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This is the coastal town, that they forgot to close down…

October 26, 2010

Call me vulgar if you want, but if I really was to share my favourite recipe it might begin something like this:

Ingredients:

Chips from a seafront kiosk

Salt & vinegar

A polystyrene tray

A bench on the promenade

A kagoul

A slightly grey ocean

Your Dad

It’s true – in the past few years I’ve learned to love the Welsh Metropolis I now call home, despite once swearing blind I’d never live in a city (I was a proud Aberystwyth resident at the time…). I love that stuff is open on Sundays, I love that there are several buses a day, I love having opportunities to wear shoes that aren’t wellies, and being able to see films in the cinema the same year that they get released.

But I do still have an occasional irrational hankering for the kind of place Morrisey was so intent on bombing in “Every Day is Like Sunday”.

I’m not really a patriotic person. I’m a little embarrassed by Last Night of the Proms, and I really couldn’t give a crap about the Royal family. But I do love porridge, and chip shops, and Alan Bennet plays, and real ale, and crazy golf, and The Smiths, and pronouncing the T in “duty” – all those typically British things that never quite make it into the Hollywood films they set here. And if there’s anything that gives me that surge of affection for my home country more than anything else, then it has to be the typical British seaside resort.

We never really went abroad as kids, so my holiday memories are all very innocent British pleasures (English, Scottish and Welsh experiences all included here by the way!) . I remember dripping ice cream cones bought from a van, windswept beaches and damp trouser bottoms, shops selling stripy sticks of rock (and, once, rock fashioned into the shape of a plate of cooked breakfast), unstable funfair rides, 2p machines in amusement arcades on the pier… the weather was invariably shit of course, but somehow that felt like part of it – the soggy vinegar-scented chip papers, and kicking at piles of wet sand-spaghetti moulded by the worms on the beach – maybe it’s just me who loves this stuff?

Whitby enchanted me as a child: it’s a place of crazy contrasts that still seems to make perfect sense – the imposing abbey on the East cliff, the winding, cobbled Victorian streets – and then the tacky funfair, the candy floss, a weird shop that sold only fudge and wristwatches (and this was in the days before the Goth Weekender – despite a later teenage penchant for black eyeliner and Siouxsie and the Banshees, I like to think it was Whitby that turned me onto Goth, rather than the other way around. I still kind of associate fudge and candy floss with Dracula).

It all sounds horribly mundane, when you think of the kind of intrepid things-to-do-before-you-die type holidays we can jet off on these days. But part of the point is the smallness, the everyday-ness of it all. We spend so much time and money trying to escape our “small town” lives – jetting off to see the Louvre, or trekking up Machu Picchu – and it’s brilliant that so many of us can do that now. But sometimes, still, I feel like Dorothy at the end of The Wizard of Oz – like maybe my heart’s desire was in my own backyard all along.

I guess it’s a bit like comfort food. You may love meals in posh restaurants, you may love baking beautiful cakes, and experimenting with Thai curry spices. But when you’re feeling down, or have flu, or your boyfriend’s just dumped you and you’re worrying about whether you’ll ever achieve anything in your life – what you really want is a big bowl of mashed potato, or a tin of tomato soup – or Mum’s roast dinner – the kind of things that remind you of being a kid, with people to look after you and no responsibilities.

 The seaside is like a comfort-holiday.

All my childhood memories seem to revolve around smells – whether it’s Mum baking bread, or the stink of the breweries and Marmite factory near where I grew up – but I do have a favourite.

I was sitting in the boot of a hatchback car (there were too many children, not enough seats in the car). It was dark and past my bedtime, but there were colourful lights spinning around everywhere from a whole assortment of shops, stalls and arcades. When the car door opened I was hit by the smell of the resort – hot chip fat, salt water, slightly rotted fish, doughnuts frying in vats of oil, the intense, sugary smell of hot fudge – it’s a smell I’ll never forget, but sadly, it’s one that I might never smell again  – last time I went back to Scarborough, the buzz I remember was gone, and there were very few traditional sweet sellers, with proper fish and chip shops being replaced increasingly by places claiming to sell “fries”. Brighton still has it’s traditional pier amusement arcade and ice-cream sellers – but the town is dominated by trendy bars, strip clubs and upmarket gourmet restaurants. On the beach there are more men sporting Speedos and six packs than there are with knotted hankies on their heads. I’m sure most of them would run a mile if you offered them a bag of carb-heavy chips. But hey-ho – things change – and I’m probably idealising the past anyway. Life would definitely be poorer if we never left our own backyards.

I can’t offer you a recipe for nostalgia. So here’s one for fudge instead – the kind you used to bring back as a present for your grandma:

Holiday Fudge

There are loads of recipes for fudge, using all kinds of ingredients, and some work better than others. This one is my own combination of several of the recipes I’ve come across, and seems to yield the best fudge for the least effort:

Ingredients

A can of condensed milk (usually about 400g)

About 150ml milk

450g caster sugar (Yes it looks like a lot. Yes you will need it all.)

120g butter (real butter, rather than spread, or it won’t work properly)

Vanilla essence, or other flavouring (see below)

Now you simply put all the ingredients in a large pan and heat it up on the hob, stirring with a wooden spoon until the sugar dissolves. Then bring it to the boil. Simmer and stir constantly (you may need a helper, or you will get arm ache!) for about ten minutes before taking it off the heat and beating with an electric whisk until you can feel it thickening to the consistency of honey (a non-electric whisk will work, but take a loonnnnggggg time!) . Before it cools completely and solidifies, pour it into a tray and allow to set – which will take about an hour, but you can speed the process up by putting it in the fridge. When it’s set completely, cut into pieces and eat!

Seaside shops always sell fudge in all kinds of exciting, and occasionally bizarre, flavours. If you want to flavour yours, you need to add the flavour just before the cooling and beating stage. The standard flavour is a few drops of vanilla essence – obviously you can use any other flavour “essence” you fancy, but there are other options too. My last batch of fudge was coconut flavour – I grated creamed coconut into the fudge mixture, and then sprinkled over dessicated coconut for decoration as it cooled in the tray. Almost any kind of alchoholic liquor or spirit will taste good, for chocolate fudge you add chocolate (melted in the microwave) at the beginning of the cooking and reduce the amount of sugar slightly – but to be honest it might be easier just to add a few scoops of Nutella. You can drop bits of fresh or dried fruit, or nuts, or pretty much anything else, into the mix as well. Let me know if you come up with anything that tastes sensational!

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