Monthly Archives: July 2018

Book Review – “Pier Review”

Pier Review: A Road Trip in Search of the Great British Seaside by [Bounds, Jon, Smith,Danny]

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Summersdale (11 Feb. 2016)
  • ISBN-10: 1849538115
  • ISBN-13: 978-1849538114

Again, with this being a Kindle book I’ve taken the book cover art from the Amazon website, so thank you Amazon.

It’s a good book, though one with quite a few rough edges. You can tell this before you pick the book up because the less enthusiastic reviews, and even some of the more favourable ones, refer to grammar, blokiness, bad language and beer. I’m not that bothered about grammar, as you can probably tell from reading the blog, and, in truth, I didn’t notice any bad language. That probably results from me being desensitised by having two sons and a background of working on farms and markets. Like so many of my contemporaries that year at Finishing School eluded me.

It’s a tale of two immature mates and their driver, Midge. The narrative is based on them travelling round 55 piers in two weeks. It is, unsurprisingly, a badly organised and under-funded trip. It’s a familiar model and it felt like I’d read books by this pair before. After looking at their previous books I discovered that I hadn’t. I’ve merely read other gimmicky travel books by similarly immature, badly organised blokes.

This isn’t a criticism, just an observation. It was interesting to spend time learning about different lives and their relationships with the seaside, each other, their laundry and their past. There’s even a bit about piers in places, though not a lot.

One of the things they discuss early on is a quote from someone – J G Ballard, I think – that travel books never mention the parking. I take this badly, as my post on Cromer, our first attempted pier visit, does feature parking quite heavily. Now it’s going to look like I’m copying them.

Apart from that, I have a sneaking feeling that they planned the book better than it looks on the surface. They meet people, they stay in various places (a B&B, camp sites, floors of friends) and they space out the reminiscences. It could be an accident, but it could, under all the casual chaos, be quite a well-planned book.

It can be a bit tedious reading about people drinking (even more tedious than actually having to listen to them whilst they are drunk) and about their constant bad planning, but they are likeable idiots and the time passes quite easily as you read.

It cost me £3.99 on Kindle, which is more than I normally pay for a Kindle book, but I was happy with it. However, it’s a book about mates on a road trip: if you want to learn about piers buy a different book. I’ll review that later.

 

The Piers of Lowestoft

There are two piers at Lowestoft – the South Pier and the Claremont Pier. The Claremont Pier is, I assume, named after something or someone named Claremont, but none of the published sources seem to mention who it is. Confusingly, the South Pier is, according to my map, north of the Claremont.

This called for some heavy-duty lucubration. (Yes, I’ve been reading that website again).

Things fell into place with a quick look on Google Maps. The South Pier, though North of the Claremont Pier, is actually South of the North Pier. The North and South Piers are the concrete breakwaters that form the harbour.

Like so many words, we expect quite a lot of it and it means at least three things.

This becomes clearer when you start to walk along the South Pier, which, in some ways,  isn’t a pier – it’s just concrete. There are no legs, no boards and no sight of the sea underfoot. Chris Foote Wood, in Walking Over the Waves, is considers that it isn’t really a pier at all. However, as he points out, the National Piers Society says it is, and they have the final word on the subject.

The South Pier is quite good, apart from the puzzling name and the lack of legs and stuff. When you drive up to it, it appears to be quite an elegant Edwardian building situated conveniently close to a large car park. As you park, you notice that the elegant pavilion isn’t part of the pier. It’s actually the East Point Pavilion and, according to the internet is only 25 years old.

Ah well!

The South Pier has a traditionally garish front (I speak only for my lifetime – obviously if I was Victorian I’d have a different idea of tradition) with plenty of amusements. It then has a concrete deck, a notice about lobster pots, a lifeboat shop and a trawler that is open to the public. We wondered about the lobster pots, and when we saw someone throwing what looked like a keep net into the water Julia asked him about it.

That morning he had caught prawns and shrimps (which I thought were the same thing) and some crabs. He does catch lobsters now and then, which was a surprise as I’d never thought of them being caught off the east coast. He uses bacon as bait. This would work for me too, as I’d be happy to crawl into a net for bacon.

From the pier you can see a massive crane on the other side of the dock. This, according to the internet, is based on the North Pier and is doing construction work.

Unlike many east coast piers, which had sections removed to stop them being used by the Germans (see previous comments) the South Pier couldn’t be breached, though it was damaged by German bombing. Around 20 bombs fell on the harbour, with one falling next to the pier and one destroying the reading room/pavilion.

Lowestoft was bombed 90 times during the war and suffered 261 fatalities. It isn’t much compared to the bombing of London or Germany, but it must have been a massive contrast to the holiday season of 1939 when the town was crammed with holidaymakers and the pier was full of happy faces.

