My first clear holiday memories are of Blackpool and until I was eight, I went there every year with my mum and dad and my grandma and grandpa and sometimes my Aunty Margaret too. We stayed for a week, had a wonderful time and I always cried when we left. We only lived 70 miles away in the heart of the Staffordshire, but for me leaving the seaside was painful and it still is.
We drove there, often in my Grandpa’s spotless car, whose smell of petrol made me feel car-sick. When we were a few miles away, we played ‘who’s the first to spot the Blackpool Tower?’ and they always let me win.
We stayed in a boarding house on the front called Storeyville, but known to all the guests as Jack’s. It was run by Jack himself, a former vaudeville performer, who wore a light dusting of bronze face powder as he entertained us over breakfast.
The real work was done by Brucie, his glamorous assistant, who sported a Nylon dinner jacket and a maroon bow tie to serve High Tea. Both had a slightly camp air and my Grandma loved them, especially Jack, who she was prone to cuddling.
High Tea was a rather tragic meal consisting of a slice of boiled ham, weighed down by half a tomato and half a boiled egg. A sliver of limp lettuce sat to one side of this meagre arrangement which was accompanied by a cake stand of bread and butter(or more likely marge) cut into triangles and a few sad little cakes. Plus of course a big pot of strong tea.
The meal was served at 5pm prompt. Dinner in the evening was unheard of for us in those days and High Tea was conveniently timed to allow us to get to whichever show we had tickets for that night.
I was entranced by those dazzling end of the pier shows and I am sure that the standard of entertainment was very high, although perhaps my childhood excitement has coloured my memory of them a little.
I remember a lot of glamorous dancing by what my Grandpa called Tiller Girls, who wore wonderfully sparkly leotards and American tan tights. I pledged to become one and I still enjoy the odd Tiller moment, practising my high kicks in private.
We saw a lot of comedians and my Grandpa laughed until he cried at their jokes, although he often stood at the back as various aches and pains made it difficult for him to sit for long. One of these pierrots was Ken Dodd, who we all found hilarious. He’s probably still there now, waving his famous tickling stick.
We also went to the cinema, something we rarely did at home. A real highlight was Thoroughly Modern Milly, starring Julie Andrews. This also inspired me to crave a life of fun and glamour, with its captivating songs and marvellous costumes.
We would always walk to these theatres and cinemas and I loved to hold hands with my grandma and grandpa or my mum and dad or my aunty, swinging their arms and feeling so very excited. When the shows were over we took a turn on the prom, admiring the bright seaside lights. I still love to see fairy lights twinkling by the sea at night, and they fill me with a poignant nostalgia.
In the daytime, we went to the beach, or ‘The Sands’ as my Grandpa called them. I built sand castles happily for hours and paddled in the Irish sea. Only my Dad could swim out of all the adults, so taking a dip was less likely and considered too cold and too dangerous for Princess Jane. It was enough for me to be by the water, breathing in the ozone and walking barefoot along the shoreline or jumping over the waves.
My Grandpa and I were great companions and spent a lot of time in the pier arcades playing roll the penny. Afterwards we went to one of Blackpool’s many milk bars for a lemonade float. This was a garish green drink with a scoop of ice-cream bobbing in it. Heaven. Or if I was really good, Grandpa treated me to a Knickerbocker Glory, a sickly feast of ice-cream, cream and bits of chopped up jelly. He had a cup of tea and many cigarettes. Noone worried about the dangers of sugar or nicotine, although the latter killed him off at the age of 66.
Sometimes we took a bus ride to Lytham St Annes, considered Blackpool’s posh cousin and as I grew older and developed a sense of holiday snobbery, I longed to stay there instead. I don’t think we ever did, but I do remember going on autumnal breaks, or even day trips, to see the illuminations, another world of glittering splendour. Riding on a beautifully lit up tram at night is another magical memory.
There is no doubt that Blackpool sowed the seeds of a lifetime of travel for me. I have been to the top of the Empire State Building and the Eiffel Tower, The John Hancock Centre in Chicago and the Gherkin in London. I have lived the high life and loved doing so, but my first high rise view was from the top of the Blackpool Tower and I will always treasure this.
From those early Blackpool days I equated happiness with holidays. For me there is nothing to compare with the excitement of taking a trip and when people tell me they don’t really like going away or leaving the safety of home, I feel very lucky to have discovered such an immense source of pleasure at such a young age, to have identified it and pursued it with a passion.
For this I thank my mum and dad and my grandma Edna and grandpa Ted and my Aunty Margaret. They gave me the gift of holidays and set me on a path which I will follow until I am obliged to take a detour into the heavens.
About 15 years ago I went back to Blackpool in search of my childhood pleasures. I must say I found it a little tired and sad looking. Hordes of young girls marauded the streets by night in tiny skirts and big heels, oblivious to the brisk February wind. They were closely followed by young blokes in button-down shirts, jacketless and fuelled by pints of Carling.
We stayed in a genteel hotel, where the evening entertainment consisted of T.C. Trev on his electric organ and a woman in an eye patch doing the hand jive. The beaches were clean, the sand golden and the piers as splendid as ever, but I left feeling disappointed and I haven’t been back since.
A friend of mine comes from Blackpool and considers it the best place on earth. She has recently introduced her girlfriend, my great friend of many years, to its delights.
I was curious to know how my great friend would cope there, accustomed as she is to more obviously glamorous holiday experiences. Maybe she’s a little bit blinded by love, but she too now is full of enthusiasm for this Lancashire legend, the ultimate in English seaside gems. With her new found passion in mind, maybe I will return once more, to trace the steps of the little girl in the blue bathing suit with a frilly white skirt, skipping in the waves, her heart full of joy.