The Whistler – June 2017

Stories on the Wing – British Birds in Literature
until 21 September 2017
Booth Museum of Natural History, Dyke Road



The  WHCA AGM in April adopted  reports and accounts from the Trustees. The Hall is well used and maintained; twice-yearly talks on local history and environs have attracted much interest; the Craft Fair and Jumble Bells sale last autumn were both great successes; the nineteenth annual Christmas social went with a bang; the regular monthly Quiz has seen a big influx of participants  and volunteers who take it in turns to set the questions. All very heart-warming.

Equally heart-warming was the response to the request in the last issue of The Whistler for more volunteers to help with the garden at West Hill Hall. We were overwhelmed with the number and calibre of local residents who came forward and offered to help maintain and nurture the garden. Work has begun in earnest to landscape the area at the back of the Hall which was created after the retaining wall was built last year and everyone is pitching in to make our garden grow. Brighton in Bloom here we come!

After the article about sparrows in the last issue, we at The Whistler towers have been looking out for them but in the process are excited to have spotted two lovely Goldfinches in our West Hill garden. According to the 2017 RSPCA Big Garden Birdwatch, Goldfinch numbers have increased by 44% since 2007. It’s certainly the first year they have visited us.


WHCA Local History Talks

A BIG thank you to everyone who came to our recent talk ‘Herstories: Women, Popular Culture and History’ given by Dr Louise Fitzgerald from Brighton University. We hope that you found the talk interesting; indeed, unbelievable in parts, as to how the contribution of women filmmakers, particularly in the early part of the 20th century, has been virtually erased from cinematographic history.

Our next talk is on Tuesday 10 October with Sarah Tobias, an entertaining lecturer in cultural, local and social history. She will be presenting ‘Hidden history of Brighton’s parks and gardens – the history of pleasure grounds and green spaces C18th-20th.’

Doors open at 7pm for 7.30pm start – the talk is scheduled to last for approximately one hour. £4 entrance fee and refreshments are available.

We look forward to welcoming you to West Hill Hall.


Sally May

Sally May, 25 March 1950 – 5 February 2017

A quarter of a century ago, in a Brighton that now seems gone from us forever, an intrepid soul, Sally May (pictured) opened a second hand bookshop at Seven Dials, not a particularly fashionable area of town in those days. To the right of her shop on Dyke Road was a grubby International Stores where the best-selling line seemed to be breakfast in a tin. To the left was a traditional fish and chip shop. Toilet facilities were provided in a brick hut down an alleyway overwhelmed with vegetation that Sally quickly christened Ivy Cottage.

I was delighted to have a bookshop on my doorstep and soon my day was incomplete without calling in at The Bookmark. With her typically impulsive kindness Sally soon promoted me from the status of customer to friend.

Any quick and simple errand around the Dials to get fags or a pint of milk was now impossible. Somehow or other I’d find myself three hours later crouched with Sally over an antique oil radiator at the back of the shop, happily absorbed in The Guardian cryptic crossword.

From time to time we’d be interrupted by one of the regular customers, many of them baptised with fond or not-so-fond nicknames.

Boring Reg would drop in with his trolley. He was rumoured to have a mail-order bride at home but we never saw her. Then Slightly-Less-Boring Reg (no relation) might pass by. Day after day Muddled Marge would put her head around the door to ask, “Do you sell postage stamps?”

Another challenging customer was Steve, the Rock-n-Roll Vole. Dressed head to foot in black, he would stand and mutter at his suede shoes. We could never quite piece together what fascinating observations he might have been communicating.

An aged spiritualist was named Mrs Moth for her habit of appearing suddenly at the window late on winter afternoons, peering into the lighted shop from the twilight outside, her pale raincoat flapping.

A tiny man with a halo of candyfloss hair and a similarly wispy little dog tucked under his arm came in to ask for anything by Catherine Cookson. He was known ever after as Mister Fluff. We liked to imagine that he had been a chorus boy although he can never have been tall enough for that role.

Best of all was the man who came in one day and said very slowly, all in one breath,
Do-You-Have-Any-Books-About-Boats-That-Sank-To-The-Bottom-Of-The-Sea? Disappointed, he turned away and, sadly, was never seen again.

