Go Weston, Young Man
One of the great benefits of my self-employed working life is having the opportunity to take random time off; to close down the laptop after the early shift and head off to the seaside.
A twenty-minute ride on the train and I am in Weston-super-Mare, the English seaside at its best, or its worst, perhaps, depending on who’s side you’re on. As I am on the side of ‘Us’, Weston will do just fine. After a brief walk from the railway station, I am on the seafront and - depending on whether I want to call in at Waterstones and on what time I have agreed to meet a pal at the old brass rail - ready for a walk up or down the promenade. This decision also rests on the weather conditions, specifically the wind speed, because, as the weatherman says, when it blows in Weston you don’t half cop it. I have seen pavement signage and waste bins hurtling down the street as if pursued by the hurricanes summoned up by King Lear.
Proustian rushes are suitably delivered by nets of beachballs hanging outside souvenir shops and cafes, along with plastic beach cricket sets, sunhats, and sunglasses which are unlikely to see out the day and impossible to see out of. It is at this point that we pass the pier. We pass the pier, please note, we do not go on the pier. Not since they started charging a quid for the pleasure of acting as ‘it’ in a game of full-contact tag with mobility scooters and pushchairs, where the pursued has few options of escaping by veering off to the left or right without getting soaked, and possibly sinking up to their tits (or worse) in Weston’s notoriously muddy sands.
As my mum says whenever I mention that I’ve paid a visit to WSM, “Your father took me there once. Dreadful place with a muddy beach.” Although, I suspect those words have more to do with giving my old man a casual shoeing, seeing as his right of reply expired along with his heart in 1996.
Have bypassed the pier, I like to call in next at a pub on the front. A place where I have seen blokes necking vodka chasers at 11 a.m., where uncollected plates of abandoned food and used glasses abound, where the tables are sticky, although not as sticky as the floor. It’s not so bad once I have my big bottle of Italian lager (and a glass, please), and can take a seat on a high stool in a spot by the window and enjoy a commanding view of the coastline (oblivious to the sound of yelling toddlers, breaking glass, and blokes accusing other blokes of looking at them, or their companion). Having first unstuck my feet from the floor, of course. I was once so marooned and so desperate that I stared at one chap until he came over and freed me by delivering a welcome upper-cut right under the chin. That’s Wetherspoons for you.
Journey’s end sees me at my favourite pub in the town, Weston’s version of the Algonquin Hotel’s famous round table, The Regency, where sparkling conversation and wit are perfectly partnered with six types of real ale.
One Regency legend tells of the regular who walked in one day in the midst of a mini stroke and believed he was back in the West Midlands factory where he had spent most of his working life. He had no memory of the pub or anyone in it, so the locals got to work, reintroducing themselves, and running a fundraiser for the friend who they almost immediately dubbed, ‘Time-travelling Ted’. They ran a fundraiser for Ted, to help him out and jog a few memories. The invitations were headed: ‘Come and help Time-travelling Ted get back to the future’.
This is also the venue for tales of ‘Kevin the Connoisseur’, so called, I am advised, because “He knows eff-all about anything.” And Jim, the one-armed bus driver, with whom one of the regulars regularly pleads, “You really must stop waving at me.”
“Do you mean ‘my Colin’?” asked a punter one day.
“No, ‘Brian’s Colin’,” another replied.
Seeing my puzzlement, someone endeavoured to explain.
“You see, at one time there were at least a dozen Colins who were regulars here, and it got complicated. So, rather than go through questions about which Colin was being talked about, everyone was assigned a Colin. Mine was the Colin who was in the cribbage team, his was the Colin who kept pigeons.”
I applauded such genius, although when someone mused that while the Colins seemed to be going the way of the white rhinoceros, there had lately been a preponderance of Phils, and all of a sudden, I was under threat of being assigned to someone. I’m not sure that would be quite so funny.
Generally, I go straight back to the railway station, although it’s not unknown for me and the fellow who I have known the longest of the group to call in at the ‘Red’ for the last one and a catch-up with Kitchen Clive, Roy the Roofer, or Jeff, who surely should have gone into the joinery trade. I certainly don’t return to the Wetherspoons. Word of advice: if you’re going to sit in the ‘Spoons looking about you and making notes for a potential article, be sure you know the location of your nearest exit.