K. and I have spent this past few days on the Fylde coast, specifically bouncing between the sea front at Blackpool and the Bispham Premier Inn, with a day in Fleetwood. We had a lovely time, alternating between kicking around at the edge of the sea, walking along the parts of the promenade that weren’t being dug up, and eating chips. It was a shame that the local council and various commercial interests conspired to turn much of the sea front, the tower, the tower buildings, bits of the Winter Gardens and Fleetwood’s museum all into building sites at the same time; but we tried not to let it put us off wherever possible.
I’ve finally realised that most southerners barely know anything about Blackpool, except as a kind of exemplum. It embodies an imagined logical extreme: what Brighton might gradually tend towards, were it to continue to distance itself culturally from Hove. Blackpool is a tacky, cheesy, loud, brassy place: I can’t say I felt particularly safe there for the whole of the past few days. Even when the weather is as glorious as it has been, there’s a limited amount for those interested in something more than sun, sea, sand, cheap beer, chips and yelling at your kids.
The piers are from a bygone age: genteel North, nearest to Bispham’s retirement apartments; carnival South, opposite the Pleasure Beach and out on a limb; and the big, bombastic Central Pier. All of them have rust touching their railings, with occasional flyblown empty units; but all were nonetheless pretty busy while we were there, and worth the trip right to the end of each. Similarly many of the shops and markets, selling all shapes of rock and boiled sweets, and CDs of songs by Irish crooners, had faux-handpainted lettering on their signs – a kind of primitive Comic Sans – which looked like they had been just like that for twenty years; and maybe as with the piers that’s part of the charm. The amusement arcades are like nothing in any other resort, especially – but they deserve another post.
Forget all this, though, and look at Blackpool’s beautiful surroundings, gilded and polished by the beautiful weather we had. Those long, sandy beaches are clean (now they’ve stopped dirtying them) and, at low tide, stretch out for a good half-mile; in the distance, looming out of mists, are the Pennines on one side, the Lake District on another, and on the third side glimpses of masts on the Isle of Man.
Like the slightly scary but pretty girl at school (the one who in retrospect was clearly very bright but would occasionally bite a teacher when she’d been eating the wrong sort of sweets) Blackpool is somewhere you find it hard not to fall briefly in love with. This slightly unhinged seaside town has courage in its convictions, even if they’re the sort you’d have to declare before working in a position of responsibility.