West to East: Every Picture

I don’t spend very much time looking back; the past is foreign country. Yet on the rare occasions I return to UEA, my impressions, initially, are always clouded by my teen-aged self and the shock of the new. Raw concrete under a leaden sky. Ladsun’s ziggurats slicing into sloping green. It all looks much softer today; climbers and tall trees blur the cutting edges, but the architectural puritan in me disapproves.

We’re visiting the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, taking the opportunity to catch up with some favourite pieces in the Sainsbury Collection whilst we’re in this part of the world. The best paintings, for me, are the ones that evoke an almost visceral response; a resonance like the hum of a tuning fork. Francis Bacon does it for me every time and there are some truly stunning examples here. Henry Moore’s touching images of sleeping shelterers move me too. Antonio Saura’s, Hiroshima, Mon Amour. It’s wonderful to see them again.

From Norwich it’s off to Cromer in search of another favourite image – the cover of Turning the Tide! Oh course, I’d have to go out to sea to capture it exactly and there are no rocks at Cromer for Harry to sit on - although maybe there are some at Little Spitmarsh, the sleepy seaside town in my book - but I can see enough to get that tingly feeling. Cromer and Little Spitmarsh both have a pier jutting out into the same sea, but they are not the same place. Little Spitmarsh is an amalgam of all the faded seaside towns that I love, but which are faced with uncertain futures caught between the need to modernise and the risk of losing all that makes them unique.

That dilemma’s at the forefront of my mind when Tom and I escape the rain and dive into a seafront café for fish and chips. The place is tired, feels as if it hasn’t been decorated since the ‘seventies and, despite being almost empty, no one is eating. So whilst we wait for food we sit and drink tea and enjoy the most fabulous panoramic view of the coast. Part of me wonders what someone like Rick Stein could do with a restaurant in a spot like this – the other half wonders, like my heroine, Harry, in Turning the Tide, if I could still afford to sit here if he did.


Flowerpot said…
I was brought up in an old seaside town rather like the one I live in now. I have happy memories of seeing The Sound of Music umpteen times in the cinema now long defunct. The pier is still there, though closed down now because of Health and Safety. I can't see Rick Stein going somewhere like Teignmouth, thuogh he has just opened afish and chip shop the other end of Falmouth.
Kath said…
Like Flowerpot, I grew up in or near seaside towns that resembled Little Spitmarsh in Turning the Tide. I think that's one of the reasons why the book resonated so much.

I used to especially love those towns out of season. I can see the need for progress and rejuvenating areas but not if it means we all end up living in an homogenised facsimile and there's no longer any place for character and celebrating a place's quirkiness.

I've never been to Cromer but now I have even more reason - I can go on the Turning the Tide tour!
Sallys Chateau said…
English seaside towns are very special its so sad when they become tired and small communities struggle. Anyway, I can't find whether you have sold or not, about to go through all that palaver yet again. My Great Uncle was once the Vicar of Cromer, riveting...
Going to the seaside was always a treat when we were growing up now am glad I have my own seaside to call home, well till my wanderlust kicks in again.
Love the pictures
Fennie said…
I've just read Rose Tremain's 'The Road Home' - and although the context is different the theme of a restaurant - a proper restaurant in a faded and dilapidated spot as a metaphor for personal rejuvenation is the same. Love that coastline. Lowestoft especially.
Pondside said…
Living on an island, there are lots of small, waterside villages. They struggle to survive now that fishing is a thing of the past. Tourists come but only for a few hours, preferring to stay in the city or in a chain hotel. At this time of year it all looks quite sad.
Talli Roland said…
I too grew up in a place right by the sea, albeit in Canada. When I first came to the UK, I thought the beaches and scenery were so beautiful. What I couldn't understand was why everything else seemed kind of, well, dreary and sort of defeated. It made me sad...
Debs said…
I loved the idea of Little Spitmarsh. I always think it's such a shame when another pier has caught fire, which seems to have happened a few times in the past couple of years.

I love visiting those little seaside towns.
Jane Lovering said…
Grew up in Exeter, visiting Dawlish every few days, the faded respectability and the pathetic attempts at continuing gentility still make me feel a little sad every time I go back. But the ice creams topped with clotted cream remain a very happy memory. There's a particular air to a seaside town that is down on its luck, one that Turning the Tide captures so well.
Frances said…
Chris, I enjoyed reading this post, and the prior comments, and then sort of contemplating how my own idea of living in a seaside place is derived totally from reading.

This realization makes me want to thank you again for show your readers the special atmosphere of such places in Turning the Tide.

It is so odd for me to have this lifetime accumulation of notions of life near the sea (in various countries) without the actual experience.

Many thanks to you and other fine writers! xo
Leigh Russell said…
Great photos. They bring back memories of the years I spent living by the sea. I love the sea.
Pauline Barclay said…
I spent many years living on the East coast, Lowestoft and my parents and brother still live there. So Norwich and Cromer are part of those lovely years. As you know I am reading Turning the Tide, which so reminds me of these places, but more on your book later. x
Chris Stovell said…
Fp, I'm sad to see those old piers falling apart, but I suppose they're a low priority in austerity Britain.

Kath, you've put your finger on it exactly; it would be such a shame to lose what's unique about those places in the rush to make them over... although I guess that's not going to happen much now either. Seaside towns out of season - another passion of mine too! Thanks for your kind comments about TTT!

Sally's Chateau - that IS riveting! I was going to make a comment about him having lots of Cromer crabs but it's not sounding quite right. No, no and no is the answer to the sale question just time and money wasters. Good luck!

Joanna, thank you... I wonder where the wanderlust will take you next? Will watch your blog to see.

Fennie, yes, I've read that too - a poignant read. Thought of that looking at the workers in the East Anglian fields too.

Pondside, Ma's been here remembering her trip to your country - she confirms that Vancouver Island is very beautiful!

Oh Talli, I wonder where you were in relation to Pondside? Stepson 1's fiance is from Montreal... and I now know how far away that is from Pondside! Interesting observation - I think it's that sadness that draws me.

Debs, Thank you!. Yes, I saw that too - it was a real shame, wasn't it?

Hi Jane, clotted cream on ice cream? I'd better come with you next time... for research purposes. Ta, m'dear.

Frances, there's an open invitation for you here anytime you want to some and stay by the sea. Thanks for your kind comment. cx

Leigh, I love it too... although I'm getting a tad nervous about our Irish Sea crossing later today!

Pauline, another place we share in common then! Eek, hope you enjoy the book.
BT said…
I didn't know you had a new book? I must buy it! I have been very bad at visiting you. No time, poor excuse really. I love Cromer, and have relatives there from my first marriage. Sadly they are elderly and not too well at the moment.

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