08. The Royal Imaginations of George IV

Now that Lent term has officially ended and all students are in limbo between end of classes and exam revision period, I decided to take a day trip to see my favourite place of all: the sea.

Naturally, Brighton was selected.

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Our first steps off the two-hour coach from Victoria Station led us straight to the waters. My anticipation for the smell of salty blue, the sound of lapping waves, and the sight of glassy reflections falling off the horizon could no longer be contained.

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It was exactly as I remembered it. Majestic. Calming. Breathtaking.

After gawking at the Channel for a good half an hour and clumsily trudging on the stony beaches of this city, like this heart-meltingly bundle of joy…

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The weather made a turn for the worst.

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As we made our way through the snaking streets filled with boutique shops decorated with the upmost attention and care, hail hit us. It was the perfect time to be inside the other main Brighton attraction: the Royal Pavilion.

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George IV spared no expenses bringing his imagination to life in this labyrinth of a pleasure palace. History has it that he hosted many lavish, grand parties in its spaces, hence the nickname “pleasure palace”.

The décor was very Indian, but walking through past the reception area, and all became so, so shockingly Chinese.

It became a Chinese wonderland, a middle kingdom emporium, constructed out of the imaginings of a king who had never been to China. Chinese figurines nodded at you as you walked down the first hallway past the Jade-coloured reception area. The walls were covered with bamboo shoots and illusions of bamboo that were actually made out of metal. There would be more of these as you ventured deeper into the pavilion, including bamboo railings, handles, door posts, and much, much more.

One of the most shocking spaces was the central dining space. Enter it and your eyes will be immediately drawn to the ceiling, where a thousand-ton chandelier dangled precariously above the long dining table. A mighty, fearsome dragon sat at the top of its crystals. You would soon realize, as the audio guide played in your ear, that there would be hundreds of dragons to encounter as you walked through the dozens of rooms of the pavilion. Dragons of all shapes and sizes, but mainly ones with a snake-long body and wings. Sometimes, their foreheads would even be adorned with a horn. (Note here that traditional Chinese dragons have no wings or horns, just a snake-like body and four claws)

Another major feature of the dining space and the pavilion are the portraits of Chinese people and life in China. The ones in the dining room were larger than life, literally. As you make your way through the space and into the gigantic kitchen then swerve back into the dinning room, before you exit it completely, on your right hand side, there would be a painting of a man dressed in imperial Chinese-style clothing, but with an unmistakably Caucasian face, peering at you.

Onward you would march after that little curiosity, through teal-filled sitting rooms and dark bedrooms, to arrive at the other splendid, over-the-top, imagination-come-to-life room: the red carpeted ballroom. You would either sit by the couched bench along the wall or on the carpet in the centre of the room and just gawk at the inner fantasies of George IV. Ultimately, the Royal Pavilion was intensely interesting not for its Chinese-styled depictions, but rather how China was seen in the eyes of a future king. It rests as the physical manifestation of a king-to-be’s fantasies of the Far East, a man who dreamt of being the Emperor of China.

Regency exoticism embodied.

Curious thing, even though Brighton is known for being a seaside town, there are barely any view of the sea from the pavilion. I guess George didn’t care much for it. Queen Victoria, who inherited the pavilion, was most unsatisfied with this aspect of the palace.

After this most exotic of experiences, it was back to the sea to watch the precious sunset.

The pier was open for business, but due to the low-season, only the arcade was really open. It was perfectly fine with us though, since the main attraction is always in season.

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We got a chance to walk around amongst the eerily quiet playgrounds, food stalls and amusement rides. In the end, we stood by the railing and just inhaled it all. Orange, yellow, blue, grey, and red glittered across the glassy surface of the sea, reflected off the gold and mirrors of the carrousels and roller coasters, and into our smiling faces.

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Thanks Brighton, you were intriguing, walkable and quaint. You were definitely a well-needed trip for me. Sometimes, one just needs to get away from stuffy London town for some breathing space.

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