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De La Warr Pavilion

De La Warr Pavilion

Bexhill-On-Sea, East Sussex. Home to Milly Molly Mandy (well, Joyce Lanchester Brisley, her author), Fanny Cradock and the highest proportion of residents aged over 100 years old in England and Wales. Also, and most importantly to the Lost Promenade, it’s the site of the second death in Agatha Christie’s The ABC Murders. We’ve been here many times before singly, but never for an official Lost Prom excursion, however here we are at the end of summer and Bexhill’s day has finally arrived.

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Nostalgic Vintage is a shop that we’ve long wanted to go to but has always been closed on past visits. We’re not disappointed. Not only is it open but it’s excellent; stuffed with dead stock 1960s & 70s clothes and homewares, in a jewel box array of man made fibres. Reasonably priced and run by a knowledgeable proprietor, the shop is a lesson in how to sell vintage well, and we leave laden down with trophies.

We can’t resist a stop at Alfredo & Sue Silva’s café, with its intriguingly wide-ranging specialism of “British, Swiss and Spanish cuisine” and its 18 flavours of milkshakes. In the pleasant garden at the back, Nhung orders Spanish chicken and Tamsin the evocatively named “Alfredo’s Egg Special” This turns out to be an omelette in a bap. But it’s a very nice one.

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It’s back to shopping; Bexhill is brimming with charity shops, bric-a-brac emporiums and furniture reclamation stores. We’re pleased to see that Mein Kampf is no longer in the precious things cabinet in one charity shop as it was last time Tamsin visited, however we’re still astounded by just how many vaguely racist antiques seem to exist in the world and especially Bexhill. We’re also shocked by the actions of another vintage/pre-worn clothes shop in Bexhill – they’re selling a leopard print 1950s style raincoat which the Lost Prom recognises as being from Primark, because it once owned the very same model. However the label has been removed and it’s been priced up at £52. They do have some nice golfing jumpers, but this mis-selling, (sharp practice or just ignorance?), plus other inaccurately labelled items leaves a sour, earwaxy taste so we leave with nothing. The proprietor of another shop is nicer though; when Nhung buys a school prefect badge, he says “You know you can’t wear this don’t you?”, “Can’t I?” replies Nhung, slightly confused, “Because it says ‘prefect’ not ‘perfect’” charms the man. In the same shop we also hear a mother saying to her child, “Please stop licking me”.

Amusements

Amusements

We have a cup of tea in Di Paolo café on the seafront, another one of our beloved Italian seaside ice cream parlours, but this time sadly there’s no original 60s décor, although it’s going for a 1980sish approximation with plenty of seaside pastel colours and powder blue serving counters. Nhung is sure she’s been there before, but can’t put her finger on it. What the hey, it’s time for another craft fair. The last few Lost Prom trips seem to have been following the same formula; charity shops, Italian ice cream parlour, milkshake, craft fair, so why change a winning formula?

Clock Tower Court

Clock Tower Court

This is another fairly old-school event, held in a church hall, and offering proof that despite the presence of the cutting-edge De La Warr Pavilion (see below), and the opening of a few new cafés and chotchke shops, Bexhill is still firmly stuck in the past and stubbornly non-metropolitanised or trendified. Our favourite stall features homemade cards and for some reason, a single lonely cucumber. We also buy some nice hand-crafted soaps, including one called Sophia’s Snow, so-named because it snowed on the maker’s grand-daughter’s birthday so she used freshly fallen (hopefully un-urinated-upon) snow as one of the ingredients. All of a sudden, whilst discussing the intricacies of soap making, we hear a church organ strike up with Mendelssohn’s Wedding March. A newly married couple and wedding party spill out through a doorway and start a stately walk through the craft fair, past at least 3 different elderly ladies knitting and onto the outside. It turns out the church hall had been double booked. That still doesn’t explain the cucumber however.

De La Warr Pavilion

De La Warr Pavilion

If you google Bexhill, you won’t have to look far down the page to see references to its ageing population: the zimmer frames, the sleepiness, the inconsequence and incontinent. However there is one exception – the De La Warr Pavilion, designed by Erich Mendelsohn and Serge Chermayeff in the 1930s and one of the first modernist public buildings in Britain. When it was first built, George Bernard Shaw apparently said, “Delighted to hear that Bexhill has emerged from barbarism at last, but I shall not give it a clean bill of civilisation until all my plays are performed there once a year at least.” Sadly, over the years the building fell into a poor state, and the lumbering beasts of barbarism once more roamed free in Bexhill until 2005 when the building was renovated and re-opened as a contemporary gallery and arts venue. And since then, it has fought a heroic fight to stave off both barbarism and boredom , with interesting installations and unexpected gigs (Henry Rollins in Bexhill! I saw it with my own eyes!)

'Ang on a minute....

‘Ang on a minute….

Currently, the De La Warr is sporting a full-size bus teetering off the edge of its roof; a piece by artist Richard Wilson in homage to the film The Italian Job. What it has to do with the Pavilion is not clear, however it looks cool and that’s what counts.

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As we stare out over the promenade, a sea mist develops making everything under its veil look mysterious. A stranger approaches Nhung and starts telling her about the onion-domed houses next to the Pavilion. Apparently they were built by an Indian prince to “house his eunuchs”. Later research proves this claim (which Tamsin thought he’d made up) to be more or less true. The Maharajah of Cooch Behar stayed in one of the houses (it was already built though) in 1900, unexpectedly dying there after only a few months. A water fountain was erected in Bexhill by his son, in memory of him and originally stood on the site of the De La Warr Pavilion. When the Pavilion was built, it was moved to a nearby park until the 1960s when it mysteriously disappeared. Its whereabouts have never been discovered.

