Today’s picture was taken in 2014 during a visit to Great Yarmouth. It depicts a fine example of the Millenial Waste Paper Basket Scheme of the late 1990s. Since then, I have endevoured to document these post industrial premillenial relics of well spent public funds during my travels around the UK.
Set up as part of Tony Blair’s New Labour’s Millenial celebrations schemes, those that gave us excellent value for money public investments such as the Millenium Dome, the Millenial Waste Paper Basket scheme was a joint enterprise between artisian metal workers, bearded artists and sandaled environmentalists. The baskets were sited in various locations – mostly parks, elevated places and coastal regions – with the intention to encourage the public to throw away their waste food wrappers in handy recepticals which would then be ritually set on fire.
I believe the intention was to have them ignited on regular occasions but, due to reallocation of funding to support the post 9/11 Iraq war and ultimately withdrawal of funding by the Conservatives in 2010, they have mostly remained dormant since their last ignition during the 2012 Olympic Games.
As you can see from this picture, there is not much waste paper in the basket as the local seagulls frequently steal the chip wrappers to line their nests but also, it was taken in 2014, nearly two years after its last ignition. These days, the waste paper baskets have mostly fallen into a state of disrepair and some, if not many, have been demolished, their original purpose often forgotten. However some have been inventively redesigned and reallocated into things as diverse as street food vendors and luxury accomodation.
With all this lovely weather and lock down, I suggested to Mrs Gnomepants v2.0 that we sit next to each other at the dining table in the kitchen for three hours with the laptop open on Google Streetview and “drive” to Cromer virtually. This would mean her sitting next to me sewing while I swear at unseen drivers and listen to terrible music.
We could then have fish fingers and chips (in lieu of Mary Jane’s fish & chips), take a walk to the garage (in lieu of visiting the pier) and then do the return journey.
My suggestion was met with derision.
Shame really. I’d also thought about putting some pink cotton wool on a stick, making doughnuts and teaching the cat how to knock pennies off the table.
Deep in darkest Dorset is the delightful coastal town of Swanage where, like most British seaside towns, time has stood still. During my tour of seaside towns I’ve noticed this is common place. For example, Douglas and the Isle of Man are trapped in a Scarfolkesque late 50s early-60s time bubble, Scarborough in a weird pre/post-mining eighteen/nineteen eighties decay, Skegness screams nineties revival, while Margate and Torquay languish in a struggling time recession of post-industrial Britain 1986.
Swanage however sits in a semi forgotten hauntological time zone where grandparents who, having retired to the seaside, now live. Independent shops, discrete amusement arcades and a well kept promenade with formal gardens show that Swanage is the Utopia of seaside towns. Even the pier, currently undergoing refurbishment, lacks the usual British Pier atmosphere of kiss-me-quick hats, the aroma of fresh doughnuts and the sound of wailing kids.
Getting to Swanage is probably best when approached from the east. Catching the chain ferry from the Sandbanks area of the conurbation of Poole-cum-Bournemouth, is like catching a ferry to some foreign country only without the need for border or passport checks. Indeed, once you arrive in Studland, even the landscape looks alien making you feel like you’ve gone abroad for the bargain price of £4.50. Then when the weirdly independent town of Swanage comes into view, the feeling of being in some weird off shore British island like Jersey, the Isle of Man or White is stronger. Moreover, possibly the biggest difference to other typical British seaside towns is the regularly audible and familiar toot and chuff of a steam engine for Swanage is home to the Swanage steam railway. Unlike Douglas in the Isle of Man, steam is not the main form of public transport to neighbouring areas in Swanage, it is, however, the easiest way to get to the eerie Corfe Castle.
The crumbling edifice of Corfe Castle looms out of the sea mist and inspires thoughts of knights, kings, princes and dirty peasants. Some say it inspired Enid Blyton’s Kirrin Castle in her Famous Five books, but you really could say that about any of the castles in the area indeed, it is clear to see why the area attracts coach loads of tourists and often the tiny streets of Corfe Castle village are riven with ambling shufflers gawping at every nook and cranny, some unable to comprehend the age of the place when compared to their own country’s history.
