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Ways in which I fail at Britishness

There are many aspects of Britishness and Englishness and Life On The Isle which I love and embrace with all my heart. But the British sea is not one of them.*

Both Z and I spent a hefty part of our formative years on the Adriatic and Meditteranean coastline, which is why both of us view the British beach experience much as we view the British climate - at best as an ironic amusement and at worst a dire affliction.

For starters, in most places the beach is actively awful. It's often blustery, the sea looks about as brown and inviting as the Thames and even in places where the colour of the water is magnificent (e.g. Cornwall) the temperature is off-putting. I have never voluntarily dipped toe into the English waters without the support of a thermal wetsuit and even in July I have found it too bracing for comfort.

We went to Clacton On Sea last weekend so Z could experience a flying lesson that I'd got him as a birthday gift (as a tangent, I'm the worst spectating wife ever; while entrusted with the task of filming The Event I managed to get some shots of the plane, and the back of Z's head while he and the pilot are walking towards it and then completely missed both the takeoff and landing because I was attempting to prevent the child from putting a stray grape into his mouth for the former and reading a magazine during the latter) and while we were there we thought we might as well check out the beach.



It was overcast and blustery and a mixture of amusing and baffling to Z and I. For starters we were dressed in more warm layers than any other people there (jeans, and jackets while hordes of children gamboled on the sand in non-thermal swimming costumes). We also seemed the least enthusiastic. I saw people cheerfully pushing strollers against the wind, I saw a middle-aged couple having a full-on swanky lunch with champagne on a table and deck chairs sheltered behind a wind-screen, I saw people sitting in front of those strange tiny bungalows, holding on to their wildly flapping newspapers and exuding the air of people who seemed to be very-much enjoying themselves without the use of any sarcasm.

But we are different people. People who don't understand why anyone is brave enough to venture into the English water for fun, let alone send their children in. People who don't get the appeal of owning one of those tiny box bungalows on the beach which allow you to cook a meal, and pull a couple of chairs out and attempt to read newspapers while sand flies in your face and the wind attempts to wrest them from your hands. We also fundamentally don't understand the appeal of fish and chips, especially when combined with vineagar - but that's because the fish I've grown up with was grilled and served with olive oil on a bed of similarly gently grilled vegetables, so stuff that's been battered about with flour and then deep-fried both tastes bland to me and makes my arteries stiffen in preparation for the clogging they are about to receive.

And yet, there are people who genuinely seem to enjoy all this. People who would given the choice prefer to holiday in Britain instead of France, or Sicily, or Dalmatia.

Are you one of the people who enjoys the British coastline or its beaches? Finds fish and chips deligtful to their tastebuds? If so, please tell me what entices you so. Help me understand what I'm missing.

*Peculiarly British pursuits that I find irrationally charming: snooker and bird-watching

** Other things I hate: camping, hiking and the dreary non-summer we are having for the second year in a row.








Comments

( 19 comments — Leave a comment )
meepettemu
Jul. 4th, 2008 05:41 pm (UTC)
Oh.Dear.Gods.

You went to Clacton. I am surprised you lived through the experience!

Fish and chips, i have to admit, i love. I think it's BECAUSE of the grease, and the fact that my arteries know exactly what clogging they're getting!
rainsinger
Jul. 4th, 2008 05:49 pm (UTC)
You survived Glastonbury, that's more impressive
Oooh, is Clacton meant to be dire? I'd never heard of it before.

Not that my arteries are averse to clogging - chessecake they embrace - but fish and chips... I don't know. Maybe if they came with mayonnaise. Do you eat it with vineagar? If so, what does vineagar add to it?
meepettemu
Jul. 4th, 2008 05:58 pm (UTC)
Re: You survived Glastonbury, that's more impressive
I'm not sure if it's *meant* to be dire, but certainly, in my part of the world (30 miles from Clacton), pretty much ANYWHERE is better than Clacton *grins*.

I do eat it with vinegar. it adds a certain.. piquantness (read, flavour), to the chips. And mayonnaise.
meepettemu
Jul. 4th, 2008 05:58 pm (UTC)
Re: You survived Glastonbury, that's more impressive
And yes, i did *beams*
lebeautemps
Jul. 4th, 2008 05:55 pm (UTC)
For me, the English seaside is as comforting as the smell of freshly cut grass, and for the same reason: it reminds me of pure happiness I had as a toddler when I lived with my grandparents. The beach with its bell-wearing donkeys, icecreams and 10p ride on animals was a fascinating riot of colour and activity. The sea itself was not relevant, as I recall.

