I am a huge fan of the humble English seaside resort. I grew up very happily in what people called a ‘grotty seaside town’ and that was just the opinion of the people who lived there. Perhaps because they did live in it they failed to see its underrated charm. If we are not careful we will lose our seaside as we know it as families decide they can get better value for money abroad which, to be fair, they undoubtedly can. But what they can’t give their kids is a true bucket and spade holiday by flying to Alicante. Hopefully this spell of gorgeous summer sun will encourage many families back to the promenades and beaches of our once celebrated Victorian coastal towns.
We have two girls under five and I love it that they can experience an English seaside holiday. I was lucky to be brought up on the south east coast and my parents still live a stone’s throw from the sea. My fondest memories are playing on the bandstands, roller booting along the promenade, melting ice creams, amusement arcades, tacky night clubs and the smell of fried food forever caught on the wind. My brother and I loved going down to the harbour on a Sunday to buy cockles and shrimps and watch the ferries go in and out of the port. Every child should eat fish and chips from the paper on a beachfront patrolled heavily by beady eyed seagulls. Food tastes so much better when you have to defend it with your life. In my school days the beach was a meeting place; exciting, social, educational and overflowing with teenage angst; “Meet at the beach shelter at eight. Bring some Mad Dog 20/20”. Kelly says Jamie and Mark are going”. A whispered message passed on in school corridors before the dawn of SMS, WhatsApp and the like, was sure to send us girls’ school inmates into a squealing frenzy of nervous excitement – an evening down the beach with real boys!
I’m not a lover of the posh beach resorts like those frequented by Ju-Ju and Miles with kids Mungo and Nettle in tow, kitted out in the latest Boden catalogue and who just love eating clams and skippering their own mini-catamaran. As beautiful as they are, I find places like Salcombe, Rock and Southwold just too upmarket for my liking and spots like Newquay and Watergate Bay are far too hip and sporty for me to even contemplate – some days I find it hard enough to stand up, let alone surf (that’s because I am tired not sloshed, by the way). The more traditional and – dare I cause a Katie Hopkins style row by saying it – common the better. If there are no inflatable dolphins or shops selling shell animals, I’m just not interested. What’s more, I absolutely must smell a mixture of salt, sun-cream and grease and spot at least one poster billing Canon & Ball in ‘Cabaret Night at The Pavilions’ the second I arrive or I’m turning around and going home.
What I love most is to see a good and true representation of the great British public. I like to see families spread out on the beaches with massive stashes of orange snacks and warm drinks, wind shelters and umbrellas, camping out from 8am until 8pm ‘making the most of it whilst it’s sunny’. I love to see kids digging for Australia and running backwards and forwards to the water’s edge a million times to try and fill up their castle moat. I delight in spotting elderly couples strolling along the Prom hand in hand taking in the sea air and my hearts soars on hearing children shriek with glee as they dip their toes in the sea for the very first time. I will even go so far to say that I’ll celebrate the holidaymakers who let it all hang out, sporting inappropriate and badly fitting beach wear, because I can see how happy they are; relaxed and enjoying life. And this smorgasbord of beach life is played out with intermittent pop music blasting from car stereos and shop radios in the background: the soundtrack of summer.
At night there is nothing quite like the buzz of a good seaside town lit up in multi-coloured neon, offering fresh donuts and candyfloss on the pier and an army of arcades with blinking, bleeping slot machines. Recently we took the kids to visit my parents and we went to a tiny seaside village that is all about the miles of golden sand and the decades-old mini funfair run by yoofs in tight black tees, touting 6 tokens for a fiver and calling everyone ‘sweetheart’. Nanny magic-ed a tin full of coppers from her handbag and we spent about thirty quid trying to win a tiny plastic dog coveted by DD2 whilst DD1 trailed round every machine clutching her pot of coins, dragging her stool behind her looking like a Las Vegas veteran of the slots. They spent their winnings (about 70p) on an assortment of odd looking knick-knacks and luminous lollies. We let them stay up late and wear their ‘special dresses’ to eat fishcakes, chips and peas (again) followed by Knickerbocker Glories with the works (again), bravely ignoring the high-level risk of midnight puke. For them, they had hit the jackpot.
An English beach holiday shouldn’t be a second choice; it should be your first. Cost is not a consideration because, let’s face it, two weeks in Southend-on-Sea is likely to be more pricey than an all-inclusive fortnight in Turkey and it’ll probably take far longer to get there. Your consideration should be for preserving these beautiful seaside towns of England, appreciating our grand hotels, ballrooms and winter gardens, our rock shops and our ice cream parlours. Drop the stiff upper lip and embrace a holiday culture that has been the backbone of our country for centuries. Grab the kids, buy a new bucket and spade and set your satnav for the coast. Secretly you know you want to read The Daily Mail in your deckchair and eat a jumbo battered sausage without being judged.