Tuesday, June 29, 2004

My Home Town 

On Sunday evening, I read Zoe’s post on Experimental Travel and was out of the door inside ten minutes. Here’s what she wrote:

Please: Contributors should post their results on their blog and leave a link here/send me an email stating that they have taken part in the idea - preferably leaving a link to the photos.
Equipment: Notebook, camera.
Method: Several people will move around a location, according to common directions, and take notes and photographs of their experiences.
Instructions: The starting point could be anywhere, you may be alone or accompanied. From this beginning, please use the ten directions below and document your thoughts, feelings, impressions at each of the ten stages. You may adapt the directions as you wish.

1. The first stage is your starting point.
OK, I‘m sat at a table outside Antonio’s restaurant.
Nobody else is sat out here, but it sounds busy inside. I like this place. It overlooks the beach, and on a good night, you get to watch the changing colours of the sunset over the Irish Sea. You can gawp at joggers, strollers and skateboard punk rockers, and with a decent bottle of wine inside you and your best girl at your side, it can make you feel pretty good about the world. Coronation Street have even filmed here, apparently, so what more do I need say? Oh yeah, the food’s good too.

2. Walk in any direction for 50 - 100 paces, turn 180 degrees. Stop.
I did as I was told (I usually do) and I’m now sat on a bench outside the public baths. It’s 6:40 pm, so why are the doors open? It’s usually closed by now. Perhaps they’ve got an event on, a gala or something. With the wind in my sails I can swim a mile (64 lengths) in about 45 minutes, which isn’t anything to shout about but it’ll do for me. We used to have annual tickets and swam three or four times a week, just nipping in for 30 minutes if we felt like it, which was brilliant, but the council pissed about with the opening hours so much it became untenable. They seem to think the way to run a public service is to run it down, and lots of other season ticket holders haven’t renewed either, and have gone elsewhere for their swimming. I could go on, but instead I’ll tell you what’s on at the flicks, because I can see our little cinema from here too.
Shrek 2; Jersey Girl; Connie & Carla; Day After Tomorrow; Harry Potter 3; and Around The World In 80 Days. What do you reckon? Anything you fancy?
For the blockbuster Lord Of The Rings type films we go to the Odeon in Blackpool, but for ‘little’ films (Calendar Girls, Love Actually, etc.) we come here. It’s privately owned and a bit of a throwback to what cinemas used to be like before the multiplexes took over. Most of the screening rooms are shorter than they are wide. If you’re sat at the front and there are pensioners giggling on the back row, you can lean round and give them a slap.

3. Turn 180 degrees. Continue walking until you see something blue. Stop.
I just turned 180, and now I’ve done it again. Huh?
“Mummy, look at the man making himself dizzy! Why does he have a camera and a notepad with him?”
“Hush darling, he’s been reading My Boyfriend Is A Twat.”
“That explains everything. Cheers Mummy.”
The first blue thing I see is the door to the disabled toilets at the nice new café they’ve built by the boating pond.
A few years back, I think it would be fair to say that St. Annes was on the ropes.
To the south, neighbouring Lytham is affluent and refined, or so it would have you believe. It is home to more millionaires than anywhere else in the county. Wayne Rooney thought about buying a house there, but it wasn’t his bag.
Glitzy and brash Blackpool is just seven miles up the coast, with social problems aplenty, but in spite of a long term decline which they’re hoping to turn around by transforming it into the Las Vegas of the North (even more social problems ahoy as small hotels and businesses get crushed under the mighty boot of Big Business), the place hustles and bustles regardless. We are living in a golden age for alcohol abuse and Blackpool thrives on it. It’s got a stag / hen night vibe going on 24 x 7.
St. Annes teeters between these two poles. For a while it looked like it was set to slump into slow decay (one year there were no publicly funded Christmas decorations in the town at all), but it’s currently undergoing a Changing Rooms style makeover, all sleek curves and brushed chrome, and I think as long as it sticks to the game plan and holds it’s nerve, it’s in with a chance.

4 Make a left turn, walk 50 - 70 paces. Stop
Another view of the café and the new Lifeboat building. Check out those lines! It’s really windy and I’m worried about sand getting in my camera.

5. Walk in any direction until you see something that is, or looks like the number 7 or 11. Stop.
This was easy. I find one of those You Are Here maps. Number 7 is, according to the key, a “Source of drinking water.”

6. Take the first left continue and look for somewhere to sit. Stop.
The first left would take me down to the beach, and eventually the sea, where I would undoubtedly come to harm or at least get wet. Unless you include plonking yourself on the ground as “somewhere to sit,” I’ll be looking for somewhere to sit on the pier straight ahead. Of course, to the right of me there are countless benches, all poised and ready for my lovely arse, but I know my left from my right and will stick to the brief. Besides, I’ve always been a bit frightened of Zoe, and I wouldn’t want to incur her wrath just because I was too lazy to follow a few simple instructions properly.
On the way, I take note of what it says on this monument.

