Tom Sykes; Louis Netter
1st September 2023
Coast of Teeth: Travels to English Seaside Towns in an Age of Anxiety
The English seaside has long been seductive. For 200 years, punters have sought out its quirky thrills from bingo to Wurlitzer organ dances, glamorous granny parades to child-jockeyed donkey races, lewdly shaped rock candy to harrowingly bad karaoke. But recently, many seaside towns have been pummelled by poverty, unemployment, underinvestment, addiction, Brexit, Covid-19 and the climate emergency.
Writer Tom Sykes and illustrator Louis Netter take you on a Gonzo tour of 21 English coastal communities in an age of anxiety and absurdity. Their encounters are comical, sad, weird and beguiling – sometimes all at once. A post-lockdown beach party turns violent in Bournemouth. The Hampshire shores pile up with plastic waste and sewage dumped by a water company. St Osyth and Jaywick’s trailer parks and makeshift homes have come to resemble a Global Southern shanty town. Covid disinformation is daubed on walls and benches across the Dorset coast. A pub in Scarborough celebrates Ulster paramilitarism. Portsmouthians come to terms with the imperial past. A Blackpudlian musician confesses an intimate connection to the serial killer Harold Shipman.
But there’s good news too. Combers and mudlarkers are cleaning our beaches. Art projects are drawing attention to coastal erosion and other ecological menaces. In an increasingly uniform England of red-brick estates and retail parks, seaside towns might just be our last outposts of eccentricity and individuality.
Born in one seaside town (Portsmouth) and raised in one next door (Hayling Island), Tom Sykes has been writing about all kinds of towns all over the world for twenty years. He is the author of The Realm of the Punisher (2018) and is Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing and Journalism at the University of Portsmouth. Louis Netter is Senior Lecturer in Illustration at the University of Portsmouth and is published in World War III Illustrated, Sub-Terrain, The Stranger Newspaper and Campaign Magazine.