The South Pier is linked to the Claremont Pier by a road train along the sea front. It’s based on Thomas the Tank Engine, though I suspect that Thomas is considerably faster – we used it and had trouble overtaking pedestrians. A pair of joggers actually overtook us.

I was surprised how many people waved at us as we went by. People aren’t normally that pleased to see me. The proprietors of “all you can eat” buffets are particularly not pleased to see me.

The Claremont Pier doesn’t have a buffet but it does host a selection of eating outlets, which mainly seemed closed. I suppose you have to do whatever pays the bills but restaurants that only open in the evening don’t really make for a cheery atmosphere during the day. Nor does an empty roller-skating rink, despite the flashing lights. It really isn’t my sort of thing (I last wore roller skates around 50 years ago, fell down a lot and ended up bruised and annoyed) so I didn’t feel inclined to have a go. That just leaves the amusements, and it was a bit hot for getting excited in a confined, badly ventilated, space.

The pier’s website shows photos of the eating places and bars, and it does seem to be a much brighter place to be when they are open. If I lived 150 miles closer I’d be seriously tempted by their Sunday Lunch offer, though “beef jus” isn’t really my style. I’m a gravy man. The menu for Scott’s, the restaurant that does fish and chips, looks interesting, and seems to be hammering the local Redpoll population. I notice they do that thing where they miss the £ sign off, as it makes food seem cheaper. Looking at their prices you can see why.  Note also that prices are for fish – you have to buy the chips as an extra. I was a bit miffed that the special at Sutton on Sea didn’t include tea. Guess what I think about chips being treated as an extra.

As part of a developing theme, the bulk of the pier is merely a seagull playground. It’s a shame, as the walk is often the best bit of the pier. It can be particularly memorable when accompanied by spongy boards and the fear of plummeting through the broken deck into the sea. Let’s face it, when you’re my size this can be a consideration even on a well-maintained pier.

Chips at the Dolphin

I’ve been going to the Dolphin fish and chip restaurant for around 30 years. When I sold chickens to farmers in Lincolnshire I would make a detour two or three times a year to walk round Sutton and then have lunch at the Dolphin.

We have been most years, either with the kids or just as a couple. It was always OK rather than outstanding, but has always been a pleasant place to eat. Over the years various owners have made improvements, though this has been accompanied by the occasional lapse, and in the last few years, they seem to have been selling off household goods to raise cash. It did start to look a bit like a jumble sale, but when we visited on Wednesday it was a lot tidier.

It has also grown an assortment of notices prohibiting various sorts of behaviour. I can’t give examples as I didn’t really read them. I prefer my food without too many petty rules.

Haddock Special at the Dolphin Fish Bar, Sutton on Sea

Haddock Special at the Dolphin Fish Bar, Sutton on Sea

The Haddock Special was £9.95, not £8.95 as stated in various reviews, and tea is not included in that. The chip portion was sufficient, though not generous, and the peas were also served in a smaller pot than we remember. That wasn’t the worst thing though, they were a bit tasteless too. All in all, not the best “special” we’ve had.

You can’t order at the table now either. It’s not a big thing, but it is a sign of the erosion of standards of service.

Finally, on that subject, when someone asked for tapwater they were told it was 50p a glass. Now, the law states that only places selling alcohol have to provide tapwater free of charge, and they are, it seems, allowed to charge for service and use of the glass. As the Dolphin doesn’t serve alcohol they don’t need to offer free tapwater, but on the other hand, it’s another nail in the coffin of customer service.

However, if you have a dog with you, you are welcome to bring the germ-ridden fleabag into the eating area, where I have no doubt it will be provided with free water, and if that’s not enough you can even buy frozen lactose-free yoghurt for your dog.

Frozen yoghurt for dogs - what next?

Frozen yoghurt for dogs – what next?

The staff were quick, efficient and reasonably cheerful, though they were arguably too efficient in clearing tables. I finished before Julia, as I come from a family of predatory snackers and speed is the best defence against food theft. The way they whipped my plate from the table was undeniably efficient, but felt like they were trying to get rid of me as soon as possible.

So that’s the report – declining portion size and a couple of queries over peas and service. It’s clean and efficient, and the food is generally good, but not so good we can’t find somewhere else equally as good. We will probably do that next time.

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Wall tiles – Sutton on Sea

Sutton on Sea – a Pierless Place by the Sea

We went to Sutton on Sea on Wednesday. It doesn’t have a pier, and never has had one, but it’s an excellent place to relax and eat ice cream and fish and chips. Well, that’s what I did, and it worked for me.

We walked along the seafront, had an ice cream, rejected the selection of sunhats on display and looked at the beach chalets.

The sun hats were either pink, pink with decorations or definitely made for women. As if pink ones aren’t for women. I’m trying to be a New Man but there are lines I will not cross. Pink baseball caps with a Playboy logo is well over that line.

