Blackpool, United Kingdom - August 6, 2016: Blackpool's famous Golden Mile beach. People sunbathing in the beach. Blackpool Tower in the background. HDR.

You Can’t Beat Blackpool!

by Clive Pritchard

The one luxury that my parents ensured that we enjoyed every year was a week in Blackpool during Wakes Week...

People sunbathing in the beach. Blackpool Tower in the background. It is perhaps natural given my age of 66 that my heart and mind are filled with memories and nostalgia relating to my childhood. Of course, I still relish new challenges, experiences, and opportunities but inevitably I do look back on my boyhood days with joy and gratitude for the simple but exhilarating life I led as a child. 

I suppose one would call my family typically ‘working class’ in the 1960s. After National Service dad worked in a factory all his life whilst mum stayed at home to look after my brother and I, taking occasional part-time jobs as we grew older in the few remaining cotton mills that existed at the time. We lived on one of the large new estates that the council were building in those days and whilst money was tight, we managed to pay our rent, heat our home, have sufficient food and clothing but there was nothing to spare for luxuries. My parents rarely went out in the evening, maybe once or twice a year to the cinema and that was it. 

The one luxury that my parents ensured that we enjoyed every year was a week in Blackpool during Wakes Week. The overwhelming majority of factories shut down completely for two weeks each summer to enable maintenance and repairs of machinery to take place without interruption. Each mill town in Lancashire would have its allocated week or two weeks each summer with Bolton’s starting on the last Saturday in June. 

My mum and dad scrimped and saved all year to ensure that as a family we had a week by the seaside. It was always Blackpool of course and always the same holiday flats in Moore Street on the South Shore which mum regarded as the posh area of Blackpool. 

Outside our old holiday flat

Mum would send her postal order off immediately after Christmas to make sure that we were booked in. I confess that sometimes I yearned to stay in one of the seafront B&Bs with the glass frontages but mum and dad liked the flexibility of a flat and weren’t particularly social creatures and therefore the self-containment suited them very well. 

The weekly bath time would be brought forward from Sunday to Friday evening, the day before our annual adventure started. I can still remember the tremendous excitement I felt climbing into bed as a six or seven-year-old, knowing that the next day we would be off to Blackpool. The world has opened for most people these days but back then my week in Blackpool was an adventure and expedition on the scale of any experienced by Scott or Shackleton. 

The following morning, we would be up bright and early and drag our cases onto the 61 or 62 bus into Bolton. Both the bus station and railway station were heaving with a mass of humanity, mostly like us, off to Blackpool but some others opting for Morecambe or Southport. By the afternoon Bolton was like a ghost town. We always travelled by train from Trinity Street station to Blackpool South. It was the only time of year I travelled on a train. In the early 1960s they were of course steam trains with individual compartments and the journey was such a thrill for a boy of my age. 

It was perfectly clean and tidy but had a unique but not unpleasant odour that I can still vividly recall

My parents were creatures of habit and our visit invariably followed the same pattern each year. We walked from Blackpool South to Moore Street, said ‘hello’ to the owners of the flats and picked up our key. I remember being fascinated by a Myna bird that the owner kept as a pet. It was there year after year, and I recall there being some embarrassment surrounding its rather loose and colourful language. I also remember the smell of the flat as we entered each year. It was perfectly clean and tidy but had a unique but not unpleasant odour that I can still vividly recall. It seemed to me that the flat had simply been mothballed each year for 51 weeks until our arrival. 

Clive and Grandson Jack

First stop after dropping off our cases was to visit the South Shore Market to buy our strawberries. In those days strawberries tended to have a very limited season of some four or five weeks and the season was at its height at the end of June and beginning of July and so we gorged ourselves every day, sometimes twice a day on them – always sliced in half, a little sugar and evaporated milk. 

After buying our provisions the most exciting part of the stay for mum and dad was next. We would walk up to the theatres in and around the Tower and purchase our tickets for the summer shows. As my parents rarely left the house in the evenings, this was a treat of monumental proportions and one that is difficult to express in words. Mum’s favourite was of course Ken Dodd who had a summer season most years but we also saw all the famous acts of the time, Frank Ifield, Kathy Kirby, Cilla Black, Jimmy Tarbuck and indeed all the leading comedians and pop stars of the day. We always went to the ‘second house’ which started at 8.30pm and then walked back afterwards to our flat with fish and chips on the way.

I can testify that the length of Ken Dodd’s shows is not a myth. Despite the fact he started a show at 6.30 or so, he simply would not let his audience go home until at least midnight.

Mum and dad simply adored the shows. For them all the weeks and months of hard work, routine and drudgery were worth it to be transformed into another world for a few nights in Blackpool each year. Even now I can remember the look of sheer joy on my mum’s face and the tears streaming down her face as Ken produced one rib tickler after another. 

Blackpool legend Ken Dodd

On the way back to Moore Street we would invariably bump into several colleagues from dad’s factory. It was hilarious and just like being back at work but in a different setting and with blazer and slacks rather than boiler suits. 

Random memories fill my mind – the sound of the horns on the trams, sitting on the “rocks” beyond the South Pier to watch the world go by, the joke shop a couple of streets from our flat where I would buy items to astound my parents, the smell of fish and chips, cockles and mussels and the donkeys. Watching in awe as my mum and dad danced serenely in the Tower Ballroom revealing a talent I did not know they possessed, and they rarely had the opportunity to display. Pablo’s Whoppers, candy floss and a multitude of other evocative sounds and smells which overloaded the senses of a little boy like me. Whenever I close my eyes I can be transported in time and enjoy those holidays again and again. 

In time my parents’ standard of living improved a little and they were able to afford package holidays to Italy and Spain. I used to ask them how they had enjoyed their holidays when they returned and my mum’s answer was always the same – “very nice, lovely weather but you know what? You can’t beat Blackpool!” 

Tears at the recollection of a wonderful far off childhood, tears of marvellous family holidays brought to mind

A couple of years ago I visited Blackpool again for the first time in about 40 years. Much had changed of course, some things for the better and others not. I returned to Moore Street for old time’s sake. The holiday flats were still there but now simply residential flats, dilapidated and in need of urgent and extensive repair. Nevertheless, as I stood there and posed for a nostalgic photograph, the memories overwhelmed me, and the tears cascaded down my face. Tears at the recollection of a wonderful far off childhood, tears of marvellous family holidays brought to mind and most of all, tears at the reminiscence of the excitement felt by my mum, the joy and pleasure that those seven days in Blackpool engendered in her that was more than sufficient to last her a full year of routine and hard work until once more we could catch the train back to the Golden Mile and do it all over again. Quite simply the realisation of what Blackpool meant to my mum and dad, to our family and what it still means to millions of people. 

Blackpool may have changed but my visit was uplifting, and I met some wonderful, honest, hard-working people who still flock there for glorious family holidays. Some things will never change. 

My mum was quite right – “You can’t beat Blackpool!” 

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