A little while back we were visiting our elder daughter and her two small children in Essex. I took the opportunity to drive up to Suffolk, primarily to make a long overdue visit to my parents’ grave, and then to see Maggi Hambling’s sculpture “Scallop” on the beach just north of the seaside town of Aldeburgh.
I’ve known Aldeburgh for many years. My parents bought a holiday bungalow in Knodishall, a nearby village, not long after the end of World War II. We went there for weekends and longer summer holidays. My association with the town and the county ended more or less at the time of my father’s death in 1971. I return very infrequently now.
A rather strange place is Albeburgh. The past few centuries have seen most of what was evidently a large town and port eaten away by coastal erosion. It rests up against a bleak shingle beach, a beach now more or less clean but which in my day was heavily contaminated by oil discharged by shipping traffic in the North Sea. But the houses ... now the houses, some of them, have a prettiness about them. Even some charm and character, quaintness and querkiness. See for yourself on any of web sites designed to attract visitors. And it is not short of visitors, certainly in the summer months. And it is not short of people who have come to visit and then decided to stay there, usually to retire there I should say. And they are an odd lot indeed. Conservative, staid? Yes, but that is to put it mildly. The biggest problem for the crusty old colonel brigade is in fact Aldeburgh’s most famous son: that legendary English composer Benjamin Britten. He lies in his grave in the churchyard there, under a movingly simple headstone, next to his gay partner Peter Pears whose grave is similarly marked. A couple whose combined talent was complimentary and awesome. Yet I am left wondering to what extent it is actually appreciated by so many of those who have also made Aldeburgh a place to come to die. No doubt some do. But the others ...
Perhaps this is best considered in the context of what was, until Maggi made her mark, probably the best known sculpture in the town. I don’t know who made it, but I do know that it was – is – a memorial to a local GP’s dog. It squats by the children’s boating pond to one side of the Moot Hall and is called, would you believe it, “Snooks”. He and his master must have died a long time ago, because he was squatting there when I was a very little boy indeed. And if the townspeople hold it in the regard that they clearly do, then it is easy to understand why what Maggi has created on their wretched beach has vexed them so.
I hear those voices that will not be drowned. Says it all, really