Our Travel blog
Wednesday 24 August
Leaving Cambridge early we trundled down to Littlehampton through the bustling rush hour traffic; cars buzzing in and out of lanes eager to get to work in time or just to escape Chris Evans on the car stereo. From this chaos we emerged at the Caravan Club site in Littlehampton in time for lunch, our first return to a site since taking to the road. We were happy to return to Littlehampton, and I suspect that there are not many people who have had cause to say that, as we were using it as a base to visit Brighton to see my eldest and his girlfriend.
Happily lunched we took to our bikes and made the station 30 minutes early for our train. In view of the heat we decided to grab some water from the nearest shop, a Polish supermarket. I still cannot fathom how the cheapest bottled water, at 50p was imported from Poland while the Buxton or Malvern varieties on offer were over 20p a bottle more. Just how do the economics of this work? And while I am on the subject, of all the things to import, all the little things that remind you of home, that bring you a taste of nostalgia, a comforting flavour or favourite delicacy that you can’t get over here outside of a specialist shop, why water? As far as I could tell it tasted of water, no better and no worse than any other flavourless beverage. I suppose the fact that you can import it from Poland and still undercut the local suppliers is quite a good reason. Anyway, the shop was very nice, the service warm and we were able to enjoy our journey adequately hydrated to arrive cheerful and open to the delicious mayhem that is Brighton.
We pottered and shopped for a bit before meeting up with our hosts for a chat over a beer on the beach. In contrast to our convivial little group enjoying the evening sunshine responsibly, a large portion of the beach goers who’d visited earlier had left their rubbish behind, liberally scattered over the beach for the gulls to fight over; as if by some magic the detritus of their pebbly banquet would disappear as soon as they fucked off home. Alison was particularly apoplectic at people’s thoughtlessness. She expressed it in her journal better than I can so here is an extract:
“As we have travelled this summer I have found that there are some people who are either stupid or selfish, maybe both, and who disregard the rules that are put in place for the safety or comfort of others. Take for example the people who enjoyed a lovely day on Brighton beach on Wednesday and then left their bottles, cans, plastic wrappers etc. behind. They obviously don't care about the child who will cut their foot on the broken grass or the sea bird that gets tangled in the wrapper, or indeed for the hero of a man who went behind them in the evening with a litter picker and a bin bag just trying to make a dent in the piles of rubbish to make the beach clear for the very same people who will be back the next day to do it all again…”
We took her to the pub to calm down. Fortunately The King George pub does rather excellent food and drink. Indeed this must rank as one of my favourite pubs. The atmosphere was cosy with snug nooks and crannies, a wide range of good beers, charming staff and a menu that is completely vegetarian. We all tucked in with ill-disguised gusto, the batter on halloumi shattered and liberally sprinkled our plates, salty fries crunched and mushy peas were scooped up with fresh homemade tartar sauce and washed down with good local ales. I was pleased to see that the beers had no-nonsense names like Best Bitter and Pale Ale. There was none of this Wrinkled Bishop or Speckled Goblins Knob craft beer nonsense that men who are built like a barrel with a beard seem to favour.
The train journey home was peaceful, tired revellers and late commuters rattling along, slumped across their seats nodding off with the rhythm of the train. On the trip in I’d been listening to a group of boisterous teenage girls swapping increasing improbable tales about school. For all their gaiety the laughter seemed forced, as if the appearance of enjoyment was more important than actual levity, the facade a smokescreen for their insecurities and anxieties that couldn’t be acknowledged. If you want to understand the worries and lack of confidence that lies within the tender shell of apparently confident, strident young women then I recommend reading Viv Albertines’s autobiography Clothes, Music, Boys. Viv was the guitarist with seminal punk band The Slits and writes with refreshing and at times brutal honesty. Worth checking out here. Viv Albertine
Thursday 25 August
Late morning found us again at Brighton station, this time to pop along to the record shop where my son works to watch Lisa Hannigan do a short in-store performance. Sitting alone on the counter with only her guitar to shield this waif from the crowd she played 3 songs of delicate beauty, sparse lilting melodies under a soft fragile voice, spun together like fine lace into intricate compositions, so much more than the sum of their parts.
Our musical souls satisfied we met my son on his lunch break and at 3pm we sat down for breakfast at Tiffany’s; the breakfast being an all-day spread of carbohydrates and calories, washed down with caffeine; Tiffany’s being the name of this establishment and highly recommended if you find your arteries softening and in need of some grease to harden them.
Returning to Littlehampton we rode back on bikes sagging under the weight gained from breakfast, the tyres upon which we bounced down to the station now flattened and squelching over the tarmac. I think I may have actually sweated lard. Once safely back we sat outside with a cup of tea and our books. I had my bare feet on our little camping table and absentmindedly excavated my ear with a satisfying squeak that I though only I could detect. Alison snorted her tea out over her book, giggling at my uncouthness, all very childish but innocent. In contrast our neighbours were sitting primly at their camping table, travel condiment set positioned between them like a little Tupperware barrier, napkins folded neatly and cutlery polished as they tucked into a carefully constructed salad. He complained to her about the untidy state of the trees on the site, various ailments that afflicted his family and then the infidelities of his work colleagues. Such was his all-consuming dullness he couldn’t even make extra marital rumpy-pumpy sound interesting. She barely said a word. I rather formed the impression she had heard it all before and was possibly longing for some rumpy-pumpy, marital or otherwise, to enliven her time confined in a caravan with Mr Tedious.
We weren’t surprised to see him don an apron over his pastel shorts to wash up and to our delight noticed that he was wearing long white socks with sandals. He was also pale, as in not at all tanned despite the unrelenting sunshine. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing given the risks involved but quite how you keep your face as pallid as your legs in this climate is a mystery. But credit to him, he clearly knows and understands the risks. Around the site are many examples of men who quite clearly believe they are immune to radiation. There are lean, crisp skinned men who look like they’ve been hewn from teak, wobbly tender red blokes whose ample flesh is seared by the sun and forming blisters, sweaty pale men with a glossy sheen upon whose skin the sun’s powers seem wasted and the portly retired sun worshippers who glow with a carroty veneer. These are the full time outdoors caravan enthusiasts. They probably winter in Spain and have been harbouring ambitions to learn the language for the last 5 years since giving up the day job and buying themselves a 4 berth Concorde Raid Laser Starfighter Extreme caravan with their redundancy cash. Their wives or girlfriends seem to come in two types, erect and willowy, with neat hair and a ‘can do’ attitude or plump and glittery with a ‘do this, now’ attitude.
Of course I’m making ridiculous and unfair generalisations. After all some motorhomers eat fish finger sandwiches outside, ooze tomato sauce down their open shirt front, drink beer from the bottle and belch loudly. All of which I’m proud to say I did before bidding our startled neighbours a ketchupy adieu and retiring into Mavis to plan our itinerary for the next few days. An entirely new type of site in The New Forest beckons.
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