There’s a picture in my mind’s eye – it hangs on the walls at The Gazette.
It’s of a laughing lady sat in a deckchair, a moment of pure and simple joy captured by photographer Bill Johnson.
Makes me smile each time I see it, for it has the charm of a seaside postcard.
Deckchairs are synonymous with Blackpool. It ain’t the seaside if you can’t sit at its side. And safely. We can’t have more tourists toppling off sea walls then blaming the council because they needed a sign to remind them to show some sense.
For those who grew up in Blackpool, a deckie was the definitive student job, a rite of passage. I got lumbered with hotel work and used to trundle past on trams and wish I was a deckie, out of doors all day, paid to get a tan and read or chat up visiting talent before heading off to uni bronzed, with a work ethic and little black book full of phone numbers.
Some had prank chairs, impossible to assemble, to spring upon stags trying to sleep off the night’s excesses, or deployed as an ice breaker with pretty girls – watch them struggle then go to their aid.
Our deckchairs have been under wraps for several years. I’ve missed them. They were a reminder of what Blackpool means to many. A place to sit and watch the world go by.
I’m surprised, given how much we harp on about our social history that the deckchair, so much a part of it , has folded locally.
Beach huts are making a comeback – even beaches are making a comeback – but deckchairs have had their day here. Six thousand have been sold for around £25k to entrepreneur Maria Hopwood to restore and hire out for events. Twenty five grand seems like a lot of money but it comes down to about £4 a chair.
Chester-based Heritage Deckchair Hire will also have some limited editions for sale, to “aficionados” of history who appreciate these iconic deckchairs, each with a certificate of authenticity.
I’d like to be first in the queue but doubt I’ll get a look in. We don’t value what we’ve got until we’ve lost it. I’d love to see deckchairs on the Comedy Carpet, not far from where Morecambe and Wise sat taking the sun – or that lady in the photograph giggled at her husband’s joke.
We used to have our own deckchair doctor back when chairs were stacked up and put into storage over winter at Blackpool Zoo. I’ve got three sets of tables and chairs in the back garden, a couple of sunloungers and Shaker style seats so brightly coloured no one dares use them for all the insects converging upon them. But my favourite chair’s a £40 deckchair, bought online, which fell apart the moment it emerged from the box. It’s not hardwood, not like the Blackpool chairs, the fabric’s flimsy, retainer’s broken but it still makes me feel as if I’m on holiday each time I sit gingerly upon it and hope it doesn’t collapse. And, really, that’s part of the fun – along with fighting to get out of it.
Strikes me our deckchair romance has gone full circle. It was an entrepreneur of old, a woman, who introduced deckchairs to Blackpool seafront, winning permission from those who thought it would never work. She did so well the council swooped on what proved to be a nice little earner – and took it in-house.
If nothing else, our deckchairs are in safe hands. Hopwood knows her social history. Visit her website www.deckchairstripes.com and you’ll find lots of interesting seaside snippets. Such as how Blackpool Council banked £6m from the rental of deckchairs over three glorious years – 1958-60.
That’s a lot of bottoms on seats. But has the bottom now really fallen out of the market?
Let’s bring sport back to our beaches
British Sandyachting champion Ian Dibdin, 69, of Marton, lives in hope his favourite sport will one day return to the sands of St Annes from whence it was exiled, 11 years ago, after a woman was struck by a racer and died.
Sandyachting put St Annes on the international events map – and remains one of the best beaches in the world for the sport.
It also had an enviable safety record until a young mum found herself in the wrong place at the wrong time. What happened was tragic but should it have wiped the sport off the map locally for all time?
Ian first clinched the British title in 1964. He admits he wanted to prove he could still hold his own against other sand yachters.
He did just that.
Surely it’s now time for St Annes to prove it still has what it takes to host such events, too?