East End Memories

SEASIDE EXCURSIONS

Bent Hill, Felixstowe

When I was young, most people worked on Saturday mornings and finished around about noon or perhaps a bit later. Shop assistants, except for those employed by the large department stores in the West End, were different. They worked all day long on Saturdays, but were graciously given a half day off either on Wednesdays or Thursdays as compensation. However, for the majority of the British work force, the sound of the whistle at Saturday lunch time was the signal to down tools and for their weekend to begin. Workers who had not been given their pay packets earlier following a visit from someone in payroll, would line up to collect their weekly wages. After this, the men perhaps made a beeline to the local pub for a swift half or more before running off home for their dinner. Working class people did not eat lunch. Few realised that the word was short for luncheon and could be used as a verb. Anyway, their dinner needed to be not only ready but on the table when they got in since they had to be off to the football as soon as possible.

For the majority of workers at that time, Sunday was their only full day off and many used the day for family outings. Since this was an era before most people owned cars, a Sunday outing meant a walk in the park or else visits to parents, grandparents or other married relatives where high tea was served. Occasionally, if they were lucky, there might be a day’s outing to the seaside and this meant going to either Southend or, if you were a bit more well off, to Brighton.

In those days, there were a number of companies which offered day-excursions by coach to seaside resorts. The one used most often by my parents was Grey Green Coaches, which had their offices and garage on the Mile End Road just past Truman’s Brewery and not far from the People’s Palace. Their coaches were modern and were comfortable and were decked out in a green livery. I don’t recall any grey paintwork, but I could be wrong.

Coaches

I have both good and bad memories of these excursions. In those days, although many people got to their destinations by train, most preferred to go by coach, or by charra as it was most commonly known. A charra, or charra-bang, as it was most commonly pronounced, was an old-styled motor coach and was the term used most often by people of my parents’ age. Travel on these charra was cheaper than taking the train, and besides, pick-up points were in the neighbourhood and easier and quicker to get to than railway stations.

Something that I never did and which I regret very much was to go to Southend by boat. They used to have boats that went from Tower Bridge that travelled down The Thames and docked at Southend. This was a real East End thing to do and I have always felt that I missed something of importance in never doing this. My failure as a child to do this will perhaps be explained as the reader reads on.

I was a miserable traveller on a charra as a child, especially on the way home. I had to sit near the front of the coach and by an open window. If I did not, I was always sick. My poor parents tried everything to stop this from happening. They tried making me eat before the journey, making me starve, forcing me to drink gallons of water and forced me to try all kinds of remedies suggested by others, but unless I sat at the front and by the open window, I vomited. And when I say I vomited, I well and truly vomited! Unfortunately I seemed unable to project the vomitus into the especially-brought-along brown paper bags or even my special Mickey Mouse pail used earlier for making sandcastles and collecting sea shells!

It is odd, but I was rarely if ever ill on the outbound journey. It was the return journey that plagued me. I remember that we would return home just as dusk was falling. In those days there were no motorways to help speed the journey. We followed those long and winding roads and there was most often a long line of buses and cars in front of us. The roads were not only twisting and winding but full of small hills. I think that it was the up and down and side to side movement along with the smell of burning leaves that brought on my queasiness. Obviously, I had eaten a lot and eaten well while at the seaside and this certainly did not help. But I fear the smell of those burning leaves combined with the little jolts caused by the driver trying to change gears contributed mostly to my illness.

Sick BoyNaturally, I was not a popular child when this happened, as it meant opening all windows including the roof. This caused those at the back of the coach to complain of the cold. My mother, although embarrassed by the situation and sorry for their inconvenience, would leap to the defence of her cub. She would let it be known to those that would hear that had the people at the front been willing to change seats with us, and if the driver had stepped in and helped, then their current inconvenience could have been avoided. Immediately, consideration was given to this poor and sickly child, and a multitude of ah’s rose up about the charra and all eyes turned to burn holes into the back of the heads of the offending couple and of the driver, poor man!

