A Grand Day Out Aug 8, 2012 5:24:38 GMT -1
Post by Demelza on Aug 8, 2012 5:24:38 GMT -1
A Grand Day Out
The pungent smell of burning coal filled the platform, the acrid smoke making my eyes run so I saw everything through a veil of tears, softening the harsh lights and dirty girders in the roof of the railway station as the steam train hissed and huffed and puffed eager to be on its way.
Ee-eee ee-eee screamed the whistle of the train and you could hear shouts of: "Hurry up ... Get in ..." repeated up and down the platform and I clutched my mother's hand, overawed and a little afraid of this huge snarling monster that had so many doors, opening and shutting like so many giant maws.
Finally, after finding an empty carriage we all piled in to it – my mother, brother, grandmother and aunt. Apart from my brother and me, they all carried capacious bags that contained fish-paste butties (sandwiches), apples – which we had to eat carefully in case you found a worm in one - and Thermos flasks of hot tea. They also had towels, macs (in case it rained), carried handbags, wore their best clothes and had highly-polished shoes.
My brother and I had buckets and spades and under our clothes we wore our swimming costumes. He had navy-blue knitted woollen trunks with a red elasticated belt with a snake buckle and I wore a turquoise knitted woollen costume with frills around my bottom and my chest.
We all settled down and the guards came along and slammed the doors. "No sticking your heads out of the windows," they shouted. My brother and I were sitting opposite each other next to the windows – which meant, of course, the door! My mother was on tenterhooks all the way to Blackpool and no wonder because the door had a window which could be opened and closed by using a belt and what boy can resist something like that!
As we stopped at other stations, other people got into the carriage and we all got a bit squashed. Someone lighted a cigarette and there was a lot of coughing and a woman said: "Open the window!" and my brother obliged! We were going through a tunnel at the time and all the smoke blew into the carriage making everyone cough even more and of course we had bits of smut all over us from the stack!
He waited until we were going through another tunnel and then he opened the window again and stuck his head out – I joined him of course and when we saw daylight appearing ahead we hurriedly closed the window and sat down. Talk about being caught red-handed! How were we to know that we had very sooty faces and gritty eyes – well, we knew about the eyes because we were rubbing them until they watered and left trickles of white showing through the dirt!
Out came the handkerchiefs, which were spat on, and we had our faces scrubbed clean! Well as clean as they could get us.
To try to keep us quiet we were given a comic between us and I got the bit in the middle so I had only a few pages to read as it was only the centre sheets that had complete cartoons in them. My brother, whose comic it was, deliberately read very slowly so I was tempted to throw the middle, which I'd read, through the window but was stopped by a sharp jab to the ribs by my grandmother.
I was very good at the pouting lip and quivering chin but a warning glance from my mother and aunt stopped me actually summoning up tears; I knew when I was beaten.
By this time we'd passed through the smoking chimney landscape into something quite different – fields with cows and sheep and then, all of a sudden, I could smell the sea.
I didn't know what the smell was – this journey must have been soon after the war, so I would have been around six years old and my brother ten.
There were a few other children in the carriage and we all got very excited as none of us had ever seen the sea, only pictures of it, so all the adults moved towards the middle of the seats and let the children (NO OPENING THE WINDOW came the chorus) stand near the windows at either side of the carriage. Each family told their children that the first one to spot Blackpool Tower would get a penny! An absolute fortune to us.
I don't think any of us spotted the Tower – but I claimed a lot of electricity pylons and was most upset when I was told they didn't count – I didn't know what Blackpool Tower looked like!
We eventually arrived in Blackpool and first stop was the lavatories. There weren't any on trains with carriages so we were all desperate and that was where a penny would really have come in useful as that is what it cost to use one! And there we all were, forming a queue for what seemed like an age.
Finally we made it to the promenade and then down to the beach. Towels were laid on the sand with the bags in the middle and we all sat round while the fish-paste and sand butties were handed round – that is what I always think of when anyone mentions fish paste – sand. Then a cup of tea and an apple – again covered in sand.
My mother, grandmother and aunt took turns making a sort of tent with the towels so they could take their stockings off in private but my brother and I just took off our clothes as we were 'decent' underneath and then, leaving Gran in charge of the bags and things the rest of us went for a paddle – it was a blazingly hot day but oh, was the sea cold!
My mother and aunt held their skirts up so they wouldn't get wet but my brother and I started splashing around until, finally, we were both soaking wet and sitting in the freezing Irish Sea.
Horror of horrors! When we stood up we found our costumes had stretched. Mine was almost down to my ankles and of course it was full of water which poured all over the sand and my brother was no better really but at least his belt stopped him from being 'indecent' so the towels were brought to us. Again under their cover, stockings were put back on and this time both my brother and I had to go into the tent and get well and truly rubbed dry – I can still remember how sharp the sand felt on my skin and to think that women pay a fortune these days in the beauty salons to be 'exfoliated' (get some sand, girls)!
Fully dressed again we all left the beach and headed back to the railway station – after another visit to the lavatory of course – and soon, after we'd knocked the sand out of our shoes, we were heading home, back to the city.
"Did you have fun? ... Did you have fun?' sang the wheels of the train.
"I went in the sea ... I went in the sea," I answered sleepily as the train thundered through the countryside.
I must have slept because I don't remember getting off the train, nor the rest of the journey home.
It had been a long day for we'd had to be out very early in the morning and it was now late at night – I vaguely remembered someone putting me to bed and the next thing I remembered was waking up the following morning, thinking it had all been a dream. But it wasn't because I still had sand between my toes and in my hair!
I never have forgotten my first trip to the seaside nor my first journey on a train. We had trams then and trolley buses but although they were exciting, they couldn't compare with that train.
Why did they have to replace those wonderful truly awesome magnificent trains with what we have now – all speed and no character; like a can of baked beans without a label.
Clackety-clack, clackety-clack – I shall be back, clackety-clack.
8 January 2010