Sunday, May 10, 2009

What we did on our holidays part 2: the Whitley Bay years

Whitley Bay, 1978

For a lot of the 1970s and early 1980s my dad was an officer in the ACF. He called it 'playing soldiers'. It didn't have that much impact on me, though I occasionally went out with him at weekends, and developed crushes of varying proportions on various boys (they were all boys) in uniform. I had my first 'nature wee' with the ACF, when we were doing something in a wood. I turned out not to be very good at it and my dad dried out the resulting yellow socks on the dashboard of the Austin Maxi.

In the summer, he would go off to play soldiers for two whole weeks. My mother often took us away on holiday at the same time, and for a couple of these years we went to Whitley Bay.

Now, I grew up about seven miles from Blackpool. Why we would therefore travel 150 miles across the country to stay in a seaside resort with an amusement park is still beyond me. It was certainly beyond my sister, who in those days used to get spectacularly travel sick. The first year we went, we got the coach, and then a taxi. Just as we pulled up at Mrs Cowan's, she vommed copiously over the back seat. I can still recall the taxi driver wiping sick off his vinyl while various women stood around wringing their hands.

Mrs Cowan's was a trad 1970s B&B, in that we had to be out between 9am and 5pm, the bathroom was down the hall, and hot water was only available for two hours a day. We shared scalding baths in the early evening before heading down to the dining room for a Three Course Dinner (thinking about it, it was a DB&B). The first course was always soup, reconstituted from powder stored in huge plastic tubs on top of the kitchen units, marked with things like Scotch Broth and Cream of Vegetable. There was tinned orange juice served in tiny glasses from a trolley. It was great.

After dinner we would watch TV in the TV lounge, and then head to bed so we could be up and out in the morning.

Which worked fine if it was sunny, and I impressed my first ever admirer (who was called Stephen - check him out!!) with a large crab I made out of pebbles. We went on a date to the Spanish City and he held my hand on the Waltzer when our mothers weren't looking.

But most of the time it was pelting down. We wandered between cafes and amusement arcades, making a dash for the beach or the climbing frames if the sun even threatened to come out. But a lot of the time there was no chance. Mrs Cowan generously relaxed the rules, and we spent long rainy afternoons watching TV and cutting things out of Richard Scarry books.

But one afternoon, my mother had had enough. Get your cagoules on, she said, we're going out. And off we went to the beach, to collect shells and seaweed in the middle of what Mick the Builder would call a Terminal Piss Down Situation. We were the only people in sight, not that we could see very far.

And then across the beach came a young woman in sandals, a summer skirt, and a far-from-all-weather coat. Trailing her was a miserable looking man with a large bag. They were a reporter and a photographer from the local paper, sent to find evidence of the Dunkirk spirit on what we later found out was "the wettest day in August for seven years". They took our photo, and ran it with some quotes about a little bit of rain never doing anyone any harm.

And you know what? It didn't.


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Blogger Spine said...

Whenever I visited my grandparents in South Shields we'd got to Whitley Bay for the day and I used to bury strange things in different places and try to find them again the following year.

I was DogBoy, or SquirrelBoy.

9:17 am  
Blogger Jo said...

I find the thought that SquirrelBoy might be digging a little hole just out of shot rather moving.

Did you ever find anything again?

1:08 pm  
Blogger Spine said...

I have a memory that I did, but in the way of these things it could be utterly false.

I remember a large washed-up tree trunk or thick branch stranded high up the beech, close by a steep wall? or cliff?

And I dimly recall that something buried under it was unearthed again later. But of course it might have been a day later, a week, or never.

Also, all this may have been at Cullercoats too. I think we went there too.

My Grandad wore a light brown mac. I'm sure of that.

1:20 pm  
Anonymous jonathan said...

So you had Whitley Bay years too! And quite possibly at the same time so I could also be just out of shot, paddling in a rock pool while my cousin Simon busied himself getting stung by jellyfish or falling off the cliffs. Actually your first admirer Stephen looks a little bit like my cousin Simon.. now that would be just too much of a coincidence!

Oh and TV lounges. They were considered quite the height of sophistication, weren't they? And like everything else in B and Bs they were governed by strict rules- strictly no entrance before teatime, and if you wanted to watch BBC2 you had to submit a written and countersigned application 3 days in advance...

10:38 pm  
Anonymous Kate said...

We used to go to Scarborough and from Somerset what were my parents thinking! I remember a fairy woodland which seemed magical at the time but which was probably some fairy lights and some crappy plastic sculptures. I think the magic was to do with staying up later than usual!

We stayed in a B and B on Oban in Scotland where you hit the jackpot if you had a runny yolk on the fried egg. It didn't happen much that week.

And you did look cute on the beach! xx

6:58 am  
Anonymous Eddie said...

I've got a Richard Scarry book - I amuse myself for hours looking for the little worm.

1:59 pm  

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