When planning such a trip, my parents always tried to book well in advance of the travel date in hope of securing the front seats so as to avoid Sick Dogsany possible problem caused by my delicate constitution. This, sadly, was not always possible and my parents booked the seats immediately behind and it was suggested that they talk to the people in the front and explain the situation. I have always found that the front seats on a bus are generally taken by the most miserable of old folks who often feel that the world in indebted to them and most when approached politely and asked to change seats after being given good reason, refused. This was always after I had given them my sweetest smile and been sure to have sufficient sadness and regret in my eyes too! Sadly, not everyone fell for my charm, either then or since! Naturally our fellow travellers voiced their disapproval at the meanness of those guilty of not showing the little lad a bit of consideration and once we stopped for refreshments, the offending couple sat at the front suffered the pointed and often viscous remarks of everyone as they passed them to and from their seats or else once they dared to venture outside. I, of course, would look suitably pathetic and this would more-often-than-not get me a few coins to be spent when I was feeling better by the more sensitive of my fellow companions. It is indeed an ill wind that blew no good! A final point that I feel duty bound to note is that in retrospect, my condition was not actually the driver’s fault, and I felt badly that he suffered those slings and arrows, but many innocents suffer during war.

Naturally, I used to love these trips despite being ill on the return journey. I loved the walk along the promenade after arrival once I had been forced to go to the toilet just in case and after my father had drunk a Guinness at one of the pubs on the way to the front. I would be given a lemonade and a packet of crisps to keep me quiet. In front of the pub were many poor kids of my age, each one being forced to stand and wait while, in their cases, both parents drank until the pub closed. Fortunately, my mother’s childhood made her no lover of pubs and alcohol in general. She had suffered greatly at the hands of her drunken stepfather and knew what it was like to wait for drunken people to come home only to have the living daylights bashed out of you for no good reason other than you were there! As a result, on family outings, my father knew enough to know that he wasn’t going to be able to waste the day drinking in a pub and that his primary duty was to give his time to us, his wife and son. Naturally, this did not always sit well with him.

Brighton Beach

Like most kids, I wanted to get on the sands and start digging my sandcastle. But before I could get at my digging, we had to go on an odyssey and wander what seemed like the full length of the south coast of England in our quest to find the perfect spot. My mother wanted a quiet place to sit and by this she actually meant an isolated spot. Naturally, no such place existed. She never enjoyed being in the midst of great hordes of people, as she put it. She had to sit at the end of a row in the cinema and theatre. She hated lifts and insisted that we take the stairs regardless of the huge number of bags and packages that we might be carrying. She always sat close to the exit on a bus. She would always watch things like firework displays from a distance. It wasn’t that she was unfriendly, because she wasn’t. Her reticence to mingling with her fellow man came not from a dislike of them but rather from her fear of confinement. Brutal treatment suffered as a child made her potentially fearful of everything. Were it not for the fact that basically she was a woman with a strong will, she might never have overcome many of her fears. However, despite knowing to the contrary, she always believed that most things scared her and being in a confined space always proved to be her worst fear. My father displaying a remarkable lack of sensitivity would scoff at her fears and get annoyed with her wish to be away from people. Anyway, we would walk for what seemed miles to me before a suitable and agreeable place was found. By then, my parents were no longer speaking!!!

My parents would sit themselves down in those folding deckchairs that proved remarkably difficult to unfold and my father would demonstrate clearly that he had no idea how to open them. This would generally break the ice and my parents would soon be laughing as they battled the chair and were eventually victorious! Within minutes of sitting down, my father would be asleep. This was not surprising since he had been up since the crack of dawn to make the shop ready for opening on Monday morning.

My father made for an amusing sight at times wherever he fell asleep. Occasionally, his mouth would open wide, which caused both my mother and I to laugh ourselves silly. If only I had had a camera then! However, best of all was when his false teeth slipped out of place and filled the once empty space caused by his open mouth! This was an absolute gem to see. Although the sight was hilarious to see and literally caused me to convulse, it was nonetheless frightening. My mother, in one of her less sensitive moods, would refer to the pose as my father’s Dracula look and say that she would not like to meet him on a dark night looking like that!

Soon after I had begun my digging, I would be called to stop and come and eat. It would be hard to waken my father at this time. If his teeth had fallen, I would be expected to awaken him with a gentle shake on the shoulder. I was always unwilling to do this since his Dracula look although funny from a distance was more than creepy close up. I always noticed that my mother was unwilling to give him a nudge. She would say that she was too settled in her deckchair to get up, but I believe that she found the look too frightening to approach. Anyway, most often we allowed him to sleep and saved him a sandwich or two to eat once he awoke.

