I am sure that one of the most vivid memories which readers who lived in Yorkshire during the 1950s and 1960s will have of childhood is going on day trips to the seaside. I say day trips rather than holidays as for many families staying at hotels or guest houses was an expense that was beyond them. One of the benefits of living in Leeds is that it is almost equidistant from the east and west coasts of England. In a car it is a trip of an hour and a quarter to an hour and a half, but my first memory is of travelling by train to Scarborough. Not only was this a steam train, but it was also one with compartments, just like in the Agatha Christie novels. I believe the train went via York and the station at Scarborough was at the top of the town and meant quite a long walk to get to the beach. It was never a problem going to the sand, but the slog back up the hill on tired legs was an unpleasant end to the day.
I think we only did the train journey once as we were fortunate to get a car whilst living in Lawrence Avenue. If my memory serves me well, I believe it was the first car in the street. It was an old Austin and required the use of a starting handle. It had no heating and the family named it affectionately, The Fridge. Going anywhere in the car was an adventure, but that was because you were fairly likely to suffer a breakdown, particularly if the journey involved a lot of hills. The Fridge struggled with hills and would overheat. A number of forced stops were involved, allowing the engine to cool so that we could start off again. My dad was an engineer so he was fairly handy with the mechanics, but I don’t think he enjoyed it. Eventually, either by increased income or sheer frustration, The Fridge was replaced by a Ford Prefect. As was the rule in these times, you could have any colour you liked as long as it was black. It was a bigger car and with a growing family it provided more comfort and reliability. It had running boards and headlights that sat on top of the mudguards with chrome surrounds. We did feel grand in it on our first trip.
It is staggering how life has changed. In the 1950s there were few cars, the roads were often deserted, Leeds was coming to the end of its tram service and cobbled roads were being covered in tarmac as there were few horse-drawn vehicles. Of course there were no motorways and travelling was a slow but pleasant experience, unless of course you suffered travel sickness. My wife tells me the remedy for her family was to sit on a newspaper. I had never heard of this before, but she is from Stoke-on-Trent, not from God’s Own Country, so maybe it was just one of their little quirks. The journey was dull and we had to play games to fill in the time. There were not even car radios in these times so I Spy, The Parson’s Cat and assorted games were tripped out, along with Ten Green Bottles and eventually, I See the Sea, The Sea Sees Me. There was always an eventual stop as my older brother would be sick, much to my father’s ire. Even barley sugars couldn’t prevent that. I was just lucky and, unless I am reading, I never feel sick. Of course, the driver never suffers, it is only the passengers who are afflicted.
There would be bottlenecks where certain roads met on the journey. York was one, as was Tadcaster, but once past those the roads were pretty clear. The most common trips were to Bridlington, Hornsea, Filey, Scarborough or occasionally Robin Hood’s Bay and Staithes. We almost always went to the Yorkshire coast and we loved to go. If you set off fairly early, you could be there by mid-morning and leaving at about 4.00pm you could be home in time to go straight to bed.
I have two brothers, one older and one younger, and there were four years between us, so I had more to do with Andrew, my older brother, until Stuart reached a playable age. Once the trip was planned then nothing, including storms were going to stop us. For those not acquainted to Yorkshire weather, it usually rains or drizzles throughout the summer or at least it seemed to. On some occasions the sky would be blue, the temperature hot all the way to the outskirts of Scarborough, but as you hit the town it disappeared in a thick sea fret (fog). I didn’t know why at the time, but now realise it is due to a temperature inversion. Whatever the reason, it would hang around all day and put a real dampener, literally, on the trip. Of course, just to rub it in, the fret would vanish as you left the town on the car ride home.
