london road

london road

We spent so long deciding what to wear that we missed the train. Nhung was looking for her quotes book and deciding which of her 78 or so cameras to take. Tamsin was dilly-dallying over brooches. Anyway, we got there about 1pm, too late for some shops, as St Leonards exists in a twilight world where half-day closing (every day) is the norm.

dont judge a book by its cover

don't judge a book by it's cover

St Leonards-On-Sea is to Hastings what Hove is to Brighton – a genteel, residential annexe from the main action. Like a stiff net petticoat sticking out under musty skirts, it rustles and creaks and charms. Notable mainly for its double-decker promenade and the gruesome murder of a retired vicar in 2001, we had also heard that it has an abundance of junk shops. That alone was enough to make it the first stop on our seaside journey.

Through closed curtains

Through closed curtains

The plan was to talk to old ladies in charity shops and get some quirky stories to illustrate each town. But each shop was too busy, or we were too shy, or we just couldn’t find the words. In the first shop we went to, we heard the assistant go, “That’s odd Joyce”, but, she got interrupted by a customer, so we (and Joyce) never got to find out what was so odd. We had been told that the woman in another shop, often discussed an ugly dog and a cat with a big head, but on our visit, she was silent.

We stopped for a cup of tea in a beautiful art-nouveau cafe called His Plaice. Trouble was, it had been taken over by Christians, so the lovely walls were covered in evangelical tracts and stories of African missions. We had meant to keep quiet and listen to what the other customers were saying, but instead, engaged in a lively chat about Brightonian sex lives. Just as we got onto threesomes we became aware that the room had become deathly silent. A phalanx of aghast God-botherers was hanging on our every sinful word. Later that day, in another café, we accidentally discussed the efficacy of witchcraft, to similar, shocked, effect. We were not doing too well on the silent observation front.

the lost prom

the lost prom

The shops however were another matter. We stormed the many charity and vintage boutiques of the town like an invading, if slightly fey, horde, rampaging gently along a row of pastel-painted shop-fronts. Nhung’s prize of the day was a black quilted Victorian bonnet, reversible and delicate, found in a vintage treasure trove called Xanadu. It had been part of the owner’s personal collection for 20 years and she celebrated its departure by offering us both Werther’s Originals. Her son seemed strangely perturbed by this. “Oh mum”, he exclaimed. “What? It’s my shop.” Earlier on, Nhung had been tempted by a gilt 50s powder compact with pictures of the Eiffel Tower on it. “Do you collect compacts or are you just vain?” the proprietor asked.

marine court

marine court

Halfway through the day, recriminations briefly broke out, when Tamsin realised she had lost her hat, a brown angora beret with such powers that it had once hypnotised a supermarket cashier into forgetting to charge her. We stood glumly outside Marine Court; an art deco building that was once the tallest block of flats in England. Its nickname was Monstrosity Mansions, and for a moment, the air around it felt thin and strained. However, Tamsin felt that on reflection, its loss repaid a karmic debt she had earlier incurred, when she paid far too little for some 50s glass animals in a charity shop manned by the mentally handicapped. Nhung, by contrast was headgear-happy: she bought 3 new hats that day.

haircut 100

haircut 100

No-one we spoke to had been born in St Leonards. Another vintage shop lady told us there were 2 types of St Leonardians: DFLs or OFBs – Down From Londons or Over From Brightons. The town was strangely bereft of children, but neither was it a mere retirement community. There seemed to be a diverse population, and nestled amongst the old-fashioned barber shops and bric-a-brac emporiums were some upmarket tchotchke shops, with glossy stocks of Cath Kidston crack pipes and the like.

marine court

marine court

It always ends in being rained off. The beach was deserted and we took refuge in a Persian café on the front. They served paninis, banoffee pie and Middle Eastern lamb stew. Nhung drank dark, bitter Persian tea, served with scented saffron sugar. Tamsin ate some crisps. Nhung rejected the prunes they offered her. She doesn’t hold with dried fruit.

Our original plan had been to visit Hastings as well as St Leonards, but we spent so long browsing around St Leonards, that we decided to leave Hastings for another day. We paused only to look at the knee-capped statue of Queen Victoria on the seafront and to listen out for the sound of the snorting boars that are said to haunt the town. Squelchily, we hopped back to the station and compared booty all the way home.

Forget me....not...

Forget me....not...

Lost:

  • Brown angora beret
  • Souls (according to evangelical element)

Found:

  • 3 hats (straw sun hat, red felt fedora and quilted Victorian bonnet)
  • 2 pairs of boots (brown Victorian-style lace ups and cowboy boots)
  • 2 pairs of gloves (1 red, 1 black)
  • Polka-dot dress
  • 2 glass animals
  • Stripy jumper
  • Dark-green 70s mug
  • Small dish with a picture of a bird
  • 2 60s children’s Puffin books
  • A new reason for living
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