Whenever my father woke up, the one thing that you could be certain of was that he would want some tea. My family liked beer, but he loved tea and was quite the connoisseur of sorts. It needs to be said here and now, that no one, absolutely no one in the world, either alive or dead, was ever able to make a cup of tea to rival that of my father (see How to make a cup of tea – which will appear shortly on this website – and that is a promise!). As a result, whenever he deigned to drink the drink of life, as he called tea, we knew that an argument would soon ensue for he was the most intolerant of any tea that he deemed unworthy of the name. And to be honest, this encompassed anyone and everyone except for my mother who had learned through trial and error and much pain and suffering how to make an acceptable cup of tea.

Tea

Whenever my father announced that he wanted a cup of tea, we knew that we were in for some amusement and that some poor unsuspecting soul was in for trouble. I suspect that we should have offered to get the tea for him in order to save that poor soul the abuse that was about to be heaped on him, however, I was too small to go and my mother was too comfortable to get up from her chair remember! He would set off still half asleep but we knew well that the blood would soon be pumping at full force through his veins.

Not long after, my father returned carrying cups of tea on a metal tray. His look was that of thunder. Before sitting down he would launch into a barrage of insults aimed squarely at the person who sold him the tea. My father generally was dissatisfied with the strength of the tea. He found tea to be too weak and with too much milk. His insults began with a question: is the liquid in the cup tea or piss water? My father wasted no time in getting to the brunt of the problem. He wasted no time in polite and searching questions. He believed, when it was a question of tea, that a full frontal attack was required. My father took it personally when tea was weak! He saw it as a personal insult. Anyway, a short period of simple parry would take place where the poor insultee suffered remarks and questions flung at him by the insulter. During this initial onslaught, the insultee had no idea what was going on and why he was being verbally mistreated. At this point, the insultee might start to grumble a reply, but alas, the poor soul soon realised that he was totally outclassed by the master and retreat into a corner of his stall and offer no further word. At this point, the poor and defeated and crumbled and clamed up soul begin praying that this madman would soon be gone. Although short my father was formidable looking and looked quite fierce when it came to certain subjects near to his hear. Should an insultee dare to suggest that my father take it or leave it , he would raise himself up and a right ding dong would ensue! In any event, whichever type of insultee was met, my father would insist on supervising the pouring of HIS cups of tea and made sure that it was drowned with too much milk. By now, the insultee was happy to comply with any request if it meant getting rid of my father sooner rather than later.

What amused both my mother and me was that, whenever my father returned with tea, he drank it heartily and dared to return to the stall or café to get more soon after. When it came to tea, my father had no shame!

My mother was always fearful when I went down to the water. As I wrote in the Homerton Hospital story, I almost died on two occasions as a child and received the last rites each time. Since I was an only child, my mother was not only fearful that something would happen to me, but convinced that it would. As a result, she had the habit of fussing a bit too much over certain things. However, fortunately being strong willed, I got my way, but only after promising not to go out too far. There was never any fear of this since I always find seawater and all other kinds of water very cold. And I hate cold water on me unless I allow myself time, lots of time, to acclimatise to it! Anyway, I would go down to the sea and paddle at bit and then slowly, very, very slowly, allow the water to inch up my person until I felt brave enough to sit on the sands and have the water to come up to my neck! Once this had been suffered, I was alright and could then wander around in the water and start making new friends.

Paddling

What I enjoyed most about the seaside was building a sandcastle. Should my father come-to after drinking several cups of tea and be in a lively mood, he proved himself quite good at making them. Sadly, he was more of a child than I was, as eventually he wanted to take over and build the castle according to his tastes. My mother would have to intervene here and tell him to stop being such a child and allow me to make the thing my way! He might next stand there and enjoy a slight sulk for a minute or two. If he was really miffed, he sat down and refuse to help further. My mother, sensing the start of one of his black moods, would motion to me via the pulling of animated faces to try to coax him back into helping and allow him his way of building! She was fearful that if he wasn’t allowed to play, we would suffer his wrath at a later time. Unfortunately, her experience always proved her to be correct. Generally I was able to coax him back to the sands, but not without my feeling some irritation towards him since I did not want to comply with his wishes regarding the building!

Sandcastles

What I also enjoyed about a trip to the seaside were the donkeys and the Punch & Judy Show, although I found Punch quite frightening when I was very young. When I was a child, every seaside resort in England had donkeys. They would stand quietly on the sands girdled with a saddle and bridle and transport small children along a route, up and down the sand, that they had taken multiple times. I don’t think that any kid did not enjoy going for a donkey ride. They walked with a slow plod as they were led by their handler. Parents would bill and coo as their children rode and a few took pictures. I really enjoyed my little excursions with the donkeys and was always sure to pat mine for a good few minutes at the end of the journey.

