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Amusements Cafe

Amusements Cafe

In the late 1970s, a certain Nhung Dang escaped with her family from Vietnam via boat. Many Vietnamese refugees didn’t survive this journey, which numbered brutal Thai pirates as well as storms and illness amongst its dangers. But even as a baby, no sucker would dare mess with the Nhungsta, and eventually she and her family ended this chapter in the un-exotic red-brick suburbs of industrial estate-clogged Burgess Hill, Sussex. Their first taste of England however, was on a military base on a small peninsula off Chichester Harbour, called Thorney Island.

The Lost Prom, once again driven by honorary prommer, Lindsey, decided to visit Thorney Island , intrigued by its military status, and also attracted by its proximity to Hayling Island, a seaside resort in Hampshire. However, for Nhung, it was a more personal journey. Perhaps it would trigger some recollections? Perhaps it would just lead to muddy feet. But it was definitely worth a visit to find out.

Guard dogs on patrol

Guard dogs on patrol

The first problem was finding the island. We drove around for a bit before ending up at a barracks, the entrance manned by a severely cross-eyed guard. It felt like we’d suddenly slipped into a strange slowed-down dream and we got all tongue-tied. We were actually already on the island but hadn’t realised so when Lindsey said, “How do you get to Thorney Island?”, he looked confused. A flustered Tamsin chipped in, “We want to walk round Thorney Island. It’s an island. Called Thorney Island.” No shit.

checkpoint thorney

checkpoint thorney

As Thorney is still a working military base, access to the southern part is limited to a coastal footpath. To enter, you sign in at a checkpoint, giving your name and address and a mobile number. Unfortunately though, the dramatic James Bond-like entrance is the most exciting thing about Thorney. As we wend our way along the path, we realise it’s actually pretty dull. We see mudflats, we see grass, we see sandbags shoring up the seawall. And that’s about it. No sinister-looking buildings crammed with alien experiments, no cutting-edge new weapons making exciting whirring noises, no Smoking Man, no smoking guns. Nhung searches her mind for feelings or memories of the past, but there’s nothing here to encourage them. “I don’t know what I should be feeling”, she says. We’re reduced to trying to identify the different types of animal droppings (with Nhung as head poo monitor) and playing a game where you shout out two unrelated words for a band name and then think up a title for their first single. Our band is Gobshite Treacle. A sign saying ‘Slippery Slipway’ gives us the record title.

St Nicholas Church

St Nicholas Church

We come to the 12th Century St Nicholas Church. We can hear people singing hymns inside and the churchyard is full of neatly regimented lines of soldier’s graves, including some graves of Germans. All three of us really need a wee, but we daren’t go behind the bushes in case we’re caught on a spycam. We decide to cut our losses and continue to Hayling Island.

 

Beachlands Cafeteria

Beachlands Cafeteria

Hayling, like Thorney, is known for its variety of sea birds, but, as Lindsey says, “You can fuck off with your nature, Hayling Island.” As we drive across it, not a single interesting sight jumps out at us, until we reach Beachlands Amusement Park at the very tip of the island. We can almost taste the grease in the air from chips frying. So we drop into the Beachlands Cafe for egg and chips and a cup of tea, pausing only to marvel at a sign that says ‘No Barefeet Dogs’.

Lucky bags

Lucky bags

Fully fed, we’re tempted by a £1.50 lucky bag from a windswept looking stall. If you’re planning to go to Hayling and want a suprise, look away now. If not, here’s what a Hayling Lucky Bag contains: an Ice Age 3 credit card torch, 2 Shrek pencil tops, a crocodile shaped staple gun and, the pick of the bunch; a nodding dog with its head stuck on upside down and mould on its neck. The dog wears a gold medallion and is rabid-looking. The Lost Prom force poor Lindsey to keep it, treasure it and display it in her car.

untitled

untitled

We wander around the amusement park. There’s a tumbledown rollercoaster that makes a satisfying clattering sound, a waltzer with a cannibalism theme and a stuffed parrot that lays plastic eggs and squawks, “I like the sound of money”. Nhung gets an egg. It contains a temporary tattoo of the recently disgraced England football team.

Hayling Railway

Hayling Railway

We take the two mile return trip on Hayling Seaside Railway, a light railway run by volunteers. It’s a charming little train, with a lovely smell of engine oil and carriages with names like Marilyn and Michelle. During the journey, Lindsey absent-mindedly stares too long at a man who winks at her in a mildly threatening manner.

trainspotting

trainspotting

Back at Beachlands, we play a round of ‘Adventure Golf’ (one better than crazy golf!). Nhung wins. Tamsin comes last and loses a ball in the water. We snigger childishly at a sign that says ‘Skid Risk’, and then we go home.

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untitled

Maybe we shouldn’t have pooh-poohed the nature stuff, because that apart, there really isn’t much to get excited about on Hayling or Thorney Islands. They both have the feel of places you’d only end up by accident, places you leave as soon as you’re able, places you only go to die. The air is thick with chip fat and a humdrum desolation.

Beachlands

Beachlands

Lost

Seabirds

Nhung’s sunglasses (later found)

Childhood memories

Golf ball

Beachlands Cafeteria

Beachlands Cafeteria

Found

Animal poo

“Lucky” Bag containing a nodding dog

Mini hairbrush mirror thing

Hayling Railway address book

Hayling Railway keyring

Fake tattoo in a plastic egg

This is England

This is England

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