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Friday 1 December 2023 Dublin: 0°C
Alamy Stock Photo

Peter Flanagan is on holidays 'Put Tramore and Stoneybatter in a blender and you get Margate'

The comedian compares his holiday experience in the UK countryside to the craic chasing at home.

HERE’S SOMETHING I don’t like to admit – the English countryside is much nicer than Ireland. The towns are prettier and the weather is better.

Rolling green hills are diced by walking trails, sheer white cliffs cajole France in the distance.

Timber-framed Tudor cottages line medieval streets or sleepy pathways curled around a central place of worship and a pub. Ireland’s abandoned, chicken-fillet-roll hamlets feel cheap by comparison.

The problem though, is the people. Otherwise a rural renaissance idyll, on Guy Fawkes Night the village of Lewes sees its residents march through its cobbled streets brandishing lit torches and burning effigies of the Pope. It’s called culture.

A visiting American would think they’d stumbled upon a Ku Klux Klan rally, an Italian traveller would have to be sedated. Imagine ‘the Purge’ with blokes in wellies and tweed jackets, and you get the idea.

burning-crosses-form-part-of-a-breathtaking-parade-of-fire-and-fireworks-on-bonfire-night-in-lewes-england Alamy Stock Photo Burning crosses form part of a breathtaking parade of fire and fireworks on bonfire night in Lewes, England. Alamy Stock Photo

Hospitality just doesn’t come as easily to the English as it does to their neighbours. The hint is in their songs – “Rule, Britannia! Britons never will be slaves.” While other once great powers like Austria or Spain have settled comfortably into flabby irrelevance, many English people still see themselves as the Master People of the North Atlantic. Service is a form of subservience.

The old sod

The most silken-tongued savant of Madison Avenue couldn’t have pulled off what the Irish tourist board has managed. Cash-rich holidaymakers come from all over the world for a taste of an ill-defined, ephemeral quality known only as ‘the craic’.

Of course, it’s only we who know how to distil it, how to administer it correctly. It’s the cod of the century.

Our infrastructure is terrible and there isn’t a huge amount to do except get pissed. It’s a miracle people come to Ireland in the numbers that they do, and yet they keep coming. They find us charming, sexy even. I’ve lost too many good men to American tourists over the years, now married and living in places like New York and Nashville.

man-dressed-up-as-leprechaun-in-temple-bar-dublin-southern-ireland Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

We’re all in on the joke, you see. Irish people have a natural, involuntary tendency towards public displays of humility. Our grievances are kept private, bottled up, and occasionally expressed through sudden, hysterical outbursts of trad.

The English have never been oppressed by anyone so it’s never occurred to them that they shouldn’t say or do whatever they want, when they want.

Perhaps their tourist board lacks the creativity of the one in Ireland. But I suspect that many of the well-heeled residents of the Home Counties would prefer not to have outsiders poking around and upsetting the ambiance. The Irish are masters of self-interested obeisance. But for the Old Boys of Kent and West Sussex, making deferential small talk with a dour Kraut or boorish Yank would be Hades-adjacent.

The crown jewels

London does the heavy lifting in all aspects of the British economy, and tourism is no different. An overgrown metropolis on an otherwise provincial island, its palaces and phone boxes offer a cartoon version of Englishness for the selfie-thirsty visitor. But you’ll need to escape the tentacles of the tube line to experience the real country.

Kent is too English for most English people. Think of it like Wuhan for red trousers – the original outbreak was here.

Yet deep in the heart of Brexit country, something quirky is happening. The seaside town of Margate has become a refuge for ageing hipsters priced out of London, a trend only accelerated by the pandemic.

margate-beach-from-the-promenade-with-the-deckchair-hut-in-the-foreground-flying-the-union-jack Alamy Stock Photo Margate beach from the promenade with the deckchair hut in the foreground flying the union jack. Alamy Stock Photo

This was the place I chose for my first English summer holiday. It’s a peculiar experience. Fish and chip shops sit seamlessly alongside vegan cafes. Put Tramore and Stoneybatter in a blender and you’d get something similar. On my first morning there I enjoyed a pickle and cheese sandwich with a barista-made oat milk latte, a fusion of cultures I didn’t know I wanted until I did.

Waves broke in the distance. It was 99s in the afternoon, followed by £5 IPAs at the local drag show. This Is England, apparently.

On my last morning, I took a visit to Dalbys, an infamous greasy spoon hidden away from the seafront. Despite the snootiness of the ruling classes, the English caff is still one of the most egalitarian places left on earth. Dalbys is no different – a place where builders can get a good breakfast, where hungover ravers can get a fry.

3866-food-signs-margate-kent-uk Alamy Stock Photo Seaside views in Margate. Alamy Stock Photo

Pete Doherty is on the Wall of Fame (he completed ‘the Mega Breakfast’ challenge in 19 minutes) and Lily Allen recorded an episode of her sitcom here.

My girlfriend is Spanish. When the staff heard our accents, they couldn’t have been friendlier. They treated us like celebrities. “You two will have beautiful babies”, the waitress said. Then, still smiling, she continued “The British and the Spanish, together”. I didn’t correct her. It was still Kent, after all.

Peter Flanagan is an Irish comedian and writer. You can find him on Twitter @peterflanagan and Instagram @peterflanagancomedy.       


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