Donkeys

Years later, when I was still a young man, I went to Egypt and went to the Valley of the Kings. When I noticed that there were donkeys for hire along with a guide, I could not resist exploring the valley and the tombs this way. The donkey given to me for the day was an older donkey, but was gentle and easy to handle. However, between me and his back was only the thinnest of blankets. By the end of the day, I was very sore and have never ridden such a beast since!

Another time, while living in Paris, I found myself enjoying an early evening aperitif in a cafe on the Boulevard St. Michel, when quite suddenly, I noticed that there were no traffic sounds coming from outside. It was a late autumn day, perhaps around six o’clock, when the sun was setting and casting an extraordinary yellow hue over the shops and buildings. Paris looks quite magical at such times. Then, in the distance, above the eerie quietness, I heard what I can only describe as a jing-jing-jingling sound coming towards us. The cafe was not busy as of yet and those that had been talking stopped to listen. I asked my companion what was happening and she informed me that it was the Luxembourg Donkeys returning home to their stables. The cafe was close to the Parc du Luxembourg where these animals spent their day bringing joy to the small children in much the same way as their cousins had done for me all those years earlier.

I was unable to resist seeing the donkeys and quickly made my way outside. There, in the distance, I saw a procession of donkeys walking down the centre of the wide boulevard making their way home. It was truly a magical site. The donkeys sported a leather necklace encrusted with tiny bells that jingled as they walked. Passers-by stopped to stare, people came out of shops and cafes, and together, as we stood and watched the caravan pass by, we were obviously reminded of seaside excursions and the building of sandcastles, finding special shells and donkey rides.

Once the procession had passed, I was soon treated to the sound of hooves trotting along the road. This proved to the nightly passage of the Garde Republicaine dressed in their finery and mounted on pristine chestnut horses, as they made their way back to barracks. Unfortunately the traffic was less considerate of the Garde’s procession and I could hear the angry cacophony of sounds coming from klaxons being endlessly pushed by the eager drivers wanting to get home. Obviously everyone has happy childhood memories of donkey rides and is willing to wait and remember the past while these delightful creatures make their way home for carrots, grooming and a deserved rest.

Generally, somewhere along the sands, performances of a Punch & Judy Show would take place at periodic intervals. This delighted most children and allowed them to shout and scream when asked various questions by Punch or the policeman. The children would sit mesmerised as Punch whacked Judy and then whacked the policeman and they would clap and cheer as the story progressed and Punch received his comeuppance! Once the performance was over, an associate of the Punch & Judy Man passed amongst the audience members and each child would dutifully drop a copper or two into the hat as it was offered. This money had been given to each child earlier by their parents and given strict instructions to drop it into the hat.

Punch and Judy

Eventually it would be time to pack up and return to the promenade. My mother believed that sea air was good for you and could only be properly experienced by walking and breathing deeply. This I was expected to do and expected to enjoy it! After this bracing walk, I was allowed to go on a ride or two at the funfair on the pier. My mother loved to play the penny slot machines. We all had great fun pulling back the little silver lever and then letting go so that it hit the little silver ball, which was sent whizzing on a path that eventually allowed it to return to its starting place or else took it down a hole where it was lost. My father was the worst at these forms of amusement and always lost his money within a few minutes. He was cute however, and always kept just enough back to buy ice cream.

Slot Machines

My father loved ice cream. He enjoyed a cornet most of all. It was one of the few occasions where he showed remarkable generosity towards my mother and myself, as whenever he wanted an ice, he would want us to have one too.

Americans fail to understand me when it comes to ice cream. They see it as practically being their national food and offer hundreds of varieties to choose from. When I first moved to this country, I was taken to Howard Johnson’s. This was a restaurant/café/ice cream parlour where one had the choice of over fifty varieties of ice cream. My guides assumed that I would be overjoyed at the choices before me. I was expected to go into ecstasy at the sight of the multitude of tubs on display. I remember looking at them and being totally and utterly overwhelmed at the thought of being expected to choose one from amongst the many. Had I been more of a lover of the sweet, I might have made a braver effort, but I fear that I looked at them all – the pecan, the peach, the strawberry and the fudge chocolate etc etc – and said that I would have vanilla! I could not have wounded mein hosts more had I run off with their daughter I fear. They were lost for words at my choice and shook their heads with horror and disbelief. I have always hated making a choice from a vast number of things and still, whenever I am confronted by such a situation, choose whatever I know. Sorry folks!

