idea which group or who did this, but fortunately it didn't spoil the day. We stood in the sun drinking and chatting and waiting for the parade to pass us. It all just flowed.
And then suddenly it was about 3pm. Two old university friends, Faith and Craig, I'd not seen in 4 years turned up and said they were expecting their Brighton friends to arrive, having last seen them at Revenge – the big gay night club in Brighton – the night before. One of the guys had disappeared the night before as soon as he walked in and found himself a gentleman for company for the night. Ninety seconds after arriving apparently. That's some pretty heroic pulling skills I reckon. And the other one left with another gentleman friend for the night and had updated his whereabouts on his way to Preston Circus, having not been home yet.
Another of Faith and Craig's mates arrived, all the way from the train from London. Gradually I found out he was friends with the other two, as yet not arrived guys, and also had 'history' with one of them.
One of the men arrived, a graphic designer from Brighton, wearing last night's clothes, having walked from 'the trade's house' and not passing go at his flat to collect new clothes or anything else, and I marvelled at how lucky he was to do a job he loved, and get paid for it. I gave him a Liam Livings business card, explaining it was my author name, as I'd introduced myself as my 'real name'. He said he'd read one of my books while he and the other two guys were in Sitges later this summer.
I was being myself, talking about everything and anything, loudly with lots of hand gestures, and this guy said, deadpan, 'Are you gay?'
I smiled and told him he was quick. This continued as a few times later he said he wasn't convinced I really was gay.
In the middle of this, the guy who'd pulled after 90 seconds in the night club arrived. His heroic pulling skills were backed up by a pretty heroic personality and looks. I understood it all now. More drinks, more chatting, more laughter, some selfies, I even had a bit of Pimms and strawberry from a can. It was sweet. Therefore I loved it.
The parade passed, all the usual bits, dykes on bikes, butlers in the buff, dancing women with pom poms, police men and woman, Sussex and Hampshire fire brigade, lots of trade union floats. I was a bit disappointed that some floats seemed to be little more than an excuse for an advertising hoarding for something not related to Pride at all – an estate agents, and someone said last year there was a white goods retailer with a washing machine on their float -eye roll-. But any more complaining and bitching isn't for now.
BF's friend and the bacon roll hosts and their friends left for the festival in Preston Park – ticketed and all very well managed. A merciful improvement over previous years when it was free and a bit shabby or poorly managed, or ticketed and still quite poorly arranged.
Anyway, I said I wanted to stay with Faith and Craig and the fabulous 3 gay guys I'd been talking 19 to the dozen to. None of them were going to the festival, and although I said we'd catch up with them at St James (Brighton's Soho, which was cordoned off and ticketed for entry that night) I wasn't 100 percent sure it would in fact actually happen. So, stay we did. And the gents loos in a nearby pub were over-run with women bored of queuing round the block to use the ladies loos. 'Don't worry lads, it's nothing we've not seen before,' a woman shouted behind me as I stood waiting to use the urinal.
It was all starting to fall apart, but somehow, contrary to my usual control freak tendencies, I didn't care and it all just flowed.
One of the guys asked what's the secret of a long term relationship. I said, 'Humouring one another, compromise, having separate hobbies, and doing most but definitely not all of your socialising together.' There were nods from the 3 guys. Faith and Craig, who've been together for 7 plus years, agreed.
Faith was telling a story about something her boyfriend, Craig had done, and the gay guys laughed as they gradually told us about what had happened the night before after they'd left the club. Faith pointed to them all and said with a smile, 'Basically, the men in my life are a little bit of a nightmare at the moment.'
They all shook their heads emphatically.
Goodbyes said, I promised Faith and her friends we'd be better friends next time and we'd see each other sooner than 4 years this time.
The festival was enormous. The queues for the toilets were enormous. The queues for the dance tents were epic. People swarmed everywhere. I felt my pulse racing and my breathing becoming more shallow.
I don't like crowds and this was the sort of crowd I disliked most.
Somehow, we met with different groups of friends, chillaxed under trees in dappled shade, drank, saw the drag queens cabaret tent – filthy, hilarious, a great singalong – went to the 'mens and bears' dance tent – nose-bleed techno music, lots of hairy men with no tops on, I sat outside not long after arriving, the 'women's tent' – dancey pop music, women in various states of undress dancing like their lives depended on it, eyed up the queue, yes there was a queue, to get into the 'Wild Fruit main dance tent' and then walked past.
I'll tell you what's not attractive, not attractive one bit. A stubbly chest and stomach. Dear men, if you're going to manscape your chest hair, please don't shave it off, it's really unattractive when it grows back. Trimming things to keep them in check is much better. Hairy backs and shoulders can be waxed, but razors are for faces and women's legs, but not for any other part of a man's body. That is all. Back to the story...