I like cheap seaside towns for the kitch value now. There is something naughty about very hot chips and vinegar in the sea air. But I will always be a rockpool fiend and offer no defence. :)
guihong
Jul. 4th, 2008 06:06 pm (UTC)
Ha! In Nuneaton, there was a chip shop down the street aways from Meep's house and I insisted on having chicken and chips on a parchment paper (I'm allergic to seafood). I thought I was being so English! The portions were so big, I had half that night and the other half for breakfast/lunch/something the next day. My arteries surely screamed in horror, but then again I have had plenty a Big Mac in my time.

I've always wanted to go to Brighton. I thought George IV designed the pavilion there after the Moors.

I don't know how Meep put up with me. I hit England determined to have tea and scones, and chips in a newspaper, like all the English do, right? Right?

gui
casaubon
Jul. 4th, 2008 08:13 pm (UTC)
The Brighton Pavilion is meant to be kind of Indian/Chinese... :)
smallblakflower
Jul. 4th, 2008 08:41 pm (UTC)
The Pavilion was designed as George's bachelor pad, and it is inspired by 'the Orient'. There is tonnes of wood - oak, pine, whatever, carved to look like bamboo, rich colours, snakes and dragons in the carpet patterns, wallpaper, lights and general furnishings.

You can get a good feel for it from the photos here

It's fab. As is all of Brighton and Hove


[/biased] heh.
casaubon
Jul. 4th, 2008 08:51 pm (UTC)
Heh, yeah I know. I lived in Rottingdean for about 6 years, went to sixth form college in Brighton & my parents still live there. :)
smallblakflower
Jul. 4th, 2008 08:53 pm (UTC)
Yeah I realised when I replied that I'd replied to you not Gui. Figured you did know what you were talking about but an errant click made it appear otherwise.
chiller
Jul. 4th, 2008 06:21 pm (UTC)
The British seaside sums up something quintessential about being British ... something to do with the attitude that makes us look back on World War II with rose-tinted nostalgia and that made us, as a nation, cleave to the notion of rationing and making-do with frankly unholy glee.

Making-do is culturally ingrained in us, and places us, as a race, slightly at odds with modern life and its "land of plenty" approach. The British are happiest when faced with slightly crap cuisine which, while not actively poisonous, requires a certain amount of imagination if it's to be enjoyed. We like cars that are slightly rickety. We revel in home-made, slightly wonky shelves, taps that don't quite turn off (or on), heating that ... doesn't. We like queueing for inept service that we can then complain about to other Brits who understand our complaint because they have also queued for inept service. We like weather that's specifically designed to undermine our social arrangements. We like our tube stations to close at precisely the same time as our pubs, because we are then creatively stretched by our attempts to get home to our creaky beds. We marry people we can complain about for the rest of our lives and consider this a victory. Buy clothes that don't quite fit us, and forget our sunscreen on the one truly clement day we get each year so we can complain about sunburn. We lay our paving stones in a way that requires orienteering skills to get over them, and then train our pedestrians to walk as quickly, and in as unordered a fashion as possible just to add salt to the stew and - if done properly - bruises to the knee. We like our attractions overpriced at the gate and cheap on the inside. We consider hardening of the arteries, alcoholism and lung cancer to be challenges that should be risen to, not avoided.

The organisation of the NHS is probably our crowning glory.

If a Brit feels unalloyed joy, he will die. We are simply happiest when we are happy despite something.

I may have to post this on my elljay.
jadedlibertine
Jul. 4th, 2008 06:27 pm (UTC)
I like fish and chips with mushy peas and salt and vinegar, I'm not happy though if the batter is soggy, it has to be crispy as that takes away the artery clogging feeling slightly. I like the British seaside too but I've only ever been to Brighton on the South Coast, my experience is mostly Yorkshire seaside and the horror that is Blackpool. I very rarely go in the sea though, that's certainly not so appealing!

I'm holidaying in the UK this year but the Lake District, not the seaside, I'm not a sun worshiper and am quite happy with grey summers.
casaubon
Jul. 4th, 2008 08:35 pm (UTC)
I rarely go to the beach, though it's good with kids so long as the beach is sandy. They'll spend all day digging holes.
I wouldn't go in the water though, I'm not mad.

