An English Seaside Town: Burnham-on-Sea

24/05/2014 21:53


I'm in Burnham-on-Sea, thought to be a stomping ground for swollen white-van-men and the whispers of pensioners, and where the town's name is pleasingly embossed in gold on the victorianesque black litter bins. Peculiarly though, this largely overlooked Somerset seaside town doesn't smell of the sea. Most other classic seaside ingredients are embraced however  donkey rides on the sand, pavilions, fish and chip restaurants with leaking vinegar bottles slithering motionlessly on every table, the seafood vendor man operating from a van, public toilet blocks to discourage peeing on the beach, and a scattering of insalubrious pubs entered between picnic benches... traditionally simple pleasures. And not forgetting the perennial amusement arcade, where you must stay until your 2ps run out, you forget what you're doing, or the flashing machines give you a conniption fit. All these aligned sensations, each providing precisely 23 seconds of novelty, serve a useful purpose of highlighting how many commercial amenities can quickly seem utterly pointless. Wandering the streets in town, I'm ushered along seagull-spattered pavements by blackboards serving up a roast dinner in every establishment, then hoarse voices blowing out from the boozers, and more vague chatter thrown out of concealed windows as I hit the back streets. There's almost something retaliatory about it all. Buckets and spades hang next to a faded red post box with a reckless confidence that goes to sleep before it can smash anything.

But today, as ever, I genuinely like these wind-shabbied seaside towns that the thirsty young professionals generally don't want to live in, since the old coffee shops fail to froth their milk. There's a warped, maudlin side that can't be recreated elsewhere – a side that comes out when the ice creams melt and the cars go home. An honesty exists in the loneliness of these towns – that British loneliness that the cities try to disguise with turbo-branding, gym memberships, and nightlife magazines. The seaside town bubbles up in me two extreme choices: to live in here for two years in oblivion or never return to one again  leave the whole thing to memory. For a moment here, idling on a Burnham street corner, I'm lost over which would be wiser. Slowly I become surer that these towns on the coast are most alluring from a distance, and this is a shame for me to admit.... Despite the aspect being different, if only something unexpected were to happen here – some new resolute compulsion that lasts overnight. Meanwhile I slip on an old chip and think, "This is how it is". By now I'm all wrapped up in the neutral smell of sand, and I drive out of there with my sentimentality, without looking back.

An English Seaside Town: Burnham-on-Sea


Date: 20/06/2014 | By: alexuk

An interesting piece with an "Alan Bennett" feel. I am intrigued with the slithering motionless vinegar bottles.

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