Bexhill-on-Sea, November 8th 2014
By the time we hit Bexhill the warm southern wind is whipping off the channel in swiping gusts. We hear the local fireworks event has been cancelled due to the danger of rockets launching five feet in the air, abruptly bending to the horizontal and blowing children’s faces off.
The De La Warr is smaller than I had remembered it but beautifully sculpted and remarkably unspoilt. The auditorium is a wonderful room, perfectly proportioned and reverberating with a gentle slapback highly conducive to music and speech. I watch our opening act Ella The Bird and am enormously impressed with her composure and dynamic control. My own show feels too effortless to be trustworthy and my mind wanders during the last half hour; I go within and feel like I lose the crowd, leaving all a little stranded. The sea lies to my right twenty feet beyond the wall, black, tormented and distressed.
I take breakfast in our Hastings seafront hotel, a slightly stale Victorian pile of some grandeur. I’m greeted by a mad maître d’ with a northern European accent stronger than sauerkraut. He offers me a shitty little table which I ignore, taking a more luxurious corner location from which to observe. For some reason this act induces him to refer to me as “Frankenstein”, which rather warms me to him. Later, after I have filled up on ghastly lukewarm buffet fare he makes a beeline for me across the long room. He’s a fit little fucker for his advanced age. “You a beg financier, yes?” “No” “A financier?” “I’m a musician” “OK, you can advise me”
He then proceeds to conjure from his back pocket a piece of A4 which he unfolds ceremoniously and presents for my inspection. It’s a printout of a webpage containing obscure shares information. He appears to be seeking some sort of insider tip. He is either a satirist of estimable chutzpah or completely stupid, I’m entirely uncertain. But he’s so sweet I offer my expertise and peruse the document with fake concentration before informing him that I am unfamiliar with these stocks. This only encourages him to impart some sage advice which has something to do with Sainsbury’s, swimming and “Zero Two” going from “Oh-oh-oh three Pee” to “Sex Pee” in the month of September. Fuck me, this is gold dust – I’m in. Buy all the Zero Two shares you can!
I walk along the promenade in weak sunshine finding a little used clothes shop full of stuff from the States. It’s not bad and I eventually make a couple of purchases. The lady proprietor is American and I feel slightly sorry for her as she tries to make something hip in such a soggy place. Hastings is neither the worst nor best of anything, just mildly depressing and moderately decayed. Mould and mildew tinges everything with a sad bloom. It’s low-rent but robust like a frayed suit from Hepworth’s. I pass a pregnant pram-pusher who is surreptitiously vaping. An enormous gull with some ruffled plumage sticking out from the back of its head waddles along in front of me for a while, eyeing backwards for signs of a scrap. The sun lowers in the west and the front is suddenly illuminated in a soft yellow light, the slate sea miraculously pale blue. Purple clouds drop columns of blue rain out on the water and as the sun drowns in flames the scene becomes Turneresque. Hastings, I didn’t know you had it in you.
In the evening Mr. Niz leads us to a charming South Indian family restaurant in St. Leonard’s, recommended by the American lady in the togs outlet. The food is terrific. Then we drop into a pub called the Horse & Groom which some scoffing locals call the Doom & Gloom when we ask directions. It’s a warm and pleasant low-ceilinged place full of very quietly spoken tipplers. Mr. Niz relates “rock tales of the eighties” to my delight over a couple of pints of warm, chewy bitter.
There are expanses of blue sky above as we head out in the morning. Sussex with its hedgerows and curvaceous undulation is resplendently autumnal. We drive towards a perfect rainbow like seekers on some celestial quest until it evaporates in a blaze of light. Sussex is dense and impenetrable and gives glorious concealment to its many beautiful private estates, always just beyond view from the road. The signs speak of Sevenoaks and Tunbridge Wells, place names that sound laughably stuffy and repressed to us for reasons hard to fathom. The road widens into a duel carriageway and the monotony of the major artery takes hold. The sun lies behind us as the landscape flattens out, blasting colour into the remnant foliage.
Soon we are entwined in the dystopian morass of the Dartford crossing, high-sided vehicles crowding around us like enormous cattle. The miserable merry-go-round of the M25 beckons, the ring-road of gloom. It’s a collar buttoned around London’s neck; within its circle all the money hums and bleeds and pushes. We slip around it for while, weaving between lanes in an imitation of freedom.
Bury St Edmunds proves to be a quaint market town stuffed with history and pretty houses. Even the new shopping development around the venue is sensitively designed and in keeping with the area’s character. The venue is yet another well-equipped provincial arts theatre built in the Blair era. Britain is covered in such places, perhaps as result of lottery funding coming in during the nineties. It’s a nice little circuit, in its way. Perfect for motivational speakers, self-help gurus, magicians and disgraced politicians selling their memoirs. You could call it the liars’ trail.
I traipse groggily to the breakfast room in the morning. Our gaff is a Quality Inn; low on quality, high on treating its guests with disdain. The rooms are like cells in a particularly sadistic borstal. They turn off the heating at night, I notice, which considering my window doesn’t close, is a bit on the mean side. It’s all very Alan Partridge, apt in light of our proximity to Norwich. A business buffoon plonks himself far too close and gets under my skin, stirring the sugar in his coffee for a full minute like a demented ape. I begin to growl internally. I’m not a “morning” man. Mornings fill me with rage. They’re for wankers who should have stayed in bed. The only good morning is that which is empty of other people. I slink back to my cell and re-bed. They seem to have deactivated the wi-fi – perhaps they haven’t payed their bill. I have a notion not to pay mine.