I’ve been thinking about summer/bank holiday outings as a child to seaside resorts like Barry Island and Porthcawl in South Wales. There were often outings run by the local Sunday School or places like ‘The Merthyr Labour Club’. Your mother would save up for months for the outing, paying a little every week, usually a couple of shillings at a time.
There was usually a fleet of coaches put on for such an occasion. It seemed a big adventure at the time, yet those seaside towns weren’t that far away, you’d swear we were all off to Florida with the fuss that was made. Often you’d hardly sleep the night before, from the excitement of it all!
Usually you’d take some sort of picnic along with you, maybe cheese and tomato sandwiches, crisps and fruit, possibly a bottle of Corona pop [which was warm by the time you got there!]. The grown ups would purchase a pot of tea from a nearby stall/cafe to drink on the sands or maybe bring a flask. There was something about eating your food outside that was exciting. We didn’t do it that often, but for some reason when going to the seaside it was positively mandatory!
The first thing you’d want to do as a child was run towards the sea, [no matter how far the tide was out] and dip your toes in it. Also quite difficult later on, when you changed under a towel into your bathing costume and actually went in the sea, was to find your family in amongst a sea of faces! I think I got lost several times when the beach was packed!
There was always a visit to the fun fair. The Big Dipper [which I seem to remember had a sign on it in Barry Island which read something like: “If all the components of this Big Dipper were laid end-to-end, they would stretch all the way to New York!”] I also loved the Caterpillar, which was a sort of wagon on rails which started going, got faster and faster as the green hood slowly covered everyone, making it look like its name to spectators. People screamed and screamed underneath that cover… or maybe that was just me!
The Water Chute in Porthcawl was another attraction I used to enjoy, day trippers stood at the bottom and got splashed.
At the promenade in Barry Island I remember there was a “What the Butler Saw” machine. I’d insert a penny after queuing up to watch it, as the black and white photographs flipped as slow or as fast as you liked as you turned the handle. I seem to remember something about a maid but nothing ever really happened, she didn’t even get laid. I think the butler kept his beady eye on her though!
There were Donkey rides on the sands and sometimes competitions to dig down deep to find buried treasure. I remember my brother winning tickets for the fairground at Porthcawl and he chose to go on a real dangerous looking ride. It was like two rocket capsules either end of a connecting pole that spun upside down. I think he was only nine at the time, don’t know how he was allowed on that!
Then there was the ‘Hall of Mirrors’, where you could see yourself thin or fat, distorted and blob-like. There was also a maze made of glass that used to really frustrate the heck out of me when I tried to get out, as I’d often bump into the clear glass.
I also loved the ‘Ghost Train’ and would scream as a cobweb hit me in the face as the train careered through the darkness, often some sort of ghoul would pop up or scare the hell out of you or there’d be a earth shattering screech from the bowels of the abyss. It’s a wonder we didn’t need a change of underwear after going in there.
Walking around the fairground there were certain things that were mandatory like a large stick of candy floss that would begin to melt in your mouth but stick on your teeth! Or a stripy stick of seaside rock with a photograph of that particular resort stuck inside the wrapper, equally bad for your teeth!
There was also nothing like eating fish and chips at the seaside that were wrapped in newspaper. Even to this day, I still think they taste best eaten outside either on a bench overlooking the sea or on the beach itself, if you can avoid any sand getting into the wrapper that is.
By the time we’d return to the fleet of coaches, we’d be worn out and sleepy with sand between our toes and usually some sort of mementos: shells we’d collected, buckets and spades, those little cute badges with our names on, rock or candy floss.
The coaches would be lined up and you’d have to search for ages to find which one you’d arrived on. They’d take an age to pull away as usually there were so many from all over the country and beyond. Then darkness would begin to descend as shapes became silhouettes against the night sky as we approached home.
Back then the sun always seemed to shine and we seemed quite content with what we had. Or was that just me?