The Seaside. There is something extra special about it to us Brits. She sells sea shells on the sea shore. And sticks of rock, fish and chips, cockles, whelks, fossils, buckets, spades, penny arcades, beach huts, donkey rides. Maybe it’s because traditionally the seaside represents holidays and there’s nothing the British people like better than a good old fashioned holiday.
The British Seaside became hugely popular in the Victorian era. Enabled by the railways families from all over the U.K headed to coastal resorts to enjoy good wholesome family fun-on-sea in the summer. Bathers swam under hooded bathing machines, ladies and gents shielded their skin under parasols and hordes of tourists visited the spectacular ‘Pleasure Palaces’ containing Music Halls, Opera Houses and Zoos. Even in the buttoned up Victorian era the seaside represented less formality than daily life. Children played in the sand or shingle and salty chips were devoured from paper bags with fingers on a stroll along the front.
When we look around at our seaside towns now though, what do we see? Closed hotels, wary pensioners, asylum seekers, out of business mini golf, rusty signs, semi-open concert halls in the height of August, boarded up shops, beggars, dirty needles and bodies littering the beaches.
It’s a far cry from the fun and laughter Cliff sang about on his jolly red bus.
The summer holiday packed its bags in the 60’s and went abroad leaving many smaller hotels and businesses with little to no trade. In the 80’s and 90’s the Holiday on The Dole landed leaving landladies unsure of what they were going to get and the noughties brought refugees. What used to be a guest house has turned into a boarding house and for old-fashioned mentalities the drink the drugs and the DSS was not what they wanted on their doorstep. Many closed their doors and sold. So what happened to the Brits left behind? The families who ran the hotels? The buckets and the spades?
The children who remember the British seaside in its hay day are pensioners now and most of them don’t recognise the places that were once ‘theirs’. They are fragile, many live alone with mobility issues and are easily intimidated by what they watch on the television or read in the papers. Amongst all the anger surrounding Britain’s choice to leave the EU few of us who live in London and voted Remain have taken time out to try and understand where the other side is coming from or how it got there. How did UKIP become the ‘seaside party’? Why did so many of our coastal towns vote Leave? Are these things unrelated coincidences like the strangers we sit next to on the bus or products of their own environment like the sand we all bring back from the seaside in our pants?
Clacton-on-sea was to many the birth place of UKIP as the constituency that voted in an actual MP. Clacton is a perfect example of the lost, forgotten dregs of the UK seaside that once held glory of its own and is now filled with disillusioned, unemployed white people. Which probably means that any amount of people coming in from other countries seeking a better life, work and a helping hand from our generous Nanny state would be viewed with a sceptical eye. Places like Margate have seen more of an influx; what used to be summertime hotels are now Eastern European boarding houses. Programmes like Benefits Britain don’t do much to welcome ‘foreigners’ showing hordes of Romany’s living in council houses, drinking and smoking, cheering the thousands of pounds they can score off the state. Our scared pensioners who sold their seaside hotels now living in bungalows down the road look on in horror. No wonder they voted Leave.
My personal experience of EU nationals coming over here is of working people but that’s probably because I am a working person. Where I live in London I don’t know one person who lives off the state entirely. Where I grew up in Leeds it was a different story and I knew of families that had never worked, grew up in council houses, never had a job and lived purely on what they could get. That was their way of life and how they had been taught to live. These were all British people hence why I have never understood the logic of not wanting immigration because as far as I could see the drain on our society was our native society. Is that why so many areas with little to no immigration levels compared to places like London voted the way they did? Are they protecting their benefits? I mean it’s one thing us robbing the taxpayer but nobody else is allowed to, right? But what about the other people that come here? Yes I have known British people who live entirely off benefits and I know British people, like myself, that have never claimed benefits therefore although I know many EU nationals that come over here purely for work it stands to reason that the other type must exist too.
I am guilty of accusing anyone that voted Leave of being racist, I feel uncomfortable when people talk to me about Burkas and challenge whether Muslim values are ‘Western enough’ and I don’t like it when an old lady tells me she gets nervous when her skin colour is a minority in a U.K shopping centre. It makes me feel awkward and I tend to shut it down instead of listening for fear that my listening will tar me with the same brush. But like it or not many of our no more popular seaside towns have ended up housing and being ports of call for asylum seekers, economic migrants and EU nationals looking for work and cheap accommodation. It is here that you hear the horror stories, the things you don’t want to be true. I struggle to listen without judgement when told about Kosovon refugees going through bins for bank statements, local authorities paying below the rate for accommodation for refugees and Eastern Europeans being caught shoplifting so frequently in a local Boots that security guards are put on the doors. I want to shout that these are exaggerations found only in the papers and never really happen but realistically most stories start somewhere. Surely we need to accept at some point that not everyone we open our doors to are benefiting the whole community and that maybe if we listened more we would all have a better understanding.
No these are not the only reasons that all people voted to Leave the EU or for UKIP, granted. But it cannot be denied that a large percentage of our elderly seaside voters probably did vote based on their limited experience of immigration. Maybe that’s part of the problem that their experience has been so limited so they have not witnessed enough positive integration to be able to give a balanced enough view on the subject. How many of our grandparents went abroad with a backpack at 18? If many of them did they were probably going to war not to immerse themselves willingly in other cultures.
Most of the time we find it easy to stop and think, engage our brains and breathe. Most of the time. But when we are told that our views are ‘wrong’ or ‘politically incorrect’ or that we ‘can’t say that’ it makes us feel shut out, closed down, restricted. In retaliation we then tend to shout louder. I do not believe that you can judge an entire nationality on one, two or three incidents and I wholeheartedly try not to. There is bad and good in everyone regardless of skin colour, religious belief or nationality. I also believe that there shouldn’t be any borders and we should all be allowed freedom to roam this earth however and whenever we like. For older generations who were raised in a country at war with most of Europe it’s not that simple. They had far stricter moral codes, etiquette that had to be followed and parents that point blank refused to speak of bad experiences. They did not welcome any immigrant population because they were afraid of what had happened to previous generations who went to war and came back wrong or not at all. In the absence of facts our imaginations fill in the gaps. Tabloid papers add fuel to an already stoked fire with aggressive headlines that to people who don’t get much further than their living room chairs might be their only experience of life outside the cul-de-sac.
Although we like to look back at Gingham table cloths, strawberry jam and St Georges Crosses with nostalgia the reality is that our island didn’t always like other people coming to it and we have a long way to go on the road of acceptance, racial equality and fear of ‘otherness’. This is obviously more difficult for our older generations but the more effort we put into understanding their perspective, engaging in the debate and helping to educate and alleviate their fears the more likely we are to achieve a positive outcome for everyone.
They may be afraid of Muslims, immigrants and benefit fraudsters but we are afraid of them.
Janna Fox is an actress, writer, yogi, aerialist in training and creator of many things. She started blogging for The New Establishment in February 2017 and her pieces are published every other Wednesday. Janna also contributes to sex blog Hitting the Spot. For more information please visit www.jannafox.com