Blackpool in December

A cairn of crushed Carling cans shows us where the departed (at Preston) once sat. It is the 10.53 AM. And clichés as if to stalk us, delight in showing as we alight at Blackpool, a teen in a tracksuit. And handcuffs. I feel a certain respect for him to be arrested before midday. He must have got up early. Who says the youth of today are lazy?  I see a sign advertising The Cheeky Girls. Live. Live Live.

A concrete wilderness of signs, (Apollo 2000!) dusty flickering neon tubes and underpasses under a blue December sky. Concrete cancer. Lighters for a pound that say ‘I love dogging’ and ‘Fancy a fuck?’  Tight denim and t-shirts bedecked with Louisa! Tracey! (there are lots of exclamation marks in Blackpool-it is the big gaudy exclamation mark of the North)  I hate hen nights and the matching clothes thing with names! on makes me more angry than it really should.

And talking of ill-fitting garments, my favourite thing about Blackpool is Steals, which ironically considering the name makes shoplifting if not redundant, at least not worth the effort.

A small inoffensive shop tucked away on a random street of desperate cafes (waitress service! boasts one pitifully on a curling faded neon star) is a Nirvana of nylon, a place where mutilated chain store clothes with their labels cut out to mask the shame of being here on this windy north shore are further humiliated by being for sale at ‘everything under five pounds!’

How the mighty have fallen. And at such pleasing prices. I buy sequined dresses with dodgy zips as if buying tins of warped economy beans-a careless glance and a fling onto the dejected boyfriends arms-this is not just any clothes shopping-this is Blackpool shopping. Famous labels (a veteran like me can tell the shop the dress is from by a forensic glance at the colour of remaining threads and size of mark left behind. I try and tell myself this is something to be proud of)

A sales assistant warns me that a dress I have chosen is five quid, the optimum spend in Steals. I say a careless “I know’ like a banker in Mayfair when told the price of a magnum of Krug. I leave this wondrous clothes mortuary with two loaded unnamed bags of last seasons Victorian inspired dresses, a pair of mittens minus a pom pom, some cool woolly flowery tights (‘these are two pounds, that’s why they were hung up-do you still want them”) and some just really stupid stuff that I liked and was a quid. Or didn’t like and was a quid.

Blackpool for it’s gaudy glory seems somehow fragile against the angry drunk snatching Irish sea-all mouth and no trousers like it’s trying to prove it’s not just huddled there, unfashionable and decaying as the water chunders silently around it. Blackpool Radio in the shops report of another reveller swept away, in almost a resigned way and I shudder at the thought of a combination of bravado, rogue waves and WKD.

I think of a mouldy wedding cake when I look at the tumbling white Victoriana and collapsed tile-shedding art deco of abandoned hotels and wind ravaged B and B’s. They still try here-despite the for sale signs and boarded up houses there is a new zig zaggy promenade, it is still busy, there is a terrible ‘rave’ where Blackpool football clubs mascot Bloomfield Bear dances in the street to a bastardised dance track with pastiched lyrics aimed at children–think Bob The Builder but less filled with subtle nuances. People whoop, dance and cheer, making the moves along with the man dressed as a teddy and his pointless hollering cheery sidekicks but I am not sure whether they are actually liking the ambience, being ironic or are just pissed. Or a heady combination of all three. No one comes out of it very well to be fair.

It is not yet 1pm. I feel like Mary Whitehouse because I have a scarf on and am not slaughtered.  To be fair, there are many families, more than I have see here previously, Christmas shoppers with brightly wrapped presents natter outside Accessorise and there is a mulled wine stall and an ice rink across from the Winter Gardens. The Winter Gardens are infused with a sense of glamour previously missing from my sojourn as there is a paparazzi (singular thus paparazzo?) with a long lens pointing at the intricate looming dome. I suspect the aim is not at Phil Cool advertised as tonight’s act, whom the world or at least the tabloids really wants to see and suspicions are confirmed at the realisation that the Royal Variety Show is on Monday.

