You can never go back
Twenty five years ago, in 1981 my extended family all went on holiday to Torquay (famous for being Agatha Christie's home town and the place where Fawlty Towers was set). It was the longest journey we'd ever made and a number of notable events happened there, which made it memorable. These included seeing the BeeGees being mobbed by adoring crowds as they left a hotel, and my 6-year old sister falling into a pond while feeding ducks and nearly drowning. I became addicted to Ms Pacman in the hotel bar, and won the fruit machine jackpot of 50p (which was a lot of money to a 9 year old in those days), and then lost all my winnings again on the same machine - I've been a sworn anti-gambler ever since. Despite all this, it was a great holiday. And in many ways, I viewed Torquay as the perfect holiday resort and unconciously have been looking for its equivalent ever since - which probably explains my obsession as an adult with similar seaside resorts like Morecambe, Blackpool, Southport, Brighton, the Isle of Mann, Weston-Super-Mare and Llandudno. To me, there's something painfully beautiful about British seaside resorts - they're often a few decades behind the rest of the country so it's about as close to time travel that you can get. And that's only accentuated because I associate them with all my childhood summer holidays - when time itself seemed to stretch out like chewing gum, the weather was always hot and I was never unhappy or upset. Now, a lot of these seaside places are somewhat faded, long past their heyday, the hotels containing people claiming benefits rather than middle-class holiday makers (who have long since started taking their holidays in Spain and Greece), the proms containing screaming, binge-drinking hen and stag parties and the town centres depressing and identical. The fact it's usually raining doesn't help much either. Try as I might, all of these years I've never really been able to recapture that holiday in 1981.
Anyway, now that I live in Bristol, Torquay is about 2 hours away, and this weekend I went back there. I'm not sure what I was expecting to find. Of course, I've changed. And Torquay has changed too. Although a lot of the buildings and streets were almost exactly the same, and a few buried memories resurfaced - I remember being fascinated by the exotic yucca trees that were everywhere (Torquay has one of the mildest climates in Britain), touching one to see if it was real and a huge frond detaching itself in my hand - I felt so guilty about that. I also saw a signpost to the park where my sister had her near-drowning accident - Cockington Park, and I remembered making up a song about it after it had happened - a memory that had lain buried for a quarter of a century. I remembered my mother dispproving of a man reading The Sun (because it had topless Page 3 girls), and us being fascinated when we saw a snake on the pavement. I saw the place where the BeeGees had been mobbed and realised it wasn't a hotel after all, but the main theatre.
It rained almost all the time, and the town centre is depressing and a lot of the people looked grim and breadline poor, and I realised that Torquay had lost some of its glamour. Although maybe it was always like that and I just hadn't noticed in 1981. But despite all that, it is still achingly, breath-takingly beautiful - more beautiful than any place I have ever visited. And I can't wait to go back.