Nineteen-year-old Tom McCann is Hastings born and bred, as were his father and grandfather before him, but as a young man trying to make his way in life he has a love/hate relationship with the town he calls home – here he explains why.
A few weeks ago I was asked to write about a young person’s perspective of life in Hastings.
Since then I’ve been wondering what exactly I can say? What can anyone say about living in a place like this?
I don’t know – but then don’t that say it all? I’ve lived here all my life and I’m not sure what to say.
I guess if I had to describe Hastings in two words, then the first would be dread;
- the dread of minimum wage – and little hope for any better
- the dread of part time hours and the nonexistence of overtime
- the dread of having nothing to do
- the dread of being able to do nothing about it.
*Bukowski put it like this: Born like this/Into this/As the chalk faces smile/As Mrs Death laughs/As the supermarket bag boy holds a college degree,”… every time I read it I cringe at the reality of it.
I stack shelves for a living. Come the weekend I’m either drinking or I’m smoking. By the end of the month I’ve got pennies left. Everyone I know, is just the same – always have been and maybe always will be.
I love it here, I do. Here, we go round the prickly pear, till five o’clock in the morning… born to die in Hastings.
The people here, they like to romanticise the life, rose-tinted glasses and all – beer goggles probably too.
All the time I hear people say stuff like ‘there’s no place like Hastings!’ and ‘the pubs are good!’ but really? Is that it? Is that all we’ve got to go by?
Sure, having an identity is a good thing but when that identity hinges mostly on alcohol, how can that be good?
You see it everywhere, in everyone; people after a hard day’s work going straight to the pub for some pints and then stumbling home only to repeat themselves the very next day. And then there are those who go back to the pubs come the weekend, spending what little money they have. Add to that the fact that pretty much every event that happens here is tied to drinking – I mean, we’ve got an entire half mile alley named ‘Bottle’ that’s decorated with shards of glass, many from old beer bottles.
Life is hard in Hastings, to be fair. Look at the career prospects; they come down either to trades, retail, insurance sales.
Housing prospects are down to either staying with your parents or toiling away for rent you can’t even really afford. And you can’t even get a mortgage anymore, how messed up the market is.
Oh, and then there’s the car paradox: you need a better job to get a car, but you need a car to get a better job. Forever dangling in the jaws of financial traps to simply get by; forever in the cycle of spending just to live and feel alive.
No wonder we drink. But it’s never just drink.
I can count on one hand how many people I went to school with who didn’t end up drinkers, smokers or snorters. In fact, I know more dealers than I do people who are sober and it trickles down, becomes a cycle, turns into addiction.
Those who aren’t born into it use because they’re bored or depressed and then when they realise that they’ve got no money left and that they’re stuck in the perpetual cycle of hangovers and comedowns, they fall even further down. Look at how many people are on antidepressants! Look at how many people can’t go to bed without necking down a couple of pints or smoking a joint. Look at how many homeless there are.
It’s just like James Baldwin said: ‘people are trapped in history, and history is trapped in them.’
But then is that exclusive to Hastings, or is it England as a whole? Maybe I’m being unfair.
Things in recent years especially have gotten better, truth be told, despite all I’ve said. People actually, generally, seem more positive, even with Brexit and everything else that’s going on, everybody I’ve talked to says it’s far safer than it used to be.
On top of that, we’ve actually got a half-decent music scene, and a respectable night life, too. And the Old Town is one of the nicest places in the area you can go, with pretty cafes – however DFL and gentrified they might be – and always some place nice to see, and always something nice to eat – I recommend the Thai place down by Priory Meadow.
It’s not just Old Town anymore though; the whole town is better. The park is actually pretty again and the East and West Hills too, as they’ve always been. The beer gardens in the summer are always full of laughter and the summers themselves are beautiful here, what with the beach and the pier – which of course has just reopened again!
Honestly, if you were to ask me if I would have rather been born in any other place in the world, then I think the answer would be no.
I don’t know why. Maybe it’s Crowley’s Curse all over again – or Stockholm Syndrome – but either way, there’s just something about Hastings. Something about the people, something about the place. Speak to anyone, they’ll probably say the same. Yeah, it’s a dive, and it’s full of drunks and junkies, but it’s our dive, like an old car you should scrap but you can’t let go of.
Maybe I’m deluded, but I don’t think you could find what we have in many other places.
I guess the best way to describe Hastings would be as a contradiction. You got the good, and the bad and then the very bad, but it’s almost as if you couldn’t have one without the other.
So, despite the contradiction of it, my second word for Hastings would be hope. Even though I couldn’t stay here forever, and even though I do desperately want to leave because of the lack of opportunity, I am grateful for being from here; it made me the person that I am, and it is getting better.
I do love it here, as much as I like to claim I hate it too. But that’s my perspective then: a dreadful hope, for the loveliest shithole in England: Hastings.
*Henry Charles Bukowski was a German-born American poet, novelist, and short story writer. His writing was influenced by the social, cultural, and economic ambiance of his home city of Los Angeles.