For a long time, I’ve trusted in the mantra that if you take a plane somewhere, than that holiday is going to be better than the place you were originally. This is particularly true of England, what with it having unpredictable and uninspiring weather, and not much of a ‘holiday vibe’ to large swathes of it. As long as you get your cramped Ryanair flight, feel slightly hotter than when you got on the plane and perhaps indulge in an ice cream or four, then huzzah you have a holiday.
As a result I’ve always been sceptical of holidays based in England. I was never taken to Cornwall or the Lake District as a child, and although I’d always slightly envied the freckly middle class kid who took surf holidays with their cool Bohemian bourgeois parents, I still maintained that a holiday abroad was better than a staycation. And no, getting a plane from a place in England to another place in England doesn’t count, you fuel-guzzling Earth murderer.
As someone lucky enough to have taken a year abroad this year, I’ve found myself travelling significantly more than I usually do. More often than not to get away from the mind-numbing and expensive place I was studying, but also because who doesn’t like a holiday in the middle of February when you’re being fed free money by the EU? I flew to Milan (3 times), Munich, Stockholm, Copenhagen and more, enjoying my holiday criteria – great food, sun and a foolish disregard for spending money. I felt like George Clooney in Up In The Air, sniffing at the amateur passengers who hadn’t packed their liquids in the correctly-sized plastic bag (It doesn’t count if it’s in your wash bag you morons), and tutted at those who entered the airplane from the wrong end. I was the boss of low budget flights.
Then I went to Devon. North Devon, to be precise, near Ilfracombe. Did you know Damien Hurst has a sculpture on the sea front at Ilfracombe? No, I bet you didn’t.
The English seaside is the shit. For years I had tolerated crappy expensive Spanish resorts, flights with questionable safety records, swimming pools with poo in them, all because I wanted a goddamn holiday and I thought a panini in a ghastly cafe in Italy was bound to be better than one in England. The English seaside has everything you could ever want, plus fudge the size of your fist.
Let’s start with the food at the beach. For the first 24 hours after my arrival, I ate a scone with cream and jam, fish and chips, a bacon and egg butty and some beer fudge. Delicious, disgusting, fatty, greasy sweet food. One day I got ice cream, and then they covered it in clotted cream. That’s just cream on cream, at varying temperatures. This is the place where England rivals America with its cholesterol content: deep fried everything, plus ice cream, plus pasties, plus sweets, plus cream tea, plus chips. And it’s all ‘traditional’, so it’s culturally justified.
I will level with you that excessive amounts of fat after a while gets quite repulsive, and while the seaside is generally full of places to get fried variants, there are also pretentious places that do bulgar wheat salads and duck with lentils. If you feel too snobby to eat with the plebs, then there are places that will charge you £4 more for food fried to similar degrees, but presented in a brown ceramic dish and called ‘English Tapas’, which will satisfy any class pretensions. Either way, there is a delicious selection of food that is above and beyond the standard of equally cheap places abroad, occasionally if not always seeped in oil and/or clotted cream.
Thanks to global warming, you can actually now get a tan in England. As long as you frequent the beach between June and August, then you’re almost guaranteed at least one day of sun, potentially two. It’s not real sun though – it’s English sun – which means no factor 30 for me my friend. The sea is surprisingly warm (cough Portugal) and instead of water that just lies there and does nothing, most beaches are surfable, which means giant waves that crash over you and leave you choking from salty water, seaweed in your private parts and a semi-detached bikini. The risk of sudden death really ups the fun.
The seaside holds no snobbery. Everyone is welcome, from your proper working class beer-bellied sunburnt Brits to your elitist shirt and chino wearer. One will go to a chip shop because it’s cheap, the other because it looks ‘authentic’ in that certain fetishisation of the working class. The beaches of England welcome all. That is, as long as you’re white. The seaside is crazily homogeneous, and contains ‘ethnic’ stores, that of course don’t actually refer to the ethnicity they’re referring to, but you’re meant to just infer that it means the ’spiritual East’ or the Orient or something, and sell candles and incense and beads and stuff. The beach could probably do with fewer white people, and less racism.
Apart from the abrasive whiteness of the place, the warm seas, food and shops that sell buckets and nets all do it for me. They epitomise everything I want from a holiday – good food and cultural authenticity. And it’s true, the seaside really does depict a true England, it hasn’t changed much since my dad went there with his family 40 years ago. It’s cheap, you don’t have to be a posho to go there, and no one judges you when you walk into a fudge shop in a bikini and Crocs. No need to look any further than England any more, the perfect holiday is right here on your doorstep, rolled in batter and deep-fried.
By Ruby Lott-Lavigna