My father would quickly line up and order three cornets. He could hardly wait to get hold of them. After handing them out to my mother and me, he would then stand still, in total and utter bliss, and lick his ice cream away. He would be almost delicate when he did this and was certain not to allow the merest drop to slide down the outside of the cornet. He was not going to waste any! Once he had licked away the greater part of his scoop, he set about devouring the cornet itself, being careful to see that some ice cream was left to be enjoyed with the final mouthful of wafer. Once the last morsel entered his mouth and had been crunched, chewed and slowly swallowed, he would stand there, just like a puppy that had gobbled his dinner at top speed, and look longingly at my mother and me who had barely began to eat ours. Oftentimes, my mother, although she loved ice cream too, would take pity on him and give him the remainder of hers. He would decline, but would do so while he brought up an outstretched hand to take hold of it. I always felt sorry for my poor mother when she made such a sacrifice, since I knew that she enjoyed ice cream and I would willingly share mine with her for which she was grateful.

Ice Cream

I have never been a great lover of funfairs, I regret to say. I used to go to them a lot when I was a bit older as this was one of the few places where one could hear rock ‘n’ roll during its infancy. I will never forget the first time that I heard Rock around the clock. It was during a holiday at Great Yarmouth. We were at a funfair and I saw this Teddy Boy standing before one of those old 78-Juke Boxes. He had blonde hair that was slicked back at the sides to form a great D.A. and had a magnificent high quiff at the front. He was dressed in a fabulous long drape coat with a velvet collar and the tightest drainpipe trousers that I have ever seen, either before or since. He wore enormously high crepe shoes on his feet to add to the effect. I was very taken with his mode and vowed to dress like him as soon as possible. Anyway, as remarkable as his dress was, this was not the only thing about him that has stayed in my memory all of these years since. When I first saw this fellow, he had just dropped some money into the Juke Box and he was standing and waiting – obviously doing so with some anticipation.

Suddenly, the most incredible sound known to man erupted in that little arcade and so, thanks to this well-dressed fellow, my life took a different route.

One, two, three o’clock, four o’clock rock!

Five, six, seven o’clock, eight o’clock rock!

We’re gonna rock around the clock tonight!

I remember that at the sound of that first beat on the drum, this fellow burst forth in a dance. He kept one hand on the Juke Box and was obviously using it as a dancing partner. He leapt and bounded as he moved to the music. He was obviously gone, as they used to say, being totally lost to the music! He moved and grooved and was totally oblivious to the world about him. I was very impressed, but more importantly, I was gone too, although I must confess, being of a more young and tender age, it took me until ....... Put your glad rags on and join me hon! ....... before I began prancing and grooving to the music. Obviously unsure of what was going on, and perhaps fearing that I might be suffering a convulsion, my father quickly scooped me up and carried me outside where my mother gave me the once over. Since I had never experienced anything like this music before, I had no words to describe what I was feeling. Convinced that I was not the worse for wear, we moved on with our exploration of the funfair. But, although I was not the worse for wear, something had happened and I was never to be the same again. I used to wonder whatever happened to that fellow. He will never know how fortuitous his choice of music was that day!

I was allowed a couple of goes on simple rides at funfairs when I was a really small. These were mostly roundabouts. I liked those rides where there were small model trains, as I liked to ring the bell as the engine wound its way around the circuit. As I got older, I began to like the galloping horses more. I especially liked the music that was played on the steam organ. Unfortunately, I could not ride them for too long as the up and down and round and round motion often made me feel a bit ill. I hate to say it, but I am still a misery when it come to funfair rides and cannot go on the Big Dipper/Scenic Railway/Rollercoaster without praying for a quick and speedy death. This is one of the few regrets of my life, but it is my cross and I must bear it!

My father used to enjoy throwing events. I saw him once throw a ball at a small plate that, when hit, caused a woman dressed as a mermaid to fall into the water. He received great cheers from onlookers for this feat. He won something too. I believe that it was a pair of chalk dogs, which stood beside our fireplace for years. I always liked them and wish that I still had them!

