There were certain seaside places that were not favoured by my father. “It was a lovely place, ” he would comment, “but they have spoiled it by letting it become too commercialized.”
Listening to him, it would have been hard to disagree. The word “commercialized” to me meant there were lots of lorries. I was not sure what function all of the lorries might have performed, but I imagined them parked in rows, facing the seafront. Who would want to go to a beach among dozens of lorries?
The connection between “commercialized” seaside resorts and ranks of lorries is hard to recall. Perhaps I associated the word commercialized with the Commer lorries that were common in the 1960s. More likely, I had heard that lorries were commercial vehicles so assumed the out of favour resorts were filled with such vehicles.
I would be a teenager before I realized that the objection was to fish and chip shops, amusement arcades, places selling gaudy souvenirs and bawdy postcards, garish signs for boat trips and attractions, ice cream vans, candy floss stalls, shellfish sellers, pubs with parasols of vivid colours. The things that made somewhere “commercialized” were often the very things I liked the most.
My father seems to have shared the views of a particular tradition. Leafing through the South and West Somerset volume of Nikolaus Pevsner’s The Buildings of England, I discovered the following comment in the entry on Glastonbury:
The museum and the cinema — that is a good preparation for the nasty shock to come. From the r. of the Town Hall the Abbey appears for the first time, both St Mary’s Chapel and the Abbot’s kitchen, a sight to be cherished by any sensitive or indeed sensible community. What meets the eye instead? Between the street and the venerable remains is the chief car-park. A notice says ‘To the Abbey Ruins 50 yards,’ another next to it ‘Parking Fees, Cars 6d., Coaches 1s.’ Neither is ever absent. At the back below the Norman and the Gothic is a line of fascia boards with notices reading ‘Filling Station,’ ‘Snack Bar’, ‘Gentlemen.’ ‘Ladies’, and more incongruously ‘London and Manchester Assurance Company’.
Of course, the Twentieth Century intrusions spoiled the aesthetic quality of the ancient town, (it is hard to imagine what Pevsner would write of Glastonbury in 2020, sixty years after he described it), but it is the commercial intrusions that have paid wages, kept people living in an area, sustained communities.
Commercialism may be unpleasantly ugly at times, but it pays the bills.