'Ice-cream, candyfloss, jellied eels and a stick of rock,
Pepsi Cola, shrimps and whelks and cans of lager'
Paraphrasing Jeremy Taylor perhaps, but a good summary of what is expected to be on offer from at a British seaside resort.
I spend a great deal of time in Spain, Andalucía in particular, where I blunder around in my own bizarre fashion, taking photographs and gathering copy for my writing. My method of travel is so haphazard that I end up in some unusual situations mostly humorous, sometimes pleasurable but always interesting. Recently however I needed a break, but due to logistical and various other considerations I was restricted to the UK, having a keen interest in archaeology I decided to visit Richborough, where the history of Britain began.
It was obvious that I would need somewhere to stay as left to my own devices I would wither away in no time at all, even in well-found hotels I find looking after myself a struggle. What really annoys me is that group of individuals who can turn up at a hotel with a small overnight bag, yet every time one sees them they are well dressed in clean crisp clothes looking as if they have just tap-danced their way from a Burton's window. I am always close too or over my baggage allowance, struggling with a gigantic wheeled sarcophagus, puffing and panting my way through airport terminals and ramming into hotel doors. Even with my myriad array of clothing I always look like some dishevelled bag of miscellaneous vegetables loosely tied in the middle.
As one who detests not only the taste of fish-and-chips but their very smell, my choice of Ramsgate may seem odd, at least it did to me which was why I chose it, I really must seek professional advice. Ramsgate struck me as the typical English resort, jellied eels, handkerchiefs on the head in fact the complete montage of what I perceived to be bad about British seaside holiday venues. I wanted to discover the worst example possible and as I was born in Redcar: Ramsgate was up against some pretty tough competition.
The hotel was, according to my self imposed 'brief' low cost and my room a 'standard', I can only assume that the hotel's 'superior' rooms had champagne running from the gold plated taps, while teams of seductive chamber-maids anticipate your every need. I must add I am not that familiar with rooms at the higher end of the price range, I am therefore only guessing.
All I needed to do now was to load the car and head south from the Norfolk/Suffolk border to the Isle of Thanet. My driving ability may not be the worst in the country but I could probably make the short list, my competence at the wheel is so bad that I fit seamlessly onto Spanish roads and feel comfortably at home. The journey was on the whole unremarkable apart from almost stopping to call the police as the sun made an un-seasonal summer appearance.
While approaching Ramsgate I began to wonder whether this east coast town was in fact the birth place of the roundabout, if not, then they have taken the circular obstacle to their hearts and use it in abundance, though most are of the 'mini' variety and they only really serve as road decoration. The A253 took me through the periphery of Ramsgate, a typical English town, dingy terracotta brick and grimy grey paving-slabs, net-curtained windows and aerial clustered chimneys: I was beginning to regret holidaying in the UK.
The hotel was in Victoria Parade, which is on the East Cliff overlooking the beach and the harbour, it was really quite a pleasant location. I wondered if I had been too hasty in my initial assessment of the town. The sun came out and my spirits rose in proportion to the temperature.
The Hotel San Clu knows its place and seems comfortable with it, a tourist venue with an interesting past, amongst other things the front bedrooms were once wrecked by a rampaging rock group in the eighties. There is no pretence about the establishment whatsoever something I found unusual in a British hotel. Normally hotels in the UK are hyped to the eyeballs but the reality is something quite different.
Tied up at Ramsgate
The Hotel staff had their numbers bolstered by eastern Europeans mainly Polish. One such individual was the barman with whom I chatted in the evening. "I like whisky" he said brightly "but I try not to drink to much of it", "That's strange " I said ironically "I like vodka" "I know" he said darkly "I have been serving you all night".
With a camera bag over my shoulder and a notebook jutting from my top pocket I set off on foot for the town, my first visit to a British seaside holiday resort since I left Redcar. The sun surpassed itself warming my back as I thumped my way flat-footedly towards the harbour. The climb from East Cliff to the town below was considerable so the sight of the public lift was very welcome, however it only operates at weekends and public holidays, it was the Kentish Passage steps for me.
Ramsgate harbour could be described as intimate; it nestles in a hollow with cliffs rising on both coastal sides. The Ostend ferries perform an apparently never ending shuttle service, entering through the breakwater they then execute a 180 degree manoeuvre to dock stern first, disgorging their cargo of cars and lorries.
The inner marina is populated by some alarmingly expensive boats, while the old steam tug Cervia sits incongruously amongst them waiting patiently for her restoration work to begin. This certainly isn't what I expected, even the sun's heat wasn't anticipated its intensity driving me to seek liquid refreshment. I forwent the pubs, with their tiny windows and gloomy interiors and seated myself at a pavement café where I drank a cold Peroni and munched on a bowl of pitted olives.
I speculated on the differences between where I was now and a Mediterranean location, perhaps on the Bay of Naples or a Spanish Costa. Three things immediately sprung to mind, architecture, seagulls and women.
Most of the local architecture was pseudo gothic, imposing, intimidating not in the least friendly, a relic from our Victorian past when seaside enjoyment was not meant for the vast majority of the masses.
Why are we overrun with seagulls? It doesn't occur to this extent on the Spanish coast, the Adriatic Islands are free of them, they simply fly over at medium altitude patrolling the sea for food. Are the British variety to lazy to fend for themselves, perhaps a physical fitness programme should be initiated for them?
The women: The Spanish 'paseo' where the young women parade before the eligible men folk may have its roots in an extremely complex and puritanical courting ceremony, but it has become one of the most memorable customs of Spain. If you look closely however it is difficult to find an exceptionally 'pretty' girl amongst the throng. The Spanish female features are so strong, large doe eyes, raven hair, the ramrod straight composure; it is the combined effect that is so striking. Perhaps our British women shouldn't feel too badly done by, after all if you are required to wear woollies, raincoats and thick leg warmers for eight months of the year, it takes a bit of time to thaw out.
After a few house reds, a mozzarella and baked chilli panini sandwich, I attempted to scale the heights of East Cliff back to the hotel. I have a digital camera, but it seems that the more pictures I took the heavier the Nikon became, silly I know, but I found the climb tough, I don't suppose being middle-aged, overweight and unfit had anything to do with it though.
I arrived at the hotel red faced and sweating, I really was in a terrible state and the receptionist looked at me as if I was on fire. I think she was weighing up whether or not to call an ambulance. "Beer" I managed to mutter and was duly shepherded into the bar. I slept soundly that night.
In the morning I packed and presented myself at reception to checkout, I was handed my bar bill which unfolded majestically bouncing on the plush pile of the carpet. I didn't know whether to feel ashamed or have the thing framed.
On the drive north I mused on how wrong I was about Ramsgate and how out of touch I am about British resorts, I haven't been to Redcar in 25 years perhaps I should go back for another look. But the thought of that north-easterly wind blowing in from the Artic put things back into perspective; I'll play it safe and head for the Med.