Saturday, April 05, 2014

Fade to Grey

The Grand Pier, Weston Super Mare
Would you pay £1 to walk on a pier that had cost £39 million to rebuild in 2010 two years after the fire that had all but destroyed it?  Well we did yesterday.

It might be a case of taking coals to Newcastle or sand covered shoes to a beach the best part of ninety miles away for the day but it was a special occasion. Twenty years ago on (Easter) Monday 4th April at 3:31 pm our daughter Nathalie was born and we arranged to have a family day out. Why Weston Super Mare? Well it's the location for one of Nathalie's favourite television programmes of recent years, The Café, which ran for two series of Sky before being cancelled in November last year.

Weston Super Mare, days before the Easter half term school holiday starts, was much like any other typical English seaside resort coming out of its winter slumber, rubbing its eyes before a new dawn, painting its shop fronts, smoothing out its beaches and generally preparing for that much hoped for influx of tourists weighed down with expectations and, more importantly, cash.

The Grand Pier is the main attraction with its fast food outlets, upmarket tea house, sea views, children's rides and twenty strategically placed A4 sized information boards - although maths clearly isn't the strongest point for this part of North Somerset as one of the boards was numbered 21/20. Incidentally in this era of self determination and independence seeking opportunities it was interesting to note that a couple of miles outside of Weston is a sign welcoming you to Somerset, clearly the division between North Somerset and the rest of the county is important to some people.

Like a lot of towns up and down the country the proliferation and ubiquity of places to eat and drink is as depressing as it is welcoming, there's nothing like being a fickle traveller is there. Having grown up in an era when it was Wimpy or the pub (and pubs actively discouraged children for most of the 20th century) the outbreak of places to eat over the last decade and in particular the last five years or so should be welcomed, it's a renaissance that has come with a price though, and I don't just mean in the increase of health concerns. Town centres are the battleground for chains of coffee houses, driving up the rents so that only national chains (Boots, M&S, BHS) and charity shops (with their exclusion from council taxes) seem to be their only rivals for our attention.

Weston Super Mare does though have more than its fair share of fish and chip shops, something that should be taken for granted as it sits on the second largest tidal range in the world, fish shouldn't be too much of an issue - although Brixham, the main source of its fish, is the same distance away, 86 miles, as were are - oh the joys of refrigerated lorries.

A lot of the front at Weston clearly dates back to the Regency period and in common with other coastal towns (Brighton, Hastings and Weymouth to name three) those old buildings that had once been family hotels and before that hotels for the English middle classes have now been converted into flats and have something of the air of faded seaside glamour about them. The one striking building close to the sea front, the Grand Pier excepted, is Weston College, and a finer example of the Brutalist style of architecture you will struggle to find anywhere in North Somerset.

Weston College, Weston Super Mare

There will be plenty for the kids to do come the holidays, although in common with almost everywhere on the planet you do wonder what will appeal to teenagers other than hanging around the amusement arcades or waiting for the tattoo parlours to open. One shop that did bring a smile to my face though was located within the Sovereign Centre, a shopping mall from the Basingstoke school of architecture which was bright, clean, free from social misfits shouting at passing strangers whilst downing cans of Special Brew and also relatively free of national 'chains' - it was a shop that sold vinyl records. Okay this may not be ground breaking stuff but I don't live within five miles of a shop that sells CD's and the nearest shop with any vinyl in it only sells second hand stuff so this was a trip back to the future. If only I still had the equipment to play vinyl I might have been tempted!

For a day trip to the seaside North Somerset's finest was just that, fine. The weather was good, the food was good, the company was excellent and to top it off Nathalie said on the way home that she prefers the Nerves (original) version of 'Hanging on The Telephone' to the Blondie cover version - I think I might just have cracked it!


Span Ows said...

previous post connected to where I grew up now this one where I live although not in the North part

I've never actually been on the pier, may have to give it a go soon.

Paul said...

Purely coincidence I haven't been stalking you for the past forty years!

When the tide goes out, and it goes out a long way, you are marooned on the pier surrounded by mud.