Back in the day (or the “olden days” as I used to call it when referring to my own parents’ childhood) when staycations were the norm as opposed to EasyJet flights to the sun, Summer was never my favourite time of the year. Sure, we went camping (and later caravanning) and enjoyed sleeping under the canvas, waking each morning snuggled in our sleeping bags like glow-worms from which we were only tempted by the promise of knee deep puddles which were in obvious need of ratty haired, pyjama and wellyboot clad children to go sploshing about in them….but magical as that was, it wasn’t October.
Every October, for as far back as I can remember (and when my family speak about my memory, the word elephant is used) my Mum would pack our suitcases with heavy duty woollen knits and primary coloured pack-a-macs and we’d drive to my Granny’s, pick her up and head to the coach station….it was Blackpool Illumination weekend. Granny time.
Spending any time with my Granny was magical, but this was especially so. We always went by coach to Blackpool (so that my parents could watch the illuminations without crashing, I assume), always stayed in a quaint bed and breakfast…and my Granny always did something naughty to make us laugh. I can’t remember a trip where my sides didn’t ache. It was our annual adventure.
Illuminations trips were filled every year with the most incredible memories; the best of which was our night at the Pleasure Beach. Each year for the princely sum of £8, we would hail a horse drawn carriage and excitedly clamber aboard to ride the promenade in style, cuddled close to each other and upon alighting at the Pleasure Beach we would pet the horse and ask his name.
Across the road and carefully past the illuminated trams the best night of the trip awaited us on the Pleasure Beach…Tom Sawyer’s Rafts, the Caves (and the pancake house which I would pray we got to each in), the Gold Mine…but top of our list every year were the ghost train (during which my mum would claim one of the skeletons, the one with the beads on, was without a doubt my Nan) the Big Dipper (which I wasn’t supposed to go on but always did), the Carousel (which put the fear of you-know-who in my Dad) and the log flume. We always saved the log flume until last.
There were always the essentials of our trips: a ride up the pier on the train with our hands stuffed into plastic bags of pastel coloured candy floss, hours spent entranced by the penny arcades, the elation of winning plastic bin liners filled to bursting with stuffed toys, the shock of the frosty sea water seeping into our jelly shoes as we chased the sea tide all the way out, and the crunch of sand, wind sprinkled like salt over our piping hot fish and chips as we perched cross legged atop the sea wall.
We always spent an afternoon in the tower, racing through the Jungle Gym before gazing at the ballroom dancers and becoming entranced by the Wurlitzer in the ballroom as my dad told tales of his youth spent there. Then we would head to the top of the tower, terrifying ourselves over the sway of the ancient elevator as it clanked its way skyward, and upon exiting then plastering ourselves to the wall and praying the wind wouldn’t scoop us clear off the top.
There was never a trip where I came home without having consumed the biggest ruby red sugar dummy, walking arm in arm along the promenade with my Granny as she sang, “Oh I do like to be beside the seaside…” Without exception the wind glued my fine hair to my sugary treat and entangled me painfully and frustratingly. It hurt….but I still bought one every year, and a plate of English breakfast shaped rock to take home.
Our holiday souvenirs were straight out of our dreams; throw pillows with Nick Kershaw transfers, candy pink plastic Pierot digital watches, red and blue glittery head boppers and brightly coloured, sequin and feather embellished porcelain masks…the indoor market and tiny seashore shops were our Aladdin’s cave; not a penny came home with us and we always ended up asking for extra rock for our friends at home.
My heart broke when my Granny left us in 1995 after a series of strokes and her cardiomyopathy. My memories of the time spent with her, wind whipped and rosy cheeked on our fifth time around the log flume, eating chocolate dipped fruit and harbouring fake-Smartie filled canes as we tried to duck behind my poor dad to avoid the tidal wave at the foot of the chute will never fade..and are worth so much more than the price of any holiday in paradise.
Our Blackpool. Our memories. It made my childhood complete.