This article appeared in The Herald
“You are not here,” it says above the door of the boarding house we’ve parked in front of: 38 The Promenade, Whitley Bay.
Nice view. Not the sort of place you expect nihilist sloganeering. No harm in being different, though; it’s a change from Seaview, or Whelk Chambers, or Neptune’s Crib. Maybe it works on postcards: “You are not here … would that you were,” or “You are not here … count yourself lucky,” depending on sender’s mood, level of fussiness and/or tenor of humour.
It’s a puzzling place, Whitley Bay, one of hundreds of puzzling places along Britain’s coastlines. Catch the eye of alien passers-by and there is a look that says: “What will become of us?” Rightly proud we are of the city centres the Victorians built – nearby Newcastle being no exception – but they made the seaside what it is, too, and don’t get a whole lot of credit for it.
England’s north-east has the entire range of British resort types: the genteel sleepiness of Alnmouth, Blyth (which is not very blithe at all) and once-buzzing summer hives such as Culler Coats, South Shields and Whitley Bay, whose grandeur has been fading – as grandeur is given to – for decades.
It is all very well lamenting this, of course, but anyone who claims they actually holiday, properly, at the British seaside is either a liar, a politician or both. All the traditional “miniature gaiety” (Larkin’s words) has gone. Kiss-me-quick hats? Sexist. Donkey rides? Violation of donkey rights. Punch and Judy shows? Trivialise the throwing of babies out of windows, I should think. And don’t imagine you’ll get away with having a drink outdoors.
The response of most people to the recent news that Blackpool is being considered as a Unesco world heritage site was one of amusement. Surely it had merely been earmarked for another new Tesco? But it is all too easy to dismiss a place such as Blackpool as a toilet, and the longer-term prospects of seaside towns seem to me bright, if only because of rock festivals.
Every year now, millions flock to these events, in many instances sleeping overnight in filth-ridden campsites. The music they listen to is often exceptionally dull and usually there is a lot of new age eco nonsense on the brochure. Some day soon, everyone will recognise the futility of such pursuits and run, demented, for the cliffs.