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In Good Company: A Trip To The Lights

...We pushed with the rest of the crowds towards what we hoped would turn out to be the sea front. Trying to curl intransigent fingers of six to eight year olds into a controlling hand-clasp in the midst of Blackpool exuberance is not easy...

Enid Blackburn conveys all the magnificent, exasperating, unsurpassably tawdry joy of a day trip to Blackpool.

It's overcrowded and scruffy, there is a pervading air of horse manure and fried onions wafting along the tram-lined promenade, everything has to be queued for and takes twice as long.

So what exclusive ingredient draws the crowds to bawdy Blackpool from Easter right through to Christmas?

And in spite of the inclement weather and the incessant queuing, why does everyone look so matey? Blackpool must boast the hardest worked landladies in the business. After a few short recuperative weeks in Majorca, they are back in accommodating mood once more busily dividing their partitioned bedrooms yet again to take in even more visitors the following year.

Last year besides hotel and other novel expenses Blackpool cost me a cherished purse and its contents. As a result our relationship felt well and truly severed. I only supported our Sunday School illuminations trip on Saturday out of a sense of duty. But when their feverish voices were announcing hysterically ‘I can see it – it’s there’ my indifference deserted me and I was straining to see the Tower with the rest, my infantile joy dribbling all over my cheese teacake.

Rigby Road bus station was bursting with empty buses as we embarked. The day-trippers, easily recognised by their uniform of T-shirts, jeans and fancy sombreros resting on their pierced ears, occupied the rest of the space.

We pushed with the rest of the crowds towards what we hoped would turn out to be the sea front. Trying to curl intransigent fingers of six to eight year olds into a controlling hand-clasp in the midst of Blackpool exuberance is not easy.

Feet occupied every inch of promenade. The roads were blocked with traffic. With a hair-splitting gale rattling our teeth we decided the emptiest part of Blackpool was the beach. The wind was blowing waves of sand at the raging sea as we descended the wooden steps. A donkey man was galloping across the sand with his animals, after a long season he looked more like a donkey than they did. ‘They know just how far to go you know, and won’t go any further’ he told me. For some reason this seemed to upset him.

In the meantime our young adventurers, in a most undonkeylike manner were belting up the sands towards the delights of the Pleasure Beach. Taking big gulps of ozone through the spaces in our scarves and looking like wander-ing Arab extras from a Desert Song film-set we did our best to pursue them.

Some of the more observant among us couldn’t help gawping at the promenade scenery as we passed. One couple were practising passionately for an X certificate in an open shelter, successfully keeping out the cold and other embarrassed would-be occupants. A large mother appeared to have small faces sprouting from everywhere, in her pockets, up her sleeves, under her feet, all contentedly buried in fish and chip papers.

At 5.30pm we reached the South Pier and the children’s spirits suffered when someone pronounced the Pleasure Beach suffocatingly full. With only an hour left to unload their stuffed purses they naturally panicked. But the clink of falling copper from the pier amusements brought the blood back to their cheeks and the pungent smell of coffee lured me in with them.

Moving a pile of soiled plastic cups, which the overworked staff hadn’t had time to clear, I tried to bend my small well-padded frame into the six-inch space provided. Like the landladies, café proprietors are infected with the double-up bug. If this continues what will happen to the larger person. Will Blackpool only be fit for streamlined dwarfs?

To say our groups were scattered about spending their savings with a speed that would have brought a tear to many a parent, our knees were sticking in our necks and our fingers were shrivelled visibly under the hot plastic cups, we adults did enjoy a second or two sipping the cream coloured liquid.

‘Has anyone seen Carol?’ soon revived our day trip mood.

With only forty-five minutes to bus time and an ever-increasing toilet queue to master, we waited for last-minute rock-buyers, lost another two members and finally trundled back to the bus station.

But that carefree ‘Golden Mile’ feeling was already throbbing beneath my fur collar, as we passed the crowds battling there way back to their ‘full board’ and ‘luxury’ flats.

Headscarves were lashing the life out of new perms. Dads were carrying youngsters in one arm with their other wrapped around mum. Teenage twosomes were huddled together behind prams. Everyone seemed to be keeping time to some inward rhythm of content.

Strangers nod and smile and suddenly you have an insatiable urge to stop and down a plate of salty mussels, or nip into Ripleys and ‘believe it or not,’ you also long to test your powers of recognition in Tussard’s Waxworks.

Madame Tussard’s, the place where during one hot summer patrons queuing
in front of us were chokingly offended by the acrid smelling atmosphere, putting it down to the odious effect of heat on painted wax.

In fact I was in a position to confirm the pungent aroma was actually a combination of landladies’ haute cuisine and my uncle’s delicate gastric system.

Is it the sea air, the universal camaraderie or just the feeling that we are all ‘in it together?’ Whatever the reason it always affects me this way and I am wishing I could stay a while longer.

Perhaps it’s nostalgia, a longing to return to the seaside dreams of childhood. During the war, big-spending, gum-chewing Americans took over the horse-drawn landaus. I used to watch them ride past the Tower with a blonde wrapped in each arm, shocking most of the civilians. I longed for the day when I could wax disgusting in a horse-drawn carriage with a ‘Yank,’ but the war ended leaving another dream unfulfilled.

At exactly 6.30pm our children’s fingers were pressed against the bus windows in gleeful anticipation of the highlight and the reason for our trip to the ‘illuminations.’

By 9pm we had moved about a mile up the road towards Squires Gate – the gateway to all our afternoon dissertations.

With three full lanes of traffic feeding into the main promenade stream and no driver displaying any intention of ‘giving way,’ mutiny was rife in our camp. After another cramping hour one desperate member left the bus and approached a motorist. Pleading a bus full of Sunday school scholars longing to see the ‘lights,’ she threw us on his mercy. Our prayers were answered and he let us in. We quickly wakened the children and ordered them to wave and cheer as he dipped his headlights at us.

Alas, we never saw him again. But at last we faced the twinkling cascade and dazzling shapes that made up Blackpool illuminations.

What a pity all the painstaking work and detailed planning that goes into creating this electric showpiece is frustratingly ruined by the stop-starting, waiting and gear grinding, not to mention the spurt of poisonous fumes, one has to endure in the process.

Our driver was particularly long-suffering, not only had he to endure the trials of brake-pushing, but he was supervised closely throughout by three pairs of mascara-daubed eyes staring down on him from the back window of the bus in front.

A youth driven insane with desire climbed up their window and was rewarded with a face full of cigarette smoke. Our driver, contrary to advice from behind did not ‘Ram ‘is ‘ed in.’ The lucky children who managed to fight off Morpheus voted ‘The Gingerbread Factory’ at Bispham their favourite. The luminous sight of a tram ‘dressed up as a boat’ overcame one child.

When a plastic bucket was produced for toilet arrangements, small-boy chauvinism was well to the fore, little girls were too modest to insist on equal rights and big girls were not invited.

Jammed on the inside by buses filled with snoring passengers, some turned their interest to the enticingly lit lounges of the sea front hotels and a hamburger kiosk caused some anxiety.

Looking like an old friend the elegant dome of the Winter Gardens rose impressively from its cramped position between bars, bistros and seaside novelties.

At 2.0am four of us were sat clutching our Ovaltine and telling our stay-at-homes, who had stayed up for us, about our eventful day.

‘Did you enjoy yourselves at Blackppool then?’ we were asked. The answer was a unanimous ‘Yes!’

Like the crazy distorted images that stare back unbelievably at us from the ‘Hall of Mirrors’ – this cannot possibly be you - but giggle, chuckle, it makes you laugh. That’s Blackpool.

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