A typical Hastings resident - an inflatable Father Christmas. I'm sure he was tethered there last Christmas too. That new block of flats on the Stade (the Fishermen's Quarter) has taken an awfully long time to build! Things happen very slowly in Hastings.
Two days ago I met up with Emma - now a forty-something married lady with three children in their late teens - but once my step-daughter's teenage school friend. That was during my London days in the 1980s, when essentially I was (in relation to her) in the same position as a parent. Since then I've sort of transitioned from amiable parent figure to older woman friend, because, of course, in later life an age difference of eighteen years is nothing much - or it isn't, if you have a similar outlook! But I will still say 'sort of transitioned' because I can't help feeling, even now, just a bit responsible for her welfare and happiness, despite the levelling-up of our relationship in adult life.
Nowadays we meet every couple of months for a day out, and go off for lunch and (depending on the weather and the season) either somewhere interesting, or somewhere we can shop a bit. But in any event, to have a great day out, and a good catch-up. Last time it was Knowle and Sevenoaks. This time, Hastings (of 1066 fame).
For those who don't know Hastings, it's generally perceived as the Cinderella of the big Sussex resorts. It has merged on its west side with St Leonards, once a very grand place indeed (especially around Warrior Square), but now rather sad. On the east side, high sandstone cliffs loom, from which the whole town can be seen in magnificent panorama. Hastings had its 'modern' heyday in the stylish 1920s, and has been in decline ever since. It's full of fine buildings, and has a quaint Old Town, but it all looks decrepit, and seems largely unchanged and unpainted from when I first saw it in the 1970s.
Piers are great indicators. It has a burnt-down pier.
It's become tatty and unfashionable, rather than merely cheap and cheerful. It's lost its way. It lacks good road connections with the rest of the south-east, and there are no big employers except possibly the Conquest Hospital. (The hospital's famous Eye Unit was set up after King Harold caught an arrow in his left mince pie* in 1066) Apart from its summer role as a traditional fish-and-chippy seaside resort, there aren't any really compelling reasons to visit Hastings, except as somewhere else to go to, just for a change. It hasn't even made itself a prime centre for the Arts, as Folkestone has, although there is now an attempt at a 21st century gallery on the sea front.
If it ever becomes once more an 'in' place to live, and receives a massive injection of EU funds to brighten it up, Hastings will certainly bloom again. All it needs is a colossal team of painters and carpenters. Until then, all one can do is savour its highly individual, decayed character - and it does have a lot of that!
Did I mention fish-and-chips? To give Hastings its due, it is one of the best places in Sussex - nay, in England - to eat this traditional British seaside hunger-busting standby. Em and I headed straight to The Mermaid Restaurant in the Fishing Quarter, for a great-value lunch. Here's myself, about to tuck in, complete with mug of tea:
The restaurant makes a lot of its 'mermaid' theme, and we were sitting beneath a big painted mural, depicting a rather scary-looking mermaid hitching a ride off a passing dolphin. Note particularly her Medusa-like hair, elbow fins, and super-sharp fingernails!
The wide-angle lens has of course exaggerated the size of her boobs, and I thought that mermaids were always completely bare-breasted anyway, but essentially this is the old-time sailors' dream: a sexy siren with unearthly commanding eyes and Boots No7 lipstick, who lures men into the green depths. Even though the old-time salts and jack tars fantasised in the f'o'c's'le about making love to such a hybrid woman, I've always been puzzled about the practicalities. I mean, where would her naughty bits be? Under that red-finned fish's discreet dorsal fin? Who can say.
Well, leaving aside such imponderables, Emma and I headed along the seafront into the town centre. We went via George Street, which is a pedestrianised street full of very individual quaint-and-quirky shops and eateries (actually, here is a special reason to visit Hastings, just for this street). Emma spotted a lovely red and black cardigan with a huge, luxurious, black faux-fur collar - very French - and tried in on. It was fatal. She bought it as a Christmas present to herself. I resisted buying anything on this occasion, but succumbed within the hour, as you shall see.
On then into town, passing shops which sold stuff like this:
Not my kind of look, but somebody would like wearing it. Queen Boadacea? (or Boudicca, if you must) You know, the Essex chariot lady.
We came across a blue Police Box. Not one belonging to Dr Who! A real, genuine Police Box, with an official Sussex Police sticker on it. The sort policemen nip into when they want a cuppa. Or to try on ladies' underwear. Note the padlock. A photo opportunity.
Hastings did have a modern shopping centre full of the usual High Street retailers - so up-to-date, it seemed a very odd contrast with the rest of the town. We had a good mooch around that. Here we are messing around in Bhs, for instance:
Then suddenly it was almost 4.00pm. We headed to Debenhams. I wanted to find a superior party skirt - or even better, a dress - at a sale price. And I found it! I tried it on:
I know, I look ever more whale-like. But it was exactly what I wanted. The fabric was silver and gold. It emphasised my bust, waist and hips in a way that would look good in a party situation. Emma approved. Its new price was £55, and it was marked down to £27.50. It seemed to have my name on it. It was a deal.
After our day was over, and I was back home, I liked it even more. Here are some evening shots, plus a daytime shot:
As you can see, it looks more silver, or more gold, depending on the light source. It has a grey lining. I will wear black tights and my new black flats with it, nothing around my neck, and, for travelling to the party in, my posh dark grey Windsmoor winter coat. The party is in Brighton this very evening, and I'm taking the train, and need to wrap up well. That's a lot of grey, black and silver; so, to introduce a bright colour accent, I have bought some red-purple lipstick by Rimmel - definitely more stand-out than my usual plum shade.
All set, then!
Between now and 3.00pm (when I trek off to the nearest station) I may if there's time visit Halfords in Burgess Hill to check out their range of breathalysers. I see on their website that they sell three or four kinds. The Police are cracking down massively on drinking-and-driving, and so henceforth I'm going to be very careful about my blood-alcohol level. There's another motive too. I suspect that my inability to get the fat off myself may be partly due to too much white wine, even though I usually touch the stuff only on Tuesdays and Sundays. A psychological nudge from a little, easy-to-carry, blow-into digital breathalyser would help.
Last night I rediscovered an alternative strategy: drink tasty but low-calorie concoctions. I was being treated to a drink, and wanted something that wasn't alcoholic but still interesting. What about a tomato juice and Worcester sauce (with ice, but without the vodka)? Yes... Well, it was spicy and savoury and utterly delicious. So, if I drive, I'll now have my initial glass of wine, then go onto something like this. Looks like a good plan to me.
* 'Mince pie' is Cockney rhyming slang for 'eye'. I thought everyone knew this, but evidently not.