All good things come to an end and so it was at The Bookmark. At the turn of the century the clip-clip of the shiny shoes of estate agents was heard up and down the street. The newsagent, the cobbler, the ironmonger disappeared one by one. The Coma Café, where grey men had slumped over the Racing Post became, apparently overnight, a sushi restaurant.

In 2003 Sally, recognising the spores of gentrification in the air, sold the shop to a property developer, and Seven Dials died a little death.

But for me that small stretch of Dyke Road will forever belong to Sally and will always be haunted by her wheezing exuberant laugh.

Tom Sargant


A-Z of Seven Dials / West Hill – Part 2

We continue our series where we ask the owners of local businesses what they think about being part of the community in the Seven Dials / West Hill area. Unsurprisingly, most of them yearn for an improvement in the parking situation and an overwhelming percentage think that business rates could be much fairer. Every one of the businesses love the community in which they are based. Final part to follow in the next issue. Meanwhile, please write to The Whistler and let us know what you like most about living in this area and your improvement suggestions.

Fullertons Graham Brown and Howard Abbot have owned this stationery shop for 21 years and 36 days (and counting) since they moved from the Stage Door Café in Sydney Street. “The business was for sale, we lived in the area and liked the location.” They like Seven Dials because “It has a unique sense of belonging and people are proud of their amenities and environment.” Improvement suggestion: the parking charges are appalling and confusing.

GB Guitars in Prestonville Road is owned by Bernie Goodfellow who moved here from Croydon 12 years ago. He always visited Brighton and wanted to set up in the town and he likes the vibe and the people in the Seven Dials. Improvement suggestion: parking could be much better.

Grocer and Grain Hakan Toklu has owned this deli/grocer on Surrey Street since moving from Istanbul to open the shop 10 years ago. He was attracted by the location and the local residents. He likes the convenience of the proximity to everywhere else in town and the different backgrounds of the people who live around here. Improvement suggestion: a Spring event that will attract local people to come together as a community.

Homage Mark Fisher and his wife, Liza Fisher-Zerb, are the husband and wife team who own this home and lifestyle store. They moved to Bath Street in November 2015 from Stoke Newington, as Liza “is a Brighton girl and Seven Dials is her childhood neighbourhood. We’ve always wanted to move back to Brighton so we relocated the shop. Seven Dials has a lovely village feel and yet it is 5 minutes walk from the centre of Brighton. Great pubs, restaurants, cafés, and independent businesses. Friendly, welcoming residents.” Improvement suggestion: parking for visitors and commercial premises.

Jagwa Tracy and Alero Ejuetami are the mother and daughter who run this tiny salon. Based here for 19 years – “It was cheap at the time” – they like the Dials because it’s safe, friendly and interesting. Improvement suggestion: businesses to open later.

The Kitchen Table Stuart Graves has been based here for 4 years, having worked in various pubs and restaurants in Brighton. He was attracted by the feeling that it was a neighbourhood. He runs the café with his assistants Marc and Sophie. Improvement suggestion: some more interesting retail shops.

Latina Adelia Pereira brought her award-winning (for recycling) Portuguese café to the Dials 20 months ago, having come from Brighton University. She was attracted by the good location and the lovely area. Improvement suggestion: fewer drunk people around.

Le Gourmet Deli Silvano Ricci owns and runs this delicatessen since his father, Silvano, retired recently, having moved from Montefiore Road 20 years ago. His second-in-command is Ryan Marchant. They were attracted by the “lovely local community” and like the community feel in the area. Improvement suggestion: free parking for half an hour.

Magdusia the Polish supermarket is owned by Ala Alrousan, with his second-in-command, Claire Alrousan. Ala has been based in the Dials for 12 years, since coming here from Abu Dhabi. He was attracted by “the beautiful look of the city, the sea, and the open-minded, friendly people.” Improvement suggestion: no road works in the summer.

Maple Café is owner Amanda Hoggatt’s first business and has been here for 20 months. She was attracted to the Dials because it is “a lovely area with a real mix of people” and what she likes most about the area is that “it has a small town feel and people are more relaxed and friendly.”

