Category Archives: Piers (actual)
On the second attempt, I’ve managed to take, develop and scan 360-degree pictures of Saltburn pier using the Lomo Spinner – the camera of choice for this trip as explained here.
The results are…OK. The whole set is on Flickr, and here are my favourites.
These pictures are pretty much uncontrollable given the process. In many ways I prefer the pics I take with my ‘normal’ Lumix, or even on my phone:
On the phone front, I’ve started adding pictures to Instagram, which offers the option of adding filters to images – including ‘Lomo-Fi’, which makes pictures look as if they have been taken with a Lomography analogue camera. And with a better phone I could do 360 shots much more simply. And probably add a Lomo-like effect. And upload everything to the web before I walked back to the end of the pier. So I could achieve more satisfactory results, just by using a phone, rather than messing about with film and toy cameras.
So will I put the Spinner on eBay, then?
Probably not. I quite like juggling all these different photographic toys. Although I can never quite feel part of the Lomography culture (all those happy gangs of kidults in cargo shorts larking around in the surf) the Spinner appeals to my sense of ritual. It’s as if I was setting out to visit every pier and bless it by swinging a censer of incense around. And Instagram, despite the sense of being controlled by the Man that comes from using its pre-set effects, offers a way to look at the world through a fly’s eye stream of other peoples’ images, so hooray for that too. So I’ll just keep clicking away with everything hat comes to hand and trying to make some sense out of the results.
To conclude, here is a still from an earlier coastal excursion, Super8 film taken in 1983, photographed at the time and now scanned, uploaded and embedded for your viewing pleasure – me beside a now-vanished coastal feature, the Shoreham B power station.
So I’m doing repeats already, but there are reasons…
1. The Royal Mail lost my films from our first visit, back in June, so I hadn’t managed to get a 360-degree Lomo shot of Saltburn pier
2. We wanted to see Lynne Wixon’s Littoral Structures exhibition at Artsbank.
So we went back on a Friday in August, driving over rainswept Yorkshire Moorland to stop at a Premier Inn in Stockton-on-Tees.
As is often the case, rowan trees surrounded the motel, a traditional charm against evil – perhaps recommended by some corporate consultancy mage.
We drove into Saltburn for the opening of the exhibition and wandered around for a bit, looking for somewhere to eat. Despite only having visited twice, I feel strangely at home here, perhaps because the yellow-brick Victorian buildings resemble those found in parts of Hove, near where I grew up.
After dinner in Signals Bistro, we went to the exhibition. Lynne plans to travel around the coast painting ‘representations of manmade structures found along the shoreline’ – literally (or littorally) a fellow traveller. The paintings are spare without being stark, lines and blocks of colour building the structures she chooses to paint into vast spaces of coastal light. The various huts, jetties, pilot stations and sheds face the viewer straight on, like the subjects of enigmatic portraits. Lynne is still near the start of a clockwise trip that will end up in Cumbria – it will be interesting to see what she finds further round. We bought a print.
After yet another purple-cocooned Premier night, we drove into Saltburn again on the Saturday morning. As on our last visit, it was chilly and gray.
This time we ate in Real Meals, where we had a sort of Platonic ideal of breakfast, where every element – smoky back bacon, a single large field mushroom, free-range eggs – were perfect embodiments of their form. While we ate, Jennie kept reaching down arcane condiments from the well-stocked shelves, moves in a spicy chess game.
My love for Saltburn was getting out of hand – where was the catch? Would it turn out to be run by a sinister Number Two figure, or populated by androids? With its Jewel Streets, myth-laden house-names (‘The Crypt’; ‘Asgard’) and helpful shopkeepers it had a sort of pocket-heaven feel to it…
Time for business. I went down to the pier.
Beneath the pavilion end, pigeon feet had made a textured landscape.
