A medley of tinny sounds. A babble of voices interspersed by screams of delight. Smells stinging one’s nostrils sweetly. Easter. The pier has sprung into life.
The one at Hastings is new. The old one caught fire and burnt down. There is something special about a structure that contains the space of an ocean liner with wave lapping it, though here we are permanently anchored to the shore, free to come and go without the constrictions of a ship afloat commanding its own land on the waves.
A merry-go-round. Spasms of colour and sound pass by as one swings around flung out into space. The crazy thrill of risk, of being totally out of control, embraced by the certainty that nothing harmful will happen – a special sort of contradictory delight. Could this be a definition of being a human animal instead of any other animal that would sensibly refuse to embark on such dangerous delight? Is it this sentiment, with religion, that sets us apart from all other mammals?
Survey the scenes on the pier as you swing above them. Observe the delight of child and adult alike and the sheer inanity of it all!
Pastel blue and pink striped cabins, some square, others rectangular, line the edges of the pier. Traditional activities abound: a journey along mirrors that distort you horribly humorously, to fortune-telling and the traditionally plump blond, or a few shots at fluffy ducks on such a small pool that it’s hard to miss them as they float by on glassy water, for an easy reward of a doll with startled blue eyes and long hair like straw, or the bright yellow duck one has just shot. A new generation of punters, in an unchanging fairground. Nearby bumper cars allow older siblings to let off steam – even to settle old scores! Tightly strapped into the seats of a whirligig, some intrepid children do somersaults, parents watching hand over mouth. They secretly admit to twinges of regret; age sadly forbids them such innocent delights. Thrill follows thrill, even in the anticipation of risk, though stringent safety precautions ensure there is none.
All this hurly-burly pleasure is burnished by hesitant sunshine and breeze to conjure up the atmosphere of a circus. Next to the hot drinks stall, with a variety of added tastes to be sprinkled on top to give more of a sugary tingle, are hot dogs sizzling away beside a pyramid of soft, tasteless pre-sliced buns ready to snap them up.
The rare delight of having time to while away inconsequentially is the lasting memory of all this – a sort of stillness when an alluring stretch of time spreads out ahead to the horizon. The sea surges into waves that curl over to leave a hem of foam on the beach before dragging the pebbles back with a pleasantly gritty sound to give a sort of gulp before curling over to pour a draught of salty water along the edge of the shore.