Further into Dorset one can also visit, by contrast, the town of Weymouth with its award winning beach. However, step beyond the hustle and bustle of the Blackpoolesque promenade and enter the ramshackle and tatty environs of the town, one can clearly see how lack of investment in seaside towns has become detrimental to the social community and infrastructure at large. Empty high street shops, lumbering shufflers and decaying buildings. Tattoo and massage parlours, the miasma of cooking takeaways and openly smoked cannabis, the sight of drugged up beggars and opportunist criminals highlights the betray and decay of a society through lack of investment promised by successive local government officials who no doubt only visit the area when official business requires their presence.
However all is not entirely gloomy. The Bill of Portland where Portland stone is still quarried is nearby, where it too attracts coaches of tourists with its lighthouse and scenery. As a young boy I would look longingly at my wall hung A0 map of the UK while listening to BBC Radio 4’s Shipping Forecast and try to imagine how sweater wearing bearded seaworn gentlemen would be struggling against the elements while putting on their Sou’westers and galoshes. The reality is dramatic but features no stereotypical fishermen these days.
Another location worth a visit and one that also the young Stegzy would dream about visiting is Chesil Beach; a unique natural heritage site where one can observe for ones self the effects of coastal erosion on stones. As well as an expanse of stones stretching out towards West Bay and Exmoor, there is a fantastic visitors centre which hopefully will inspire other young people to enhance their knowledge about the natural coastal forces and nature.
Back at Swanage as the sea mist rolls inland and the occasional eerie toot of steam train is heard, the contrast of investment in coastal areas is plain to see. From the modernist style of the cinema/theatre the Mowlem, to the well kept promenade with discrete amusment arcades. It seems the regions tourist board relys heavily on the natural wonders of the Isle of Purbeck, and why not! A visit to the nearby Durlston Country Park and Anvil Head will no doubt summon thoughts of misplaced childhood adventures, perhaps exploring the long closed Tilly Whim Caves or scrambling over the rocks to Anvil Head Lighthouse.
In all Swanage is very genteel. A relaxing locale for those more interested in nature and natural beauty over rowdy bars and vomit soaked pavements. I’d definately go back.
In case you’ve been in an Argentinian coal mine for the past week or so, at the weekend bumbling ginger nut royal, Prince Harry, married someone he met a few years back and the entire UK shut down.
Of course, it didn’t really. I’d say a good deal of people couldn’t give a flying fridge about some overprivileged bloke tying the knot and an even greater deal of people couldn’t care less about the football that coincided either. I’d also say that many people, Mrs Gnomepants v2.0 and myself included, used the opportunity to sneak away and do something awesome instead.
Where did we go for this awesome adventure? Why! Cleethorpes of course!!
Situated just a few miles eastish of Grimsby, a town once famous as the landing area for most of Britain’s fishing fleet, now a monument for industrial decline, Cleethorpes sits on the southern tip of the Humber Estuary opposite Spurn Head. A stretch of glorious sands passing under an old pier is accompanied by a promenade with what remains of formal gardens before turning into a road and heading south towards a now cleared fairground and a large static caravan park. At Cleethorpes it is clear that the British Seaside is alive and well, the scant remains of Victoriana, although not on the same scale as Scarborough, can be seen by the observant from the town planning to the location of and facilities near the railway station.
A stub of a pier juts out over the sand in a feeble attempt to touch the distant sea with the tide being out. The pavillion on the pier, now owned by Papa’s, claims to be the largest fish and chip restaurant in the country. The interior is grand and bright, the staff dressed and trained well and the fish and chips? Well they’re just amazing. Possibly not quite up to the same standards as Magpie in Whitby or Mary Jane’s in Cromer, but definately a good competitor. See that’s the problem with fish and chips, it’s only as good as you remember and unless I was actually in some judging situation where I had samples from all three aforementioned places, I can only go on memory!