Coconut Shy

When I was very young and went with my parents to fairs, I was always annoyed at not being allowed to go on many rides. Mind you, once older whenever I did go on some of these rides, such as the dive bomber, the mat or the rocket, I always suffered for a good while afterwards! The only ride that I really enjoyed without feeling ill once I came off was the dodge ‘em cars. This I could ride again and again. So, as a child, I had to find enjoyment in simpler diversions such as the crooked house The House That Jack Built. My father enjoyed going inside too and together we would fall and stumble through it and laugh much of the time. On one occasion my parents had an argument about whether I should be allowed to go on a particular ride or not. My father wanted to go on the Ghost Train. Since he could not go alone, and my mother wouldn’t, he suggested that he take me with him. I was overjoyed at the thought, but my mother would not allow it. I was very annoyed and miffed at my mother. My mother knew how to handle my sulking! She would let me get over it, as she put it, which I did once it was time to go for a hot dog!

Fairground Rides

I used to love the food sold at funfairs. My mouth waters at the thought of them. I loved the candy floss and would enjoy watching it being made. I never really understood the process, I have to admit. I liked the nugget too. I liked its chewiness and the crunch of the nuts. But what I liked best were the hot dogs especially when served with masses of onions, mustard and ketchup. One was never enough! And the chips were great too especially when liberally dusted with salt and doused with malt vinegar! Just the thought is enough to make my mouth water! I have always believed that the best chips are made at funfairs. I like my chips cut thick, none of those stringy French Fries for me! The perfect chip, as far as I am concerned, is deep fried until it reaches a deep golden brown colour. It is at this point that the chip is wonderfully crisp on the outside but still soft inside.

Candy

Of course the delicacies offered at funfairs today are shunned by the health conscious. Although I agree that it is necessary to be careful in what one eats, I am also a believer in moderation and feel that some good honest less-than-healthy food is necessary to feed the soul on occasion. In this age of healthy choices regarding the foods that we eat, I believe that society has gone overboard somewhat and has become obsessed with producing a vast array of remarkably miserable foodstuffs. Today we are encouraged to eat cereals that not only look like twigs but taste like them too! Supermarkets, health food stores and good restaurants happily advertise that their foods are sugar-free, low in fat and/or cholesterol-free, and all too often are rendered totally tasteless! Oh how I yearn for a fried egg on occasion! Or a morsel of red meat with a little fat left on the side! But most of all, I yearn for those hot dogs and chips specially prepared for the discerning eater at the funfair!

Food!

Beer CratesWhen I was a kid, places like Southend were filled with folks out on a Beano. In those days, local companies used to hire a charra or two to take their factory workers out on a day trip as a thank you for services during the year. These Beanos were generally excuses for the majority of male workers to get smashed out of their mind. Young coupleDrinking began almost immediately after boarding of the charra. Some of the men intended to pass the journey down by drinking most of the contents of the multiple crates of beer that they had brought on board earlier. Everyone was very jolly during the journey down. Those that weren’t drinking took part in community singing. Many of the younger men between drinking also indulged themselves in gentle banter and torment of the young women with a hope of hooking up with either for the day or at least for the journey home when the charra lights would be turned out.

Drunks

Upon arrival at the destination, most of the old male workers made straight for the nearest pub on the seafront where they would drink more beer until chucking out time. After this, these men felt obliged to at least see the sea and stumbled their way along the front along the promenade. They generally caused some havoc as they wandered along. Most felt the necessity to prove that they still had it by terrorising any young girl who mistakenly wandered into their midst. Some of them would vomit a few times and have to sit down for a while until revived. Almost everyone had promised family members to bring back some rock and went into the little shops along the front specialising in this sweet. Rock is a hard white candy with the name of the seaside resort appearing throughout the long stick in pink candy and surrounded by a thin coating of either pink or another garish colour candy. Unfortunately, most of these sticks of rock would either be lost and never arrive back in London or else would arrive smashed into a hundred jagged pieces. The more stout-hearted amongst the drunken group might next suggest buying some fish ‘n’ chips or else some cockles, whelks or mussels. Those that weren’t sick from the smell of such food or after eating it were now ready for the next adventure.

