Today, walking through the streets of Littlehampton, I saw an image that was crying out to be photographed. On the pebble-dashed wall of a drab, 1950s house, an England flag limply hung next to a rusting satellite dish. It neatly encapsulated the spirit of the new Britain (not to mention England's performance in the World Cup).
But just as I started to get my camera out, a battered Transit van containing four bare-chested skinheads pulled up. It was their house. I slowly put the camera back in my pocket and started walking. I'd lost the photo, but saved a fortune in dental work.
I had decided to go to Littlehampton in a moment of desperation, after my wife made it clear that she wanted us all out of the house. I had a hazy, eight-year-old's memory of sandy beaches and amusement arcades and thought that Littlehampton would offer the right combination of shallow, sensory experiences for my sons. How wrong I was.
It was probably just as well that I had mistakenly parked my car over a mile from the beach, as this enabled me to enjoy the pleasures of the town centre. If you're ever in Littlehampton, you simply must visit the "Dinky Doo Diner":
If I ever get to the stage where I travel by electric wheelchair to an eatery that is named after male genitalia, please have me humanely destroyed.
One thing that Littlehampton certainly couldn't be accused of is being a clone town. There are lots of small, locally-owned shops, but this is because most of the big retail chains wouldn't be seen dead in Littlehampton. A combination of low rents and mild psychosis has resulted in a large number of shops selling goods of varying degrees of pointlessness. I wouldn't be at all surprised if there is a shop solely dedicated to hair nets or computer diskettes.
As we approached the seafront, we passed an army recruitment fair which I would imagine was very successful. What fear would a tour of duty in Afghanistan hold when you have already experienced Littlehampton?
A roadsign helpfully pointed the way to "The Sea", but when we got there it wasn't there. Where had it gone? The amusement arcade was still there, but wasn't what it used to be. Where were the laughing sailors and the elegant Chinese woman who carefully wrote a card telling your fortune?
I also felt that the clientelle had gone downhill:
I bought an ice cream from a lady who must have been at least 80. She had a refinement that seemed out of place with her flabby, tattooed, shaven-headed customers and I wondered if she ever hankered after the days when men wore hats and people minded their Ps and Qs.
"The people here are weird. Can we go home?", my eldest son pleaded. We started walking and after passing the shell of a new branch of Lidl, saw the home of Littlehampton's sole, middle-class inhabitant:
Littlehampton is not an affluent area, but even when people do have money there is a poverty of ambition. The owner of this car has been able to afford a personalised numberplate, but how do they choose to express their individuality?
I don't think any circumferences are involved in this numberplate, but I'm intrigued by the fact that someone has taken the time and expense to secure this registration. In the Republic of Steerforth (actually not a republic, because I'd rather have a monarchy than Tony Blair or Margaret Thatcher as head of state), people with personalised numberplates would be subject to punitive legislation.
If you are in America, going to the "Hamptons" may have some kudos, but in Sussex it is something to be avoided.