Saturday, 13 August 2011

Inland Seasides, Seagulls, and the Japanese Invasion

TUESDAY: Once again it's Friday of my current 2-day work schedule, and I'm eating a sandwich with extra mature cheddar and gorgeously creamy avocado, seasoned with the obligatory cumin and New Mexico chilli powder. After a short period of warm humid weather we're suddenly having a preview of autumn, and I'm back to wearing long sleeves and socks.

This is why I'm particularly amused by the month-long "Sheffield by the Seaside" festival that just started in the Peace Gardens. As a former seaside dweller -- and I'm referring to my entire life before I moved to Sheffield -- I find this concept extremely amusing, as the nearest seaside is over 70 miles away. Certainly the city can dump a truckload of sand to create a beach and provide some water in the form of an inflatable pool, and they can erect kiosks selling candy floss, ice lollies, Sheffield rock, sausage rolls, and sushi. And the rides that have popped up are de rigueur.

But will they import a flock of seagulls to provide the necessary seaside soundtrack? If I'm supposed to believe I'm back by the sea, not only do I want to hear that wonderful haunting sound of seagulls flying over the Belmont Pier or circling around the Space Needle or surfing the air currents above the Folkestone Leas, but I want to share my chips with them. I'm reminded of Ivar's chain of fish and chips cafes in Seattle, particularly the one overlooking Elliott Bay, where signs actually urge patrons to share their food with the ever-present gulls.

This is an integral part of seaside life. I'd love to see the Yorkshire inlanders quit complaining about pigeon poop when they see what seagulls can muster. In my book, you haven't lived unless you've been shat upon by a seagull at least once.

A ride constructed temporarily near the Sheffield-By-The-Seaside site sends me back to my childhood every time I walk past it. On summer holidays my family would often visit my mother's home town of Seaside, Oregon, with its main drag full of rides, razor clam stands, and salt-water taffy shops. And my favourite ride was what we Americans call bumper cars. On my way to work I stop momentarily and watch the bumper cars, remembering how I'd squeal with delight when I'd ram into the back of my brother's car. Oddly the Brits call these cars dodgems, which implies a more defensive manner of driving. To be fair, I don't think we American kids were actually supposed to drive as aggressively and offensively as we could; but what good is a "bumper car" if you don't bump? And the bumpier the better.

Back to the sushi stand. I have to admit I've never seen a sushi stand at any of the English seasides I've visited, although I haven't been to Folkestone, Brighton, Hastings, Bridlington, Whitby, or Scarborough for some time. Like the seemingly sudden explosion of excellent cask ale pubs, Sheffield seems to be experiencing an equally sudden and welcome Japanese invasion, with sushi bars popping up all over, including those that deliver. So when is the Greek invasion coming, bringing more than just one Greek deli and at least a couple of good Greek restaurants, and possibly a Greek festival, with Greek folk dancing and spanakopeta and gyros and Roditis and Retsina and Greek coffees? Having grown up in California with its Greek communities and restaurants, I would be very happy to see some of this come to Sheffield. And I know a few locals who would welcome it as well.

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