Warm front at the seaside

A Blackpool shop assistant greeted her customers: “Hiya Love…”

And then the lady in front, a snowy haired pensioner with limpid eyes and an affluent demeanour, turned to me and addressed me.

You could have knocked me down with a chihuahua. Because that’s not what other people do. I’m the odd one who talks to strangers in queues.

“You’d think he was one of the staff, wouldn’t you? ” she smiled.

“Er….pardon?” I queried. I was wrong-footed now: not only had I lost the plot, I suspected I had never had it in the first place.

The lady gestured over to the table my family had commandeered. We needed a big bench seat because Felix is eight, and fidgets for Britain, and falling off chairs is one of his hobbies.

But the only vacant bench seat-table was stacked with crockery from previous customers. We sighed, and sat down anyway. It was early in the day for boys to balance unaided on chairs.

My queue companion was rolling her eyes at a man who had procured a tray because none of the staff seemed to be doing so. He was clearing our table in front of my mother-in-law’s delighted eyes.

I blinked. “He’s my husband,” she confided. I gestured an expansive thank you across the shop in his direction.

The hustle continued. I got “Hiya love, sorry to keep you waiting” when it was my turn. I grinned and made my order: tea and iced buns.

I unloaded my tray at the table and prepared to put it back on the tray pile at the entrance to the shop. But a voice piped up: “Put that here, love! Don’t you worry about it!”

A lady at the next table was gesturing to her spare table space. Why, she reasoned kindly, walk the yard to the pile when she had room for all right there?

Camaraderie is king, here on the west coast, hundreds of miles north of the Thames.

And the characteristic warmth of the Blackpool folks has been courting tourists for some 250 years, ever since the craze for sea waters as an aid to health came into being.

Blackpool, which had until the mid 1700s been a sleepy hamlet, quickly capitalised on it’s greatest asset: seven miles of golden sand.

But how to get to it?

In 1781 the first links arrived. A private road was built In 1781, and Stagecoaches began running to Blackpool from Manchester in the same year, and from Halifax soon afterwards.

But it was the iron horse which must take the credit for what happened later: the mill town workers need a holiday, and train could take them where they wanted to go.

The whole of a town would up sticks and move for a week to this resort where canny businesspeople knew how to capitalise on such an opportunity.

The great names began to appear: the North and South piers, the Winter Gardens, the Opera House and that Tower, commissioned by Blackpool Mayor John Bickerstaffe after he had seen Paris’s wonder in the Great Exhibition of 1889. While it lacks the stature and magnificence – and, dare I venture, style- of its Parisian predecessor- its gung-ho sideshow savvy keeps us all entertained, here on the plains of Lancashire.

My mother in law grew up here. She took holiday jobs washing plates at the Tower Ballroom and danced as a little girl on stage at The Winter Gardens.

Rumour has it Hitler ordered a light touch from his squadrons of Dorniers: papers show he fancied it as a leisure resort fit for the Third Reich.

Blackpool is shabby, these days: the mill folks no longer make their money weaving cloth, and most of us jump on a plane to go abroad rather than avail ourselves of sticks of rock and Kiss Me Quick hats.

But the place is still here and every worn facade tells stories about how it used to be, long ago.

I wanted to see the Tower. It was not available to view for it’s own sake, though: you have to buy tickets for the ballroom -where tea dancing is still the thing -or the soft play empire for kids on the top floor. We paid up, and went in; and instantly the lavish decor rushed in to meet us: plush dark-clad staircases, florid tiles depicting splendid natural scenes. The language was unmistakeable, an interior from an era of fascination long gone.

My family had to drag me away from the wonders of original lighting and wood panelling and original signage, up to the top floor, a great conservatory worthy of Kew Gardens.

What was this once, I asked the lady behind the counter? It must have had another life.

Oh, yes, she said: it was the aviary. It also, for the delectation of the public, housed lion and tiger cages. My mother in law concurred : she had been brought to see the lions as a little girl. Blackpool always had its seedy side.

We wandered out to take a tram. The door stuck and the affable tram conductor grumbled sotto voce:”Not again….”

“That’ll be the hydraulics”, Phil ventured helpfully.

The man grinned “You’ll be lucky,” he rejoined. “These trams are rubbish. It’s probably held together with an elastic band…”

We took our tram back to 0ur car and turned the satnav away from this shabby unchic town.

The one-liners were still ringing in our ears.

30 thoughts on “Warm front at the seaside

  1. When I was smaller and g’pa and g’ma used to look after us in the holidays while Ma worked we used sometimes to listen to g’pa’s old records… including this one, a monologue to music, whihc was on the same record as the one about brown boots at a funeral – thanks for reminding me!

    Marriott Edgar

    There’s a famous seaside place called Blackpool,
    That’s noted for fresh air and fun,
    And Mr and Mrs Ramsbottom
    Went there with young Albert, their son.

    A grand little lad was young Albert
    All dressed in his best; quite a swell
    With a stick with an ‘orse’s ‘ead ‘andle
    The finest that Woolworth’s could sell.

    They didn’t think much to the Ocean
    The waves, they were fiddlin’ and small
    There was no wrecks and nobody drownded
    Fact, nothing to laugh at, at all.

    So, seeking for further amusement
    They paid and went into the zoo
    Where they’d lions and tigers and camels
    And old ale and sandwiches too.

