In many ways, Hastings is the quintessential English seaside resort - wind-swept, faded and permanently out of season. On a warm Bank Holiday, the prom is invaded by desperate, fractious families, who come for a Nice Day Out and, instead, get into fisticuffs over parking spaces. But come the end of the weekend, the town is handed back to intimidating local gangs: youths lurking in bus stops, gnarly fishermen gutting things on the beach, and old folk risking their dentures in fish ‘n chip shops. Or, at least, that’s how I remember it from way back when. Nowadays, of course, it’s a bit fancy in Hastings. There’s a cafe called ‘Pomegranate’, which is apparently not a cafe at all, but a ‘food and drink house’. They’ve also gone mad and spent lots of money to make the attractions – like the smugglers’ caves and fisherman’s museum - good. That’s just daft, they’re missing the point. You only need ‘attractions’ in a place where there’s nothing to do.
As a child, it didn’t matter that Hastings had seen better days - for me, it was better days. The perfect combination of three things: a fabulous sweet shop that sold home-made cough candy in long pieces that had to be broken up with a little metal hammer (God, how I wanted to wield that hammer), an indoor funfair with a giant robot man that you climbed inside via a wacky jumping staircase and, most importantly, crazy golf. Not just any crazy golf – and certainly not mini golf, whose name shall not be uttered on these pages again – but the best crazy golf EVER.
As it turns out, and I only discovered this today on the BBC, it actually is the best crazy golf course ever, and not just for me looking through my rose-tinted specs. Hastings seafront is host to championship crazy golf, the spiritual home of crazy golf, the course that the best crazy golfers in the world visit to test their crazy skills.
Now it all falls into place – I have Hastings to thank for my lifetime fascination with the crazy game. Like sportsmen and women who grew up in St Andrews, Twickenham or Ascot, I was raised in the company of the best, rubbing shoulders with champions, soaking up an atmosphere of excellence. So that’s why I’m so great at crazy golf. At least, much better than my husband.
I hardly knew as I honed my crazy golf skills as a child, that the game would play a defining role in the early years of my marriage. Like some people have ‘their song’, we had ‘our crazy golf’. Once I discovered that he was also a fan and could play to a high enough level to truly challenge me, I decided that he was worth a lifetime of my devotion. We even planned to write a book together – Crazy Golf Courses of the World – and collected material for chapters from places like Costa Rica, Cameroon and Slovenia. Maybe we’ll finish it when we retire. It’s good to have a dream. But for now, I'll always have Hastings.