I suppose the thing I liked most about Cleethorpes is what remains of the formal gardens. Some councils in the UK have long cleared away any genteel public gardens as they are expensive to maintain and, in the conservatives eyes, impossible to make money from. So the best solution to tatty looking gardens in their eyes is often to blob a lump of concrete over them or just let local youths gather to express themselves by performing acts of vandalism and pissing all over the place. Fortunately it seems locals to Cleethorpes still have some civic pride and the gardens appear to be maintained by a mix of council, local charities and volunteers. Even the “millenial” sculptures along the promenade are pretty. A complete contrast to the modernisation of Bridlington and the classic yet rapidly decaying seafront terraced gardens of Scarborough.
Amusingly, regular readers will remember the last time I was at this part of the coast, back in 2008, I was coming to the end of a slightly disappointing weeks holiday along the coast at Skegness with Mrs Gnomepants V1.0. So it seemed only fitting that, while in the area, I showed Mrs Gnomepants V2.0 the delights of Saltfleet. That too hadn’t changed much except for it now appears that the car park had been built on and there has been a bit of shrinkage in the number of caravans. Still, it was just as austere so we didn’t stick around for long.
And it beat watching some posh kid get married.
Musings on a recent trip to the East coast.
[Cross posted from Livejournal with some editing and adjustments to text]
Ever so the romantic, to celebrate our third wedding anniversary, I took my dear wife to the East Coast the other weekend. The British seaside has a magnetic appeal no matter what time of year you visit. Bleak, grey sands lapped by a cold grey sea set against the crumbling facade of decaying Victoriana.
However, while the golden heyday of the British Seaside is still in living memory and some areas having received European regeneration money, the decay of neglect has been spreading deeper because of cash strapped council cuts. It is sad, like the passing or deterioration of an old friend, the end of a cultural pillar, but still there is a fondness for the seaside. Indeed, while some places like Scarborough, Brighton and Blackpool still remain popular, others like Bridlington, Cleethorpes, Margate and Weston-Super-Mare show the cracks and devastation of a lack of investment. I’ve visited most of the British coast now I’m in adulthood, enjoying all that the little towns and villages have to offer while observing with an educated eye, the places once popular with the masses, the places once money making engines, now clinging on with Damoclean effort.
Of course it’s not just the big towns that appeal to me, the smaller lesser known towns that started to form their own resorts only for them to falter with the arrival of mass international transport also appeal. As it is, I’ve always wanted to visit the Humber Coast, so with places still left to visit running out and the cost of getting to the Isle of Wight more expensive than staying two nights there, I thought a trip to the Bridlington area was in order.
Our journey began with a trip to Hornsea. Despite the cold, it was quite busy for a half-term and the promenade was quite busy. Even the fish and chip restaurant we stopped at for lunch appeared to have been busy with grandparents treating their visiting grandchildren to a half-term treat.
Hornsea is a nice quiet little town. Some of the once proud guest houses have been converted into old peoples homes but there are also lots of lovely houses there and well maintained public areas too. I was further overjoyed to see a Cooplands still functioning in the town too, indeed, I was able to convince the wife to treat me to a post-lunch Yorkshire delicacy, a Curd Tart, from there.
After lunch and a walk around Hornsea, we scooted up the coast towards Bridlington. Bridlington is kind of like a mini-Scarborough. It consists of two bays, North and South separated by the old port with an even older town slightly out of the main centre. The north side of the harbour town towards the Pavillion peters out into amusement arcades and fairgrounds, most of which, being out of season, were closed. Meanwhile, the southside, toward the former spa, beholds guesthouses (former and existing), fish and chip shops and the main residential areas.
There had been some regeneration of the south side. Lots of glass and concrete with shared spaces for vehicles and pedestrians. I couldn’t help thinking that whoever on the council agreed to the “Glass and Concrete” mix obviously hadn’t thought of vandals and the longevity of such materials. I can’t see this lasting as long as the structures they replaced.
