Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Reading and reminiscing

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Years ago, close to thirty actually, I came across a coastal town on Morecombe Bay in the U.K. I can't be sure exactly which one after so long, but I suspect - after a look at the map - that it was Grange-over-Sands. And I've just come across that place again, thirty years later in books by Paul Magrs. Ok, so he calls it Whitby, which is over in Yorkshire, but I reckon his literary Whitby is my Grange-over-Sands of 1982.

It happened like this. My sister and I were ambling around the U.K. in a very small car on our very first visit to the Europe. We had an itinerary, sort of, but no accommodation booked. It was April - and of course, utterly gorgeous weather, as it always is when I am in the UK. It was also late evening, the light was beginning to fade, and we'd had a strenuous day and were tired. We'd been driving for ages without having any luck at finding accommodation and were beginning to wonder if we'd end up sleeping in the car. That's when we found ourselves in this town.

Wonderful! Looked to be just the place to have lots of B&Bs and happy to see customers mid-week in the off season. It looked delightful, an Edwardian seaside resort. So we starting hunting. To our surprise, every place was either full up or massively overpriced by the standards of the day, as if they really didn't want our custom. We left and went somewhere else.

That's the bare bones of the story.

But there was something else, and I'm not kidding: the place creeped us out. For a start, we felt as though we had stepped through a time-warp. This didn't just look like Edwardian England, it was inhabited by people from a bygone era, all geriatric, a great many of whom appeared to be sipping tea with their little fingers crooked as they sat in drawing rooms with bow windows. You could see them as you walked the street - people out of a costume play. Lady Bracknell, wearing pearls and staring at these weird trouser-clad hobos from the colonies. Colonel Blimp with his military moustache and monocle, eyeing us with disapproval. We were in some kind of whacky twilight zone.

This, we decided, was a place where strange things would go bump in the night, and the exceptionally odd landlady would look you straight in the eye come morning and tell you you really didn't see that body being carried down the stairs in the middle of night. You'd just had a bad dream.

We couldn't get out of there soon enough.

Until this year, I don't know what it was all about. Was it simply that we were over tired? Did we hit the Retired Theatrical Costumers' Association's annual seaside fling? Were we just over-imaginative?

Well, now I know. Now, you see, I've read Never the Bride and Something Borrowed. I swear, somehow thirty years ago, we stepped into Paul Magrs' Whitby, and the Bride of Frankenstein answered one of the B&B doors we knocked at while looking for a room. I'm so glad we fled.

Something Borrowed kept me engrossed for part of a very long airplane flight. Better still, I was smiling. There's no better recommendation than that. If you like your stories whackily insane yet utterly creepy, then try these. Oh, and do be careful in those English seaside resorts.

2 comments:

Jo said...

You sure it was Edwardian not Victorian?

Peter said...

It sounds like a setting for an Agatha Christie murder mystery or maybe even one of Stephen King's creepy towns.