There was a ritual to going to the seaside that lasted beyond my childhood and my children’s childhood and is probably still in existence today in the UK. The first thing was to find a car park, and on a busy bank holiday that usually meant a fair way away from the beach front. We carried bags with packed lunches from the car and headed towards the coastal front. On the way we had to purchase the essentials. These were spades and buckets, maybe some flags and often plastic sandals. Unfortunately it was often raining so there were plastic coats and sou’westers. Whatever the weather, we then headed to the front with great optimism. Two deckchairs would be hired, our spot on the sand selected and this often meant another long hike before my dad was happy and we would be settled for the rest of the day. On sunny days, because there was no need to purchase macs, we might be allowed to buy something else. I remember well the wooden yachts. They had solid wood bases, usually painted red. They came in several sizes and had a wooden mast and canvas sails and little strings to adjust and trip the sails. These were no use in the sea, but were ideal for the numerous paddling pools that seemed to be everywhere.
Mum and Dad would settle in the deckchairs and we boys would strip off to swimmers, weather permitting, and head for the sea. Now if you have ever been in the North Sea then you will know what I mean when I say that I have never experienced cold like it. It would cut like a knife and your feet would turn blue within minutes. Only the very brave, insensate or suicidal would venture beyond the knees and I was none of the above. I must add that my younger brother reminded me about a specific fashion item tham my mother made for us. Knitted swimming trunks hold a special place in our hearts as they would fill with sand and water if you ventured into the sea and the groin would start to hang lower and lower with the additional weight, proving very embarrassing. For some reason I don’t remember seeing anyone else similarly attired.
After this it was down to sandcastle construction. We would choose the ideal spot, begin to dig the moat and build up the castle mound in the process. The skill was picking the spot where the water was just below spade level. If you got it right the moat would hold water that you collected from the sea in one of the buckets. Shells were added for decoration and sand pies (that’s what we called them) added around the wall and on the castle top. The making of these became quite a feat of engineering.
Wet sand had to be shovelled into the bucket, smoothed off with a spade, the bucket quickly inverted and tapped on the bottom a few times before you pulled it off leaving the sand pie behind. If you had them, or found some around the sand, you could add a paper flag. There was great kudos in having the most architecturally pleasing castle and children would look on with envy on any particularly good specimens. Everyone would wait for the family of builders to leave so that you could be the first to jump on their creation and send it back to the sand it was constructed from. Another pleasure was fighting the tide. As the tide crept in castles were at risk of being washed away (maybe a portent of future sea level rising due to global warming) and we would scurry to repair damage as the waves lapped at the walls and caused erosion in a frenzy of excitement. It was fabulous fun even though we felt like King Canute. Time and tide waits for no man and it certainly demonstrated that, as eventually our castle disappeared under the waves.
This normally signalled the end of the day and time to set off home, but in between we would have lunch. The activity seemed to make us ravenous. Mum always had a packed lunch of beef paste, or fish paste sandwiches. Sometimes it was potted meat, but I never really liked them. Usually Mum and Dad would have a thermos of tea and they would read the papers in peace until we had finished our sandwiches. At this point there were cries of ‘Ice-cream!’ and one of us would go with mum or dad back onto the front to buy some 99s. (The Italian King had ninety-nine elite bodyguards and Italians called anything elite Ninety-nines) They were often starting to melt by the time we returned and after handing them out. Somehow sand would stick to the ice-cream, but we didn’t care. You had to eat them quickly and lick any drips off the cone. Often I would bite the end of the cone off and suck the ice-cream-through the hole. The Flakes were lovely and I saved those to last.
As we grew, times and experiences changed and so did the seaside towns. They had had their hay day and were getting run down and shabby, but we didn’t care. They were another world. Somehow the coast reminded me of the Secret Seven, or Famous Five stories by Enid Blyton and I imagined the fishermen could be smugglers, or the fairground workers spies. The fishing industry was still thriving with the cobble boats busy with small-scale fishing. It was so different from life in Leeds and I have many more tales to tell of visits to the Yorkshire coast.
First 17 parts of the audiobook, Blaze. I think there are four more parts to go. For those who like fantasy stories.