Tuesday 15 December 2009

East Coast and Adnams

Suffolk is surely up there amongst my favourites of the English Counties. I've been living (on and off), and visiting there for the best part of thirty years and it still has the power to seduce. A recent weekend stay in Southwold had, on paper, nothing going for it all; almost continuous rain and the sort of hoorays in the pubs of the type who turn up the collars of their rugby shirts whilst guffawing over-noisily with their chums. And yet I can't dislike a place which still boasts proper greengrocers, butchers and great pubs riven through with a tangible atmosphere of 50's Britain. The WiFi in The Swan gives the game away but the Sailors' Reading Room maintains its inner calm as a sanctuary for the inquisitive visitor as well as being a reminder of the total commitment this town had to its maritime industry. Faded photographs of moustachioed cork-belted lifeboatmen modestly hint at the stories of immense bravery enacted in Sole Bay. Who couldn't fall for a town with a lighthouse at its centre? And the place is benignly overseen by that remarkable firm of brewers messrs. Adnams. A favourable sort of paternalism seems to run throughout the town, for the company owns much that is good and great about Southwold. I visited their small off-licence and was served by a charming local girl. On the following day I bought more goodies at their stunning new 'Cellar and Kitchen' store and was served by the same person. She seemed so happy in her work (as do most Adnams staff) that I was prompted to ask if this were true. She said that they were the most wonderful company to work for and that the chairman knew everyones name...indeed his office was always open if you wanted a chat. Now how many companies do you know that are run like that? Of course I may be wrong and it's all a front - but somehow I think not. They have a knack for doing things right; the pubs are well run and serve good beer and food, the new store has had immense thought put into its design utilising the most modern sustainable techniques in its construction, and the distribution centre just outside Southwold at Reydon is a triumph of modern architecture and practicality. Blimey! even the advertising is great, featuring as it does the inspired illustrations of the highly talented Chris Wormell which are so scrumptious they make you wish you were in Southwold on a permanent basis. What a talented young man he is...he's even produced out-of-register prints to be affixed to the Gents' lavatory doors to remind you of the dangers of over imbibing - sadly the only feature of an otherwise exemplary campaign that failed to work on me.

The pier too is worth a visit. Open every day apart from Christmas day it contains some beautifully comedic 'amusements' for the tripper to enjoy. Needless to say Punch and Judy too 'in season'. Incidentally the only pier to have been totally rebuilt in 21st century Britain.

Sorry about picture quality...operator error and near darkness.

Southwold, I can't wait to come back.

Monday 7 December 2009

I must go down to the sea again

A powerfully dramatic sea doing its best to broach the coastal defences. Nothing quite like a bracing walk along the prom on a gale-lashed sunday afternoon. There's an undercliff walk from Saltdean all the way to Brighton thanks to its remarkable accessibilty. The original 'Dover' road along the cliff tops has long since vanished and to prevent further encroachment during the recession-hit nineteen thirties Brighton Corporation embarked upon a programme of sea defences. Huge government grants provided work for ex miners and workers from some of the most distressed areas of Wales which is why there's still a preponderence of Evans' and Jones' in Brighton's eastern Kemptown area. My wife's father and grandfather as locals found employment there after a lifetime of farm work. The labour was hard and governed by the tides and with virtually no mechanical assistance, extremely dangerous. My father-in-law's job was initially as tea boy in charge of producing industrial quantities of the thirst quenching fluid, ready mixed with condensed milk and sugar, served up in scrubbed galvanised buckets. Later he progressed to being a labourer where the combination of freezing water and piece-work eventually drove him to sign up with the Lifeguards (military version) for an equally colourful and character-forming career. The undercliff work was completed and still stands today as testament to those hardy souls who built it.