Battered fish can be nasty, or it can be gorgeous. It depends on the quality of the fish'n'chip shop. I normally go for a battered jumbo sausage. And mushy peas, obviously. :)

We go on holiday in Britain cos it's easier with the kids & none of us speak foreign tongues... And we go on hiking holidays. Not in tents.
smallblakflower
Jul. 4th, 2008 08:37 pm (UTC)
We love the seaside because it is the seaside, and one must enjoy holidays to the seaside. It is law.

In actual fact, for me, like my parents and their parents before them, a British beach holiday was the only family holiday we had - there were 4 of us kids, and my 2 parents, so we couldn't afford to go far, my parents also come from big families. So there are always positive associations with being by the sea simply from the fact it *was* a holiday, no matter what the weather.

As a teenager my friends and I would take road trips to Skegness (it's bracing!). Skeggy is tat personified and a deliciously ironic destination. Same goes for Blackpool.

I know Britain doesn't have the best beaches in the world - obviously I do, I've been to Thailand, Australia, New Zealand and Brazil and some of the greatest beaches in the world. I don't love British coastal destinations because they are better, I love them in an entirely different way and for completley different reasons.

Bournemouth, Dawlish and a few others along the south coast and Cornwall are great sand beaches, clean, clear water etc etc. Frequently hot (by British standards) summers and dry weather. They are also the beaches of my childhood, so they are great.

Blackpool and Skegness are seaside 'resorts' they peddle tat and cheap holidays and everyone who goes there knows exactly what they are getting. They, historically, are a place of escape and relaxation for the inner-city working classes, and for me personally, places I went wth friends, just because we could - they are my youth, and Britains escape.

Less hospitable coasts - such as Scotland, Beachy Head and Welsh coastal locations - are dramatic, and display British landscape at its best and most dramatic. I wrote about a particularly sublime display of coastal weather a few weeks ago.

Oh, and those box bungalows? Sell for about £10,500 here.

I don't love the British coast/beaches/seaside *despite* everything you have listed, I love it because of it. Britain is Britain, ain't nowhere else in the world quite the same.
smallblakflower
Jul. 4th, 2008 08:52 pm (UTC)
Damn, why do I conculde sounding like a complete Daily-Mail-reading-fox-hunting-tory? Presumably you by now I'm not. gargh.
yiskah
Jul. 5th, 2008 02:40 pm (UTC)
From age 10 - 17, I lived about five minutes' walk from this beach, so I share your bafflement. That said, I have a fondness for the English seaside in winter, as I find its bleakness to be appealing, and there are some beautiful beaches in Cornwall. it's just...a different kind of beach experience, I guess.
mariposalily
Jul. 5th, 2008 03:13 pm (UTC)
Haha. We have the same here in San Francisco. I have no clue why this is the #1 tourist destination in the US. The weather is horrible on a good day, the residents are depressed... I don't know otherwise than growing up in a tourist trap given where I've lived before now, but yes, the dichotomy makes me want to gouge my eyes out most days.

I do wish sometimes that my seasides were British, because my family is British, but I was happiest in North Carolina recently. I got to watch the memory of Britain and show it to my love as I got nearly murdered by ripcurrents and sunburn. And then I got to go home to the nasty Pacific... don't try and swim here. There's no weird warm water algae here. I'm happier back east... who wouldn't be?

Matei is getting so big! <3
mockduck
Jul. 5th, 2008 04:34 pm (UTC)
Well, having just come back from a week in Weston Super Mare... I have to agree with you on many points. The pier, in particular, was grim. Full update to follow.
(Anonymous)
Jul. 11th, 2008 03:26 pm (UTC)
Um, first of all, I'm not Anonymous, but the LiveJournal thing wouldn't let me log in as anything else!

Second of all, I totally see what you mean about fish and chips -- I've NEVER got the appeal, either. Granted, I don't really like fish, but I'm sure I would like it even LESS if it were deep-fried and battered in bread crumbs. The chips, though, I have to disagree with you on: there's nothing quite like eating them straight from a cone of newspaper while walking along an English street on a damp and rainy night. Swamped in vinegar, if possible. Oh, the vinegar is the best part.

--Nothing But Bonfires
www.nothingbutbonfires.com
( 19 comments — Leave a comment )

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