Thursday 26 June 2014

Day One: Child's Play




Cleethorpes proffered all these before me, the saucy coastal temptress.  Well, not the last one.  But walking out of the railway station I was immediately presented with a vista of yellow beach beneath clear blue skies.

As far as I'm concerned, there are two "ideals" when it comes to seaside resorts.  One is that it's hopelessly down at heel, its best days long behind it, and you get the vague feeling that everyone else is smoking Capstan Full Strength and is on a day trip from t'factory.  New Brighton used to reek of teenage fumbles and candy floss and men called Murray in their vest; now it's got a Starbucks, and it's not the same any more.

The other ideal is a place that's clean and pretty and undemanding.  It gives you amusement arcades and a pier and a beach, the stuff you want at the seaside, but the real pleasure is just to wander along the prom.  You can have a Ninety Nine and saunter in the sunshine and it's just unfailingly lovely.  It's Southport, or Scarborough; it's places where you can sit on a deckchair on the front and no-one will bother you.

(There is a third type of seaside resort, epitomised by Blackpool and Bridlington, but we shall speak no more of those depraved Sodoms soaked in dried vomit and used condoms and regret).

Cleethorpes is very much in the second category.  It's not perfect - that pier is frankly embarrassing; it's more like a gazebo on some decking - but it was laid back and charming.  I found myself smiling as I walked down along the sea wall, strolling past kite flyers on the beach and tiny children tipping sand into piles with glee.  One Dad had marked out the beach with lines in a sort of rudimentary architectural plan, and was putting together an epic sandcastle.  His daughter hovered around him, clearly an afterthought, occasionally sent off to do busy work so she didn't ruin Dad's monumental construction.

I turned right behind the land train (£1, with a free lolly for the kids!) and climbed some steps behind the Crazy Golf.  It was decorated with fake-Donald McGill postcards, updated (just barely) to the 21st Century; one showed a man holding a recycling bin and saying "The Council say we have to do it every other week!"  Cue a shocked expression on his busty blonde wife's face.

Up on the clifftop there were gardens and a trail for small children to follow.  And there was also - I can barely contain my excitement as I type this - a hedge maze.

I genuinely, 100%, unashamedly adore mazes.  It's a completely unironic love.  It appeals to that part of me that loves tunnels and underground bunkers and spies; it's about secrets, and hidden places.  I launched myself into its walkways.  I was thrilled.  I am not lying when I say that I giggled the entire time; thank goodness it wasn't high season because a fully grown man sniggering to himself like Jim Carrey on poppers would probably have resulted in a call to the police.

Trust me, that is a face of unadulterated joy.

It would have been better if the hedge had been adult sized, so that I couldn't see over the top, but I appreciate I'm not the target market.  And it was a disappointment when I reached the centre and found that (a) it was just a bit of wooden decking and (b) it was roped off by what looked like crime scene tape.  Perhaps Alice had murdered Christopher Robin there the night before in a crime passionnel. 

I worked my way back to the exit - going a different way to how I got there, because otherwise it's boring - and carried on down the prom.  Further down is a folly, Ross Castle, which was built by the first railway company to serve Cleethorpes as an attraction.  They also built the gardens around it, charging admission for tourists, until the Council took it all over in the Fifties and made them free.  Remember that period of time when the local Council would provide a service for the benefit of residents and visitors alike, and wouldn't charge you for it?  I miss those days.

I don't know what those two are doing, but they seem to be enjoying it.

I was heading for the Cleethorpes Coast Light Railway.  It's a miniature line that runs between the town's park and the sea, and I thought it might be a nice way to pass the time.  I even took the sign pic.

But what's this, in the window of the ticket office?

DAMN YOU CLEETHORPES.  I mean, if I'm completely honest, a part of me was glad; I don't think there's a dignified way for grown men to ride a miniature railway.  There are always knees and heads poking out in the wrong place.  I'd come all this way though.

Instead I walked through the park.  There was a little cafe, where a toddler was screaming with fear and happiness as he fed the geese.  A pair of pensioners strolled by, hand in hand.  Eventually I realised I'd walked to the end of the Light Railway track, so I took another sign pic, even though it had totally violated the rules and I hadn't actually taken a train anywhere.  Consider it a bonus.

I had a poke round the museum space, and considered a cup of tea in the tea room, but I really wasn't in the mood.  I walked back into town.  By now the schools had emptied, and we were joined on the seafront by uniformed teenagers "hanging out".  They wedged themselves into the bench alcoves - usually sitting on the back, with their feet on the seat, which annoyed me beyond all comprehension - and watched the passers by.  On the beach, the donkeys were packing up for the day.  I took one look and felt a terrible sadness.  Working animals bypass the cynical parts of my brain and get me right in the heart.  Donkeys are such maudlin animals anyway, with their big eyes and permanently cowed heads, and donkeys on a beach are even sadder.  No grass, no fields, just a series of hyperactive six year olds who jam their heels into your flanks and pull your mane.