Mermaid Island Guijie Wang and her husband Michael Moore came to the Seven Dials from Saltdean one year ago, attracted by the local community, the adjacent shops and offices. “We like our friendly neighbours and being close to the shops and the sea.” Improvement suggestion: some trees or plant containers.

Michael Paul Insurance Services Paul Phillips owns this business and has been in this area since 1984,  to which he was attracted because it was a busy area, with a good community feel. Improvement suggestion: parking.

Mishon Mackay has been based in Hove since 1987 when owner Alex Mackay set up his business. He was attracted by lots of London buyers and he likes the village feel and independent shops in the Seven Dials. Improvement suggestion: litter can always be improved and fewer cars.

Mr Face Make-up & Hair is owned by Martin Carter, and his second-in-command is Mark Stelfox. Martin was in London before opening the business a year ago, having been attracted by the shopfront, and the fact it was “way away from the town centre.” He likes the good community spirit and his amazing, loyal clientele. Improvement suggestion: free parking permits for customers.



What do you think?

I can’t remember how I came to meet Professor Lionel Hayward. It was probably in 1970 when I was living in Chichester. At that time he was working at the University of Surrey, while maintaining a private Clinic at his house in Chichester. He had come to the attention of the wider public some years earlier when he was a witness for the defence at the Oz magazine trial.

He employed me to translate some passages from a Russian book on Self-Hypnosis. This made him aware that I had a strong interest in Psychology. Shortly afterwards he invited me to join some seminars at his clinic. The first series was provided for a group of students from the Bishop Otter College of Education. I soon realised that Professor Hayward was trying to start a private campaign.

Why should this be of interest to my readers? Professor Hayward was a man ahead of his time. Only in the last four or five years have our politicians become seriously concerned about the mental health of schoolchildren. He wanted to make teachers pay more attention to the fact that at least 3% of the population have serious mental health problems. Therefore, a Primary School class of 30 pupils will include one or two children who will go on to suffer such severe problems as adults. He felt that teachers should be trained to recognise these emerging problems so that help could be made available as early as possible.

The response from the students at his seminars was very disappointing. Professor Hayward started from the assumption that they would have a number of false ideas about mental illness. Therefore, at each seminar he chose to describe, in detail, one or two case histories which would challenge these false ideas. He would then open the discussion with the question, “What do you think?” Perhaps they were over-awed, but many of them did not speak at all. Those who did revealed that they hardly ever thought about mental illness and, if they did, they saw few connections with the work of a teacher. Let me give you a simple example. Professor Hayward chose one case history to challenge the belief that people with low intelligence (what we would now call ‘learning difficulties’) do not commit suicide. As the discussion began it became obvious that none of the students held this belief, because they had never thought about it!

At last we are beginning to pay attention to the problem which Lionel Hayward sought to raise. How do we recognise mental illness and severe distress? How do we find out what thoughts are troubling our fellow human beings, and ourselves? I left some of those seminars feeling very depressed. The future teachers revealed that they had little interest in human problems. What is worse, I found that they were often in denial and refused to accept the diagnoses to which they were being guided, even when the consequences turned out to be fatal.

Princes William and Harry have done us all a great service by talking, at last, about their loss and the permanent effect of bereavement. Their example should prompt us all to learn more about the origins of mental suffering.

Let me end with a sad story. When I was working at the Sutton College in South London in the 1970s, one of my colleagues ran a club for young people with learning difficulties. The College provided them with classes in literacy and numeracy. One young lad lived in sheltered accommodation with two or three others, supported by Social Services. Suddenly he went missing. A day or two later his bicycle was found by the towpath of the Thames at Putney. Later that week his body was recovered from the river. Thanks to our literacy classes he was able to write a short suicide note. He explained that he missed his parents very badly – both had died a year or two earlier. He did not want to live without them. As a child he had spent many hours with them walking by the river at Putney. So he cycled there and probably just walked into the river.

As Carl Jung pointed out, we often fail to recognise what people around us are thinking and feeling.

Peter Batten