“This monument was erected by public subscription in memory of
William Johnson Coxwain
Charles Tims Sub Coxwain
Oliver Hodson Bowman
Thomas Bonney
James Bonney
Nicholas Parkinson
James M Dobson
James Johnson
Richard Fisher
John P Wignall
Thomas Parkinson
James M Dobson
James Johnson
Richard Fisher
John P Wignall
Thomas Parkinson
James Harrison
Reuben M. Tims
The crew of the St. Annes Lifeboat who lost their lives in a gallant attempt to rescue the crew of the German Barque “Mexico” wrecked off Southport on the night of the 9th December 1886.”

Twenty eight lives were lost in total, as lifeboats from Lytham and Southport were also involved in the incident. It remains - I think I’m right on this - the Royal National Lifeboat Institution’s biggest single disaster.
The coroner‘s inquest is a sad thing indeed.

Back on the promenade, I see a man and boy trying to fly a kite down on the beach. I'd like a picture of the kite mid-flight, but just before I press the shutter the kite crashes in the strong breeze. The man then spends ages untangling a knot, before wandering off to looking for something, I don’t know what, that must have fallen off. He looks all over the place, and frankly I don’t think he’s going to find it, so I walk on.
This reminds me of when my Dad used to make kites for me out of bamboo canes and brown paper. The kites had long tails made of string and more brown paper, folded into little bows with sellotape. The kites never, ever flew because they weighed a bloody ton. This didn’t put my Dad off from going back to the drawing board, making design changes here and modifications there. Entire summers slipped through my grasp while my Dad tried to give the un-flyable flight. He could have just gone out and bought me one, but that wasn’t his way, and I guess this is a trait I’ve picked up from him, for better or worse.
Kite flying was quite the thing in the mid-seventies. Did anybody here ever get to grips with the Peter Powell Stunt Kite? (Try saying that ten times after a few glasses of cider.) I certainly never did.

It will be fourteen years ago tomorrow (Thursday) that my dear old Dad “pegged out”, as he used to say. He was 82. Not a bad age, especially for a former heavy smoker, Senior Service, without the filters. I was twenty four at the time, and I hadn’t yet paid back a single penny of the three thousand quid he lent me to buy my first car.
A year later I got my first proper job (and paid off the loan to my Mum), a year after that I met Girlfriend, and a year after that we bought a house together, and I finally started to get my life in order.
But none of that happened in my Dad’s lifetime, and I deeply regret my failure to make my own way in the world while he was alive. He would have liked Girlfriend too. And while I appreciate that 82 is a good innings, I’m fucking furious with the evil fucking cigarette manufacturer that robbed my Dad of the chance to see me finally getting airborne.

So anyway. I get to the pier. I turn left and find some seats by a Monopoly machine, but I’m too lost in thoughts about my Dad, and forget to sit on one of them. Duh! Sorry about that, Zoe.

7. Choose any direction and walk for 25 - 50 paces. Stop.
I’m sitting inside a comments box. I’ve learned that Rachel woz ere Hating Lee M. 4 Eva. Eva must have been pretty distraught if she’d roped Rachel in to hate Lee on her behalf.
I wholeheartedly agree with the commenter who wrote “ If you can’t write anything nice, don’t write anything.

8. Continue walking until you see an unusual colour, shape or texture. Turn 180 degrees. Stop.
A lovely smooth sand dune. Not an unusual texture as such, but attractive enough, and a nice picture.

9. Turn 180 degrees. Keep walking in any direction until you see an archway or unusual building feature. Walk to it and stop.
Buy one archway, get one free! Debate has raged in the letters page of the local paper regarding the trendification of the Square, and the money spent on it, the missed deadlines, the lost revenues suffered by businesses while the work was going on.
We must also have the world’s fanciest bus shelters.

10. Head for home and keep looking for something that catches your eye. Stop.
Town Hall May Win Partial Reprieve. The council wants to sell the town hall so that developers can knock it down and build obscenely expensive flats on the land. The town hall will be relocated to a rural location five miles out of town, on the very edge of the borough boundary, making it impossible or at least very expensive for people without cars to get to. Local shops, cafes, and even the swimming baths will lose the lunchtime trade that the town hall workers currently provide if the move is successful. It all makes perfect sense, no?
There’s a gorgeous smell of curry as I pass through the Café Quarter on my way home. It’s not exactly Parisian cafe life, but there are one or two nice eating places popping up here and there, and another sign that maybe just maybe the town could be on an upward curve. I don’t take a photo of the townie in a Burberry cap pissing against the wall of the Indian restaurant.

And finally home and another archway, also providing a work-in-progress glimpse of just some of the digging me and Girlfriend have been up to recently.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little walkabout around St. Annes on Sea, my home town, fifteen miles from Preston on the A584 and much nicer than Blackpool. And sorry about the pictures taking so bloody long to download. Over to you now, photography fans.

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