Friday, 1 August 2014


Never forget where you come from. On the weekend of 18-20 July this year, my old home town was looking its best and reviving happy memories.

Lowestoft harbour. (Image: Alistair MacFarlane)


Perhaps we all go through a phase of wanting to forget where we come from if we move away. I know I did. In the 1980s, when I wasn't going going back to see my family in Lowestoft (pronounced 'low stuff' if you were local) on the East Coast very often, Alexi Sayle's Stuff on BBC2 featured a sketch where the comic ranted about my innocuous home town, reserving particular ire for the Sparrow's Nest Theatre (he'd obviously endured a really bad gig there when he was starting out). From somewhere else - I can't remember where - there was a phrase associated with crap towns that suggested they were places you drove through on the way to somewhere else. For a long time, for me, that was true of Lowestoft.    

Not any more. Progressively mellowing towards fifty and with family and friends still there - sister Pam, ageing parents, growing-up niece Sian, friends Lurch and Suz - when I visit now, as I was thankfully able to do on the hottest weekend of the year when I was drawn by the promise of a cooling sea breeze, Lowestoft has a pleasant, homely feel about it. With so many dramatic changes elsewhere in the world, there's something really comforting about a place that has hardly changed since you grew up there.

Wandering around the middle of the town last Friday when the temperature was 31 degrees C, memories were scattered all over the place. Remarkably, the internal layout of Boots hasn't changed AT ALL from the times when, aged 16, I used to go in and nervously lust after Saturday girls Jane Mitson and Janet Jermyn. I half expected to see them still working there. The delightfully named hairdresser Sizzers is still on the High Street. In 1980, I went in and asked for "a punk haircut"; at school on Monday people asked me when the barber was going to finish it. Up near the police station, Panda Books, where I looked forward to buying many a Target Doctor Who novel on the weekend, staggers on. It's still owned by the same academic couple (now grey around the gills) although it's a second hand bookshop now. I picked up the 1967 film tie-in of Casino Royale for £2. Curiously appropriate, somehow.

Up at the top part of the town and a stone's throw from the beach, Sergeant Pepper's restaurant - the imagery and sounds it uses need no introduction - has been established since 1982. It's been a successful Lowestoft night spot for over thirty years, which must be a record for an eaterie based on a 1960s psychedelic concept album. I'm particularly fond of the place as my memories of The Beatles, which stem from their films being on the telly every Christmas during childhood, are mixed up in my mind with my friends and I starting to go out on the town when we were teenagers. It was a treat to go to Pepper's, particularly if you had a date: your evening could start with a Paul McCartney on toast and, if you were lucky, end with a snog on the beach in the dark.

On Saturday I experienced two different sides of Lowestoft. According to the Lowestoft Journal, there was a World War I festival on throughout Saturday, including talks, art by local school children and a service in St. Margaret's church. Sadly, nothing had been co-ordinated, which meant Saturday shoppers walked past costumed enthusiasts oblivious to what was going on. A shame, because talks by local historians in the Foyles bookshop were well worth hearing if you knew they were there. In the evening, I walked into Oulton Broad for a few refreshing drinks as it was still very hot. The conversation between four young and not-so-young women at the table next to me outside the Wine Lodge was quite an eye opener. 'I don't fall in love with any c***t,' one advised her friend, going on to say, 'When the next c***t does come along, he'll have to be a f***ing billionaire.' On the walk back to my parents' house, a very drunk man asked me if I was 'a c***t' and if I would hit him. It's heartening to see weekends in Lowestoft haven't changed that much since I left.

The seafront near the Pavilion, the tourist information centre where my sister works, is entirely fenced off at the moment due to problems with the sea wall, preventing you from getting on to the beach. The compensation is that the roar of the sea is so loud that I was able to sit back on the promenade, close my eyes and spend an enjoyable half an hour therapeutically listening to the waves.

From local history to potential grievous bodily harm, there's no place like home.

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