Looking Back: the ups and downs of Morecambe holidays

The Barnes family on holiday in Morecambe.
The Barnes family on holiday in Morecambe.
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Roland Barnes looks back on his Wakes Week holidays in Morercambe

Morecambe’s appeal was to an older generation. Almost everyone in those days went by train.

Roland Barnes with his father and mother.

Roland Barnes with his father and mother.

Because the town’s main railway terminal was on the promenade, visitors were instantly intoxicated by sea air; like taking a flight to Switzerland and landing on top of an alp.

Mum and dad liked Morecambe because the comfortable boarding houses in the sedate West End with barometers in the hall and sonorous gongs announcing meals were quieter than their counterparts in Blackpool.

On the first day, father was up early as usual for a cup of coffee and a newspaper, already at the table with the latest cricket scores before we came down. There was always a Test Match during Oldham Wakes.

After breakfast, at my impatient urging, we set off along bustling Regent Road past the Alhambra Theatre to choose from the row of motor coaches lined up on the seafront our excursions for the week.

Morecambe nostalgia postcards by Trevor Jordan.

Morecambe nostalgia postcards by Trevor Jordan.

They included half a day to Grange-Over-Sands, Arnside and Silverdale or Glasson Dock or a whole day in Lancaster which included a guided tour of the castle and adjacent St Mary’s Priory, built as a memorial to the fallen of the Boer War. Tattered regimental flags drooped forlornly from the chapel roof, something about the way they hung stirring my imagination. I couldn’t stop talking about them.

In the castle itself, I volunteered a hand for the clamping device in the dock of the Assize Court used for branding criminals with the letter ‘M’ for malefactor. It was like being a real felon.

Still in quicksilver mood, and in pursuit of historical truth, the guide’s interpretations of past events came under my intense critical scrutiny while mum and dad, simultaneously proud and embarrassed, looked on.

Though lacking Blackpool’s energy, Morecambe was not without attractions. On Sundays, it was customary for holidaymakers to take a morning stroll to the village of Heysham where mam attended a service at the ancient St Peter’s Parish Church and dad took me to a whitewashed pub where we drank together a mildly alcoholic beverage called nettle beer which tasted deliciously illicit.

The sleepy afternoon that followed found us in Happy Mount Park where he watched the bowling, mam wrote postcards and I got very bored.

Racing ahead of them to the brow of a hill, I waited as they panted up the incline, wondering why they walked so slowly and kept sitting down, but they were middle aged which is why it was Morecambe and not Blackpool.

Morecambe promenade boasted a lido called the Super Swimming Stadium. Beside the entrance was a giant thermometer indicating whether the water was just cold or blooming freezing.

Plucking up courage to take the plunge took some time. Decision in favour made, I descended to the basement changing cabins while mam and dad - non-swimmers both like the majority of their generation - climbed up to the spectators terrace where they could watch my progress from the icy shallow end of the pool to the even colder deep water, waving in encouragement from time to time.

Most days I was the only one fool enough to risk catching pneumonia, but the sun was known to shine on beauty contests and aquatic displays.

During the immediate post- war years, the lido hosted the Miss Great Britain competitions, consisting of girls from all over the country parading around the pool in swimsuits with placards displaying the towns they represented. The aquatic shows consisted of high diving feats and synchronised swimming, although it wasn’t called that then.

During this rhythmical movement up and down the pool they always played ‘The Dream of Olwyn’, one of mother’s favourites.

Being in my parents’ company for long periods wasn’t easy with trouble never far away. After pestering them into purchasing a model yacht, I insisted on sailing it inside a breakwater.

We’d barely got off the train when, dressed in a complete new set of holiday clothes, yacht in hand I approached the pool down a seaweed coated slipway; lost my footing, fell on my backside and slid down the slope, launching myself smoothly into the dock.

Getting wet wasn’t the worst of it; that was the slime down the seat of my new trousers which had to do for the rest of the week.

Having done my best to ruin his holiday, dad had good reason to go berserk and he did, threatening me with all kinds of retribution.

The only corporal punishment I ever received during my childhood was a cursory clip around the ear he called “a winger”, but his language was always more terrifying than his actions.

He had a standard repertoire of threats whenever he was angry. He would “flay me” (peel my skin off) and then “swing for me” (be hung for his misdeeds).

None of this happened on this occasion, nor any other, my outer coating stayed intact and dad escaped a lynching. As usual, mam interceded and he calmed down. She used to say as a way of justifying his murderous language: “He doesn’t mean it you know” but I was never convinced.

The trick was to keep out of his way for a bit until he came round which he always did in the end. There are some people uneasy about leaving home to go on holiday; not through fear of being burgled or mail piling up, but because being in a strange place for too long unnerves them.

With me it is just the opposite; too much of the familiar makes me uneasy.

Sitting on the clean indoor lavatory of a comfortable boarding house in Blackpool or Morecambe counting the days to return, I wondered if an excuse could be made for prolonging my stay.

Perhaps one of my parents, dad preferably, would be suddenly taken ill and admitted to the local hospital, enabling me to continue on holiday with the healthy one for another week.

It never happened. When we finally got off the train at Hollinwood Station, fumbled our way through the dismal booking hall and jammed the luggage under the stairs of the 98 bus home, the darkness all around seeped into my soul, all hope of returning to the light abandoned.