Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Hippodrome, Great Yarmouth

Grit and the Gritlets spend today in Great Yarmouth.

It's easy being here. Even in a town that resembles your aunty on the side of the family your mother never boasts about. The aunty who once turned heads and now turns stomachs. She knows her time has passed, but it doesn't stop her. She still laughs too long, too loud, dresses in cheap skin-tight nylon, flashes plump pink thighs and looks forward to knocking back the Malibu and getting dangerous and dirty at Christmas. She's delicious, wicked fun.

I like Great Yarmouth. I know it's a bit like admitting to liking Bletchley, or Slough. It doesn't have the cold, razor edge of the bigger cities. And it's not squalid and derelict enough to have totally given itself up to decay and disease.

The town lingers on, once glorious, one foot in the past, missing its step in the modern age. Here it is, still thinking there might be a renaissance, a turn in the lifecycle. It's not quite given up hope. I like it for that.

And I like it because it owns a national heirloom, a treasure it keeps somewhere lodged behind the water closet where the wall's crumbling. But it doesn't get all poncey about it, and start putting up frills and fancy plaques. The heirloom's there, if you want it.

Of course it has sea-side to distract you. Buckets and spades of it. Tatty hotel face fronts peer out over ridiculously long sandy beaches, stretching to a cold grey sea. On the sea front, arcade light bulbs flash on and off. Synthesized blips and beeps and whirrs cascading from slot machines rattle like an outdated language as you walk by, seeking chip shops, sticky souvenir rock and nineteenth century public toilets. It all makes for the English sea side experience.

But the heirloom? The Hippodrome. We go here today to see the summer show: the jugglers, aerialists, strongmen, comics, balancing acts, the boys who play on the wheel of doom. By turns, it's dangerous, bizarre, funny, awe-inspiring, heart-stopping, corny, circus, history.

Really, watching a spectacle in this building should be on your list of things to do. It's our treasure, stashed behind the arcades.

From the show's second half, a central wooden stage sinks and churns with water. The stage becomes a swimming pool for acrobatics. Quick enough, comics are falling in; the balancing boys hold impossible poses. Then sloshing about are the synchronised ladies, doing their best to smile and not drown and look synchronised all at the same time. Even though their plastic flower hats float off and their wobbling legs don't quite poke far enough out the water to make the petals unfurl. But it nearly works. Give them more rehearsal time, and it might. People might overstretch themselves on that wheel of doom. They might. I don't know. For that bit, I had my eyes closed.

Yes, go off to Great Yarmouth. Eat chips. Take your bucket and spade. And don't forget to visit the place that made your Aunty the delicious fun that she is.


sharon said...

Oh yes! Several holidays spent there when I was a child. Splendid place ;-)

Grit said...

i quite like the place sharon. maybe it's just being at the sea side brings me over all kid again.