Pier reviewed

Alan Clawley enjoys a book on some classic British architecture.


I did enjoy reading Pier Review, written by Jon Bounds and Danny Smith. The book is billed “A road trip in search of the great British seaside”. It seems an unlikely subject for a couple of writers based in a city that’s further from the sea than anywhere else, so maybe it was the getting there rather than the arriving that made Brummie seaside holidays particularly memorable to children.

Starting with Weston Super Mare the authors are driven round the coast of England and Wales by ‘Midge’ who has to get home to sign on at the Job Centre in two week’s time. Jon and Danny take turns to comment on what they see and hear and although they are well-informed about architecture they don’t bore with detailed descriptions as Pevsner is wont to do. In fact they discover towards the end of the trip that someone has already written a definite guide to seaside pier architecture.

There aren’t any pictures in the book so they rely on words to evoke the sights and sounds of the people they meet, the ubiquitous amusement arcades and the iron or concrete structures in various stages of decay. As a reward to their crowd funders they promise to send postcards from all 55 piers on the hit list.

Jon takes along a chronicle of another journey, J B Priestley’s English Journey (1934) that has no obvious purpose except to provide a vehicle for the writer to respond to what he came across. In France this was called being a ‘flaneur’ whilst London’s pioneer in the genre was Ian Nairn. Nowadays it’s called psycho-geography and practiced by the likes of Ian Sinclair, Will Self, and Owen Hatherley.

The authors dealt with the strangeness of their own self-imposed task thus: “Telling people about the trip always caused one or more of the reactions: 1 – Complete and utter indifference, as if you couldn’t have told them anything more mundane. 2 – Confusion followed by a series of questions and then normally reaction 1 or 3. 3 – Completely getting it and being on board. 4 – Reciting as many piers from memory to check we’re actually going to them and then eventually making some up for no other reason than to fuck with us.”

I like to think I would have been a number 3.

Pier Review has just been published by Summersdale Publishers www.summersdale.com