Skegness....aka "Let's get a pie and a game of snooker before we go 'ome"

The most common thing I have heard said about Skegness is 'It's not what it used to be'.

Back in the days when a dip in cold sea water was considered a curative, I can see that Skegness would have been the ideal place to come. It provided dual opportunities for purgative suffering within icy cold sea water and also an over long hike to and from the water's edge in a biting sea breeze. For the people of impoverished post war Lincolnshire, catching a train to the continent and spending a few months in Southern France was never high on the list of holiday possibilities. Instead, they would enjoy their precious leave from the factory or the farm by hopping on a bus which took all day to reach the coast. When they arrived at Skegness Butlins in the evening, they would be tired but invigorated by the bright lights and noise, the excitement of fun fairs and the strangeness of the sea air. It was a legitimately wonderful experience.

And then, as everybody knows, Skegness failed with the onset of cheap package holidays abroad. It's not Skegness's fault, all the other British seaside towns also collapsed at the same time. I have visited all of the traditional seaside tourist meccas - Eastbourne, Brighton, Blackpool, Scarborough, and they are all the same. A crowd of old ladies who refuse to grow old, their garish make-up plastered resolutely over wrinkled faces, their skirts too short for their age, their tops too low and flaunting repulsive yet strangely mesmeric cleavages.

Some of these towns are cheerier than others though, yet all I get from Skegness is sadness. It's main shopping area squarely targets the low income family. Pound shops, charity shops, discount shops, clearance shops. Down one street, a tired looking man in a faux leather jacket and white trainers stands in a pulpit in the middle of a shopping floor, surrounded by cheap knitwear. His hair is slicked back teddy-boy style. The floor is covered in plastic sheeting and cardboard. He repeats over and over into a microphone, almost by reflex 'Genuine designer knitwear sale, four for 5 or 2 a piece' every time someone walks by on the street, in a tone like a bingo caller. Various designer names have been painted on boards and hung around the edges of this bleak looking shop, but if you look at the labels in any of the clothes, they are either absent (chopped out) or low end names from Asian sweat shops. The customers all wear cheap bling, shabby sportswear and slightly shifty expressions. Next door, a shop sells excruciating prints of doe eyed kittens in Barbie pink frames. Beyond this, a shop sells traditional seaside trinkets such as buckets and spades, lighters with naked women on etc. but for no apparent reason, sees fit to pipe country and western music out onto the street. Everyone and everything seems...hopeless.

There were no sign posts pointing to museums or libraries or art galleries that I could find. I had no choice but to join the slow procession of wheelchairs following signs 'To the Sea'. Pensioners pushing spouses or carers pushing wards. I have never seen so many wheelchairs in a seaside town before - a depressing flow of the stoic, desperate or broken spirited all pacing up and down in the rain, their charges moaning and thrashing ceaselessly under their disposable plastic ponchos else staring fixedly into the middle distance with a heart breaking lack of understanding or care. I don't wish to denigrate these people, I simply wish to record my observations. Skegness seemed to be a cheap place to take someone who wasn't going to enjoy it anyway.

I walked to the edge of the sea, away from the squalor of the shopping centre and the awful melancholy of the prom. I hoped to find life again, optimism and good cheer. I stood nearby a young family, the boy kicking sand around, a baby in a push chair and a couple in their early twenties looking contemplatively out to sea. She had a plum tint to her hair, big hoop earrings and was smoking a cigarette. They stood for a few minutes and watched a container ship slide across the horizon. Then she turned to her partner and said "Ay....I'm bored now. Let's go and get a pie and a game of snooker before we go 'ome".

And that about summed it up really.

E Kelly

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