When writing these blog posts I’ve tried not to be too harsh about any particular location I’ve visited. This is primarily because I haven’t been able to spend that much time in any one place and I think it’s a bit rich to do a hatchet-job on somewhere after only a few hours exposure. The exception to this, of course, is the Pacer trains, which deserve everything I can throw at them. (I did actually dream about them last night. It was a very strange dream in which the Pacers were pursuing a load of palaeontologists around a small island in the pacific. I don’t want to say too much about it as I’m worried that Universal Pictures might get wind of it and use it as the plot of yet another Jurassic Park sequel. But the best part of the dream was when an aged Dr Malcolm yelled at the pacers: “You should be extinct!”. Couldn’t agree more, Ian.)
The upshot of all of the above is that what I’m going to present here are my views of Blackpool as it appears in December. I accept that is is probably not the best time to visit Blackpool, it could quite easily be the worst, but I can only work with what I’m given. So here (with that caveat) for your perusal, is my account of Blackpool, in December:
I have often wondered what the world would be like after a relatively major virus pandemic. The eerie opening scenes of the film “28 Days Later” went some way to answering that query, but if you haven’t every seen that film I’d suggest that you can get a pretty good idea by visiting Blackpool, in December.
The train pulled up into Blackpool North station at around ten minutes to six and the three surviving passengers quickly melted away into the night. The station concourse was deserted with the exception of a large, silent, dog, that tracked me with its one functioning eye from the platform to the station entrance. I followed the main road down to the coast, only encountering one person on the way – a woman, who asked me if I had 12p to allow her to make a phone call. I wondered where exactly she was planning on making the call from; the only pay-phone I’d seen had no windows left and no phone inside.
I made it to the promenade and turned right to head north to my hotel. Behind me, the once-famous Blackpool tower stood there in splendid isolation, its top half covered in flickering blue lights but it’s bottom half boarded up. The general illuminations were still functioning on the road down to the tower itself but, in the direction I was going, while the they still hung from the lamp posts, the electricity had long since been turned off.
With the wind howling in from the sea I made my way past hotel after hotel, each one dark with fading “closed” signs hung in the shadowy doorways. I was startled by a clattering sound and looked seawards, just in time to see an empty tram bearing down on my position. I watched it go past, imagining what it must have been like before whatever disaster had befallen this place, packed with tourists heading up the coast to a casino or returning from a day at the pleasure beach.
After a further ten minute walk I arrived at my hotel. I was greeted at the front desk by the owner, who instantly upgraded me to the sea-view suite as, in his words, “it’s dead here now”. I enquired about food; there was none. I asked if there were any other places to eat – he said that the Hilton might be open, but it was difficult to say. Everywhere was closed. No one was left.
Despite his downbeat prognosis, having unpacked into my room I ventured back outside. The howling wind was now accompanied by a rain / sleet combination that pounded the pavements and shuttered shop fronts. I arrived at the Hilton only to find the main doors locked and the lights off. As I turned to leave I noticed a small hand-written sign stuck to the side of the main doors: “These doors are now locked. Any guests should use the side door to enter the hotel”. I made my way round the side of the hotel and entered the building.
I headed straight for the restaurant. I was greeted by a man with a slight French accent in a tuxedo, who was as surprised to see me as I was him. “Sir…we…I…” He stuttered. He obviously didn’t think it possible that anyone was still alive out there. Once he’d regained his composure he explained that they only had one menu on due to “the circumstances”. He led me to a table in the middle of a grand dining hall designed to hold several hundred. Christmas songs were being piped out of a tinny sound system. Across the expanse of the ballroom I spied a fellow survivor sat at another table. We exchanged glances – an unwritten acknowledgement that we’d both ‘made it’.
The meal was actually surprisingly good. I suppose the chef didn’t have much on so was able to concentrate on putting together a top notch menu. The waiter was very attentive, as you’d expect. He’d come and ask me if evening was ok with my meal, and then I’d watch him walk across the expanse of the deserted dining hall to ask the other diner the same question, before turning sharply on his heels and heading back to me. The place certainly had a slight feeling of impending doom about it – I imagined that this must have been what it was like going for a three-course meal in the grand banqueting hall on the Titanic, shortly after it had hit the iceberg. I half-expected a string quartet to emerge in the desert course and start playing “nearer my god to thee”.
Having finished my meal the waiter and I exchanged final words. “Good luck out there” he said, nodding his head towards the large windows at the front of the dining hall. “Thanks” I replied. “I hope things pick up for you again soon”. He stifled a laugh “That’s kind sir, but it’s the end now. This is probably the busiest it’ll get”.
He watched me walk out and, as I headed back round the front of the hotel, I could see him gliding back across the room to hover next to the remaining diner.
I walked back up the promenade to my hotel. Over the howling winds I could just make out the sound of a large helicopter flying overhead. A Chinook, I presumed, delivering supplies to those holed-upon in the Marriott.
When I got back to the hotel the owner had disappeared and the downstairs was dark and empty. I headed up to my room, locked and bolted to door behind me, and descended into an uneasy sleep, tortured by thoughts of the desolation, and the distant Da Dunk of Pacer.