The country has charms only for those not obliged to stay there. (Edouard Manet)
After last weekend's Latitude Festival, due to a chain of unforseeable events, I was forced to spend 24 hours in a small town on the East Coast of England.
I won't tell you how we got there (there were two of us) which is a story in itself, but we spent all Monday waiting for a ride out: someone who'd voluteered to take us all the way to Oxford but couldn't get to us until the evening. The ride would come at 3pm, 5pm, perhaps 7pm. We would make the best of it. We would have a day at the seaside. We might even enjoy ourselves.
The town, which has an amber museum and a sailors' reading room, is the closest point to the Netherlands on the British coast and - reborn as a holiday resort - has been re-designed for enjoyment. While my companion was asleep I read the guidebooks in the flat we had found ourselves renting. Inside the books children played on the sunny beach. Outside the books - outside our window, which said, DO NOT OPEN - elderly Londoners in expensive maritime anoraks carefully transported newspapers up and down the main street through a fine drizzle.
Don't get me wrong: this place was heaven compared to the day before but...
After WG Sebald travelled through East Anglia, Stuart Jeffries retraced his steps for The Guardian, finding a "kind of narrative unreliability that makes you wonder if Sebald's stories can be trusted at all. At a hilariously dismal-sounding Lowestoft hotel, did he really bend his fork on a battered fish "that had doubtless lain entombed in the deep-freeze for years"? And can it really be true that the narrow-gauge railway near here once carried a train originally built in China to convey the emperor?
Like Sebald, we found that our town provided two types of excitement: the natural...
and the specially invented.
The town was fully aware of this. We were slightly sad to find that the pier's slot machines had been converted into a selection of atemporal/Steampunk objects which were just a bit bossy about the way you might enjoy them.
There's no joke so bad as one that explains itself, especially on a dull day (or maybe we were just in no mood for it).
We were delighted to find a genuinely atemporal cafe in a dark basement complete with cress garnishes, salad cream in sachets, and waitresses who were both rude and slow.
There is nothing good to be had in the country, or, if there be, they will not let you have it. (William Hazlitt)
The hours between 5 and 7pm were long. I did a lot of pacing on the cream carpet inside the flat in front of the window that said, DO NOT OPEN. My companion said, I hope you're you not still wearing your outdoor shoes!