Lots of people who look famous and rich (possibly due to the fact they have not got ‘Sal’s hen night! December 09!’ screen-printed across their chest) walk in and it’s suddenly all backstage at Glastonbury with wide-necked bouncers, cordoned off areas, VIP bits and girls with glossy hair looking horrified at their surroundings. They will be even more horrified when they learn the Variety Show’s TV scheduling has been changed to midweek so as not to clash with the X-Factor. The local paper, the Blackpool Gazette is very cross about this but also excited about the prospect of Lady Gaga who they talk about in shocked and excited tomes like they are not used to underdressed people behaving badly. Ever.

The Winter Gardens in an antidote to Blackpool. A sticking plaster as apposed to Steals! soothing bandage. That should really be the other way round but I am terribly shallow and love cheap clothes. It is cavernous and frilly, decorative and bedecked in gilt and plaster. Edwardian bling.

I wanted to go up the Blackpool tower but it was fourteen quid per person and could go to Berlin for that so refrained. It looks good though, all towery and err stuff.

The prom is butchered-new tram lines are being put in and it’s a mess, no workman can be seen, maybe they can’t resist the multitudes of cheap cafes and pitchers of neon cocktails for eight quid. The sea swills angrily grey and it scares me. I keep a cautious distance as I feel it would be an unglamorous death to die here. I am in the area to see my boyfriend’s grandma but I feel I might end up ‘reveller swept to death in Blackpool’. My mother would be so embarrassed. It is now 2pm-an acceptable time to really need a double gin.

We go to the Metropole.  A red brick sprawl of a hotel on the sea. Apparently one of the poshest. Probably because they don’t sell pitchers of blue stuff and label it a cocktail. I know this about the blue from bitter experience. Three times.

A glass of wine here is £1.50.  A cup of tea is £1.95. I demand my boyfriend drinks wine instead of his preferred choice of tea. I have a double gin -same price as a panini and I curse my southern ways for being surprised that paninis are sold here, hate myself and talk to a heavily mascared Scottish woman whose accent I can’t penetrate and beam when she tells me her cat has a tumour as I have some sort of time relapse when I can vaguely understand what someone has said about a minute after replying to it with gesture, facial twitches ot speech.  She is also angry about the wine/tea  price discrepancies. We both feel vindicated for choosing alcohol. Happily vindicated.

It is rather splendid inside the Metropole, huge embellished ceilings, plasterwork and general splendidness. My boyfriend comes out and shows me a picture he took of the urinals covered in yellow tape.

Onwards and upwards. As you can see, I have not mentioned the pier and other places that people might have found of interest. That is because I am not on expenses.  Also, I am 31 and winning a giant badly made Tigger is not high on my list of priorities. Possibly about eighth. After a lighter stating how much I love sex. (If only there was somewhere to get one for a reasonable price…)

Reasonable price! I have forgotten to mention B and M bargains! Well I hadn’t forgotten-how could I forget a place that sells Jamie Oliver pesto for 49p? (also see Morecambe review-B and M bargains seems to squat in the misery of forgotten seaside towns and make it all better by having cheap crisps and Ben 10 tattoo kits. They verily should be knighted. )

We get more Jamie Oliver ‘s branded products to span the high and low culture gap and because they are under 50p and some marinated peppers, olives and mushrooms for 30p. It is a smorgasbord of delights and oh my god, the one in Morecambe sold booze but this one sells fags. We welcome you, out new B and M overlord.   A true democracy.

There is an M and S here for the sake of balance. Blackpool is not entirely filled with discount outlets and obscene lighters and there are other posh (ish) chain shops. Though Thornton’s stopped being posh when it stared selling its big bags of misshapes for a quid in Home Bargains. It is however the place that salad forgot-I am on a diet but gave up and had a pasty. It was excellent. I do love Blackpool. I felt dead healthy having only one.

So Blackpool. Go there. I recommend Steals, don’t recommend it for a romantic stay but you’re not an idiot-you know that already. Sorry. But just walk around. It is fascinating. And remember people live there; it is not a living zoo. Just look. Look at what was before, look at the old peeling signs on derelict walls, look at the cavernous lobbies with peeling paint, look at the loftiness of the hotels and look at the sea. The sea remains the same and the sea remains the draw. And just remember.

PS. The Zingy Jamie Oliver pesto jar leaked in boyfriend’s bag. If you see an angry looking fellow smelling of coriander, let me know. You might win the other jar!

For more pictures from today click here

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