Saturday, June 26, 2010


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.


Brett said...

I couldn't afford our "Hamptons", but why would I want to, being from Florida?

Littlehampton reminds me of a local redneck beach town, Panama City, favored as a budget "Spring Break" destination by North Florida university students.

I read that at a public event in nearby Seaside, an upscale New Urbanist development, someone joked that the winner of a contest would receive a week's vacation in Panama City. And the runner-up? Two weeks.

mothership said...

I had forgotten that I was living in a fool's paradise here in Stepford.
That post gave me the absolute shudders. And also made me terribly sad for an England that will never return (although perhaps it was always that awful, just in different ways?)

Steerforth said...

The nice England's still here, which is why I rant about places like Littlehampton. There is an unacceptable disparity in the living conditions of people in different areas.

The town I live in is beautiful and while I know that not everywhere can enjoy rolling hills and medieval streets, everyone should have the right to grow up in a decent environment, with plenty of access to green spaces and well-built housing.

Brett mentioned Seaside - a town that has influenced Poundbury in Dorset, which I wrote about here:

Brett - what's your impression of Seaside?

Brett said...

Alas, I've never been to Seaside, and only a couple of times to Panama City. They are a little too far for a day-trip. Tallahasseans usually go to St. George Island and Apalachicola, or the much closer Shell Point.

Seaside, for all its reputation among architects, is not a destination for most people. The only person I know who's been there is married to an architect.

I remember your post about Poundbury. Celebration is the Seaside-inspired community that Disney owns, near Kissimee in Central Florida.

I don't much care for North Florida beaches. They are narrow and steep.

St. Petersburg has wonderful, broad, white powder sand beaches, and Pass-a-Grille, at the southern tip of the barrier islands, is what Seaside attempts to recreate.

Mothership said...

Poundbury looks like the Childcatcher roams the streets. Cute (terminally so?) yet slightly sinister ..
Steerforth, you live in Lewes, don't you? It is lovely there, I grew up not far from it. On the subject of planned cities, Washington DC is one of them and it is delightful.

Steerforth said...

Yes, I live in Lewes.

I discovered it nearly 20 years ago, on a day trip with my dad. We had to change trains and decided to kill some time in the station cafe.

The cafe was immaculate, with fresh flowers on each table and classical music in the background. It made me want to know more about the town.

Tim F said...

I'd have thought that Dinky Doo was a reference to something a dog did, not man bits. Don't know what's worse.

Pondering skin-chested bareheads.

Steerforth said...

I'm assuming that it refers to male genitals, as I once saw a rather large man wearing a t-shirt that said "My belly sticks out more than my dinky-do".

I don't think either option is particularly palatable.

Anonymous said...

I stumbled across this sight by accident and laughed so much I will be telling my friends to have a look also.

The only thing geographically wrong with Littlehampton is that it is above water, but fear not, only a short distance away, you will find the lovely village of Rustington.

Although Rustington does not have an amusement arcade or a tatoo/piercing shop, you will find many delights to keep yourself entertained including coffee shops that are not named after genetalia or dog muck (that one is open to debate)...I recomend Maries on sea lane for a quiet charming cuppa or Coastal coffee for busy and noisy.

Although the shop windows are bi-focal our senior folk I am sure will give you a warm welcome, as long as your children are well behaved !!!! and you will be suprised that there are alot of us younger people aswell.

The downside? Us Rustington residents have a major chip on our shoulder when buying online or needing to give our address because we live in Rustington BN16, fill an address in and up pops Rustington LITTLEHAMPTON nooooo we squeel Rustington is a separate village to the town of LA (locally called and described as L'il Ampton-in accordancce with local accent),alas noone hears.

We have applied to the local council to have a border put up controlling who can go in or out of Littlehampton but to no avail, in the mean time we will continue to pop in to Littlehampton when we want to buy something cheap but only at selected times before the drunks and junkies come out to play (and that is just the 10 year olds!!!)

I'm Over Games said...

I wanted to find out what Littlehampton was like because of a description I came across in Arnold Bennett's A Man from the North (1911):

"It was unpicturesque as a manufacturing town, and its summer visitors were an infestive, lower-middle class folk, garishly clothed, and unlearned in the fine art of enjoyment."

'Nuff said.

Steerforth said...

As they used to say on the remake of Battlestar Galactica, "This has happened before and it will happen again."

