…where the food garnishes itself.
The great British seaside [Part 1]
On Yorkshire’s eastern seaboard lie many jewels. Nestling in a calm and sandy bay, with its history clinging like crusty barnacles to the salty bedrock of British seaside tradition, is Bridlington - that pearl of the coast. Sitting demurely between Flamborough Head to the North and Spurn Point to the South, it grins benignly out into the dark green North Sea and Holland beyond, beckoning travellers to take tea with her. She shrinks, like Scarborough’s younger sister, hiding her charms with modesty and jealously guarding her delights with wisdom and reserve. Where her elder sibling is brash - with her painted lips and awkward heels - Bridlington, on the other hand, is refined and gentile but don’t think for a minute that she can’t offer the same delights. She is vibrant with everything a pleasure seeker could wish for but without the vulgarity offered by her less restrained family member.
The seaside experience, extending deep into the British psyche like seaweed entangled firmly in our minds, is not about being beautiful - that is for the continentals. When you visit a Northern coastal resort like Brid, it’s time to let your hair down and be who are are (and sometimes who you’d rather not). Our suspension of disbelief is in full flight as we promenade along facade after facade of flashing lights, misspelt signs and indigestion inducing food emporiums whilst telling ourselves that we are having fun in spite of the rain. On the whole, we know that everything is not only skin deep and purely for our benefit but more importantly; we know that it is perhaps more that ever-so-slightly rubbish. In fact, secretly, we know it is significantly crass but we love it all the more for its paucity of depth
We embrace its honesty as it spews yet another greasy hot dog or donut stall at us and we laugh as we buy dreadful hats with rude motifs and browse hideous keepsakes and souvenirs which we will discard within the year. But most importantly, we want to engage in the whole spectacle. We have a driven desire to eat boiled sugar and seafood or fried fish and pale chips from paper as predatory birdlife swoop, because it’s bred into us. It’s traditional. Overweight and sweaty children, holding shafts of brightly coloured rock, run between the awnings and and paw their sticky fingers across the contraptions designed to extract our spending money. Mums and dads, with more flesh exposed than is decently acceptable, look on with teeth bared and cackle - confident that they are all having the commodity of fun delivered in spades. They know in their hearts that the facade is a tart but in that understanding lies the terms of engagement which brings a rush of thrill knowing that our relationship is transient.
Underneath the flashing lights and constantly chirruping arcades, however, lies an older version of self, which if searched for reveals another incarnation of now. A vintage version of itself which has layers of similarities stretching back to the hazy days of fishing fleet and shipping lanes, tobacco smuggling and piracy. In those days the air was rich with daring and adventure and you can smell the log smoked stories of ghosts and bravery in every inglenook fireplace of every stonebuilt inn.
But perhaps it was the Victorians and Edwardians who introduced the proletariat to the idea of venturing to the beach and the letting down of hair which, even then, involved a degree of equal daring to the seafarers of old. Every palace of fun looks down on the modern day with a knowing eye from the building tops which still proclaim the names of long forgotten music halls and flickery cinemas such as the Empire and Astoria. From the pavilions and solariums where the sun never comes to the flowered gardens where the benches regimentally face the watery horizon - everything is designed for escape, if only for a moment, from our ordinary and dreary lives.
In spite of the rain I’d urge you to smile when you visit such a place. She knows she is brash but if you take tea with her she can entertain you on her level. There is no need to recoil in horror if you feel above the vulgarity of it all, she knows that and always delivers all that you’d expect. When you take her at face value the rewards are bountiful so embrace the great British seaside with open arms as if she were a favourite grandma with her best party frock and a face full of make-up. She might plant you a slobbery kiss on the cheek but you know you always have the going home to look forward to.