The Whitby and the Whitby

I’ve just come back from my first holiday outside the house since 2019, namely a week in Whitby, Yorkshire.

Unexpectedly, Whitby turns out to be very much like the overlapping cities in China Mieville’s novel The City and the City (Wikipedia link if you haven’t read it and want a quick summary). In that you are either Here For A Seaside Holiday, or you are a Goth. And people from both groups walk in the same spaces, go to the same attractions, eat at the same restaurants, and yet do not acknowledge each other’s existence.

This insight brought to you after the umpteenth time of being blanked by a citizen of Ul Seaside, since apparently I live in Gothzel, and to see me would cause them to commit Breach.

This is also not a matter of self-assigning necessarily, nor is it possible to belong to both Whitby simultaneously. I expected to be able to speak with the citizens of Ul Seaside at least when I was dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, but it seems that if those jeans are purple and the T-shirt depicts Dolores Abernathy from the television series Westworld, you are too Goth for Ul Seaside and are immediately consigned to Gothzel.

There seems to be one time when it’s legitimately possible to do this (apart from if you’re a shopkeeper, who seem to be able to sell to anyone), and that’s when you’re admiring someone’s dog. You can cross over and say “who’s a lovely Staffie then?” But after that it’s back to your Whitby, and stay there.

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Fiona Moore

Academic, anthropologist and SF writer, living, teaching and working in a global city.

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