It’s hot in London – hotter than our office air conditioning and public transport can comfortably cope with. The tourists have come out, too – big groups of them, marching around Charing Cross behind some berk with a flag, standing on the left on the escalators, stopping abruptly to stare agog at Planet Hollywood (yes, really) and filling Trafalgar Square each and every evening to hear the dodgy reggae busker, admire the man who dances the moonwalk to an invisible soundtrack and give financial encouragement to the “pavement artists”. Sheesh.
Bearing in mind the effect these factors have on Tom’s third law of city living [(Heat+Tourists) * Lenth of Commute = Increase in impotent rage] it was time to get out of town. So today we scuttled off to be beside the seaside, de dum de dum.
I haven’t really had much experience of British seaside resorts. Helen, on the other hand, visited just about every single one as a child and has fond memories of several, so she picked a resort and off we went – an hour and a half down the A2/M2 to Broadstairs, Kent. And here it is. Isn’t it pretty?
As it turns out, Broadstairs had pretty much everything I’d imagined that one would find at a British seaside town on a hot day: beer, food of dubious nutritional merit, crying children, sunburnt pensioners, and those funny portable wind shelter things that British people seem to cart around the world. On the other hand, it also had a few things I didn’t expect: a beautifully clean, sandy beach, and people happily paddling and swimming in the sea (which given the stiff breeze must have been freezing). We marvelled at the array of condiments served up with lunch, watched kids feed scampi to the seagulls, and counted dog pawprints on the beach – it was all very nice, and you’ll find a lot of photos on Flickr here.
And then we went to Margate.
Margate, just around the corner, had pretty much everything you’d expect from a run-down seaside town, and then some. On the plus side, it too had a lovely beach – a great yellow bay of gleaming sand, packed with families enjoying the intermittent sunshine. Walk down the front, however, and you’ll likely wind up depressed.
We went looking for the Scenic Railway – an old wooden roller-coaster that Helen remembered from childhood visits. We did eventually find what’s left of it – a few wooden tracks rising up above a kind of metal shack, tucked away behind Dreamland. Here’s Dreamland, or what’s left of it:
Dreamland must have once been a striking art deco building. Today it’s covered in strikingly ugly plastic signs (CASH BINGO!), and mostly shut. Walk down past the closed cimena (showing OO YEM ARGATE, apparently) and you’ll find the entrance to the amusement park, which is missing a giant plastic letter from its giant plastic sign. Inside the glass doors we could spot a lot of dust and a haphazardly abandoned Time Crisis arcade machine – it looked like it had closed in a hurry. In fact, it turns out that the Scenic Railway was earmarked as a listed building before it caught fire earlier this year. I can’t find any reference to the main Dreamland site opening in 2008 at all; presumably the owners gave up.
Dreamland isn’t the only thing that’s evidently suffered in recent years. We passed a shopping arcade that now held just three stores (a joke shop, a burger shack and a not terribly subtle “bong shop”), and the biggest amusement arcade on the road – the Tivoli – was completely closed. On the way out of town we marvelled at the Shell Ladies of Margate (who I presume have left town) and listened to a drug addict complaining in a loud, public manner to his dealer about the quality or otherwise of his merchandise. It was clearly time to go back to London.
So, the moral, or something close to it: if you have the time, go to Broadstairs. Eat fish, see the sea, avoid the gargantuan seagulls. It’s all very nice. Margate, however, is an experience. Go for the beach, but unless you happen to have some sort of economic rescue package in the boot of your car the town’s probably best avoided. Southend on Sea is nicer, but then so is Lewisham.