Chip wrappers are blowing along the Promenade – Blackpool’s equivalent of tumbleweed.
The Illuminations are in grand old Duke of York mode – they are neither up nor down.
I’m braving the near relentless rain with my brother. We were both kids when we first came here. We can still remember the joy of escaping Liverpool – this time for good, not just a day out.
He now lives and works in France but still calls Blackpool home. We share a history known only to the pair of us. It’s of buckets and spades, and different coloured jelly sandals each summer, and crew-cuts (for the boys) and ridiculously short shorts.
Even in the rain they would make for Jubilee Gardens to sail toy yachts in the paddling pool.
No wonder their shorts shrank.
I still remember one coming back wearing his dad’s pullover – to spare his blushes.
Those summer days are a lifetime ago now. My brother’s over for my mum’s 80th birthday. It will have been and gone by the time you read this and we will have been and gone to our home city, Liverpool for a trip down memory lane, and a catch up with our aunties.
Well into their late 70s they would come to Blackpool for Turkey and Tinsel in winter and the Pensioners Parliament in spring – marching from North Pier and fighting for free buses and index-linked pensions.
I once felt so sorry for them missing out I offered to bring them here. Auntie Florrie sounded aghast. “We’ll be on our cruise then. We haven’t done Blackpool since we all got ill on that coach trip from hell.” To add insult to injury they bumped into a colleague of mine on the same cruise on a press trip – at roughly the time I was writing up a weekend at Pontins, Prestatyn.
There’s an influx of winter tourists, refugees from favourite watering holes in Lakeland or Yorkshire, flooded out. There’s a touch of bulldog rather than bullfrog spirit in Blackpool right now. Strangers lock eyes and trade sarky banter about The Weather as they pour loose change onto gravity-defying Penny Falls or nudge numbers in the hope of winning a jackpot on the five games for 10p machines.
Amusement arcades lure the drenched and desperate like seaside sirens, sanctuaries from the grey beyond, light and bright, doors opening to the smell of chips and the sounds of laughter from grownups on the air hockey, as you push past the smokers huddled in doorways outside.
This is the closest Blackpool comes to out of season and a trip into town with a visiting relative can feel horribly like self flagellation.
But make the effort and the enforced bonhomie becomes the real thing. No matter how quiet this town gets it’s never as dull and dreary as many other seaside resorts- at any time of year.
And last year I saved Gazette tokens to buy Big Tickets for Merlin-run attractions – so my brother and I could see the places we couldn’t afford to visit as kids.
First stop Tussauds and it’s changed beyond recognition – mostly because the characters are recognisable.
It’s far more interactive than it ever was which is half the battle won when you’re out to have fun. And we do.
In fact we have so much fun we feel guilty at how few visitors are sharing it with us – and regret having sneaked a few selfies in the areas where we should have, could have, posed for official pictures. But the staff still smile and wish us well.
And when we emerge we look up to see thousands of starlings turning the dark grey sky into a living Spirograph, another shared toy of childhood.
They swoop, dive, stall, call, shapes shifting, capes swirling. A sudden shaft of light above the Big Wheel brings the spectacle into sharper focus for others who stop, look, take photographs.
Watch the birdies. There’s no better time of year for it – if you want to send those spirits soaring.
A tad insane ....but Bowie was the soundtrack for us all
Music defines a generation and few musicians defined the Changes of my generation as much as David Bowie.
The music you hear in your teens is the music that stays with you. You rushed out and bought the records or saved up.
I heard a Radio Lancashire DJ muse on how his mum had saved vouchers off food packets to buy him the record he played.
Strange the things you remember, he said.
I used to save paper round money and buy a compilation cover record – a 45rpm with about six songs on it. It wasn’t the real thing but not as bad as the backing singers on a James Last album.
You had to be a bit weird to like Bowie with his androgynous appeal but he was the perfect antidote to the Carpenters and the Bay City Rollers, and the dark clouds we later learned were over both.