I am so glad that I had a chance to see Gill’s British home and environs last autumn. Now, when she mentions certain places she’s been, I can picture exactly what and where they are.
But she had me a bit stumped recently when she said via Skype that she had gone to a small seaside town called Weston Super Mare about 20 minutes by train from her flat. She was there doing research for her next novel…and, since it’s near Christmas, expected to see some ‘illuminations’. Illuminations, I wondered? What are those?
“Are you expecting a religious apparition to show itself? You haven’t gone all religious this Christmas, have you? Because if you have, our celebrations are screwed.” They usually involve too much booze,lottery tickets in the stocking — an old family tradition– too much food (gluttony) and a rude, if not obscene, family card game.
“No, Ma…that’s what the Brits call Christmas lights. Don’t worry — a Christmas without booze and uncalled-for types of revelry would be no Christmas for our lot!I certainly would be the last one to inflict that upon us.”
“Phew…so did you find any ‘illuminations’?”
“Not many. Weston is a rather grim seaside town — grim in the way that only British seaside towns are. When the summer is over, the tourists disappear, the tacky amusements shut down, the donkey rides end.” Yes, I seem to recall reading novels wherein a British family went to the seaside for a day’s ‘picnic’. Since the ‘summer weather’ usually consisted of rain, they spent the day in their car, the heating cranked, drinking hot Bovril and eating soggy sandwiches. A North American would not consider this in any way related to summer, but there you have it.
Gill had been to this town once before on a hike with her dear Japanese friend. Unbeknownst to them, the beach was full of something called ‘sinking mud’…which, to a normal person, is probably ‘quicksand’. Gill came close to sinking into the Weston mud, never to rise again. This time apparently it hadn’t reached the proper consistency (not enough rain yet I assume) so she stayed upright to write again about the marvel that is Britain.
She noted that there weren’t many Christmas lights — just a few at the end of the pier in preparation for a Christmas concert…not, I believe, our idea of such a concert, but more of a 60s disco thing. Go figure. But there was gaggle of men participating in a fishing contest. I would have thought, in this poor town, the participants would see this as an opportunity to ‘bring home the bacon…or fish’ in this case, but no. When they caught a fish, it was weighed and measured (for bragging rights) and then released back into the sea. Other than that, there wasn’t much activity.
It was, I gather, a bleak landscape but Gill loves that sort of thing. I think there’s a reason she has adapted so well to her new home. Gloom, rain, rising damp, fog…things that rather suit her disposition at times (especially first thing in the morning) and allow her the quiet she needs to steel herself against the onslaught of the busy, noisy, frenetic world. And one day, when she’s a famous author, the lovely people of Weston Super Mare will be able to claim her as one of their own — since her novel was set in their town. Perhaps that will beat the donkey rides and ‘Coney Island-like’ midway as draws for their tourists.