Piers

Rock

Seafood

Someone would suggest that they had to go on the sands. Here, the remaining stout-hearted of the bunch would become seized with the desire to not only go onto the sands, but to go paddling. Once this suggestion was made, each rushed, as best he could, down the nearest steps and onto the sand. PaddlingThose that did not fall down the steps eagerly began trying to throw off a shoe. Attempting this in their drunken state caused many to fall over. Once down on the ground, some stayed there convulsed in fits of laughter, too weak to move. The remainder next removed the other shoe followed by their socks. After finally managing to roll up their trouser legs, they were ready to attempt the immense task of standing up. The successful ones next arranged a handkerchief on their heads and together, with arms linked, the last remaining stout-hearted fellows waddled and stumbled as best they could in the direction of the sea, each using the other for support. Once they made it to the surf, its coldness brought them back to reality, and the idea of paddling no longer seemed to be a good idea! Refreshed somewhat by the coldness felt at their feet, a few of the merry band realised that if they remained where they were for too much longer, their risk of tumbling into the water would greatly increase! Slowly, and very steadily, the merry band was able to manipulate a turn about face and they began to make their way, somewhat unsteadily, back up the beach. Following this exhausting burst of activity, the men collapsed into handy deckchairs or else on the sand and promptly fell asleep. Soon loud snores were heard, thereby annoying those around them and causing many to move.

Meanwhile the younger men were busy spending their weeks’ wages on the younger and more attractive girls in the group. Naturally, the young men were doing this in the hope of getting to sit next to them during the ride home. These fellows gladly took the girls on multiple rides at the funfair and especially hoped to get them to accompany them on the ghost train or the rollercoaster. Here they would be sure to be able to put their arms around them and even steal a kiss or two. They would also spend a small fortune attempting to win kewpie dolls or teddy bears for the girls either through feats of strength or by acts of skill. Naturally, these poor youths could have bought these cheap imports in shops for a lot less money, but this was not the point of the exercise, since these young heroes had to show off so that the girls knew that they were getting something special in them.

In the early evening, the workers would return to the charra with many wearing paper hats bought in souvenir shops with decorative words across the upturned brims stating something about their personalities or else suggesting that someone should Kiss Me Quick! They would then load themselves onto the charra and wait for the latecomers. Generally a few would be left behind to find their own way home, much to the merriment of the others.

Knees Up!Those that had drunk too much during the day generally collapsed into their seats and slept the return journey away while many of their friends continued to drink the remainder of the beer left on the coach. The young men might now be seated next to the girls of their choice and waiting for the night to fall and the lights to go out while the remainder would be ready for a sing-song. Most often one of the older women would entertain the charra with her version of Knees up Mother Brown, which would generally end up with her falling over, or more likely, falling onto the lap of a younger man. This fall was accompanied by gales of laughter from the audience and lots of screams from the entertainer and her companions. The woman generally threw all caution to the wind during this performance and allowed her legs to fly up into the air, thereby making sure everyone got a good look of her bloomers, which would often be multi-coloured and occasionally displaying the Union Jack! Such activity was considered all good clean fun. Although the Beano was not everyone’s cup of tea and dismissed by many as being a vulgar display, it did create conditions whereby management and worker were more likely to work together for mutual good.

I recently visited a number of seaside resorts after an absence of too many years. I notice that the general ambience of the resorts has changed almost beyond recognition. The only constant factor seemed to be the presence of the sea! Beanos are long since a thing of the past. They were probably seen as unnecessary expenditure and cut as a cost-saving measure! Naturally any goodwill that they once produced was lost, but then goodwill cannot be measured on an Excel Page, can it? People generally arrive by car although a traveller can still take a luxury-fitted motor coach that will zoom you to your destination via one of the many motorways that join London to the coastal resorts. Funfairs no longer have the old-styled slot machines, but have arcades filled with noisy and colourful video games where kids compete for high scores. The rides are necessarily spectacular since many of the clientele have visited Disney World or Euro-Disney and most certainly would not be impressed by the older styled rides. Gambling is more prominent. Many old cinemas have become casinos and the mild and harmless Housey Housey has become big business with sizeable cash prizes. Old ladies that were once content to enjoy a knees-up can be found playing roulette or black jack instead. Gone too are the dance halls or Palais de Danse, as they were once called. They have long since been replaced by clubs where music is no longer produced by a resident band, but is digitally generated and overseen by a D.J. Tea can still be found, if you are lucky, but sadly it is neither of the strength nor at a price that would please my father.

Despite the changes, looking at the sand does restore my faith somewhat in my fellow man. I notice with some happiness that kids still like to build sandcastles and that many of the fathers still enjoy helping.


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Copyright© 2010 - : Charles S. P. Jenkins