"We watched dog walkers with salt water wet smiling shining black Labrador s .Joggers ,Cyclists and Hipsters sporting ludicrous beards ,beanies and pencil thin trousers with brown leather Chelsea boots "
What it was like watching a seaside town in the south east of England about to shut down
My first Campfire writing for ages so let’s get back into the zone!
The Airbnb was in St Leonards on Sea in East Sussex (next to Hastings), situated near the end of a road on a steep hill that met the sea. We arrived late evening. I wasn't in the greatest of sociable moods and was quite offensively grumpy, wishing I was still at home.
The Satnav was sending Helen on the longest route possible and she was ignoring my directions, so I just sulked into my smart phone. For the last 3 weeks, I had been working away in a place so badly managed that three days at a time there was my limit. It was in an Army barracks in deepest Essex and the catering was split between the Army and a subsidiary of the vile Compass group. I thought the Compass management were incompetent and there was an atmosphere between the Army catering Sergeant, the Compass sous chef and the catering manager.
This week I had done five days - not physically hard but psychologically and my patience had run out. As Lockdowns continue, I’ve been getting more uneasy over leaving my house unoccupied. Waiting to have my house clocked by white-van low life, or the increasing numbers of random people who walk past the front of it scavenging some form of living is worrying. For a whole month in the summer, rotten bags of food and soiled towels had been put in my rubbish bin from elsewhere in the road, dumped in Lidl bags.
I still work in hospitality, one of the many trades that the Government’s Covid measures has decimated, together with all the other trades that serve businesses which rely on the random mixing of people and leisure socializing . It’s been cruel. Much crueller than the virus so far, like some kind of selected, vocational snuff movie orchestrated by a bunch of inept, incompetent, public schoolboys and girls. They are hell-bent on rewarding their old school-tie mates with massive public sector contracts, at the expense of controlling this pandemic in any kind sober, coherent or competent manner. This is all at the expense of our savings, our weak and vulnerable, our livelihoods, our health and our wellbeing
We found the Airbnb and, after finding somewhere to park and unloading the car, located the key safe and let ourselves in. The flat was situated in a basement with a small, paved garden and furnished in 60s-upcycle, retro chic with a formica table, wire magazine stand and bucket chairs. Helen had moved the dates with the owners so we could get back to London in time for the witching hour on Wednesday night. The flat was immaculately clean and the owner had left some Chocolate Fingers and half a pint of milk in the fridge which was a nice touch. We were both exhausted and soon crashed out.
Tuesday was bright and cold, with a strong wind blowing off the sea and my mood had lifted. This was the first time I had visited St Leonards and I'm still not sure where it ends and Hastings begins. We left the flat mid-morning, walking briskly towards the sea, past really rough looking working mens’ pubs, cafes and takeaways. There were shops selling up-cycled furniture, secondhand and vintage clothes, general bric-a-brac and skip rescues. Hastings has the most antique shops I had ever seen in such a small area. We walked past plenty of drug addicts, homeless and mentally ill people who looked like they had fallen through the massive holes cut into the welfare net. Many of the shopfronts and food outlets were boarded up. I found a record shop called “Wow and Flutter” on Trinity Street. It also sold vintage Marvel and graphic comics and art. The man inside was only letting two in at a time and I had to sanitise my hands before going in, so not to transfer any possible viral contaminates onto the record sleeve casings that I was going to flick through. I was after a recently released Double Decca record of an obscure mid-60s pysch compellation of single releases on the label, with a pink gatefold sleeve that I had seen in Camden lock a few weeks before. I hadn’t purchased it at the time but wished I had. They didn’t have it but a pre-owned Italian pressing (not on Mercury records) of JJ Cale 5 caught my eye for £5. I returned later and bought it and the man offered to put it on a deck for me. I had checked the condition and it looked pretty so I declined the offer saying "It looked fine”. I offered the man cash but he said they weren't taking it, so I brushed my debit against the reader. They were shutting for the Lockdown on Wednesday evening. The owner had returned and was sifting through a couple of carrier bags of vinyl .
We walked past beach-front amusement arcades. A talking, fortune telling Aladdin with a recorded voice that looked ancient (protected from the salt air by a glass case) had a stain on the wood casing so the head sat on top was red brown like ox-blood Doctor Martens. There was a Crime Museum with a bored looking young, blonde girl sitting in the entrance with no people walking past to sell tickets to.
