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