Occasionally, we all find ourselves in those situations where we don’t quite fit in. Not so much an oh-my-god-I-hate-myself existential crisis, but a gentle and mildly amusing, “hmmm, I think I’ve got the dress code wrong here.”
Back in the autumn I found myself at the tail end of a rather long bike ride and pedalling into the northern English seaside town of Bridlington. Now, bear in mind that this was 7pm on a Friday night – if you know anything at all about the night-life of a fading British seaside town you will understand why I, on my fancy bike and clad in Lycra and merino wool, felt slightly out of place as I picked my way through the town centre in search of the sea front.
I’d ridden during the afternoon through impossibly pretty old market towns like Pateley Bridge and Ripon – a spot of lunch here, a cup of coffee there – and while I clearly wasn’t clad in the Barbour jackets and Hunter wellies of the well-to-do Yorkshire set, as a cyclist passing through I was blending in just fine.
But on reaching the nightlife of Bridlington I wasn’t really in the mood for a few cheap pints in Wetherspoon’s, a grotty nightclub, a kebab on the seafront, and a spot of casual violence on the way home. In fact, just for the record, I’m never in that mood. Ever.
I’m just setting the scene.
It felt a bit like riding through Pride and Prejudice and straight into some gritty urban TV drama. Apart from anything, many hours on the bike had put me in an unusual frame of mind. All my reference points were mile markers, metres of height gained, and wind direction. To be pedalling in semi-darkness through something vaguely resembling civilisation was truly disorientating.
As I studiously avoided colliding with revellers I free-wheeled past ‘Ozzy’s Hen House’, which sounds like a strip club from a Quentin Tarantino movie but is actually a late night chicken wings and donner kebab shop populated by drunk people. I could make out the tinny rattle of teenagers competitively pumping music from their phones, and I accidentally locked gaze with a man with what can only be described as a face full of creepy tattoos.
If I’m honest, the spider-web-across-the-eye look is not for me.
Reaching the sea front I found a closed-for-the-season funfair on the promenade, all rusting pneumatics, people in shadows, and a mild suggestion of threat. Pedalling north into the wind I passed glass fronted restaurants which pretended to be upmarket but weren’t, a slightly out of place yacht club populated by pin-striped squires and their wives, and finally climbed off my bike mournfully outside a fish and chip shop which was shut.
Seaside towns like Bridlington face all kinds of economic and a social problems for any number of complex reasons, and the fact that the sea-front chippy was closed at 7pm on a Friday night is probably not priority number one. I couldn’t help thinking it spoke volumes though.
For the sake of balance I should add that it’s quite possible that on a sunny summer’s day Bridlington is a lovely place to visit for an ice-cream and a walk by the sea. But the fact that I was ravenously hungry in the way that only a cyclist facing massive calorie deficit can be was probably doing my sense of perspective no favours.
I was feeling vaguely emotional about finding myself in a British seaside town and unable to get my hands on a carb-heavy portion of fish and chips. So I did what I had to do: it was back to Ozzy’s Hen House to sample his wares, and avoid eye-contact with the man with the creepy tattoo face.