Past an elaborate waterfall, I took a rest on a bench.  It had a tiny bronze dedication on it, to Suzette (Ra Ra) Henley: "For the first time ever there's nothing left for her to say."  That sounds a bit like an insult to me.  I hope, when I die, I'm not commemorated with a plaque saying "For the first time ever he's stopped banging on about bloody railway stations".  I'd prefer something much simpler, like Birkenhead Central being renamed The Scott Willison Memorial Station.  With a statue.  In gold.

I thought about an ice cream, but again, that would have just been a load of sugar for no reason other than it was something to do.  The helter skelter was sadly closed - helter skelters appeal to the same giggly nine year old I have locked up inside me - so I went into an amusement arcade and chucked a quid's worth of tuppences into the penny falls.  I got a couple of tokens, but you needed 35 just to get a packet of sweets ("one win!  She only had one win!  You're supposed to have twenty four to win that dog!") so basically I could have saved everyone a lot of time by simply pressing a pound coin into the hand of the bored lady behind the change counter and walking out.

A quick poke into the streets behind the front revealed an economy constructed entirely for the benefit of visitors: a Co-op for snacks, a Boots for suncream, and lots of pubs and cafes and chip shops.  I spied through the window at the menus in all the chippies and finally, at the Monarco, I spotted what I was after.  Saveloy.

I rushed in and ordered a saveloy and chips.  The woman looked bemused; they obviously didn't get much call for it.  "Be about four minutes for your saveloy, okay love?"

Much as I like living in t'Norf, the refusal of its chip shops to embrace the saveloy is a constant source of frustration for me.  I guess Lincolnshire is close enough to the South for some of its influence to filter through.  I found a bench and tucked into the sausage.  It tasted... different.  There were spices in there, which was odd, and the meat tasted different.  I strongly suspect that it's proper meat, instead of artificially recovered mashed up pig testicle and newspaper.  I bet the flavourings are all natural as well.  We need to stop this madness.  Sometimes all you want is fake, plasticky tasting food, lurid flavours that make your tongue fizz and then turn it orange.  Not everything has to be hand crafted artisan organic natural foodstuffs.  Sometimes shit is all you want.

Though it tasted different, there was still that joyous moment when you puncture the taut flesh with your teeth, and hear it pop.  The tight skin bursts in your mouth and ejects a load of pink meat inside.  It's a rush, and gave me immediate flashbacks to having saveloy and chips on my birthday.  My whole day in Cleethorpes seemed to have turned me into a child again.

Like all childhood visits to the seaside, it all has to end; you have to pack up your bucket and spade and the pebbles you've picked up on the beach.  Shake the sand out of your shorts - not much point really, because you'll be finding it in every crevice for the next four days - and walk up to the station for the train home.  Cleethorpes station was built to accommodate thousands of excitable holidaymakers, a terminus designed to feed its passengers straight out onto the seafront with the minimum of fuss.

In 2014, the six platforms have been reduced to three.  There's still a clock tower peering over the rooftops so that drunken Dads know where to aim for as they stagger out of the pub for the last train, but the station restaurant is now the Mermaid Fish Bar.  It's also home to something called the "Doom Bar"; I'm no expert, obviously, but that seems like a very sinister name for a place to have a couple of pints.

I boarded a waiting Northern Rail train for the journey back to Grimsby.  Back to cynical adulthood.  Away from the seaside, and back to where there's no fun any more.


PlatformCat said...

I had a saveloy once, on the way back from swimming when I was about 7, but I dropped it in the footwell of the car and it got fluff all over it, so my dad ate it instead...

Ian said...

"The tight skin bursts in your mouth and ejects a load of pink meat inside."


Scott Willison said...

All in your mind, Jones.

Anonymous said...

Saveloy, not haddock? Madness.

The Pier was the duve du jour (along with JD's and Gullie's) when I was a teen. It's been turned into a tearoom now but the mirrored columns from the club are still there and it is just plain WEIRD.

Steve Williams said...

Despite living in Cleethorpes for a decade (you should have come and said hello, I'd have taken you to Cafe Valeries or Steels), I hadn't actually ridden the Light Railway until this weekend when my sister and brother-in-law were paying a visit with their twenty month old daughter.

The thing that most surprised me was the amount of ticket checks, if you're doing the circuit they're checked when you get on the train and at the two other stops. I've had fewer ticket checks on trains to London. I was also surprised how fast it went, it goes at a fair lick and when it goes past some overgrown area the long grass can't have give you a whack.

It's interesting, anyway, though there are several parts of the journey which certainly aren't very pretty (just some anonymous cuttings) as if it's a normal full-sized commuter train service, including one siding where we ended up stopped for a few minutes alongside some sleepers and rotting old carriages.

A bit of a novelty, anyway, although my niece seemed a bit more interested in the buses we went past. She really loves buses, actually.

You should have gone to Steels, actually, a proper old-fashioned fish and chip restaurant. Bet they'd have knocked you up a saveloy.

Scott Willison said...

I *wanted* to go to a proper fish and chip restaurant, with white tablecloths and a massive steel fryer. I felt pretty tired though - I'd been travelling all day - and I'm not comfortable with eating in a restaurant on my own - not even a posh chippy.

I'm ok with Light Railways so long as they've got a bit of distance to them, and the Cleethorpes one seemed ok. The worst types are the ones where you can see the other end of the track from the platform (e.g. Chester).