I hung around waiting for one of the small blue gaps in the cloud to reach the sun, but this never happened. I took pictures while I waited…
Then I climbed a small hill at the edge of the town to get a view back over the town. From there I could see Jennie as a tiny figure walking down the hill. I clambered down to meet her, then we walked up Happy Valley in the soft rain. Idyll fully installed, we drove home… Hopefully my film pics will survive this time (unless Saltburn doesn’t actually exist fully enough to show up on analogue film) – hope to post them next week.
For the first time in ages, I got the early train from Ormskirk. A dawn flit, slightly mazed with little sleep, hurtling towards some gonzo geography. I could actually have gone later as the online timetable had given me a substantial block of time to get the Chester train. So I went in search of coffee, negotiating Liverpool Central by an unusual route that took me outside via some gravelly Zen gardens, delivering me to the shop with the blissful utility of an automated Costa machine. Then, two train rides got me to Bangor by just after 9.30am. It was a Monday in August, and I was taking leave I had booked, though it still felt like playing hooky (UK: bunking off) somehow.
Bangor is another place I have never been to. I didn’t like it. On a grey morning out of termtime, the streets seemed spattered and shabby. A 100-year-old university building dominated the skyline, a glowering fusion of castle, cathedral and college. In the shopping centre, bright M&S graphics seemed, in an obvious way, incongruous.
I walked down towards the pier, seeing for the first time the official brown-sign icon for ‘pier’:
Then there it was – oriental onion-domes gleaming in a brief break in the cloud. Interesting to think of this pleasure-seeking projection into the sea, and the huge house of knowledge on the hill, had appeared within a twenty-year timespan – education and tourism changing the town irrevocably.
Bangor Garth Pier
No-one was collecting money, and none of the kiosks was open on a Monday. I promenaded to the end with a few fellow strollers in the immense quiet of the Menai Straits.
Along the way I saw many memorials, to people, pets, and ships.
Stretches of railing, kiosks and the tea room were all In Memory, with hundreds of functional etched inscriptions and some DIY additions.
Brighton’s West Pier was once described by Patrick Hamilton as a ‘sex-battleship’; using a similar analogy, this pier could be a ‘death-freighter’. This is perhaps not the impression desired by the local tourist authority, but that’s how it worked for me, as a wandering misery-guts/hedonist on a diffident mission. In my personal gazetteer, it is a quiet home for Angels of Death.
Next on the agenda was Beaumaris. This required a short bus journey, crossing the Menai Straits on to Anglesey. By contrast with Bangor’s pier-mausoleum, Beaumaris seemed like a monument to life. In the throes of redevelopment, the pier was nevertheless busy with anglers and visitors. A circus had been here until the previous day, and there were still posters around for the ‘ALL-HUMAN SPECTACULAR’.
I now had two piers under my belt, both achieved in a morning. Together with Llandudno, I had walked on all of the working piers of North Wales. I decided not to call it a day, but to break my return journey at Colwyn Bay. It turns out that one can still do this with the return half of a ticket – even the automated barriers seem to understand.
Colwyn Bay Pier
Colwyn Bay pier has been closed for a while, its history an unhappy one including a hunger strike and accusations of corruption. This pier seems to be in limbo, clearly decaying and with no clarity as to who owns it.
And yet it offers the eternal promise of the walk towards the horizon, of play and comfort. Like most piers, it has a long history of adaptation and change – Pavilions burning; the Dixieland Showbar, where the Damned once played, becoming a disco; the whole thing becoming a ruin. Hopefully it still has enough life left in it to evolve into something else.
I took what pictures I could, unable to walk on it or even under it – the beach was fenced off, and in fact a panel had fallen from the pier days before, making the news.
Apparently there are Eric Ravilious murals inside the pier pavilion. I could not see these, but a few minutes later I was admiring a mural painted on the space where the screen would have been in the nearby Princess Cinema, now converted by the J D Wetherspoon chain to the Picture House pub.