The next day, we headed up the coast to Filey. Filey is a lot smaller than Bridlington but more grand. Georgian terraces atop the steep terraced cliff gardens leading down to the promenade where hotels, both newly refurbished and in the process of refurbishment, indicate a prospective gentrification of the area. Again, the front seems to have received a large sum of European grant money and no doubt a great deal of the residents that live there were so thankful for this they voted to leave the EU.
Still, that money brought lovely gardens and statues.
Further into the excursion, we headed south again, this time for Flamborough Head for lunch. Such a beautiful place.
We stopped briefly at Sewerby Hall for a post lunch exploration where there were exhibitions on Amy Johnson and Bridlington’s past. One part of the Bridlington exhibition allowed visitors to add their own postcard to the display.
We then headed further south again, past Hornsea towards Withernsea and Spurn Head. Withernsea is a lot more run down than Hornsea and it looks like it is getting the last of the European regeneration money as work still appeared to be going on. A once grand pier head is all that remains of Withernsea pier and this stands proud like an erection at a nudist camp. There was an amusement arcade, sadly closed for the winter season, and a lighthouse in the town centre which made for distinctive landmarks.
Hoardings decorated with old pictures of the area hid municipal works from the general public and showed what Withernsea once looked like. If Bridlington was a budget Scarborough, Withernsea was once a kind of budget Bridlington. However, it looks like a stray Hull bound bomb during World War II took out a fair bit of the grand livery and the town never really recovered.
Finally we ended our day trip at Spurn Head by driving through the Quatermass II like gas interchange at Easington. “Police” cars disguised as security guards buzzed our little car as it travelled along the PUBLIC highway through the interchange. No doubt high powered antenna and listening devices were pointed at us hoping to determine whether we were a threat to the public and several sinister government databases were also searched to ensure we were not ne’er-do-wells. But the reward was a lovely sunset at Spurn though sadly not to right to the end as that involved a three mile walk and we needed to be back in Bridlington for dinner.
It is well known, perhaps written in ancient scripture, that a day out to the British seaside is something everyone must commit to at some point in their life. In that regard, I am blessed for I try to make regular trips to the seaside.
Living in the centre of the UK, where nearly everything is three and a half hours away, means that I am the furthest away from the seaside as you can be at any point in the UK. Moreover, the selection of seaside destinations reachable within a reasonable time from this point is a little bit grim. Hunstanton is one such place, with its miles of coastal caravan parks; Skegness is another, again with miles of coastal caravan parks. And yet for just a half hour extra drive, one can reach beautiful Cromer, which is where Mrs Gnomepants V2.0 and I have just spent our bank holiday weekend.
Regular readers (if there are any left) will know that I have visited Cromer before – a small sleepy Norfolk coastal town famous for its crabs. Cromer’s tiny streets are littered with shops selling curios, knick-knacks and tat that most people will only use once, a place which once enjoyed a grander time of bathing machines, day trip ferries embarked via a pier and swanky hotels staffed by gentlemen in smart uniforms. A place as yet unspoilt by amusement arcades, kiss me quick hats and leery youths on drunken stag weekends.
A trip to the British seaside comes with a checklist of things to do. Over the years I have pared down my list to three things:
- Fish and chips
- Ice cream
- Walk along the prom
While I might also occasionally chuck in “a paddle”, “Cream tea in the afternoon” and “A play on the penny cascades”, the core holy trinity of food and a walk does me just fine these days, and this weekend I managed all three successfully. The waters around Cromer are Norfolk brown in colour and not the tropical azure that I am used to these days and the thought of dissolving my feet paddling in effluent still does not fill me with joy. Cream teas, while abundant at British seasides, are only really any good when in Devon or Cornwall (sorry, I’m a jam first kind of heathen) and the lack of (or inability to find) arcades in Cromer saw away any chance of chucking away half a tonne of copper coins in the hope of winning a bottle opener in the shape of a naked lady.
