My snapshot image of Weston from childhood is of great, clean whitewashed walls weaponised by the sun.
Blackpool was seedy – knickers for a nicker, pants for a pound, and drunks scrapping in the street – and Burnham-on-Sea was boring. But Weston… Weston was glamorous. Squint and you could be in Miami, or Nice. It was the posh seaside.
Revisiting it in 2018, especially on a rainy day, lifts the spell. There is more grey and more dereliction than I remember, and a sense that Weston’s problems – the same problems afflicting many towns – are breaking through its plaster façade.
Though it may seem less pristine than 30 years ago, however, I find in it greater depth and detail as an adult.
Alleyways and back streets reveal Victorian details, ghost signs, beerhouses and post-modern oddities.
There’s Art Deco.
There’s plenty of post-war modernism.
And concrete brutalism.
The museum, recently reopened, is small but dense: look down on an architectural model of a post-war Weston that never was; feed 20p to the What the Butler Saw machine and watch the imprisoned ghost of a long-dead dancer perform with a length of silk; and place a hand on a stretch of railing from the old pier where millions of fingers sticky with ice cream and rock have been before. The narrative also does a good job of bringing home the extent to which Weston was Blitzed – something that surprised me, and which helps explain some of the buildings above.
The pier is good, even in its post-2008-fire incarnation: worth walking up and down three or four times for the thrill of feeling truly at sea, and a little nearer mysterious Steep Holm.
And there are memories. Having thought it long gone I stumbled upon Revolver Records the very smell of which – tobacco, damp, worn-in leather jackets – transported me back to standing at my Dad’s side as he flipped through racks of vinyl looking for who knows what.
And I approached the Golden Gate amusement arcade from just the right angle to trigger a specific recollection: coming to Weston in about 1992 with the express purpose of experiencing virtual reality. At 14 I’d read William Gibson, was buying Wired most months, and fancied myself quite the cyberpunk in my Hi-Tec trainers and generic sweatshirt from Highbridge market. I went with two friends and we had to queue for about 20 minutes to pay £1.50 each for five minutes play time on a supposed combat flight simulator that actually consisted of a nausea inducing field of blue (sky) and green (ground) with occasional blocks of grey jerking across it.
I’m glad I now live near enough to Weston to visit whenever I like. I suspect there’s plenty more to find yet.