PLACE NO: 17 HUNSTANTON, NORFOLK, ENGLAND
Hunstanton is near enough to where I Iive to be classed as home. It's familiar and comfortable, which is why I sometimes overlook the concrete ugliness of the locale. Its ramshackled portacabins house cheap and glitzy gambling dens, and little greasy cafes. It's disappointing, but familiar. The former pier was lost years ago, cut off by the sea, and the town suffers from its loss like a man castrated by a naiadic Lorena Bobbett. Under the remains of the broken shaft, sits shops I've never seen open. They stare out, hauntingly, wishing for summer. Above rages the amusement arcade and the self declared 'fun-size' bowling alley.
The seafront is, in many ways, like a disappointing shrine to a 90s pop-star by a lovestruck teenager, except the hallowed idol is gambling. The games induce punters to risk pennies on coloured toys and games. They invite in the crowds and hopelessness; giving joyless fun in return. It's all good, as long as you only partake ironically. The moment you enter the noisy game hall and start taking things seriously is the moment you know you've got a problem. It offers something mindless to stop our brains from screaming. Or maybe they're still screaming but you just can't hear them over the din. A little bit like the children who are dragged in by their chain smoking owners.
The afternoon was howling - rain driving down with a force that could rend skin from tendons. An impromptu party was assembled, invited, some self-invited, and tumbled into a car. We had a few umbrellas which periodically blew inside out, so we carried them like batons wielded by troopers along the promenade. Our clothing was drenched. Whatever notion we had of walking along the beach was quickly dashed from our minds, so we clambered into 'Thomas's Bingo'. It's not just Bingo in these hallowed halls: Rick and Morty toys line the inside of claw machines, two-penny slides hand out skeleton key-chains; you can throw a ball at something or other and win a prize, and a tune and some flashing lights. I don't play - I just watch.
The noise! Bleeps and bloops, and ringings and whirring, songs and tinkling melodies - the chink of change, falling coins, children crying and laughing. It's over-whelming, terrifying - time slips by us - mesmerised by the stacking of slots. There's something comforting about such a place - you can hide within the noise and lights. You don't so much blend in - but smudge away.
Then the rain stopped, and the clouds slowly begun to part - allowing lances of gold to strike the clifftops and crowning them princes in the murk. We took a wander. Along the boulevard, past a hopeful vendor who'd set up shop, to the red cliffs. Here millions of years of history crumble into the brown waters. A few gulls circle overhead. The broken fences, bored like thorns upon the cliff's pate, were snapped into fragments and bent into crucifixes, amongst the empty nests of terns.
Sunny Hunny it might be from June to August, but at other times it turns into a different creature. Cold and eerie, quiet and forlorn with just a few strange bright aspects of its exuberant personality shining through and reminding its inhabitants of different times.
We stopped at a pub up the road - The Wash and Tope - had a hot chocolate and an enormous slap-up meal. It was very satisfying - in its own way. Around us people lounged in warm conditions huddled from the February air; fires lit, football on quiet - sofas snuggled with cushions. Just before dusk swooped in on black wings, we staggered back to the car and drove home to the melody of the wind-screen whippers battling back the rain .