Saturday, May 31, 2008

1066 and Bouncy Castles

We decided to take a little trip with my parents over the three day weekend last week. Wanting to visit the south coast, and none of us being overly enticed by Brighton on a busy holiday weekend, we booked rooms in a B&B in St. Leonards-on-Sea, a village that is now essentially a neighborhood of Hastings. Hastings, at least to me, brings to mind (a) Hercules Poirot's bumbling friend who often inadvertently provides the key clue to the mystery, and (b) the site of the decisive battle in the Norman conquest of Britain in 1066. I don't remember dates very well at all, and almost everything I know about British history comes from Monty Python, but for some reason I know 1066. Not surprisingly, nothing in Hastings mentions Poirot's friend, but absolutely everything is plastered with 1066 this or Norman that.

The sea shore was exactly as I had imagined it: long pebbly beaches with broad promenades for strolling along in both directions. We luckily hit warm sunny weather, despite the fact that most of the rest of the UK, including London, was getting drenched. We spent a wonderful afternoon doing absolutely nothing, just enjoying the view and reading on the beach.

It was lucky for us that the beach was nice and our B&B was excellent (a beautiful little place called Hastings House), because Hastings is otherwise run down and crappy. A review we read online before we went recommended walking along the beach and averting your eyes from the hideousness of Hastings's New Town. We thought at the time that this was an exaggeration, but this was good advice as it turned out. However, even keeping our eyes to the sea didn't always work: there was a grubby casino and arcade out on one of the piers, there was a group of yahoos dressed as pirates getting blindingly drunk while sitting in the sun in rubber rafts (okay, that was kind of funny), and we accidentally interrupted a drug deal taking place on the lower level of the promenade (no joke).

The UK has a general problem with guys-who-shouldn't-be-shirtless-but-still-
walk-around-shirtless (or GWSBSBSWAS for short), and Hastings has way more than its fair share of these, not to mention hordes of people that look plucked from an episode of Little Britain. The local kids, some of whom were also shirtless, seemed completely taken with the new trend of parkour (imagine skateboarding without a skateboard, and combine that with a Jackie Chan chase scene) - either that or they were just trying to injure themselves by jumping off of walls out of boredom.

While some people were out enjoying the sun and the views, most Hastings visitors seem to favor the grimy bingo parlors, the small and crowded mini golf course, and garish arcades filled entirely with claw machines. To be fair, I do love bingo - in fact Maggie and I were even featured in an issue of The Bingo Bugle, which claimed (erroneously but amusingly) that we had gotten engaged at bingo night at St. Kevin's in San Francisco. My friends will also attest to my love of mini golf (not to mention my putting prowess) as well as my habit of losing vast amounts of change in claw machines in desperate quests to snag cheap stuffed animals. However, when surrounded by natural beauty and history, I don't really want to waste my time tapping a ball through a plastic dragon nostril.

One of the many classy bingo and claw machine palaces

The beach is about 20 yards to the left, but hundreds of people were packed into this cramped mini golf course.

Despite some of the tackiness of Hastings, there were also some nice bits, including two funiculars up to the two big hills in town. They were boringly called "lifts" - why use "lift" when you can use the word "funicular", which is clearly much better?

Putting the "fun" back in "funicular"

We took one funicular up to the ruined castle that is perched over the Old Town. Unfortunately there was an additional charge to get into the castle - we could see from a distance that there was almost nothing left, just a few crumbling walls, so we decided to pass and just enjoy the view while eating soft-serve cones. No one else seemed to be going into the castle either, although plenty of people were enjoying bouncy castles down in town.

Overlooking the English Channel

My mom was convinced that we could see France - all I saw was a layer of smog (which could have been France, I guess). The French coast is about 45 miles away from Hastings, so even on the hill, I doubt that we could have seen it, but I'm not about to do the necessary trigonometry to prove it.

I suppose if I had come more prepared for a tacky carnival atmosphere I would have enjoyed Hastings a little more. And who knows, maybe I could have come home with a few new stuffed animals. Even so, I really enjoyed getting out of town on the Bank Holiday weekend, watching the beautiful scenery pass by on the train ride through Kent, and relaxing in the sun on the coast.

1 comment:

American in London said...

Hey Andy, sounds like your trip to Hastings had the same ups and downs as my trip to Brighton a few months ago. Although at least Hastings has that 1066 thing going for it.