The chalets are looking tired, and not a patch on the ones at Southwold. On the other hand, you can buy one for £12,995, though as there’s talk of ground rest it may not be freehold. The estate agents don’t seem to be doing much of a job of selling it. The green grass on the photos compared to the arid wasteland on my photos shows the passage of time. If you can’t sell a beach chalet in summer it must pose a question about your sales skills.

At least one patch of beach looked busy, but that was partly due to everyone being herded in between two flags. To be honest, I think we’re going over the top these days. In the old days we were just told not to swim when the red flags up and drowning was considered a matter of personal choice. Now we have lifeguards and all manner of bureaucracy. No wonder this country is going to the dogs with all this namby-pamby safety stuff.

The town is quite old-fashioned, free parking is available and there are plenty of non-chain shops, including sweets, baked goods and hardware.

This is a picture of the Lifeguard again, this time frightening pedestrians on a cycle.

Life Guard at Sutton on Sea, Lincolnshire

Life Guard at Sutton on Sea, Lincolnshire

Please excuse the 1970’s style postcard colour in the photos, I set it on “Pop Art” to brighten things up a bit and forgot to take it off. It was quite a bright day but my standard setting was making it look grey.

This is where the scooter gang meets

This is where the scooter gang meets

There are a lot of retired people in Sutton, and consequently, a lot of scooters cluttering the place up. If speed kills, some of the residents of Sutton are going to live a long, long time.

And finally, a look at the war memorial. It’s 100 years since the foundation of the RAF and Lincolnshire, having been heavily involved in military aviation from before the founding of the RAF, is making a big effort to commemorate it. For some reason the contributions of the Royal Flying Corps, and Royal Naval Air Service mean nothing, but the founding of an amalgamated air service on 1st April 1918 (who thought of that date?) and a uniform reputedly designed by a chorus girl using leftover material from a cancelled Russian order.

 

Next – a fish and chip review.

A Lazy Link

Sorry, I’m knackered after a day shut in the back room at the shop so I’m opting for a lazy link to a funny news story. We had two brief episodes of rain – one lasted about three minutes and the second for about a minute. The raindrops were big but it didn’t do much good – the temperature stayed up and the floor didn’t even get well. Tomorrow we are expecting thunderstorms and there is an yellow weather warning in place. In the old days they just told you to remember your umbrella.

So here’s the link.

If you want more stories there are links at the end of story.

If you want more zoo-based humour try this.

I went to the zoo yesterday but it wasn’t very good, the only animal on show was a dog.

It was a Shih-Tzu. 

Or this…

I went to the zoo yesterday and all they had on show was a baguette in a cage.

The keeper said it was bred in captivity.

I’m easily amused.

Hopefully I’ll be back with a proper post later.

 

Sixteen Minutes

I’ve not been sleeping well in the heat, though this difficulty seems to disappear if you stick me in front of the TV. As a consequence tonight has been spent watching quizzes, snoozing, wrestling with an automated bidding system, eating a delicious meal of sausages and Mediterranean vegetables and taking Number Two son to work.

That leaves me with sixteen minutes to write this post.

There was an interesting radio programme on tonight, about invasive species and Acclimatisation  Societies.  These societies were an aspect of imperialism that is still damaging things today.

The invasive species in UK include Zebra Mussels. Their main effect in the UK, according to the programme is that they colonise drains and water supply pipes and choke the water flow. Not a problem I’d ever thought of.

Three minutes to go. Phew!

 

A New Medal and some Questions from History

Someone brought medals into the shop for mounting last week. Their father has tended not to bother about his wartime service too much and has only just been made aware that the French Government has been giving out the Legion of Honour to veterans who participated in the Liberation of France in 1944-5. He now has his, and has decided to go to France for a memorial event in September. When he does he will be wearing a properly mounted set of medals.

He seems to have had quite an active war, and I don’t begrudge him the medal, but I can’t help thinking that giving someone a medal because he was in a certain country 75 years ago, and has lived long enough to collect it, is slightly devaluing his contribution, and the contributions of many others, including the people who kept the war going in Africa, the Atlantic and the Far East (to mention but a few). I worked with several Normandy veterans in the past, and I’m feeling slightly saddened that they didn’t live long enough to get an extra medal.

If you were at Dunkirk you don’t get it. Same if you were in the RAF flying over France in 1943 but not 1944. Or at Dieppe or St Nazaire.

And that’s before we come to the irony that we were effectively at war with the French from 1940-42. The Vichy French killed a number of British and American troops in that time, and imprisoned others. I’ve always wondered what it must be like for veterans of those attacks to see the French posing as staunch opponents of the Nazis. You would think the least they could do would be to give a medal to our soldiers that they shot at.

Politics and warfare are always more complicated than they look.