In trying to think of a snappy blog title I fear there’s a danger of trivialising the desperation felt by this author on a Sunday evening in Hastings. Okay, okay, there’s a tinge – at the very least – of being robbed of the last slice of the weekend by work travel too. Yet it’s a beautiful June evening and I’ve a Victorian seafront to enjoy. Why so very, very glum?
The drive to Hastings is not as straightforward as it might be. Leave M25, head south-south-east and it seems to get further away not closer. Maliciously misleading signage notwithstanding I happen upon the seafront where, with a sharp downhill turn between buildings the wreckage of the burnt out pier reveals itself.
It’s 20.00 and although not especially hungry the body clock demands a feed before bed. A sunset promenade picnic surely? Righto, let’s pick up some food. Fried Kitten? Too heavy. Pizza? Ditto. Oooh, how about a freshly grilled chicken kebab with a light salad? Decision made. So now we need a ‘bab shop. I cruise the “strip” from St Leonards and there’s, well, bog all. Apart from a few Kwik-e-Mart joints there’s nothing that remotely appeals. One Thai place, but I’m in no mood to eat in alone.
Pausing to allow drunks to stagger across the road to the amusements, I spot a gaggle of chip-shops in the Old Town. By now, any form of you-don’t-need-the-calorific-hit logic is dispensed with. Miss a meal? Moi?! Pah. £5.60 is handed over in exchange for a paper parcel. A few minutes later, I’m astride a bench looking out to sea.
To my back, a brooding terrace looms. In its day, I imagine it was the last word in Victorian sophistication. Out of one top floor window, a generously tattooed gentleman bares his chest and spits. An improptu group photo is in progress with individual portfolio shots following. These are enthusiastically taken, twerking on street furniture, stopping the traffic. (Clarification: not stopping traffic with their elegant style and rakish look. I mean they were pissed and stumbled in front of oncoming vehicles.) The Channel is quiet and a couple are having a domestic on the shore.
The fish is excellent. Yet – slave to healthy eating that I am – I discard the batter. A large chunk is carefully tossed to a waiting gull on the cobbled beach. Alarmingly, it cartoonishly inhales the food whole and an attack-flock arrives instantaneously to demand more. Is it wrong to feel intimidated by seagulls?
(Leaping to my own defence, I am impressively manly when it comes to standing my ground against small-to-medium UK domestic wildfowl. Up to – but not including – Geese, I’m brave as’.)
A car load of young chaps pull up and disgorge onto the prom’. For a nano-second I wonder no-more where Nigel Farrage got his vibe from. It’s an unpleasant moment.
A layering effect of molecule upon decayed molecule of seaside decline contributes to an all pervading sense of decrepit misery. Though it’s a lovely evening on the Great British seafront it feels dark. Thoughts of being trapped in some parallel universe of zombies. Were 28 days later to have a seaside sequel, there would be no set dressing, no extras make-up required here….
I head for my accommodation.
I’m fortunate to have a say in where work billets me and opt away from corporate Prem-Lodge-Inn-Expresses when I can. Tonight intrigues: a Victorian guest house. Streets away from the ‘front, I draw up outside an imposing old town house, climb the steps and pull the old-fashioned ding-a-ling bell. Locks clack and the door swings open to reveal a smiling host. It’s now 21.00 and I’m feeling more than jaded. As we exchange information on house rules and my likely movements I am struck with wonder at the period feel of this place. It’s amazing. Another movie set. Only this one from a high-production-values-Beeb-costume-drama.
Moments later I am stood in my third floor room which is from another era. It takes the tiniest amount of imagination to be transported back 150 years. The fireplace, the chamberpot, the remarkable – highly appropriate – clutter and curios. Depositing my backpack on the blanketed – blankets! – metal-framed bed I draw open a sash window. The illusion continues. The view is of Edwardian/Victorian rooftops, trees and the Channel. Ignoring the occasional satellite dish and lack of chimney smoke, this view is most likely identical to when the property was in the town’s heyday. Several floors and gardens away a large and splendidly robust fox is surveying his/her domain. I spy on the creature for an age before it melts away as I blink. I retire to a magnificent rolltop Victorian bath and then bed.
Awakening I start. The room is even more remarkable in daylight. What a labour of love this house must be. As I have a first thing appointment I decline the offer of breakfast explaining that a fry-up in a civil engineers’ Portakabin awaits. My host disapprovingly asks “will they have bone china and linen napkins?” He is right of course, but I’m not here for leisure.
Indeed apart from this oasis of period 19th century charm and excellent hosts, I do not wish to be here at all. Business completed, I haste away from Hastings with a mental note to never return.
How sad I have not a happier tale to tell.