Anonymous said...

arrr me oh my. i have visited Littlehamton since a child and at the moment live in a small village outside LA itself. Now, I cannot believe the difference, every time I go there I am convinced that no one works, the queue for the newsagents where I needed to get some change was full of people buying vodka and fags at 11am and Sainsbury's or the hight street - don't even go there.

But pretty... it is so pretty. West Beach is amazing, despite being filmed by some complete pervy psycho there a few years ago I still love it... and we hoped it would change and that we could blow up the scum that live there an create a nice community, alas no, more tattoos and staffs than I saw growing up in Kings Lynn. Please someone, do something, would love to live there, overlooking the river a stroll from the beach and not encounter teanagers comming at me all sideways (micky flanagan you could get some great material here). Peace people, and up the hampton.

Anonymous said...

I've been to Littlehampton, And It's not as bad as this man makes out. But I do admit, it's a little shabby.

Steerforth said...

No, it's not as bad as I made out. I exaggerated to make the post a bit funnier. I actually really liked Littlehampton when I was a kid and this rant is more about that fact that when you revisit places you used to love, they're nearly always disappointing.

Don't take my words too seriously. It's all tongue-in-cheek.

Nicky said...

I live in Littlehampton and laughed out loud at this. I definitely like the town more outside of the tourist season. Only the other day, sitting on the beach, surrounded by tourists, I pondered "why would you come here for your holiday? It's bad enough having to live here". Why do I live here then, I hear you ask! Well, because I couldn't afford to buy in London, where I used to live...and my husbands family live in the area. So, I've made my bed and I will have to roll around in it! There ARE reasons to come here...the beaches are clean (please take your rubbish home with you!), there are many lovely "local" events to go to(such as the Town Show in September)The amusements still have a kind of 'nostalgic' feel of an old time seaside town...the miniature railway is fun. It may be a little shabby...a bit faded but it's actually part of its charm...all in all, I'd say for a day out with the family I can see why people come here. It is old fashioned and what you see is what you get....prices are reasonable and it's all quite easy going. It's only an hour or so by road from South London, so we get quite a few London day trippers. It could be better...but I'm kinda fond of the fact that the town isn't rushing to join the 21st century...

Unknown said...

I was born in Littlehampton in the 1950's on South Terrace opposite the common, in those days a lovely place - I have recently visited and yes it is rundown and the clientele have changed but what a wonderful place it could be - The longer I have been away the more the place seems to have something - it has so much more going for it than many of its "twee" neighbours - with the River and the West Beach and the fact much of the location near the sea hasn't changed - no estates of bungalows and neat lawns but old victorian houses full of charm.
i was encouraged to see the award winning East Beach Cafe doing well and hopeful this was the sign of a turnaround. It is only the town that needs sorting and the people encouraged to live there! I would move back like a shot if there were a few more signs of hope.

Anonymous said...

I just wet my panties !
Having looked up Dinky Doo Diner because my date wants to take me there, I stumbled innocently onto your blog.
When I see him tomorrow, I'll show him your post and ask him if he really meant to take me to a place named after the male genitalia - thanks for making sure the conversation doesn't dry up ;)
I love broken down seaside towns... the Littlehampton Dutch Bike Shop, it fits in beautifully !
And the guy who talked about Rustington and the borders... try living in Pagham Harbour and delivery companies saying you live in Bognor. Although I do have fun an pronouce Bognor, Boooooognor, darling, don't you know.
Suzy @ Pagham

Steerforth said...

Suzy - If I was dating you, we'd go to a much classier joint (and I don't mean a Toby Carvery). Obviously, once I'd convinced you that I was a good catch and we'd tied the knot, then I might subtly mention that I'd heard good things about the 'Dinky Doo' (before confessing that I was bankrupt and already married to a woman in Romania).

However, the dating stage is too early for a 'Full English Dinky Doo'. He needs to flash a bit of cash ;)

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Heather Leavers said...

it's always great to post a comment below a spammer :-)
We've just moved to Littlehampton and I found your blog through google, trying to discover why on earth people refer to it as LA. I'm none the wiser. Is it REALLY like Hollywood? I don't think so.

Steerforth said...

Heather - There are parts of LA that are a little more like Littlehampton than Hollywood, but I can't see a remake of Baywatch being filmed in West Sussex.