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The last thing we do in Bexhill is to visit the park in question. There is something very 1950s about its arrangement – boating lake, curves, serenity, shouts of children in the late summer. It’s like something from a Ladybird book and has a sense of the slightly unreal. Much like Bexhill as a whole really.

criterion cafe?

Criterion Cafe

Lost

Criterion Café (what Nhung thinks Di Paolo’s was before, with red walls)

Bexhill Museum (closed)

Sugar pot that Nhung decided not to buy because it had a crack in it

Poirot jigsaw puzzle (we wanted to, but it was too big to carry)

A turn on the pedalos (maybe next time)

The Maharajah of Cooch Behar’s memorial fountain

De La Warr Pavilion

De La Warr Pavilion

Found

Prefect badge

Tweed blazer

Brown & white spriggy floral print blouse

3 handmade soaps

Brown leather barrel style 1960s handbag

2 RSPB badges

Welsh wool navy & white geometric woven 1960s coin purse

1950s sewing pattern

2 1960s/70s striped knit tops – 1 aqua & white, 1 red, blue & white

2 elasticated 1980s belts with enamel buckles

Mint green polyester blouse

2 bags of toffee crumble

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Ramsgate has developed a continental cafe style culture with bars and restaurants on its seafront parade (citation needed)” – Wikipedia

Oh. That’ll be the same Ramsgate with the roughest-looking pub in England, the throngs of beer-bellied bikers and an epic battle over dog turds will it then Wiki? Too right, citation bloody needed. Let’s start at the beginning…

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After a tediously long walk from the station, almost the first building you see in Ramsgate proper is a hangout of the Kent chapter of the Outlaws biker gang, nestled slightly surreally amongst leafily-fringed properties. However, that aside, Ramsgate is very attractive. Although a large amount of the shops and pubs are closed and boarded- up, there are many lovely buildings and the pedestrianised town centre is livelier than many, with market stalls and a traditional butcher’s shop still thriving.

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But then we go up the road and encounter one of the grimmest-looking pubs we’ve ever seen. Festooned in St George’s crosses (although in 2012, what with the Jubilee, the European Football Championships and the Olympics it’s quite difficult to sort out the fascist from the mere dunderhead) and flanked by furious-looking men who wouldn’t look out of place in a reality show called something like Britain’s Lardiest Wifebeaters, it’s nearly as unappealing as the barbers across the way, which looks like the ideal venue if ever you fancied hosting a flick-knife vs nunchucks convention, with Charles Bronson as keynote speaker.  We, probably unfairly, nickname this part of  town “the racist end” and retreat in the other direction which has a shop called ‘Trendy.’ We think about going in so that we can be trendy too, but that’s just too much excitement, even for us.

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We decide to calm down in the usual Lost Promenade way and stop for something to eat in posh-looking Corby’s Tea Rooms. As it’s a sunny day, we sit outside, at the back, overlooking a set of street furniture shaped like a 3 piece suite,on which some teenagers are performing impressive parkour moves. Suddenly a kerfuffle develops; a man is yelling at a woman for failing to pick up her dog’s mess, followed closely behind by another woman hooting plummily, “I’ve got a poo bag if you need one!” They disappear behind a wall for a moment, then emerge in a maelstrom of fury – the man is dragging the dog-owner along by the wrists, apparently making a citizen’s arrest while she shouts and kicks and bites. “You don’t care about the starving poor people all you care about is poo”, she screams, “Your watch is worth more than you”. The teenagers cease leaping and start filming on their phones as the woman gets more and more riled, finally breaking away and making off, with dog in tow, but sans poo bag. A while later the fuzz turn up and the man spends the next ten minutes searching for his hearing aid that got lost in the fracas. Ramsgate – continental cafe style culture at its very best.

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Out along the jetty and all this is forgotten as we finally reach the seafront – another marvellous tangeriney Kent beach of delight. A small girl is practising somersaults in the air and people and dogs hurtle about like hairy pinballs. We take a relaxing boat trip around the harbour, a bargain at £3. The Port of Ramsgate is expanding year on year due to the demands placed on it by the phalanx of clockwork daddy long-legs glinting off in the distance – Thanet’s offshore wind farm, the largest wind farm in the world.

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From the sea we spot an intriguing looking bric-a-brac shop under the promenade arches. A cave-like space stuffed with mannequins, fairground signage, and pianola music, it’s definitely worth a visit, as is Pelosi’s, a gorgeously preserved 1960s ice cream parlour, all pinks and mint greens, chrome and Formica. We walk along the beach past similarly-hued striped storage huts and kids flying kites. More mental than continental, unlike its neighbour Whitstable, Ramsgate is no manicured weekenders’ haven; however, dab a little at its grimy cheeks and underneath is a flawed bathing belle, a few teeth missing but a lovely smile.

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Lost

3 7” records (too scratched to buy)

Brideshead Revisited Audio Book Collection (Nhung considers buying something Brideshead related on every Lost Prom trip but decides against it)

Saturday newspaper (Tamsin forgets to buy it and regrets it during the 50 minute wait at Ashford International for a connecting Brighton train)

“Trendiness”

Concerned citizen’s hearing aid

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Found

Spotting Birds book

YMCA badge

Dark green ceramic pot with the word ‘celery’ on it

Red leather tote bag

Book about matchbox labels

Vintage black & white photo postcard of 2 girls on the beach in Margate

Our first witnessing of a citizen’s arrest

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