Saturday 01 September 2018 – St Leonards-on-Sea and Hastings.
I am a bit drunk as I let myself in through the front door of the airbnb I am staying in tonight. The house is Tudor, according to my host, it is the second oldest building in Hastings. I struggle with the lock, it turns 180 degrees to home. My (wine, gin, whisky) addled brain eventually works it out and I am in. Creaking quietly up to my first floor room, every board of this ancient staircase creaks. My door squeaks open and bangs closed, the latch doesn’t work. I then realise no one else is home, and the floors and doors can make whatever noise they want.
Barefoot I feel every dip and rise in the wooden floor, it’s not just the old walls that are uneven. In the morning I discover the floor has quite a slope, perhaps I was less drunk than I thought.
The room is lovely, white and wooden, noisy from the street. Headphones on I try Eno’s ambient Descreet Music as a means to sleep, whisky helping. Though morning may have regrets. Much like today almost did.
This is my third visit to Hastings and St Leonards in recent weeks. I have offered on a flat in St Leonards. Two bedrooms, the top floor of a building built by the admiralty in 1884 to house retired senior naval officers, it is red brick and I really, really like it. The flat is under the word ‘flat’!
I fell in love with the first flat I saw online when I started looking for flats in this area a few weeks ago. It is not this flat in St Leonards, but one in Hastings old town. It disappeared off the market almost immediately, before I could get down to see it. Last week it was online again.
The vendor of the St Leonards flat had yet to get back to me on my offer, it had been rather cheeky. In case if fell through I decided to come down and have a look at this Old Town flat as a plan B. El and I came down last weekend, and it is really, really nice. Just off the high street, out of the way up a steep path and view over the roofs of the old town and out to sea is magnificent. I decided I would offer on it as well and see how things worked out.
As this place is so close to the centre of old town nightlife I thought it wise to come down for a Friday night, find an AirBnB nearby and see, and hear, what it is like of evening. IS it really noisy? Is there closing time trouble? Junkies and drunks sleeping in doorways etc.
After booking an old town AirBnB the St Leonards vendor accepted my offer, I gave the Hastings old Town vendor a chance to do the same, but they didn’t so St Leonards here I come. My first property purchase in the UK. Assuming all goes through of course.
Even though staying in the old town is not relevant I went ahead anyway. St Leonards does not have a lot of night life so the old town, a 30 minute walk away is where we would likely go anyway.
I caught the train from London after work, sneaking off slightly early and getting a train from Victoria Station just before 4:00. The Victoria to Hastings line is the slowest of the three from central London, taking just under two hours. It is a direct train, but it stops in a lot of places. I like trains so was not unhappy with the trip and I should get used to it.
Walking alone out of Hastings station into the early evening sunlight I was overcome with a wave of despondency. Why was I buying here? Not wanting to come across sounding like a complete middle class snob, but it was all so chav. Street drinkers, bad tattoos, run down cars, smokers in doorways. I know everywhere is like this, but I want it to feel like I am perpetually on holiday when I come here. I had a moment of regretting buying here, even though the weather is nice, it just feels a bit grim in this part of Hastings. My steps were heavy as I made my way down from the station to the sea front.
As soon as I hit the sea, my mood lightened. Walking along the promenade towards the old town and watching the skates and bmxers, the dog walkers and the families strolling I knew that I had made the right call. The brief flash of regret was regretted and disposed of.
I dumped my bag in my room in the creaky old AirBnB, after a quick chat with the owners I made my way out the door again. They have lived here for five years and are now looking to move to St Leonards themselves, somewhere quieter.
Tonight is the opening of Coastal Currents, a month long annual art event in Hastings and St Lenoards. The opening party is free and is being held in the big waterfront bar where I spent my first evening last time I came down. It is early evening am hungry, I checked out the pier, but didn’t fancy eating here. I did stop for a glass of wine and to take a few photos up the beach.
I was warned by the BnB hosts that I might find it hard getting a table in any of the eating places. It is the last weekend of the holidays, the weather it lovely and the art festival opening is on. They were right. By the time I had walked to St Leonards, taken a walk by my flat to see what the street was like on a Friday night (dead) there were no table at any of the cafes. I made my way back to the sea front and stopped in to the Goat Ledge cafe for another glass of wine and an excellent fish burger and fries. It was pretty packed, but it was nice sitting on the beach listening to the dark sea behind me.
As I was leaving a load of people on brightly lit bikes riding from Hastings pier to the opening party stopped in at the cafe. I took a few photos.
I was lured in to the opening party by the wonderful sounds of Velvet Underground on the sound system, though discovered this was just a trap, once I had bought a gin and tonic the music had turned to some terrible house music. Not knowing anyone here I didn’t hang around for long before walking back to Hastings. There are some lovely Georgian, Edwardian and Victorian buildings along here, slowly being repainted and during the day it is quite nice, the evening equally so.
As I arrived in the Hastings new town I heard The Ruts, ‘Babylons Burning’ being played loudly by a cover band from the local ‘biker’ bar, crossing the road I stopped in for a look, just as the band finished. The pub is not my cup of tea, but I could see myself in there for a punk rock covers band on the odd and right occasion. I put a tick in the positive box and walked on. Two doors up from my BnB there was another pub, there are a lot of pubs here, all open and doing business, another good sign. This pub had a blues band going, knowing I would not be able to sleep and as it was close to throwing out time I ordered a Jamesons and sat at the back and enjoyed their last couple of songs. At last orders I had one more drink and basically waited till the place shut before heading to my room, and then not sleeping for a while.
I was up early on Saturday and off before 9:00, stopping for an excellent coffee on the pier and an OK fry-up in a greasy spoon cafe.
I walked back to St Leonards, past the flat for another look, it is just as quiet today. I would have expected nothing else. The flat is in Helena Court, at the top of Pevensey Road, a ten minute walk up a hill from St Leonards station and the main shopping streets. It is not somewhere you would go unless you needed to. There are a lot of hills here. Once I have settled and the flat is mine, I will post some photos of the interior.
There is a lot happening in St Leonards, it is another glorious day, loads of people about, there is street market in Kings Rd, the cafes are bursting, there is chatter and smiles. I stopped at a specialist photography gallery which had an exhibition of photos of David Bowie and talked to the owner for a while. Everyone I have met here has been nice.
I think I will be happy here !