As a child Weston-super-Mare was the nearest seaside town, and childhood visits with Grandparents stay in my mind – my parents were always too busy working for holidays!, And my next brother down was still a baby. What do I remember? – The endless mud on the ‘beach” with just a glimpse of the far-off flat, grey sea, that one thought it might be possible to reach, though never was. The smell of the seaside. Was it ozone, was it rotting seaweed or maybe untreated sewage. Having now travelled extensively round our shoreline I think most likely, the middle of the three. And another of those faint lingering memories was of the pier, with its terrifying glimpses of the swirling sea beneath (when it was actually in of course) through the worrying gaps in the slats of the decking; and penny in the slots machines of ‘What the Butler Saw’ particularly mystifying to me as I wondered what on earth might be interesting about it, and why the butler even bothered to look.
Since then I really can’t remember having been on another pier, and I suppose I imagined that most piers are similar, so I have to say Brighton Pier exceeded my expectations. And if childhood memories lend magnitude to remembered places, on the principal that you were much smaller in stature at the time, and everything is remembered in proportion, then Weston-super-Mare pier may be even more of a disappointment should I choose to revisit. Brighton Pier was enormous and seemed to go on forever. If not as big as a small town it would certainly rival a village, and I have to say I enjoyed it more than I expected.
As it was so very windy most of the rides were shut, though I doubt I would have used them had they been open, but I went to The Palm Court Restaurant to have fish and chips. The fish was very fresh, in a beautiful light, crunchy batter, and a good sized portion, which it needed to be for the price, but one is in a touristy place so that is to be expected – and though the mushy peas were nothing special the chips were excellent.
It was great to get inside, out of the wind and many of the tables had seats near the windows with views out to sea, including the burnt out remains of the West Pier
Unfortunately that evening I was incredibly sick, but I would like to think the two happenings were not connected, and that I just picked up some horrid bug from somewhere. But horrid it certainly was and I can only remember being so hideously sick once before.
As I result of not sleeping throughout the night I slept in late next day, missing my check-out time, but when I popped down to the Caravan Club Site Office later to explain they were fine about it, and I paid for an extra night. What is it with me and caravan sites? I seem to be ill so often when I stay.
Still I haven’t finished telling you about the pier, and seeing a Murmuration of Starlings.
Now I have to say this is not a spectacle I have never witnessed. Each year in the pre-Christmas season as children, we were taken Christmas shopping to see the lights and window displays in central Birmingham. The spectacle of the incoming birds was most impressive, as was the noise they made, which almost drowned out the roar of the traffic.
In the fifties and sixties they had not worked out how to exterminate the millions upon millions of starlings which flocked to the city to roost each evening, though of course they did so later. How we as a nation can be so forceful in demanding developing countries protect their environment after the things we have done, and are still doing, is beyond me.
But back to the murmuration. I had thought of visiting an RSPB site on the Somerset Levels, but phoning the reserve they were a bit coy about the likelihood of seeing the flocks, which seemed an ill-omen, and as I was travelling to Poole anyway, Brighton was almost on the way.
It was still sunny when I left the restaurant after my Fish Supper, but already the flocks were swirling and diving into the spaces under the pier to roost on the girders, making patterns over the sea and against the horizon. It was mesmerising to watch, and I feel that a Mesmerisation of Starlings would be a better term: particularly as any ‘murmuring’ they did that evening was drowned by the crashing and sucking back of the waves on the shingle shore. And the Birmingham starlings of my childhood should have been called a Screeching of Starlings, or maybe even a Splattering of Starlings, as the ‘Good Luck’ which rained down was sometimes hard to avoid.
That evening I stood and watched the Brighton Pier flocks coming in for nearly half an hour, by which time the sun had gone and the pier lights were twinkling. As I turned to go – by now throughly chilled and with a two mile ride in ahead of me – I saw the warm glow of the inside of the Fortune Teller’s gaily painted Gypsy Vardo. ‘Why not’….. went through my mind…… then I saw the sign reading £20…… and thought again!
I half considered asking for a discount with the reasoning that I probably didn’t have as much life left to ‘tell’ as the rest of her customers. But having had negotiations with gypsies in the past I knew things had a tendency for turning acrimonious, and in any case Little Miss Phoebe was waiting for me back in Thebus.
So we will just take have to the future as it comes!