A news screen glimmered beneath the mural, relaying soundless news of riots unfolding in London. While I roamed the coast archly observing transformations effected by tourism, regeneration and the Wetherspoon corporation, currents of protest, greed and violence were transforming city centres in other ways. Over the coming hours and days, many of us would find our concepts of the city and ‘England’ pulled apart, requiring reconfiguration and repair. Lens flare in the video capture of burning cars and buildings formed shifting areas of white-out on the TV, cutting through the special gloom of an afternoon drinking session. A subtitle saying ‘let’s get more on the Eurozone crisis’ had jammed on the screen, making a collage-connection with larger forces. It was still there when I finished my pint and left.
Rhyl: site of former pier
It was still quite early, so I stopped off again in Rhyl, idly fancying the completion of a set. The town is seeking to regenerate its way out of high unemployment, with a new college, a funfair and the ‘Drift Park development’ all underway; invoking education and fun (‘more things to do than you can shake a stick of candyfloss at!’) as tactics, an all-human defence against the days and nights of running and shouting, the smoke of burning tyres, the unravelling.
The pier had been demolished in the 1970s, but I visited its site anyway, an imagined line into the sea projecting from a stretch of sandy beach. Black clouds were moving swiftly, so that rain and sunshine alternated by the minute. A recorded voice from the Seaquarium spoke of the ‘cold depths of the abyss’. Fine sand blew in over the beach, toward the promenade and the town.
That’s all. Here, you can look at all the pictures if you wish.
Looking at the previous posts, the mixture of the 360 analogue photos with the ‘normal’ digital ones seems a bit uncomfortable, like mixing cross-ply and radials. So this time, I’ll give you all the 360 pix first then (for the die-hards who scroll down the page) tell the story of the trip with the digi ones. So here goes:
OK then. So I snatched a day off on what turned out to be the sunniest day of the summer. My first errand involved a trip to work, the Edge Hill University campus, once described as ‘Ballardian’ by a visiting author.
Got the train from Ormskirk to Liverpool Central, then changed to the Wirral Line to go to Bidston on the Wirral, and from there to Shotton. I was now at the outer reaches of the Merseyrail network, where the familiar coloured lines end and obscure grey ones begin. Beyond Shotton, I was interested to see that the track taking me into Wales was named the Borderlands Line, suggesting that I might be going to experience the ‘liminal’ states of transition often referred to by geographers writing about the seaside and spiritual writers writing about ‘thin places’. My textbook for the day however was neither or both of these: The Unlikely World of Faraway Frankie by Keith Brooke, in which a teenage boy daydreams an idealised version of his home town into existence. People who don’t have roles in his preferred version of reality hang about under the pier and Frankie must face down the Owner who ultimately seems to control his dreamworld.
I reached Llandudno, like Saltburn and Southend a place I have never visited. In Waterstones I scanned the ‘local interest’ section, learning that Alice ‘in Wonderland’ Liddell used to have holidays here. I went to (pub chain) Wetherspoons Palladium, a vast converted theatre that has also been a cinema and a bingo hall, for lunch. The boxes are still in place but with printed cutouts of Edwardian-looking theatregoers instead of real audience members; the ‘stage’ they watch is a large space with more tables for drinkers. If as a young man I had envisioned an ideal town like Faraway Frankie, mundane buildings becoming pubs with many real ales and cheap all-day breakfasts could well have been a feature. Perhaps I could have wished for something better, but I’m not complaining: Wetherspoons establishments form handy bases on these expeditions, and seem precisely calibrated to my needs and desires, from locally-styled alcohol to low-fat meals.
Refreshed by my sojourn in the Spectacle I headed towards the pier. It has a hotel at the land end, and has been designed so that the pier’s attractions start on land; as one walks along the actual pier begins. The hotel, site of some TV filming for the recent Forsyte Saga, has a door debouching onto the pier itself. Beneath this the building has its footings in (rather absurdly real) rock.
I walked down the long pier in the sun, past Dan the Man’s C&W CD stall (playing Dave Sheriff’s ‘Red Hot Salsa’), past concessions selling photographs and souvenirs, past the bar and cafe.
