Post-war Blackpool was booming, with people across the UK heading to the resort for their holidays. Here, in a story entitled A Close Shave, ROLAND BARNES, who lives in Swansea, recalls Oldham Wakes holidays with his family.
Post-war prosperity was slow to come to North West England. Towns like Oldham in the ’50s still had a dilapidated look, as if there were a lull in the bombing. Getting out of the wreckage provided an escape.
Approaching Blackpool on the train, there was a flurry of excitement when a fellow passenger first sighted the Tower, followed by the rest of the compartment taking turns at winding the window, straining to see it.
As our excursion steamed into the North Station, my first impression of Blackpool was the light and space of its suburbs; wide avenues with detached houses of glazed brick unsullied by factory smoke.
Like most visitors, my parents made straight for the seafront.
On the Promenade, the gliding and hooting of green-and-cream trams en route for Fleetwood, Bispham, Cleveleys or Squires Gate made it absolutely clear this could only be Blackpool.
My father would have booked well in advance, always full-board – including breakfast and evening meal. Another tariff of that time was “doing your own”, enjoying the comfort of a boarding house, but buying food for the landlady to cook.
Dad always insisted on an all-in arrangement.
On the sands with cricket bat, wicket set and ball from one of those colourful shops on the Prom, his first job was to recruit some boys, for an only child to play with.
He always batted first and it was difficult to get him out, but he was not one of those competitive men who take pleasure in beating children at games, and eventually began giving dolly catches to make sure we all got a turn with the bat.
At dinner time, he disappeared for an hour while mam and me stayed on the beach, eating the sandwiches which came with full-board.
Before long – face-flushed and disposition jollier – he was back for a nap in a deck-chair until teatime, when we joined the crowds in a surge across the Promenade, back to the boarding houses.
I don’t even remember going in the sea or even wearing a pair of swimming trunks, as we moved between groups of bundled-up holiday-makers, like shadowy mackerel in the surf. There was the Channel swimmer Captain Webb of course, but he was on a matchbox.
Arriving at the Pleasure Beach after a ride on an open-topped tram, dad gravitated to the attractions he’d known as a young man: Noah’s Ark, rocking on its axis since 1922, and the Grand National, where two different coloured cars raced each other. A section of track ran underneath the road where spectators, peering through the glass partition, could see beneath their feet, two cars plunging towards the finishing line.
Then there was the Big Dipper. We marvelled at this intricate piece of elevated trackway, but faintheartedly always rode together in a single car on the Grand National, which had fewer heart-in-mouth downhills.
Of all the attractions on the South Shore, the Fun House – with its sinister laughing man – tempted me most. But I was not allowed in on my own and, like most adults of their generation, my parents considered themselves far too mature to stagger along juddering walkways, with cold jets of air blowing up the women’s skirts. Dad was happier to share a ride on the Ghost Train.
Having waved us goodbye a few minutes earlier, mum stood waiting patiently by the guardrail as our car trundled into the light.
It was obvious to me that dad planned our annual holiday to coincide with a crown green bowling competition called the Waterloo Cup, held at a barn of a pub, with greens in adjoining parkland.
With an all-male atmosphere of betting slips and beery breath, he shepherded me around the crowded green and even busier bar.
Keen to initiate me into the rules of crown green, he explained the ‘jack’ was a smaller version of the biased black bowl and not a white oversized golf ball, like the ones they used on flat greens down south, a doddle to play on.
The rules seemed straight-forward, so it was easy enough to follow the game: little legs padding after ‘woods’ urged along by two outstretched arms and interminable ‘ends’ caused by the time it took to measure which bowl was nearest the jack, a ritual my tutor said was known as ‘pegs’.
He was a diligent teacher and, if there was any danger of my losing interest, off he went to the pub to buy me another glass of lemonade.
While Blackpool was the closest we came to fresh air and fun, there were times when bad weather and strained relationships got the better of our little family.
With dad out of focus, mam and me spent a drizzly afternoon sheltering in an arcade near the North Station.
I must have been a very naughty little boy that day, because I have always known what it feels like to be overwhelmed with the kind of sadness which comes from hurting a dear one.
Having done my best to make myself unlovable, I feared the consequences – but needn’t have worried, as she bought me a pop-gun, which fired a cork on the end of a string, and took me to see Pinocchio.
How could she have known it wasn’t a good choice of picture – my shimmering shame aggravated by the story of a heedless puppet, led astray by a fox-faced villain and his feline friend and almost turned into a donkey.
Despite the happy ending, when Pinocchio sheds his donkey’s ears and tail and becomes a real boy, it was a close shave. Whatever the weather, holidays always seem to have their stress points – but we try again next year.