Saturday, 9 July 2011

The boys of summer

tickle away while I retrieve your gold card

A big grey-sky rolling out on the fields of St Helens, so heavy it seemed the pylons were the only thing keeping it off the ground. Weather for a British seaside outing. It was our charabanc trip, the first time arthur+martha had been on an outing like this, so Lois and I were duly nervous – neither had slept much. I'd convinced myself that that I needed to provide a continual onboard entertainment service and had harrowing dreams of glitter suits.

The truth was simply that people got onto two minibuses, set off, started cracking jokes, ate sandwiches, larked in the backseats and jogged one another's memories for the seaside of childhood. The people who came – Les and Pat and Jan and George and Monica and Raymond and Nicky to name but a few - hailed from St Helens, particularly the Bingo group and Mature Matters at Four Acre, our centre of gravity. I took notes of whatever caught my ear and suddenly we were at Lytham Hall stately home.

The guided tour we found ourselves on took us through large ornate rooms and followed the slow decline of the local aristocratic clan whose faces hung on canvases around the walls. The final child of the line was named Easter Daffodil, by which time you guessed they were into eccentric waters and sinking fast.

On the minibus travelling over I talked to Chris, who described her work of many years as a probation officer in St Helens, the crippling effect she'd observed of drugs, alcohol and sometimes incest – and how the community is rebuilding itself. The two strands of story seemed to cross over at the Hall, in those privileged rooms.


Later, Lois and I sat in the sunshine by the seafront with the Bingo group, who we'd only met superficially before. They rollicked through lunch, swapping shared times. Lois had a video camera and so we caught a little of Les on camera. He talked very movingly about the process of caring for other people, how it can give you strength in subtle ways, even buys an extra lease on life. It struck me that this was the common ground between both groups, their determined commitment to their neighbourhood, no matter how spiky it could be. As Les talked, three of our party passed by on a miniature train, waving an laughing. They were my age, the children of these 'older people' reliving their own pasts. I had a momentary pang for a 3 year old me riding a similar train in Dymchurch of the 1960s.

We also videoed George White, who told his stories of working on the beaches along this coast and had Monica his wife of 50 years in continual laughter. 'The sun always comes out for us,' she said when Lois asked how they managed to stay so happy. They brought the sun for all of us; the sky was blue for our whole time by the sea, like those recollections of childhood that always seem to be gold lit.

The journey home was a tired gallop, blurring by in motorways and traffic rush. We passed the Halfway House pub and suddenly I remembered Sid Saunders' story of trying to persuade his dad and the other men from their charabanc party to come out of this same pub 70 years ago, so that they could get on with their journey to the beach: “C'mon dad!”

from the pit

more saucy postcards at

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