Bunting flapped above me – I felt a sort of macho pride in having ‘won’ the challenge of my day off. I had found sunshine and been to a place of inarguable funtime, chalking up a result. Then I reached the end and, as always, turned back towards the town.
In the distance I could see the Happy Valley gardens, with their neat-looking stone circle installed in 1963 as part of an eistedford.
But, leaving the pier on the other side of the Grand Hotel, I found a more interesting little wonderland – a wildly overgrown garden, nestled below the pier on its hidden land side…
…on its way to becoming a climax forest of buddleia, lush and ignored by the Owner and not featured in anyone’s daydream right now.
Getting an early train to head for a place I had never been felt good. Visiting a seaside town may seem like a redundant activity for a Brighton-born man who lives near Southport. But maybe that’s the point – as someone who has mostly lived in or near resorts, I never get to see them as a true visitor. So hurtling to the seaside on a Pendolino train felt like the prelude to an adventure of some kind, though I was still uncertain as to how worthwhile this exercise would be. Exploring the coast and even piers in particular was, I had discovered, a somewhat commonplace pastime, so what would I be adding to the stock of human creation? From Euston I took the tube to Liverpool Street and boarded a train for Southend Victoria – the green decor of the carriage in the shade of a darkened platform made it seem almost subaquatic. For an hour the train took me along a never-visited section northern shore of the Thames, past London Parklands 2012 and long marshlands with buddleia and buglos.
I had meant to go to Southend Central, so on arrival I had a slightly longer walk to make, down the hot high streets of Chichester and Grover Roads. Fire engines were blocking the street so I stepped into the town’s Wetherspoons, housed in an Edwardian building that had been the head Post Office. As is usual for the chain, it had aged-drinker clientele mixing with other groups such as the Goths who were getting served before me. I had a half of a craft beer from a small brewery in Ilkley and chatted to a guy who told an amusing anecdote about falling asleep on the train I had just been on, that involved his leaving a beer festival early one evening and arriving home at 3am spattered in mud.
The fire engines had gone and my route to the coast seemed clear. The shops were like those in all towns, through I was slightly confused at the sight of some huge t-shirts bearing the legend ‘Size Zero’.
Looking at the ‘longest pier in the world’ disappearing into the distance I decided that I needed a clothing rethink. My man-in-black gear (carefully chosen for a memorial service the following day) would be too warm for a long walk exposed to the sun – I didn’t want to crawl to the end with sunstroke. Recently, somewhere in China, computer-controlled production lines had delivered a shirt and a hat into distribution systems that ended here in the Royals shopping centre, the design and price calibrated to appeal to me, so I entered the Park Inn Hotel with a bag of replacement clothes. The hotel (a treat by my normal standards) was cool and airy, only recently re-opened after a £25m refit. Laurel and Hardy had stayed there once. The more expensive rooms literally overlooked the pier (below); mine overlooked a car park.
Finally dressed the part I walked down Pier Hill, through the amusements and on to the famously long pleasure pier. It’s a long stretch of wooden planks, punctuated with benches and shelters. At the end it bends around, giving a rare view back of the pier itself. This is the mouth of the Thames, the river I walked along for some miles and eventually crossed by ferry in Walking Home to 50, at this point as wide as a small sea. I took pictures, had a cup of tea in a styrofoam cup, answered some emails. It was 4 in the afternoon and I began to wonder what I would do next.
I decided to take the train back to the landward end. As I boarded it I noticed a photograph, an image of water by Denise W. Dye… again I was on an aquatic train.
