From Blackpool to Santa Barbara

3rd November 2003

I've just been sitting in a hotel in Santa Monica, writing about a day trip to Blackpool. How are the two places similar? A chorus of a thousand starlings echoed beneath the girders of Blackpool's North Pier. Birdlife is a principle joy of Santa Monica beach as well. A flight of around two hundred brown pelicans wheels round in flight to settle around the edges of a small freshwater lagoon. Skimmers whisk across the surface of the sea; sanderlings dart at the edge of waves, looking like a wave themselves in their white crowd; whimbrels dip their inches of beak through the newly wetted sand to pluck out their breakfast.

Blackpool is a west coast resort, as is Santa Monica, though one carries the snap of the Atlantic and the other the warm breezes of the Pacific. Santa Monica has a backdrop of mountains, and looking north from Blackpool's beachfront you can admire the hills of the Lake District. That's the main thrill of Blackpool - looking away from it, toward the natural world.

Blackpool is of course quite vulgar, while Santa Barbara is a city at its most carefully refined. I was writing my piece at the request of a friend who's starting a new website dedicated to glimpses from the world. I hadn't realized how much I had taken against Blackpool till the piece reached its conclusion. Some people have criticized my writing for not showing enough attitude. This piece redeems that.

As with most writing on the web, the piece was done for free. Most of my writer friends refuse all such requests, and I see the sense in that. This piece was done as a favour. Perhaps its sourness reflected the fact that I was stuck at a desk writing, chilled by the memories of Blackpool's north wind, when I could instead have been strolling in the Californian sunshine. The combo of walking the beach at dawn, writing for some hours, then strolling under the palm trees in the afternoon, could make for a perfect writing life - except writing productivity is likely to drop. There's little need to escape into writing when the outside world is so pleasant and balmy. I see why Douglas Adams, notorious for his procrastination where writing was concerned, chose Santa Barbara for his final emigration. Staring out of the window, that favourite occupation of writers, becomes an end in itself with hummingbirds at play outside.

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