Of all the seaside pearls scattered around the English coastline designed for pleasure and family pastimes Weston-Super-Mare is something of a joke.
The once elegant seafront has seen better days and the remarkable architecture of its wooded hills has to be set against the ugly urban sprawl of its box-homes suburbs.
It has one of the oldest populations in Britain, and also a high concentration of problem families, shipped off to the seaside like so many others in the hope the bracing sea air will restore health. In the town’s most prestigous shopping street estate agents and charity shops alternate between drug recovery centres and solicitors.
Empty shops are scattered around the town like rotten teeth. Only weeks ago a man had his nose bitten off in the High Street after an early Saturday morning fracas. The town centre can be a frightening place at the wrong time of night. Even during daylight a raised slurred voice in a shop or on the seafront reminds that something ugly may never be far away.
Everywhere there is the feeling that the town is dying on its feet. Industry, whether shoes or helicopters, has moved on and closed. Houses for people working in nearby Bristol mushroom on factory sites and land once owned by their sporting clubs; the cricket clubhouse gives way to the new chain pub built to service the new estate. The town has the UK’s highest level of personal debt. It is as emblematic of British decline as any other place in Britain.
A seaside town is only ever going to be as popular as its facilities, and Weston used to be blessed with a splendid ballroom for dancing.
That is now sold off for education.
The pier and amusement arcades remain, but the town’s second pier is all-but-fallen into the sea from neglect.
The model railway is long-gone, as have the fabulous Victorian swimming baths at Knightstone, now swish flats. Somerset no longer
visit for a week-long cricket festival.
As for the open-air swimming pool, the focal point of any holiday resort, well, that has been derelict for years. With Weston’s extraordinary tides your timing has to be right to enjoy the water, otherwise you’ll have to wait a while for that swim. Residents have complained for years about the closure, and many are campaigning for it to be revived, even if struggled to make money when it was open.
Into this community, one of the safest Tory seats in the UK yet where UKip has very visible offices , comes the enfant terrible of modern street art, Banksy. Born just up the road in Bristol when he was a lad a day out in Weston would have been on his family’s “to do” list: But a day has always been enough in dreary Weston. Now Banksy has set out, in his biggest work yet, to make a Day Out in Weston a day to remember.
He has brought Dismaland to the pool, which was rechristened in a desperate attempt to make it sound more exotic as the “Tropicana” in the 1980s. Banksy promises the show will be “depressing”, and “not suitable for children”, yet some 300,000 people are expected to attend before the show ends on September 27. It is quite simply the biggest thing to happen in Weston since,…since…
For a few brief weeks the town will find itself at the apex of the street art world, with people flying in from thousands of kilometres away, probably into Bristol’s charming little airport, to attend the latest Banksy happening.
Sophisticates will rub shoulders with vested Brummies and workers from South Wales while in the chip shop queue and happily wait their turn for the malted vinegar while discussing the finer points of structuralist interpretation and neo-Dutch perspective.
Or they may find their shoes being vomited on and their pockets rifled as bullet-headed, barrel-stomached bullies remind them that anything is possible in Weston-Super-Mud, Weston-Super-Mental, Weston-Super-Merde.