We’re the third week into the summer holidays – the halfway point – and I know my son’s already experienced the highlight of his time off. Settle back and I’ll tell you why.
We have the ‘seaside’ here in the UK. I know our American cousins have the ‘beach’, but that’s a different beast entirely.
You see, ‘beaches’ are miles of golden sand, golden skin turned ever more golden by the glowing ball of the sun. It’s blue skies, a softly rolling, unimaginably sapphire ocean, white tipped and foaming. Maybe there’ll be palm trees. Maybe there’ll be cocktails served by waiters the colour of oven chips wearing nothing but flip-flops and budgie smugglers. Maybe.
‘The seaside’ is a not the same.
Forget the above. There may be sand, but there may also be pebbles which are too small to walk on comfortably, too big to be called grit. If there’s sand it will be the colour of a Labrador that’s been swimming in a muddy river.
There may be enough blue in the sky ‘to patch a man’s shirt with’ (no, I’m not sure either – it’s something my stepmother used to say) but even if it’s clearer than that, it’s unlikely to be free from cloud.
You will want to keep your pale, goose pimpled flesh (we’re English, don’t forget) undercover, because at the seaside it is always windy. You will need to pack a jumper: you will need to use bags, shoes – perhaps a particularly immobile elderly relative – to weigh down the corners of your towel if you wish to sit on it, or it will be blown into the sea.
Ah. The sea.
The water may be chilly enough to make your toes go numb, and if you’re brave enough to go for a swim, you may want to edge in a little at a time, so your body can acclimatise to the drop in temperature. It’s traditional to do a sort of hopping about jig accompanied by a ‘Ah! Aha! Ah!’ sort of noise – think of it as a kind of saline Morris Dance.
Not that entering the sea is always an option. At our closest seaside, Weston-Super-Mare, (situated on the Severn River Estuary, so not really ‘the sea’ at all) the water recedes so far and so quickly, we’ve spent entire days making sandcastles, dodging heaps of straw and manure left behind by the depressed-looking donkeys as they lollop up and down, having ice cream dropped in their manes … And the sea has remained a shimmering brown sliver on the distant horizon, beyond the end of the pier, beyond signs warning of murderous shifting sand.
Ah, there it was, did you glimpse it? Hidden among the references to manure and Eeyore’s grumpier cousins, was today’s Wednesday Word Tangle.
This word conjures several images to me.
There’s the original Victorian / Edwardian edifices of fancy wrought iron, the place to promenade and buy a ‘Penny Lick’* and listen to brass bands playing I do like to be beside the seaside at an ear splitting umpa-pa volume – probably in a vain attempt to drown out the Punch and Judy man.
Then there’s fire.
It may seem an odd thing to associate with these fine examples of British architecture, but piers burn down more frequently than Game of Thrones actresses bare their chests – well, maybe not, but you get my meaning. Weston’s pier was destroyed by fire in 2008, but the original 1903 construction had already been destroyed in 1930 – by a fire. And it’s not just Weston – Southend, Brighton, Colwyn Bay, Great Yarmouth … What do they make these places out of? Petrol and fire lighters?
The other image it conjures is the one my son loves the best.
You see, most piers aren’t really sophisticated places. They’re often based in very ‘touristy’ resorts where there’s less absorbing the wonders of nature and more throwing yourself into contrived, manmade thrill seeking. Piers are full of arcade games – flashing lights, ringing bells, loud pop music. They’re stuffed with ‘Dodgems’ (they used to be called Bumper Cars in my day, a time when we more honest about our intentions to whack the hell out of other drivers and less likely to sue). They have Haunted Houses and Fun Houses and roller coasters and carousels and candy floss in bags that turns to red goo if the weather’s too warm.
Piers are loud and brash, full of trashy entertainment and cheap thrills. And that’s why my son has such a brilliant time in the one at Weston.
Let’s hear it for the British pier. A grand, incendiary tradition.
*‘Penny Licks’ were an early way of dispensing ice cream. You paid your penny. The vendor gave you something shaped like a sherry glass with a shallow dip in the top in which he smeared ice cream. You licked the glass clean of cream and handed it back. The vendor did exactly the same thing for the next person … Usually without washing the glass between customers. Hmm… Yummy!
Thanks as always to Kittykat-bits and bobs, the founder of W4W