There is a funny thing that happens near as I can tell almost exclusively at seaside towns in the UK. Which is that everybody gets freakishly excited about the Christmas illuminations. Now, I’ve been living here long enough now to realise that sometimes they used Olde Time language when there’s a more current word that would also be appropriate. But i have come to like some of these antiquated phrases and ways of doing things.
I mean, you can reasonably say here: Mind my things whilst I pop out to the ironmongers. And nobody would think you were that weird.
But the illuminations are something that I’ve yet to wrap my head around. I know we do this sort of thing back home but we call it Christmas lights, which upon reflection does make it sound bit less than exciting. Illuminations calls together something bigger, as though some wisdom will be imparted.
I first saw the illuminations at Blackpool which is definitely a thing to do whilst you’re there. They’re up and down the seaside parade, so you can walk under them and gaze admiringly, in a slightly Victorian way. Because why not? I mean, there’s not much else doing in Blackpool, I’m afraid, plus it’s dark by 4.30 in the afternoons these days so it’s not like you have to stay up late.
Anyhow, most recently I was regaling The Mom with my trip to Weston Super Mare, which is 20 minutes by train from Bristol. Now, if you Google this place, it looks glorious. In fact, all of Britain looks fabulous in Google images because they seem to only choose the pictures they’ve taken when it’s sunny. Which it almost always isn’t. Certainly yesterday was not sunny. In fact it was the typical sodden, raining, gloomy day I’ve come to know and love.
I was off doing some research for my next novel, and I wanted to have a look at Weston when it’s cold and raining. Perfect day. Off I set. In every Victorian seaside town you should expect a Grand Pier, with amusements at the end. These are loud sort of fair-like games and fruit machines. Whack-a-Mole and the like. Now the Pier will also host some kind of Christmas concert, and probably something for New Year. Because these towns, I’m told, used to be the kind of places your company would take you on your summer holiday.
A friend of mine up in Glasgow was saying, when we were in Blackpool, that his Nan’s company, a factory of some sort maybe, I don’t remember, used to take everyone down to Blackpool in the summer and everyone thought it was the best thing ever. This is before the days of Ryan Air. So off you’d all go to the seaside town, and you’d get fudge and rock (which is a weird boiled candy stick), some vaguely offensive and sexist postcards (a dirty weekend away and so forth). You’d enjoy some mild racist entertainments on the pier (comedians and such like, in the vein of take my wife… please), and have a donkey ride on the beach.
But these seaside towns have sort of fallen on hard times these days, because we can go to a real beach now with real sun for less than it costs to go to Blackpool. But regardless there’s always something on. Not that you’d want to see it or participate in it, but they make an effort.
And there is something charming and quaint about the idea of everyone in the town turning out to see the illuminations being turned on. Which is also a big thing.
It was day and foggy when I went so I didn’t see them switched on, but have done in the past. It’s pretty neat actually – the lights all along the seafront, the sound of the sea rumbling away in the back. When I told The Mom about the concept of the illuminations, she was quite taken with it. In some ways, I think she’d be better off living here than I am – she’d go along to all sorts of things down the end of the pier – dances, concerts, whatever. And you can bet she’d have people round for a drink after the illuminations went on.