Gradually as I moved between locations, talking to people, taking part in various things from watching the children's face painting stand to an experimental folk song band in a tiny tent under a tree I imagined this must be what it's like to go to Glastonbury. And it all just flowed.
DJ Fat Boy Slim was due to 'play his set' as they say, at 8.30 so we took up residence in the 'Wild Fruit main dance tent' by now, with no queue to get in. There was a Freemasons DJ set and they played The One by Kylie, and Heart Break Make me a Dancer by Sophie Ellis Bexter and many other hands waving in the air 'tracks' as they're called in these circumstances.
Fat Boy Slim came on and the crowd went wild, screaming, shouting, jumping up and down. He mixed 'tracks' you'd never have thought would go together – can't tell you what they were now I'm afraid – and whipped the crowd into a frenzy. We moved deeper into the dance tent, which fortunately had lots of space as they'd closed it for new people entering due to Healthy Safety, and I was very relieved of that. BF went to the bar to buy us some drinks and said it was the most bizarre experience, because everyone was pretty, -cough cough- worse for wear, they weren't barging in to get their drink, they were simply content with standing near the bar, swaying to the music and smiling very broadly. A man took charge, asked surrounding people what they wanted, and assembled a long list of orders, paid for it, then took money from grateful, smiling others as they finally received their drinks.
When I didn't think it could get any better we left this tent – at the time I felt it was a fail, because I was enjoying the moment so much, stopping that moment seemed wrong.
However, the next thing was even better. The Human League were playing live on the 'main stage' it really was like a festival this year. One of the people we were with said he didn't know any of their songs and he'd probably leave shortly.
6 songs later he was singing along, admitted he knew them all except one and the atmosphere of a crowd of people singing along to 'Don't You Want Me Baby' and 'Together In Electric Dreams' topped the atmosphere in the dance tent. And it just kept on flowing.
I became a bit maudlin and talked to one of the group about losing Great Auntie last year, and my friend Nick in February. She said, 'Emotions are part of you. You've just got to go with them when they come up. Feeling sad for losing someone is very normal.' She'd explained her mum was a grief counsellor and I think some of it had rubbed off very well onto her. I have a tendency to do this sort of thing when I'm a bit 'three sheets to the wind' but it wasn't terminal, I didn't end up crying in a corner as used to happen. It was still flowing.
The park closed at 10pm and there was a bit of waiting for groups of friends to assemble, and flat mobile phones, and who's got other people's numbers, and who are you, do you know where so and so is, but I just went with it. I was just zen about the whole situation, enjoying the moment and licking a Mister Whippy ice cream with a 99 I shared with the BF. And it kept on flowing.
We revisited the Seven Dials house and I received a grand tour, including the bathroom mentioned earlier that day. I almost wept at their bathroom. I was quite emotional by this point. If I say Cadbury's Flake advert, I think most of you will know where I'm aiming.
A hop and a skip and we were at a house party – the guy who said he wouldn't know the Human League songs who I'd danced with earlier in the tent. He was a friend of a friend. He was a great host, making drinks, emptying ash trays, opening windows.
Somehow 2 ½ hours passed there and we cabbed it back to where we'd left our things. We didn't make it to the St James street party, but it didn't matter, we'd done what we were meant to do and I'd enjoyed it all, every disorganised, slightly messy but in a good way, moment of it.
Once back at BF's friends' in Hove, we stayed up talking for a bit, then when BF's friend and her boyfriend went to bed, we walked along the beach and listened to the crashing of the waves on the pebbles and watched the twinkling lights on the city in the distance.
I think we finally got to bed at 5am ish.
Sunday consisted of tea in bed, a shower, then an enormous roast dinner – pork, crackling, Yorkshire puddings, potatoes and veg – in an old fashioned pub in Brighton. The host of the house party joined me, the BF, his friend whose house we'd stayed at, and her boyfriend. As expected, there was a fair bit of 'do you remember when that happened' and some did remember and others not so much. The food replenished us. We walked through Brighton and stopped at my favourite chocolate shop in the world – Montezumas, and bought -an awful lot- of chocolate, walked along the beach past the Brighton Tower partly built, past the burned out pier wreckage, past packed stretches of beach with sunbathing people and recovering clubbers, until we reached BF's friend's house in Hove, collected our bags and after hugs and wasn't it a great weekend we drove home in just under 2 hours.
We lay on a picnic blanket in the back garden with Domino on his harness, eating grass as I wrote my diary and BF read extracts of his Little Book Of Essex book.
A perfect day, showing that despite someone's best efforts you can't stop people celebrating Pride, diversity, friendship, the weather and having a bl**dy good party and sometimes even if you're a bit of a control freak the best thing you can do is let things flow.
What are your experiences of pride festivals you've been to? I'd love to hear from you.
Liam Livings xxx