It was too early to eat and I remembered an idea I had, to try and get underneath the piers I visited. The top of the pier is the daylight, rational, straightforward part with its RNLI shop and safety notices. The underneath might be something else. The things that belong in the underpier zone – lovemaking trippers recorded by Mass Observation teams; ‘Under the Pier if Wet’ Pierrot shows; gangs of Mods sleeping out the heart of a Bank Holiday rampage; the Sandman character1 (played by John Le Mesurier)in The Punch & Judy Man film, living a life of unfulfilled promise – these underside myths suggested the existence of a less certain kind of place. In Stinkfoot: An English Comic Opera by Vivian Stanshall2 and Ki Longfellow-Stanshall, ‘below the theater on the pier, there is another world. Down underneath, on the rubbishy hard-pebbled shore of England’s cold and oily sea, lives Mrs Bag Bag, a fishy Lady of the Bags who finds and treasures things, little things…Under the pier, it’s a world of the lost and disregarded: partially cooked shrimps and woeful sirens and drowned sailors and horrid cocklers and giant squid.’ In Southend, reaching this world involved circumnavigating Adventure Island, a large amusement park that straddles the land end of the pier.
It did turn out to be possible to clamber down to the under pier world.
Somehow, seeing this mile-long green lane made the whole thing feel worthwhile. Here was a place that combined artifice and nature, an unwalkable cloister inviting a secret gaze, suggesting a new form of romance.
I took more pictures and walked back to the main road. The Kursaal was etched with pale neons in the evening sunshine. In a pub, I had more beer (Cornish this time), Sgt Rock (Is Going to Help Me) playing loudly from the jukebox – a connection to the superworld. I felt invigorated, the idea of this journey redeemed somehow. But Sgt Rock – a battered, indefatigable and ultimately tragic character3 – usually turns up when a long, heads-down arduous slog is required – leading me to wonder – what kind of adventure would this actually turn out to be?
1 Probably not the same Sandman that features in Neil Gaiman’s graphic novels, but possibly the one referenced in Anne Briggs’ song (see ‘Photography’ page).
2 Who had a ‘seaside boyhood at the mouth of the Thames’ according to Ki Longfellow-Stanshall’s introduction (Stinkfoot, Sea Urchin Editions, 2003)
3 In the mythology of the comics, Sgt Rock is killed on the last day of WWII by the last bullet fired. But in other stories he is still alive in later decades, even to the present day, palling around with superheroes. So who knows, really, how things will turn out?
A ‘vision of a heavenly city above the cliffs’ led to the creation of this seaside resort, 150 years ago. Quaker industrialist Henry Pease saw the potential for development here and laid the foundation stone to the first row of houses in 1861. Victorian hi-tech followed, like a steampunk virus – railway (1861), pier (1869) and funicular ‘balanced cliff lift’ (1884) transforming ‘humble Saltburn into Saltburn-by-the-sea, the last word in northern seaside chic’. Today ‘Saltburn is at a crossroads, reinventing itself as a leisure destination for the 21st century, a haven for artists and walkers, surfers, cyclists, and lovers of the great English seaside’.
(Quotes from ‘Welcome to Saltburn by the sea’ brochure, (c) Finks Publishing. See also www.welcometosaltburn.co.uk )
This was the first new (to me) pier to be visited on a planned odyssey around all 55 surviving ones, together with trips (where practical) to some fictional and imaginary examples. On a late May Bank Holiday we drove here, past the Angel of the North and the model of Saltburn Pier on the outskirts of the town. We parked near a cafe in a gray drizzle. I looked up at Victorian terraces lowering above the cliffs. A miniature train went past. I had begun the journey in earnest.
We had lunch in the Vista Mar bar-cafe-restaurant, motto ‘love food | love drink | love life’. As we ate I watched a line of freight ships crawl along the horizon. Enjoyed the fishcake but only ate a token chip; I worry about such things, these days. I was nearly 50, a third the age of the town, health enhanced by surgery, tablets and ‘lifestyle’. The time-horizon had been bent in my favour, but for me the landscape was clearly finite – why had I decided to spend precious days wandering around grey margins and peering at strange embellishments? I felt like one of the Challengers of the Unknown, ‘living on borrowed time‘, not having supercharged adventures but instead drifting in some bosky netherworld.
After lunch we decided to explore separately. Outside Vista Mar I futzed with my cameras. A surprise loss of battery power in my digital camera left me with just the Lomo Spinner and a phone with which to capture images. [Further photographic entropy may have occurred – at the time of writing the film from the Lomo Spinner seems to have gone missing, so as yet I have no 360-degree picture to show you.] Head down in the rain I loped towards the pier.