None the less, our trip to Cromer was most enjoyable. The seaside ennui began with a late lunch of fish and chips in Mary Janes. Quality, no fuss large cod and chips and a roll and butter for me, with an unbattered haddock and chips for Zoe. I tell you, providing you do your research well, fish and chips at the seaside never fails to please. Unless you’re one of those strange people who doesn’t like fish and chips. Mary Jane’s is a favourite of mine, with Scarborough’s Golden Grid and Whitby’s Magpie Cafe also in the top five fish and chip shops in the UK. Naturally, as any Yorkshireman would testify, the best fish and chips in the world are from Yorkshire, but alas, when it’s a four-hour drive to the Weatherby Whaler, Mary Jane’s will have to suffice. Oh, and don’t let anyone tell you that Harry Ramsden’s is quality fish and chips either. If they do, slap them with a wet piece of huss and tell them to get hence to McDonald’s for a Fillet-o-fish.
Next on the checklist was an ice cream. Now I’m a sucker for a whippy ice cream with a flake, but I’m also a sucker for locally produced ice creams as they tend to have unusual flavours. So we took a brisk walk along the pier and the prom (sadly, no brass bands tiddly-om-pom-poming) in hope of finding something worthwhile. Now, as the sun was out in all its glory in Norfolk this weekend, it seemed that every man and his wife, four kids and dog, were also out in force. As a result, the more ideally placed ice cream shops were rammed or had a line of queues outside. Indeed, the pier was quite busy, especially at the embarkation end (where the RNLI lifeboat station is) were middle-aged fathers tried to terrify their children into enjoying themselves by threatening them with freshly crab-laddered crabs. There were even a couple of armed policemen, but such a sight is the norm now that the British Police State is under martial law.
Cromer was also home to the bravest man who ever lived, Henry Bloggs. Bloggs and his chums would fearlessly brave the elements, row a wooden boat far out to sea and rescue drowning townies from watery deaths while smoking a pipe and looking rather cool in a sou’wester. In force 10 gales. For free. With rain lashing his chops. Now you don’t see people doing much of that these days do you? No. You don’t. Now that’s bravery. And, when you’re that brave, you get medals, your own monument and a museum named after you. Not bad eh? Oh, and you also have lots of murals drawn around your town in your honour. Makes helping an old biddy with their shopping seem a bit limp.
Sadly parking is a premium in Cromer on popular days, so three hours is not enough to enjoy a sit and a watch of the world going by so we had to leave. Previous visits to this part of the coast, however, had involved a stay or visit to Sheringham and being a stickler for tradition, it was only fair that we popped in to see what the place looks like in season, even if it was only for half an hour.
Sheringham is the upmarket sister of Cromer. Middle classes, mostly with nearby holiday homes, price out the locals and swan about like they own the place. Mostly because they do. The stark difference between Cromer and Sheringham is evident from the upmarket theatre and selection of nearby restaurants in Sheringham. While Cromer’s fish and chips attract some diners, it is Sherringham’s mix of Nepalese, Thai and European restaurants that mark the contrast there. Indeed, short of organic, artesian gluten-free neo-paleo hypoallergenic ice creams, it is hard not to delight at the pomposity of some of the patrons. Children with names such as Pompidu, Sefton and Chanterey freely express themselves while aloof mums swig large glasses of Prosecco and dads pander to Parmesan and Chigley’s ever increasing demands in an attempt to be the best fathers ever.
Indeed, much like Cromer, there are rows and rows of chalets lining the prom. For non-Brits reading, a chalet or beach hut is basically a really expensive garden shed which you’re not allowed to live in. However, it is this quirk that makes this part of the coast so picturesque. The sight of painted wooden huts often with unusual names being cracked open for the first time in six months is a delight to behold and, much like the bathing machine houses in Scarborough and Cromer, is an important part of British seaside heritage.
With bellies full of noms and a distance to travel to our B&B, we left the Norfolk coast once more and headed inland for further bank holiday adventure.