I went back to Felixstowe a few weeks ago. It is easy enough to take good pictures of a pretty place on a sunny day, but Felixstowe is as dull a place as ever spoiled a coastline. I came away thinking I had taken nothing worth keeping save as snapshots-of-record, those straight-up-and-down pictures which serve simply as a reminder, perhaps a reminder not to bother to go back.
There were two though, which warranted the trip and show that interesting views may lurk unsuspected in what appear to be routine snaps. In its days of prosperity, Felixstowe treated itself to some fine street lights which, when isolated from their shabby context and given some Photoshop love yielded this:
We had some difficulty getting on to the beach – it was the day when an exceptionally high tide was expected, and protective gates closed off the whole front. My son watched with concern as his aged father clambered over the gates, in defiance of strict notices and doubtless in breach of some municipal by-law.
The old pier has been demolished at the landward end and a new structure is rising in its place. Construction sites are often more attractive than the resulting building – we won’t know about that until the new pier is complete. As shot, this was frankly dull; with a bit of work, it came up nicely, complete with a couple of aeroplane trails invisible on the day.
I was at school in Felixstowe from 1962 to 1967. People still went to seaside resorts like Felixstowe for their holidays, to stay in cheap hotels or boarding houses, and to paddle in the grey North Sea or play on the machines on the faded pier. They often went there by train from Liverpool Street, then a big, dark, grimy shed (rather better, to my eye, than the tacky commercialised place it is now).
In the early ’60s, Felixstowe’s days as a destination of choice were numbered. The Ford Cortina was launched in 1962, the year I first went there, and the Vauxhall Viva in 1963, between them bringing motoring to the masses and freeing people from the (anyway soon-to-be-wrecked) rail network. Freddie Laker founded his cheap ‘n cheerful airline in 1966, the same year that currency controls were eased for travel, both events opening the way to cheap foreign holidays. Old-fashioned seaside resorts like Felixstowe could not compete, and although the town later found a new life as a container port, the place became visibly more tacky during my time there.
My father would take me to the pier when he came to take me out on one-day exeats (my mother would usually take me home, despite the distance, and give me a square meal). Each of us was as bored as the other, I suspect, my father counting the hours till he could motor back up the A12, and me almost looking forward to the dull prison-like environment of my small school, where I could at least read. There was nothing like a 1960s boarding school to encourage reading.
The only machine I remember on the pier was the crane which you could control with a wheel or levers in a (usually vain) attempt to pick up a cheap toy. The only other thing I remember were the bendy mirrors which made you look tall or fat. It was a grim place to spend a day.
No seaside resort looks great in winter, the outdoor attractions closed and dank, and the shops and cafes empty; close up they induced melancholy even on a bright day.
Viewed at a distance, however, the place looks more attractive in the photographs than it felt at the time, this time without any Photoshop enhancements:
The sea is the sea, however tacky the scene behind the camera:
There was one puzzle. The swimming pool on the seafront proudly displayed a notice advertising the presence of a “Rookie Life Guard”. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather have an experienced one on duty: