|Deal Seafront: Very nice, but what lies behind all of this?|
Nice isn't a word I often like to use, but Deal seafront on a summer's day, or even in the midst of a harsh winter, is just that - nice. And I should know, for having spent all of my childhood and early adult years in this seaside town, I feel that I am qualified to highlight the town's good and bad points.
The seafront IS what makes Deal worth a visit, with its ageing pier, its stony beach and its charming facade. Then there are the various seafront pubs offering local ale and fine lagers, all to be enjoyed on a Saturday night whilst listening to live music and the cries of agony, as two drunken, teenage girls decide to fight to the death for the boy of their dreams, as the boy in question laughs about it all, and gets merrily drunk on strong lager.
But move behind the seafront and you'll find another side of Deal. And it's here, in the High Street, where you'll be reaching for the Prozac, because things aren't like they once were.
This is a High Street which desperately needs a kiss of life, before it's too late. This is a High Street which is grey and cold, when before it was worth a visit on a Saturday afternoon, with mother, when father would be back at home, glued to the racing from Kempton Park. This is a High Street which had toy shops, record shops, greengrocers, ironmongers and Woolworths. But now, what have we got?
Well, Woolworths is dead. It has gone to the Maker of all shops in the sky, who doesn't care about history or tradition, because the Maker will pull the plug on any of his babies, if he feels that the time is right. But Woolworths IS missed, because it was only at Woolworths one could find the latest Dire Straits album, pic-n-mix sweets, Lego, a new frying pan and a watering can. And what have we got now instead of our departed friend? We have a shop which sells everything for a pound. Books which no-one wants to read, scented bits of cardboard to make your car smell of Norwegian pine forests, candles which sing Happy Birthday and plastic boxes in which to store your cornflakes.
Further along the High Street there is a charity shop, selling second-hand clothes and china plates. Then, next door, there is another charity shop and another and another. Then, there is one of what seems like seventy-five estate agents and a shop selling wooden furniture.
And if you're hungry, you're in luck, because nestled between these wonderful shops you'll find someone selling French-style bread and pastries. Yes - you're rolling your eyes up to the sky, because we all know that it's only the bloody French who can do bread and pastries.
The good High Street pubs have all gone - as have the book shops, the toy shops and the record shops. But all is not lost, because there is a Costa-lot coffee shop selling expensive coffee and disgusting muffins.
Mercifully, the Maker of all shops in the sky hasn't completely pulled the plug on the High Street, as Marks and Spencer is still there. But even here, a name which once promised quality is playing with fire. My last visit to its store in Deal left me feeling sad and irritated, for it now resembles a junk shop selling poor-quality goods at inflated prices.
I wish Deal well for the future, and hope that it can resist the power of the out-of-town shopping centres and the allure of Internet shopping. It is true that things aren't like they once were, but it would be a shame if this town died, because it is a town with history, and it is a town with potential.
Luke Ryman is an author of ebooks. Seaside towns, just like Deal, appear in "The Londoners" trilogy and "Dave Cooper Is Unemployed."