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Another day, another seaside town, another dead theme park. Margate had Dreamland, Morecambe had Frontierland. And now all that remains of Morecambe’s once-thriving pleasure ground is a single decomissioned ride, the Polo Tower. This and a decaying entrance area, with coloured lightbulbs like chipped gobstoppers, still clinging on around Wild West fonts designed in the first place to resemble a ghost town and fulfilling that destiny in a tatter of mixed cultural messages and salt-wounded timbers.

Frontierland’s lost domain, bracketed in boarded-up cafes, is relieved by a seaside tat shop, called for some reason, Mr Santa, and hawking ceramic meerkats got up like Henry VIII, Robin Hood and Julius Ceasar; 3D pictures of wolves; golliwog snow domes (sigh) and heart-shaped compacts with border terriers on them. Nhung is inevitably tempted by a wolf picture, but resists.

frontierland

frontierland

In the West End area we find a street of Christian charity shops, we hear a woman in an eyepatch say “So he pulled his trousers down and he was wearing a red bikini and I was like, “you can’t go out like that!”” and we see what looks like a wooden buttplug. In one store that smells of sour milk, a woman complains about the wind whipping her stable doors and Nhung buys a blue puffball dress. The women in the shop shouts out “Show us then!” as Nhung tries it on. There is also a paranormal shop with a sign that says “Your unfinished business is our business.” A psychic hit squad?

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We stop for lunch at Westminster Cafe (the Biggest Baps In Town”):

Nhung – “Is there any chance of Earl Grey?”

Cafe Assistant – “No. We did used to have it but nobody wanted it and we didn’t like it either”.

But over the road from the cafe is suprisingly one of the best vintage clothes shops we’ve seen in ages. Dottie’s Vintage, which as we visit it about to move locations, is filled with incredibly good quality but reasonably priced stuff. Proper old vintage not just 90s TV weatherman jumpers. Never-worn 1950s two-pieces with the tags still on, an exquisite 1940s suit with shell-shaped buttons; Nhung buys LOADS but only spends £32.50. How is this possible?

morecambe bay

morecambe bay

As we walk along the seafront, the sun is going down and the bay is bathed in pale blues and pinks. The quicksand, the lethally-fast moving tides and the 23 Chinese cockle pickers who drowned here in 2004 don’t seem real. This water is as wide as hope and looks caressing and silken. But here some flowers have been left on a bench, maybe for the cockle pickers, maybe for somebody else and death is not far away.

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We amble into the the restored streamline moderne Midland Hotel and are not quite as whelmed by it as we thought we would be. We’ve the urge for afternoon tea, but the barman in the Rotunda is unhelpful and they’ve stopped doing it anyway. The restoration of this hotel a few years ago sparked hopes that the town’s fortunes were about to change, but the current recession has undone any gains that were made and once more things look grim. Towards the town centre and it’s starting to get dark, past the long-closed and haunted Winter Gardens. We wish we had more time here, the back streets and shabby hind ends of buildings look as if they hold more adventures.

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The town centre itself is dull; the usual featureless, pedestrianized blandness. It’s 40 minutes before our train is due so we try the bowling alley to see if we can get a milkshake in its diner. No luck, and we get accidentally trapped in the urban wasteland by the station with not enough time to go anywhere else but 30 minutes still to kill. In desperation we end up browsing the shit DVDs in Blockbuster just to keep warm.

telephone exchange

telephone exchange

The owner of Dottie’s Vintage told us that people advised her she’d be better off in nearby and slightly more prosperous Fleetwood, but she loves Morecambe too much to move. And although we’ve never been to Fleetwood, she’s probably made the right choice, for her soul, if not for her bank balance, because Morecambe is BEAUTIFUL. No two ways about it. Classic seaside architecture sets off the epicentre of Morecambe’s soul: The Bay. Its beauty is almost heartbreaking, but then so is the sight of this town that has been left to die. The mint with the hole looms over the seafront, but the hole at the heart of Morecambe is filled with a different type of quicksand.

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Lost

Nhung’s dream butter dish – still not found

Green & red geometric print scarf (bought by Nhung from a charity shop and later found to be torn)

Afternoon tea at the Midland Hotel

The gorgeous 1940s suit (didn’t fit any of us)

A skirt that matched a blazer Nhung bought (she didn’t like the shape)

Frontierland

3D wolf picture

Tooth jewels (Nhung was tempted)

His Girl Friday DVD (bought by Tamsin in a charity shop and later found not to work)

Found

Yellow crochet jumper

Deliverance DVD

Notebook, shampoo, tights, toothpaste and toothbrush

1980s black silky nightdress with lace trim

Blue puffball strapless dress

Pale brown & blue tweedy 1970s blazer

Brown check tweed dirndl skirt

1920s style sheer blue dress with magenta & white stripes & flower pattern

2 pairs of earrings – crystal flowers and 1980s black scalloped

Pale green perspex discs necklace

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