Saltburn has been described as an inter-war ‘stronghold’ of Pierrot shows1, suggesting that they persisted after other resorts had replaced them with more modern entertainments. Pierrots don’t seem to have hung around until now, however. What I did see were plenty of surfers and, despite the cold day, families enjoying the sandy beach and queuing for fish and chips.
I checked out the souvenirs – coffee mugs with digital images of the town and a plate showing leaping dolphins. Then I walked on to the pier, and took a couple of 360 shots with the Lomo [but you’ll have to take my word for it.]
Squeals from children drifted up through the planks – beneath me they were sheltering from the rain and dashing into the waves. I walked down to the end where people were taking advantage of the best fishing spot. I guess I’ll be doing 55 walks like this and, despite the rain and greyness I felt cheered at the prospect of reaching many more of these joyfully absurd viewpoints over the waves.
Halfway back I leaned on the railings, looking along the coast – the classic ‘existential’ pier-pose. I heard a voice: ‘Edge is a man alone’. Jennie had found me. We walked through the amusement arcade – still no Pierrots, but a machine version of the King. (Photos above and below by Jennie; full set here.)
We took the Inclined Tramway (powered by a gas pump and 20,000 gallons of water) to the top of the cliffs, walked through the fossil garden and towards the main streets.
I liked the definite way the town, cliff-railway and pier all joined up. The town itself seemed tidy and purposeful. The brisk energy of the surfing beach, the clean lines of the promenade – these things had seduced my holiday-self. In the secondhand bookshop I found ‘How to See England’ by Edmund Vale (1937). His ‘How to See…’ instructions do not involve ‘wandering round all the piers2 taking random pictures’ but I can empathise with his statement that ‘We must rely on a few set pieces and, everywhere else, endless hints, endless clues’ – stated over a drawing of a dolphin – itself perhaps one of the ‘clues’.
We wanted tea but found ourselves in the friendly Artsbank with its five floors containing a vast and splendid array of popular art: painting, prints, photography and sculpture. Amongst these I began to see another role that piers have – as visual subject matter; Saltburn pier was portrayed in various media by several contributors to the Artsbank of ‘affordable art’. Jennie suggested that, just as in Walking home to 50 I had become part of a fraternity of walkers, I would now join some loose group of artistic explorers of the coast. My technique of ‘just showing up with a toy camera’ [then losing the film] is slightly different than the application of skill and judgement seen in the Artsbank pieces, but nevertheless this seemed like a fine way to spend time. My mission began to make sense.
Earlier valetudinarians had sought out seaside resorts for the health-giving benefits of seawater, ‘ozone’, sunlight3 and leisure. I would do the same, seeking instead the therapeutic power of random arrival at places like this, finding streets named Diamond and Coral and Emerald or, hopefully, circa 55 other marvels.
We turned the corner into Marine Parade, with its tall Victorian terraces and curved viewpoint windows.
When we arrived these had seemed foreboding; now I would happily have taken a lease on a basement flat there. From this point the sea was visible again. This was the visionary city, still solid with detail in the miles of salty air: a supercharged adventure after all. On black iron railings, details smoothed by decades of painting and repainting, a fragment of leaf… no, a butterfly flickered in place.
1 In The British Seaside by John K Walton (MUP, 2000) referencing Pierrots of the Yorkshire Coast by Chapman & Chapman (Hutton Press, 1988)
2 In fact he mentions piers not at all. Castles, mountains, rivers and monasteries get plenty of space. The spot in the index where piers might be mentioned is bracketed by ‘Pews, Church’ and ‘Pilgrim Fathers, the.’
3 The Sunlight League believed that sunlight was ‘nature’s disinfectant’, I learned in Walton’s book. The Sunlight League reminds me of John Sunlight, arch-enemy of Doc Savage… this link must be investigated further.
