Saturday, January 24, 2009

Beside the Seaside

My friend, who teaches in Bahrain, arrived looking shattered after a seven hour flight and three hours in the rush hour. She was fit for only local sight-seeing.

The National Maritime Museum promotes our 'Glorious Naval Heritage' and 'Britannia Rules the Waves' , etc, but for me and my companion 'sea' means 'seaside'. The 'Beside the Sea' exhibition of photos, posters and a video of film clips was a trip down memory lane, although we remembered different towns. As my friend's a native of Hull, in her case it was Scarborough, home of Alan Aykbourn plays in the Keith Joseph Theatre

Preston is only fourteen miles cycling miles from the doyenne of resorts: Blackpool. Luckily, the Fylde is flat there, particularly if you take the coast road, instead of the shorter route via Kirkham and the High Gate Hotel. I did this sometimes, glad to see the pub sign at the top of the long haul with its message:

'The gate hangs high,
And hinders none.
Refresh yourself,
Then travel on.'

It's an Italian Restaurant now.

Sometimes, in the two-week factory break called 'Preston Holidays', my mother bought a 'Family Runabout' a green card with a map of Fylde rail routes printed on the back. Rail stations from Southport to Windermere were marked with dots. For a whole week we travelled every day , with Blackpool the favourite. For a change we'd go to Lytham and St Annes for sand-dunes, or Fleetwood to pluck winkles from the rocks. Southport we shunned because the sea never came in.

I think 'Golden Mile' is excellent to describe the flat, biscuit-textured sand that was perfect for sand-castles, the sea close by for carrying water to moats; no shelves, or shingles; no breakwaters. For a child Blackpool on a sunny day was perfect. There were places along the 'prom' where my mother paid for tea and we sat on benches at board tables to eat 'butties' from home.

I like other seaside places - I lived in Southsea for three happy years when I was first married. Now Whitstable's a favourite, and I go back to Southport a lot, where the sea still stays out but Lord Street was Napolean's model for the Parisian Boulevards.

The museum display isn't all about sandy beaches; there are photos of old-fashioned bathing machines and piers, even fishermen posed self-consciously holding nets by boats in Cornwall.

It was a good to be reminded of happy holidays on a wet afternoon in Greenwich. My friend said she felt quite revived; ready to travel on and spend the weekend with another friend, who lives in Eastbourne.

Here's a site that lets you click and revive your own particular memories:

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