Seaside Piers by Richard King

Story type: Essay

The only real excitement I can ever perceive about a Seaside Pier is when the sea washes half of it away. To me, Seaside Piers are the most deadly things. You pay tuppence to go on them, and you generally stay on them until you can stay no longer because–well, because you have paid tuppence. Having walked along the dreary length of the tail-end which joins the shore, there seems really nothing to do at the end of your journey except to spit over the side. Of course, there are always those derelict kind of amusements such as putting a penny in a slot and being sprayed with some vile scent; or putting a ha’penny in another slot and seeing a lead ball being shot into any hole except the one in which, had it disappeared therein, you would have got your money back. For the rest, I am sure that half the people remain on them for the simple reason that tuppence is tuppence in these days or any other days. Of course, there is generally a band which plays twice, sometimes three times, a day; but it is not a band which ever does much more than blast its way through a selection from “Carmen,” or a fantasia on “Faust.” Of course, if you like crowds–well, a pier is for you another name for Paradise. Nobody uses the tail-part except to walk to the end, or from it, on the side which is protected from the wind. But the end of a pier–where it swells and the band plays–is a kind of receptacle which receives the human debouch. There you have the spectacle of what human beings would look like if they were put into a bowl, like goldfish, and had nothing to do but swim round and round.

I suppose there is an amusement in such a picture–because, look at the women who come there every morning and bring their knitting! And the “flappers” and the “knuts”–they seem never to tire of seeing each other pass and re-pass for a solid hour on end! Why do they go there? It cannot be to see clothes, because the most you see, as a rule, is a white skirt and blouse and a brown neck all peeling with the heat! They must go there, then, because to go on the pier is all part and parcel of the seaside habit–and an English seaside, anyway, is one big bunch of habits, from the three-mile promenade of unsympathetic asphalt, with its backing of houses in the Graeco-Surbiton style, to the railway station at the back of the town, where antiquated “flies” won’t take anybody anywhere under half-a-crown. It belongs, I suppose, to that strain of fidelity which runs through the British “soul”–a fidelity which finds expression in facing death sooner than forego roast beef on Sunday, and will applaud an old operatic favourite until her front teeth drop out. It is all very laudable, but it has its “trying” side. One becomes rather tired of the average seaside resort, which is built and designed rather as if the “authorities” believed that God made Blackpool on the Seventh Day, and it was their religious duty to erect replicas of His handiwork up and down the coast. And under this delusion piers, I suppose, were born.

Well, certainly they are convenient to throw yourself off the end of them. Happily–or unhappily, whichever way you look at it–the town council never seem to know quite what to do with them. Beside the penny fair and the brass band, they only seem to be the haven of rest for fifth-rate theatrical touring companies, who manage to pay for their summer outing in the theatre erected at the end. Otherwise their importance consists chiefly in being a convenient place for the “flapper” to “meet mother,” and to carry on a violent flirtation, without the slightest danger, with any Gay Lothario in lavender socks who kind o’ tickles them with his eyes and makes them giggle. But for myself, who have no mamma to meet, nor any desire to flop about with “flappers,” piers are deadly things. Their great excitement is when the sea washes half of them away at a moment when, apparently, five thousand people living in boarding-houses had only just vacated them. And sometimes even that miraculous escape seems a pity! What do you think?

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