It is hard for me to get a fresh view of Southport Pier as we go there all the time. Nevertheless, as I turned the corner from Lord Street to be hit by sea breeze fragrant with chip fat and candy floss, I was struck by just how ‘seaside’ the town is – an aspect we often ignore as we head for shops and cinemas (even though the cinema is part of ‘Ocean Plaza’). As I walked down the wide street that leads to the pier, mechanical laughter followed me out of an amusement arcade with elaborately-dressed china dolls in the window.
I walked down by the Golden Gallopers carousel and the cafe where, even on a weekday, bikers were meeting up and chatting over their machines (as photographed by Jennie a couple of years ago.)
I peeked into the amusements at the very start of the pier. I felt oddly scared to go in, despite the inviting offer of cheap tea. For some reason I felt that this was grown-up territory, a place apart.
The pier starts over land – one reason I suppose that it is the second longest in the country. The overland end is surrounded by concrete aprons, large regenerated spaces with graffiti starting to grow in the hidden corners.
Further on to the pier I got out the Lomo Spinner. I may well have taken some great pictures at this point, but there is one serious mistake one can make with this camera – leaving it set on Rewind. If this happens no pictures are actually being taken. I spotted the error and took some 360 shots from the end of the pier.
This pier is surrounded by a long wilderness of sand. There are places of a kind on this territory, Horse Bank, Angry Brow, Foulnaze, The Bog Breast. Hints of danger and alarm in the shifting landscape that stretches to Lytham, Blackpool and future piers.
I had a cup of tea in the cafe, which also houses an antique amusement arcade. As I left, mechanical laughter followed me once again.
It was the last day of a long, episodic walk I had made from Southport Pier, lasting over three years. My destination was Brighton Pier, the end of that walk and the beginning of this project. Before I reached the pier I headed into the North Laine where I bought a Lomography 360 Spinner camera from Zoingimage in Sydney Street. The lady was very helpful, talking me through flm types and scanning. Explaining cross-processing to me, she opened a book to show an example – which turned out to be a photo of a pier. This felt like a nice piece of synchronicity to start with.
The Pier was busy on this hot Easter bank holiday and I was flowing with a huge crowd. I’m no pier obsessive; as a local I rarely visited this one, or indeed any of the tourist spots. For the Council tourist people Brighton is ‘vibrant, colourful and creative’, a place where ‘daytime traditional seaside fun mixes seamlessly with night time funky beachside club culture’, while for a geographer (Shields, 1991) it is an ‘institutionalised liminal zone of carnival’, ‘a social as well as geographical margin, a ‘place apart”. But for me actually living there such things were merely a sideshow. However on this trip I began to sense dimly this ‘carnivalesque’, the seaside’s ‘overflow of meaning on the anomalous’ (Fiske, 1989). There was a vast erotic energy flooding to the beach, down from the station, through the streets and shops and bars of the town, terminating here, on a strange Victorian platform jutting over the waves.
‘Liminal entities are neither here nor there; they are betwixt and between the positions assigned and arrayed by law, custom, convention and ceremonial.’ – Turner, 1969
There seems to be no definite end to Brighton Pier; the closest one can get to gaze out to sea is a sort of side-bay behind the fairground machinery. Still, it was a place to look at the sea. ‘There curves and glimmers outward to the unknown / The old unquiet ocean.’ If I had crossed some pier-threshold and been transformed, it was to become one of the tourists – plunging into the seaside carnival in search of elusive pleasures, staring out at the ultimate horizon, then turning around and going home with a pocket full of bizarre souvenirs.
‘…there were little lights on the sea facing the majestic Metropole between the two piers outlined with blazing jewels. He wondered what it was all about – the pounding sea, the beach, the rain, the stars, the lights, the piers, Brighton, Hitler, Netta, himself, everything. Why?….” Patrick Hamilton, Hangover Square
John Fiske, Reading the Popular, Unwin Hyman 1989
Rob Shields, Places on the Margin: alternative geographies of modernity, Routledge 1991
Victor Turner, The Ritual Process, Aldine 1969