On Tuesday, 2nd February, I took a train to Eastbourne, another old fashioned seaside resort on the edge of the chalky South Downs. There are white cliffs inland, as well as on the coast. The train stopped at Lewes and went on through the flat, damp fields at the foot of the Downs, the home of sheep and rabbits.
Eastbourne is similar to Brighton, but not as brash, a quiet place full of elderly couples sitting on park benches, waiting for the last stages of their lives to go by. The benches themselves have inscriptions: In remembrance of … In loving memory of … All day long I was reminded of Alan Bennett’s play on this theme, Sunset Across The Bay, set in Morecombe in a diagonally opposite corner of England, but much the same as here.
Many of the shops date back to the first half of the 20th century, stores selling sensible shoes and Scottish woollens. Pansies bloom in the rectangular flower beds. On Marine Road and the promenade with its painted metal railings is a line of regency houses, many of them serving as guest houses or hotels. By the sea are rows of groynes with the pebbles piled up unevenly beside them, the waves washing in with their “melancholy roar”. I have a taste for holiday resorts in the dead season, with their closed stalls advertising Wall’s Icecream or Fish and Chips. Eastbourne Pier was open for business, the Victoria Tea Room selling cream teas. Gift shops on this pier, as opposed to the one at Brighton, were marginally less tacky, one full of glass ornaments being made (blown) on the premises. On the streets leading to the pier are shops selling seashells.
In the distance I could see the Seven Sisters white cliffs. The sea itself looked like a Turner painting, grey, green, brown and full of fascinating shadows, under a blue sky. I could imagine France not far away across the Channel, not in sight.
East of the pier I walked as far as a row of fishing boats, personal motorboats and life boats drawn up on the pebbles. A lone swimmer was in the water, though not for long; it must have been terribly cold and he must have been terribly hardy. There were a few dog-walkers and a scruffy old fellow concentrating on making a fire among the stones.I found myself some lunch at a place on the seaside walk with big glass windows, the toilets marked Gulls and Buoys. On the pebbly beach I found fish skeletons, “mermaids’ purses” and curly little white shells.
I shared the train back to Brighton with some school children in uniform and a group of French speaking students.