Saturday, 20 November 2010

Weston-super-Mare - the most depressing dump I've ever spent a night in

So, it’s almost twenty years ago, and we’re heading back from a stay at St. Kew, a tiny, pretty village in North Cornwall. It’s a chilly early spring afternoon and we’re traveling in our ancient, normally very reliable Renault 9. My mother’s with us. We stop for tea and sarnies at Sedgemoor Services, and when we try to take off again, the exhaust pipe drops off. 

The AA eventually arrives. Needs a new exhaust pipe (which even I had figured out). Nearest Renault garage: Weston-super-Mare. Apart from being the birthplace of John Cleese and Jeffrey Archer, we know nothing about it.

The AA chap phones the garage, winches up the car and off we go. The garage says it will be ready by midday tomorrow. I phone the BBC newsroom and tell them I won’t be back for my shift the next day. We get a cab from somewhere and ask the driver if he can take us to a decent B&B. (I have no idea why we didn’t choose a hotel – we were both working and could have afforded it). The driver reaches the outskirts of town and halts outside a neat little upper-working class terraced house. 

Middle-aged woman, husband skulking in the background, always somehow just out of sight (we never get to see him). We all take turns in a nasty little plastic bath: there’s hardly any hot water. The beds are short, the mattresses tired and soft. Hungry, we head downstairs and ask if there’s a decent restaurant nearby: no, but there’s a take-away a few streets away. Too knackered to contemplate another cab ride into downtown Weston, we go with the suggestion and set off.

It is all horrible: so ghastly that, within 200 yards, I just want to slit my wrists. Mean little 1930s houses turn into mini-versions of council tower-blocks. There are no shops, no libraries, nothing whatsoever to snag one’s interest or to offer relief from the unutterable grey boring nullity  – just an endless parade of featureless four-storey, concrete squares separated by patches of scrubby, diseased-looking grass. If it were colder, this could be Minsk. The local teenagers – the only human beings (well, sort of) in evidence - are hanging around  benches swigging cans of lager, smoking, looking distinctly sub-normal, like human litter blown there haphazardly by the wind. They stare at us sullenly. I begin to wonder whether there’s a police station nearby or a working phone box (this is pre-mobiles). Or, in fact, anything!

Eventually, we reach the take-away – the one sign of human endeavour we’ve passed in ten minutes. The zombie clientele stare at us as if we’re spacemen. The staff remain expressionless, but that’s mainly because they’re Chinese – I’m tempted to ask them how in the name of God they managed to wind up in this soulless wasteland. We order fish and chips (fastest thing on the menu) and scuttle back to our bookless, lifeless lodgings. Stuff our faces in our nasty little rooms. We’re beside the sea, so you’d think the fish would be relatively fresh: it isn’t, and the batter tastes weird.

Into bed. Shuddering at the slimy nylon sheets. Then someone clumps heavily up the stairs, takes a 100-decibel piss somewhere nearby, enters the no doubt postage stamp-sized room next to us and starts to play Heavy Metal music VERY LOUDLY. I reach out and hammer the communal wall (which appears to be made of cardboard), and ask if he – I’m guessing it’s one of the subnormals we’ve just encountered – would be so kind as to turn his music down (I may not have used those exact words, I’ll admit). The music goes down, accompanied by contumacious gruntings.

Sleep is hard to come by: it’s stifling, and we can’t figure out how to turn the heating off. Besides, the mattress means it’s like sleeping on a Bouncy Castle.

Over our distinctly ungenerous breakfast, the lady of the house says she hopes their son didn’t disturb us last night. I say, “What do you bloody think!” – well, no, I prevaricate. It’s nine, and peeing down outside. Having seen quite enough of Weston, I ask if we can hang around in our rooms until our car’s ready. Mrs. Helpful lies through her teeth about another couple turning up at eleven – yeah, likely! – and follows this up by informing us that she can’t store our luggage for three hours. Cow!

Wearily, I ask if she could call us a cab – half-expecting her to inform us that they don’t run to a telephone – but she does so. We ask to be taken to the best hotel on the front. We’re deposited outside a run-down Victorian mausoleum. Still raining. We manage to stow our luggage behind the reception desk and repair to the lounge-bar and order tea. And look around. It’s full of old women: unbelievably old – massively, terribly old. They’re clustered bewilderedly round every available table. There’s a picture window. We stare out at the sea. Even the sea is boring in Weston-super-Mare. 

I glance at my watch. It’s not even ten. The old people act like dementors on me, and I suddenly realize I am on the verge of tears. Mercifully, the rain has eased. We head outside and walk up and down the esplanade for ages as the seconds crawl past.

Many years’ later, it’s time to pick up the car. If it’s not ready, I say, I am going to start walking back to London. It is. We return to the hotel of the not-quite-dead and collect our bags.

I have never been so relieved to leave a town in my life. If someone were to inform me that someone was now waiting for me on the beach at Weston-super-Mare with a suitcase containing £5 million and all I had to do to make it mine would be to drive there and collect it, I would rather do without.

I’ve been in far dirtier, unfriendlier, poorer places many times, but I’ve never been anywhere quite so crushingly bereft of sou!

There - I feel better for that!


  1. I spent a week in the place as a child on a family holiday, and I have fond memories of it, but we avoided Chinese takeaways and B&Bs. Maybe you should return one day when the sun is shining and your car is working. I'm sure if you found yourself stranded in the off season in one of the less salubrious resort in your beloved Cornwall you'd react in exactly the same way.
    Wednesday, December 1, 2010 - 12:05 PM