    There were one great big lion called Wallace
    His nose were all covered with scars
    He lay in a somnolent posture
    With the side of his face on the bars.

    Now Albert had heard about lions
    How they was ferocious and wild
    To see Wallace lying so peaceful
    Well, it didn’t seem right to the child.

    So straight ‘way the brave little feller
    Not showing a morsel of fear
    Took his stick with its ‘orse’s ‘ead ‘andle
    And shoved it in Wallace’s ear.

    You could see the lion didn’t like it
    For giving a kind of a roll
    He pulled Albert inside the cage with ‘im
    And swallowed the little lad ‘ole

    Then Pa, who had seen the occurrence
    And didn’t know what to do next
    Said ‘Mother! Yon lions ‘et Albert’
    And Mother said ‘Well, I am vexed!’

    Then Mr and Mrs Ramsbottom
    Quite rightly, when all’s said and done
    Complained to the Animal Keeper
    That the lion had eaten their son.

    The keeper was quite nice about it
    He said, ‘What a nasty mishap
    Are you sure it’s your boy he’s eaten?’
    Pa said, ‘Am I sure? There’s his cap!’

    The manager had to be sent for
    He came and he said ‘What’s to do?’
    Pa said ‘Yon lion’s ‘et Albert
    And ‘im in his Sunday clothes, too.’

    Then Mother said, ‘Right’s right, young feller
    I think it’s a shame and a sin
    For a lion to go and eat Albert
    And after we’ve paid to come in.’

    The manager wanted no trouble
    He took out his purse right away
    Saying, ‘How much to settle the matter?’
    And Pa said, ‘What do you usually pay?’

    But Mother had turned a bit awkward
    When she thought where her Albert had gone
    She said, ‘No! someone’s got to be summonsed!’
    So that was decided upon.

    Then off they went to the Police Station
    In front of the Magistrate chap
    They told ‘im what happened to Albert
    And proved it by showing his cap.

    The Magistrate gave his opinion
    That no one was really to blame
    And he said that he hoped the Ramsbottoms
    Would have further sons to their name.

    At that Mother got proper blazing
    ‘And thank you, sir, kindly,’ said she
    ‘What waste all our lives raising children
    To feed ruddy lions? Not me!’

  2. Never been there, and if confronted with that amount of helpfulness and affability the average South African would react with suspicion or terror.
    I enjoy the young Albert piece every time I come across it.

  3. Loved the post, Kate. Sounds like quite the outing . . . bench seats for fidgets and all.

    Loved the poem, Pseu. Last line is fine . . . and I ain’t lion! 😀

  4. Oh, I want to go! I love walking through towns like that. They can be sad to see them so run down, but they also hold that air of former dignity and the ghosts of the people who used to gather there populate the town around you.

    How far away from My house (yours) will it be when we swap? 😀 😉

    1. Paula, it’s a four hour drive…I can offer you nothing on the same scale but we do have Bournemouth and Hastings…

      Step one of operation house swap- Persuading husband to fund new flooring and get a lick of paint on the walls- is complete. now for step two: getting husband to engage someone and do it. We may be ready for next Summer….

  5. Ah, some vicarious travel to enjoy!!

    Mind you, not sure about the “most of us jump on a plane to go abroad rather than avail ourselves of sticks of rock and Kiss Me Quick hats”. Made me feel a bit guilty!!

    1. Ah, what it is to sit by a pool in Florida and read of Blackpool! Given the choice, where would we all rather be…..hmmmmm…..

      The pace you all work at, you need guaranteed sunshine on your hols and a plane flight is well worth it for the R&R it affords. Enjoy, all!

  6. What an entrancing description of faded glamour, Kate. You had me there, right up until the “lion and tiger cages” 😦

    1. …..you will be the first to know, Tilly, thank you 🙂 The humour up here is quickfire! Gotta keep on your toes! I recognise it from somewhere….now where could that be …..

  7. I found this post extremely interesting, Kate. My father was born in Blackpool in 1915. His father was the Town Clerk and after he died my father travelled with his mother and sisters to South Africa when he was five. I think my brother has a photo of the house in which he lived and which is still standing today.

    1. Denise, what an amazing coincidence! Do you know which bit of Blackpool the house was in? I’ve just relayed your comment to my mother in law who grew up there…

  8. Just starting to catch up after a bit of time off, Kate, and you kicked my re-admission into the world of blogging right into high gear. I can just imagine Felix fidgeting and falling off of a chair (and the fuss and giggling that ensues with such activity) and oh, how I’d love to see Blackpool; in its glory days and now. What a picture you paint. I love to imagine towns as they once were, and then hope that they find new glory.

    1. Penny, absolutely brilliant to have you back, and hoping those eyes now have a brand new lease of life. Blackpool’s demographic is an increasingly elderly population: but so much can change with a bit of original thinking. It needs a bright idea or two to turn it round…

  9. I confess a lot of what I “know” about Britain comes from novels and stories written a century and more ago. I love that your posts introduce me to contemporary Britain, yet still retain the shadows of the old days that seem familiar to me. A palimpsest of British life!

    1. Just the same, Blue Bee, but it can happen any time of the day. We wandered into the Tower Ballroom at around 3:30pm and the wurlitzer was going strong, with four couples transported by its crooning!

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