Last Saturday we went to Hastings to do a Connecting Nothing with Something reading at the Roomz in St Leonards.
Salena Godden, our briny siren hosted the night with me, Chris Watson, Sam Berkson and Gareth Rees of Influx reading. We were also joined by Emily Lloyd, the legendary actress from the film Wish You Were Here reading from her memoir.
Hastings features heavily in Connecting Nothing, as one of the original cinque ports its connection to Dover, Sandwich, Folkestone and the like is as old as the castle on the west hill. It's a town experiencing similar changes to Margate; a much lauded new art gallery, an influx of artists and "creatives" to the town, new cafes and auxiliary services. But to me, Hastings felt very different to the east coast of Kent this time I visited. Maybe it's come alive from the fiction and poetry we edited for the book, perhaps the changes are more gradual than in Kent, or it might just be that sea was dead calm and the gulls a little more laid back.
There was still very much a sense that this town is on the fringes, but purposefully so. There's a sense that Hastings wants to be the alternative (but not necessarily 'alternative'), a refuge for weird and wonderful, a place where you can be whatever you want so long as it isn't pretentious or highfaluting. I'm loathe to romanticise dead-beatness, as I grew up in a deadbeat part of Kent and couldn't wait to leave, but... there is a certain charm to Hastings dead-beatery, wearing it on its sleeve rather than pretending it doesn't exist, unlike other places on the south east coast. Our event was attended well, the drinking was solid and dependable, the crowd increasingly raucous as the night went on - and yet... due to commitments on the Sunday morning, I had to get the last train to London at 22:10.
I was disappointed to leave, aware that perhaps the 'drinking town with a fishing problem' was about to come alive at night and reveal itself to me. The deadbeat transformed into a hedonistic quest for liquored enlightenment - or perhaps I've just read too much of Salena's work. Salena's fictional Hastings is a seductive place and her writing is so powerful that her version of Hastings is now my version of Hastings. My disappointment at leaving was compounded by the emergence of a video late last night of the remainder of the night - a lurid, psychedelic smash of Gary and our Hastings-based writer Gareth extending the night through to the morning. The 'official' video of the evening, the readings at the Roomz seemed a little more urbane by comparison.
But I will return to Hastings soon, it had been too long and my crazy golf score card didn't look too hot this time. I also didn't visit the Jerwood, walk up either hill, pub crawl the old town or watch the catch come in. The sea was eerily calm last weekend, but the next time I'm down I want it violently crashing and the winter rain to be lashing and...
Who am I kidding? I can't demand anything from Hastings - it does what it wants to and I can only take part on its terms.
But what great terms they are.
- Kit Caless
Two videos below of stark contrast, first our sober readings, second the maverick jaunt of the drink possessed.