I WAS just six weeks old when my parents took me to the British seaside for the first time.
It was a family holiday in Minehead.
We still have my granddad’s cine footage somewhere showing that trip in silent, jerky reels. It charts the usual stuff – kids paddling in the sea, dad being buried in the sand, mum looking seriously narked at not being in Spain – but the bit that seems somehow symbolic is where, as a windbreak is getting battered about in the background, I’m seen in my Nana’s arms bawling my eyes out.
“I knew he’d have preferred Bognor Regis,” my granddad is said to have shouted from behind his camera.
I thought about those long-gone holidays on Sunday as we, me and her, strolled around Cleethorpes.
We’d woke up bored and not as hungover as we’d hoped, and decided since it was a nice day – that is to say, since it wasn’t raining – we’d go to the seaside.
And, naturally enough, it was awful; gaudy and tacky, cold and windy, cheap and yet simultaneously expensive.
In particular I was disappointed with Fantasy Land which, unless your fantasy is a dingy room filled with Jeremy Kyle castoffs feeding 10p’s into slot machines, is seriously in danger of breaking trade description laws.
Similarly, you can’t help feeling slightly fearful when the first beach hire service you see lists windbreaks above deck chairs.
And yet here’s the thing: I love the British seaside with all my heart.
Not in an ironic way, where you buy a kiss-me-quick hat and tweet a picture to show what a post-modern lark you’re having; and not as a stag party venue, where you spend the afternoon downing shooters and the evening staring at strippers – although, obviously, that has its own merits too.
I just love British seaside towns for what they are: boring, broken places still haunted by a glorious past and now always facing a gloryless future.
I love the peeling paint and the run-down fish and chip shops, the big dippers which are so small and the art-deco dance halls where the music died around 1965. I love the faded glamour.
For these towns are surely at their best when the modern world recedes and the silver past shimmers through those huge empty hotels and grand civic buildings.
For, ultimately, beneath the flashing lights, the postcard sellers and the tat stands, the likes of Cleethorpes, Scarborough and Blackpool are surely really nothing if not the loveliest symbol of that most lonely of truths: that time waits for no-one, that all is surpassed in the end.
Because for just a brief moment – between the invention of mass rail travel and mass air travel – geography suddenly meant such coastal venues were places crowded with people in search of good times and (mildly) bad behaviour.
And then, just as suddenly, history meant they fell almost silent again when those same people realised the sea, sangria and sun of Spain was more relaxing than the sea, stewed tea and stinging winds of the English coast.
And now those ballrooms and arcades, pleasure gardens and promenades? They still get busy but not like then. There’s no turning that clock back.
The British seaside is a museum now, I think. And I like it fine that way.
I was six weeks old the first time I went. I’ve been going back all my life. I will do so for always and ever.