Musings on the British Seaside in Barry Island, Cardiff

After four years at Cardiff, I finally paid a visit to Barry Island, the epitome of a British seaside town. You might have heard of it – while Whitby has goths and Brighton has gays, Barry Island has Gavin & Stacey. It lived up to my every expectation; I came back home with a pleasingly pink face, 50p lighter for playing on the slot machines, and sufficiently irritated that I paid for a return ticket on the train, yet didn’t pass a single ticket turnstile. Plus, and I don’t know what came over me, nostalgia induced me to eat fish and chips for possibly the third time in my entire life. (I maintain that it makes for a distinctly average meal choice.)

british seaside

But my day out did get me thinking about the fundamental weirdness of the British seaside. I mean, seaside for Christ’s sake. It’s such a devastatingly quaint concept, wrapped up in that intensely British term seaside. Think about it – when have you ever heard that word used refer to anything other than a small British resort, which probably boasts at least one caravan site and a run-down highstreet? Brittany has beaches, but Britain has ‘seasides’.

british seaside

The Great British Seaside

I’m convinced our national perseverance in using the shit out of the word seaside, but only to refer to shores in the British Isles, has something to do with the generally abysmal weather we have to put up with. Unlike our sunnier European counterparts, who know what to do with a beach (hold a festival, dot some al fresco dining options along the seafront, maybe chuck in some pleasingly straw-roofed beach bars), we never get the chance to make the seaside an actual thing. Instead, it becomes a yearly novelty that coincides with the warmest day of the year for most people. Or, on the flip side, a depressingly bleak holiday spot for families holidaying over the Christmas break to take advantage of the down season discounts at Haven. We see no point in updating the place, so why update the name?

british seaside

The homogenous nature of the seaside town is undeniable: tacky seafront shops (that were once probably Woolworths) filled with slightly dusty tat, brightly painted beach huts filled with screaming sand-covered toddlers and disposable barbecues, and the ever-present proclivity of the British male – regardless of age, size or social standing – to whip off his vest at the merest whiff of a heatwave. Seriously, did I miss the memo about letting it all hang out? Was my double denim get-up not a suitable sartorial choice for this sleepy seaside town?

british seaside

A Comforting British Tradition

But even in spite of the backwards reputation of most British seaside hotspots, there’s something so immediately comforting about them. You know where you stand with a British beach, even if where you stand is ankle deep in piss-cold seawater that’s worryingly grey hued. Because let’s face it, if you weren’t racked with the fear that a Morrison’s bag or an old condom were just waiting to gently caress your toes and scare the shit out of you at any given moment, did you really go to the seaside?

Muchas gracias a Marta Vélez Baiget por todas las fotos.



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