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Kitsch UK travel

Jul, 29 || No Comments |

For many of us, the greatest thing about travel is the ability to see a slice of society how it really is in a country.

We eschew the tourist clichés and far prefer to get “down and dirty”. So if you’re in New York, you’re far more interested in a downtown bar in Brooklyn, than you are in trailing up the Empire State building, for example. And when you’re in Paris, you’re more interested in seedy bars than you are in queuing for the Eiffel Tower.

The same can be said for touring around; often, it’s far more interesting to pull over in a small town in the middle of nowhere than it is to carry on to the big city to see what may well be very well known international tourist sites etc.

In the UK, it’s very much the same. Tourists in their millions head to London’s tourist hotspots along with places like Stratford-on-Avon, the Cotswolds, the Lake District, York, Edinburgh, the Scottish Highlands, and all the rest of the tourist places traditionally associated with a visit to the British Isles.

And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with this. All these places are well worth seeing and hold great interest for millions of people from all over the globe. But an increasing number of people – and young people in particular – from around the world and from within the UK itself enjoy a little alternative tourism in more of a kitsch sense, which the UK truly has in abundance.

The great thing about this, very often, in the UK is that the people directly involved are very aware of the kitsch nature of a subject or area – yet revel in it in a kind of “through the looking glass” way. A night out in any of the North’s big industrial cities gives tourists a good experience of this – though perhaps Liverpool and Newcastle-upon-Tyne stand out in this regard. The same can perhaps be said for the East End of London.

But it’s also worth following specific activities and events to get this sort of flavour. So a day out at Blackpool at the height of the summer has become tremendously popular with young people in an ironic sort of way, for example.

Blackpool – one of the UK’s most kitsch resorts

But when it comes to sports and events – nothing – and we mean nothing – comes close to darts and bingo.

The great sport of darts really finds its home in the UK more than anywhere else on the planet. The traditional image of the sport here is one of fat beer-swilling men in smoky atmospheres and horrible silky shirts – throwing darts whilst boozing. The professional players always have silly nicknames and come on to play to various theme tunes etc. And this image is still largely accurate though of course the smoky atmospheres no longer exist.

Betting on darts is also incredibly popular in the UK (as is betting on pretty much all sports if we’re being honest) and if you asked anyone to name one player worthy of that wager, then pretty much everyone knows the name of Phil “The Power” Taylor. This is because he’s reigned supreme at world darts for over 20 years.

In fact, he’s widely regarded to be the greatest darts player that has ever lived. He’s won well over 200 darts tournaments – including an amazing 16 World Championships – a record by a long shot. Phil’s first World Championship win occurred in 1990. Now Phil and all the other players like him really ply their trade at the Alexandra Palace just outside London. Affectionately known as the “Ally Pally” this is the annual venue for the big one that takes place at the end of December to early January each year – when a new king is crowned.

And if you really want a true slice of a certain type of unique British culture in the most kitsch of ways you can imagine – then heading down to the Ally Pally and drinking a few beers in crazy clothes is really where it’s at. There is nothing else like this on the planet – which is why it’s so celebrated by both darts aficionados and those who like to turn up in a more tongue firmly in cheek fashion each year.

And to add to the excitement – there’s a new kid on the darts clock these days in the shape of World Championship winning debutante Michael van Gerwen. The 24 year-old Dutchman fits the stereotype in terms of his build and won the event for the first time last year. It may be the first of many.

Then there’s also a young home-grown hopeful. The 21 year-old youngster Keegan Brown recently landed the darts world youth championships at London’s O2 Arena, and looks sure to be another UK star of the future.

Then there’s another Dutchman, Raymond van Barneveld (who recently beat van Gerwen to win his first Premier League title). “Barney” has won the PDC World Championship once back in 2007. But the fans all love him for his gentle demeanour and it would be wonderful to see him win again.

 

There's no dearth of sports in England

There’s no dearth of sports in England

 

Raymond van Barneveld at the Ally Pally

Then there’s yet another Englishman who hails from the same area as Phil Taylor – Stoke-on-Trent. This is 29 year-old Adrian Lewis and he’s now third favourite with the exchange Betfair to win this year’s PDC World Championship.

Adrian won consecutive titles in 2011 and 2012 and looked like becoming the new darts “power” in more ways than one. But the real “Power” Phil Taylor had other ideas and won the world title again in 2013, beating the young Dutch upstarter Michael van Gerwen 7-4 in the final. So the forthcoming championship will be an incredibly exciting spectacle for real lovers of darts. But if you’re a traveller and looking for a real slice of life – well, it will also be great. Obviously, it’s  a few months until this year’s event which will take place at the Ally Pally, at a date yet to be confirmed from December 2014 to January next year. But it’s still wise to book early if you want to get in as there’s a huge clamour for tickets each year.

If this is all new to you – then have a look at some of the PDC World Championship action on YouTube and you’ll pretty quickly get an idea of what we really mean by its kitsch nature. This is fantastic stuff for the irony and you won’t be able to help yourself; you’ll be right into it all after an hour or so there – along with the help of a good few drinks of course!

The same can be said of a night at the bingo – particularly in any northern town or traditional seaside resort. Traditionally the haunt of late middle-aged ladies chain-smoking and chatting, there are still a few traditional bingo halls to be seen. But like many other aspects of old British culture, they’re on the way out so it really is a matter of grabbing it while you still can for kitsch fans.

 

London

London has a variety of opportunities to suit all tastes

 

The Great British Bingo Halls

A night at the dog racing also comes close. These are great fun to see a particular aspect of UK life but unlike the bingo halls, the dog tracks are still going strong on the whole.

All these things are must-dos for anyone seeking out a particular slice of life in the UK. But before you scoff – just go and see what a care-free and fun time all the people are having first; then just relax and enjoy yourself!

 

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