I like to nostalge with the best of folks but one place where I don’t hanker for a glorious past is the Great British seaside resort. As a child I spent two weeks with my family at Herne Bay every summer – my Gran lived on the front, overlooking the pier – the second longest after Southend I was often told. But even so we rarely spent much time on the beach because (a) it was covered in the sort of debilitating pebbles that weird eastern mystics enjoy walking on (b) my mother’s instinctive snobbery decried the poached skin; the oily Timothy White’s sun lotion; the kiss-me-quick, wish-you-were-here, saucy-postcard, whippy-ice-cream, sheer-ripoffery of all food, gifts and entertainment that was for purchase; and (c) my dad preferred hunting butterflies and caterpillars to sitting still on a beach – for him sitting still required a pint in his hand and good companionship, not mewling children and a tutting spouse.
So finding myself in Weston- Super-Mare for the weekend and visiting Clevedon further up the Somerset coast risked bringing back many some less than welcome memories: the pervasive smell of fried food, the donkeys looking as shifty and miserable as their dodgy handlers, the tonnage of plastic paraphernalia to support beach time activities, the sadly out of date Winter Gardens and Pier and the instinctive need for a certain branch of Homo Erectus to promenade in inappropriate shortage, flip-floppery and string vestiges.
My inner Barbara turned up my nose and sniffed the corn oil atmospherics. Where was my trendy Shoreditch, my cultured National Theatre of long ago, Horatio?
But I’m a writer, for heaven’s sake. These are goldmines of stories and characters. Go looking, boy, and yeah shall find.
And, to my very pleasant surprise I not only people-watched merrily but I enjoyed the restored splendour of Clevedon’s Victorian pier
and, better still on the beach at Weston-Super-Mare, a sand sculpture park neatly tucked behind the bouncy castle and between the Olde Worlde Victorian Fish and Chip Emporium and not far from where Banksy chose to house his Dismal Land ‘bemusement park’ exhibition. Chosen for a reason, methinks.
These substantial carvings are just sand and water – Weston sand had a sharp-edged grain especially suitable to being compacted for carving – who knew – and created by a range of International artists especially for the summer.
They say that, once dry, these blocks are hard and weather resilient. Added to which the whole thing was dog friendly. Tick.
Indeed the only reason we were in Weston at all is for the hotel – The Lauriston. This hardy three starred establishment is part of a chain of four hotels around the country specialising in places for the visually impaired and, get this, are especially dog friendly. Like Weston, the hotel has seen better days, it is worthy without show and it meets a need with a grace and enthusiasm that is as welcome as it is unexpected. A few more sculptures…
We met the Vet, now free of exams, at Clevedon up the coast with the Pest Controller – Dog was happy to see them.
The pier is a plain cast iron structure that is easy on the eye and is a easy promenade.
It felt so like Herne Bay pier, circa 1965 with none of the modern whizzbang machines and money sucking slots and only the views to distract the eye. Perhaps the nostalgia was enhanced by the weather – a persistent mizzle necessitating anoraks and supplies of coffee.
So my strolls were unexpectedly enjoyable. Teach me to stereotype a place as much as a person; like all generalisations, they are all futile.
More sculptures? Oh alright…