New Brighton, or Brighton, or B-Right-On is a seaside suburb. So is Sumner, but the difference is that while Sumner is quite nice, Brighton is a bit shit.
The trouble with New Brighton is that it used to be a boom town. For a couple of decades, it was the only place in New Zealand with Saturday morning trading. People would flock there, and it got to the point that the main street was pedestrianised to cope with the weekend swell.
But now it feels almost like a ghost town. The main street stretches out long with ’70s era retail buildings, but they are now occupied by discount shops, second-hand shops or just empty.
Though there is a glimmer of the new and the lively. At the end of the main street stands the new library building. (It has a bar attached, which is a nice consideration.) And jutting out from the library is the New Brighton pier, because if a place is called Brighton, then it must have a pier.
But this ain’t no English-style pleasure pier. It’s a fishing pier. It’s like a long pedestrian motorway out to the middle of the ocean, where all you can do is sit and admire the expanse of sea, or fish.
After walking the 300 metres to the end, I found a bogan fisherman giving some Chinese fishermen tips in a strange mock broken English. “I buy bucket from North Island,” he explained. “Cheap. Courier them. Only 25 dollar. Engineering shop. Hardened steel.”
Suddenly excitement erupted. One of the fishermen had caught a kawahai. It flipped and flopped and bled all over the pier. Fortunately clean-up hoses have been provided for dealing with such bloody messes.
The pier lead me back to the library, where I found myself just in time for a presentation on the history of the Edmonds Cookery Book. “Did you win a prize,” an old lady sitting next to me asked. Well, no, but it turns out she had won something for writing a short story about the Edmonds cookbook.
We watched a 1955 short Edmonds promotional film called “Cookery Nook”. It’s a pro-Edmonds propaganda comedy, showing a bumbling dad’s baking attempts being sorted out by his resourceful daughter and her home economics class school pals. You see, being a good cook is as much about planning and saving time as it is about making delicious food. But maybe this love of time-saving has mutated into our modern love of takeaway joints.
A guest chef revealed to the audience that a lot of cafes will use recipes from the Edmonds Cookery Book. Those Afghans, the ginger crunch, the Louise cake – it’s all Edmonds, baby.
So why bother baking ginger crunch at home when you can go to a cafe and get a nice slice of it made from exactly the same recipe as the Edmonds one? Oh, I suppose there’s the joy of cooking; the togetherness of eating.
But there was to be no togetherness with my lunch. I found a cafe and ordered a relatively harmless looking item of food called a “Mexi-bean burrito”. While this was doing a few ceremonial laps in the microwave, a staff member sprayed my table with something called Revive. It had the opposite effect on my spirits.
Is this the future that 1950s home economics teachers prepared us for?