We walked past hotels and B&Bs on the sea front, Art Deco looking bus shelters and a shut theatre. There was a poster from March for a Funk and Soul club with showing a five year old photo of Craig Charles, sweating over a mixer and a poster from a long gone heavy rock tribute band gig.
We wandered into an area containing the normal branded high street outlets, TKMaxx, Primark, HMV etc and then wandered down a thin, cobbled alleyway with an ancient Shepherds Neame pub called “The Pump House". It was buttressed on the second level and the outside was criss-crossed with wood and plaster that looked centuries old. There was a fish restaurant with a couple of people sitting inside and plenty more antique shops with a closed live music bar with black stool seats set up on table tops from the last floor mopping. There was an old school tobacconists with a table and chairs outside its door with one of those old ashtrays with the press down lever that extinguished the spent butts, starving them of oxygen. The owner was sitting outside with another man and said I could go inside but I don’t smoke anymore. There were secondhand book venders and franchised old-school sweet shops with boiled sweets in jars sold by weight. New Age shops smelling of perfumed incense selling Buddha heads, Nepalese textiles and synthetic silk scarves and lamps made out of Himalayan rock salt. We stopped and had a coffee and cake in one of the many cafes. The owner only had Victoria Sponge. It caught our eyes from the road. It had tables outside but we stayed inside. It was painted soft orange, green and red hues. Inside the cafe was playing Trojan and Mose Allison and obscure Ethiopics tracks and had acoustic guitars on the walls and a vintage, chrome Italian espresso machine, tall beer pumps and a cocktail list marked up on the wall that faced us. He was getting ready to shut up shop the next day.
On the way back we stopped off in a BoHo, brightly coloured beach shack on the promenade called The Goat Ledge. It had a line of little private alcoves outside that were fitted to shelter customers from the bitter wind but these were all taken so we sat inside. I liked the music. It was doing a brisk Covid compliant trade. Helen ordered some Pomme Allumettes that were crisp and had that almost yellowy-orange colour, like they had been fried in beef tallow and a tiny wax paper, not much bigger than a thimble, of garlic mayonnaise. A glass of wine and a bottle of cold super-dry small-producer cider quenched our thirst. We watched dog walkers with wet, smiling black labradors, joggers, cyclists and ludicrous hipster beards, beanies, pencil thin trousers cut four inches too short with brown leather Chelsea boots. When we finished we walked back down the promenade. The tide had gone out quite a bit, but the sea was still grey and angry with waves peaking into small white horses but not as rough as when we left in the morning. We walked past pairs of massive Heron Gulls scavenging for dropped food and past sleeping bags and a bagged up tent pushed under sheltered, wooden bench seats littered with spent super-strength lager and cider tins and torn up giant Rizla packets.
That night Helen invited one of her old mates round with his girlfriend who had moved down to Hastings. He hadn’t seen any of his friends for eight months. It was the first time I had met them. We bought wine, beer and takeaway and had a pleasant night. We all decided that on Wednesday we would drive up past Eastbourne to Beachy Head and get some exercise. We didn’t leave until midday, but the weather was superb. The wind had dropped and when we descended the chalk cliff, it felt warm enough to wear a T-shirt. People were just chilling in the gorgeous, almost early September-like sun, yet it was November. Johnnie and myself went stomping over the Seven Sisters hills and met the girls in the pub at the top of the cliff at Beachy Head. We stomped past the numerous wreaths left on the cliff edge by grieving families of ledge-leapers. We rewarded ourselves traversing the savage undulation of the terrain with a couple of ice cold Peroni and then another two when the girls arrived. On the way back we stopped in Eastbourne for food before we returned. Everywhere was shutting down. We found an Italian restaurant situated next door to a franchised branded Harry Ramsden. The Italian was good and independently owned. The front of house were glad to have some interaction they could have fun with. We had pizza and a pasta and more Peroni. An old lady came in and asked to use the toilet. She was mentally ill and said an octopus had tried to attack her in the toilet. There were a lot of crazy people wandering around that early evening. We left Eastbourne and headed back to Hastings.
We picked up our belongings from the studio flat, returned the key to the key safe and headed back down the A21 towards London. We passed streams of cars heading back to the coast, like refugees fleeing London and when we reached the Blackwall Approach, another stream trying to get back in before the carriages got turned back into pumpkins and we all became imprisoned again in our Boris Bubbles for another mindless authoritarian blunder. We visualised a fat, pompous, blond-haired man sitting on his throne ordering the tide back on Hastings beach, as the sea submerges and washes him away while the airborne virus pissed itself with laughter and made the wanker gesture as it rode the thermals like a surfboard inland.