IT was, for decades, a typical
scene at British seaside-holiday resorts. The beach, crowded with
sweating, sun-tanning, dozing, chattering, drinking, squabbling, exuberant
humanity, was a potent symbol of the British, especially the toiling
masses, shrugging off household, shop-floor, office or work-bench cares.
The young and the fit, with bodies as supple and spare as conger eels,
mingled with the elderly, varicosal, adiposal, arthritic and haemorrhoidal
figures of antique dignity, who resembled Roman statuary, although not of
the best period.
The sounds were the hushed murmur of the sea, salty
laughter, dogs barking, children turning whines for ice cream into a fine
art, grandmothers snoring with deep, rhythmic resonance, creaking of
flesh-coloured corsets of bullet-proof impregnability as worn by the
middle-aged and elderly distaff side, and a counterpoint supplied by the
stressed struts of that demotic holiday icon - the deckchair.
municipally-rented deckchairs are about as rare as snowflakes in the Sudan
as people bring their own seating such as sunbeds and folding chairs.
Blackpool, once Britainís deckchair capital, where rows of wind-flapping
empty ones resembled an armada in full sail, may fold them forever because
of their alleged cloth-capped image.
Lynn Cole, the chairman of
Blackpool Tourism Forum, has claimed that deckchairs "had their day in the
50s and 60s". Then, the resortís packed beaches resembled a Dark Agesí
race migration taking it easy for a bit.
DECKCHAIRS may have lost the
beachesí battle, but home sands are swarming with holidaymakers again as
Britons, wearied by flight delays and airport disputes, the possibility of
being clapped in irons in America if irregularities are found in their
passports or other travel documents, the chance of succumbing to
anti-social bacteria in lands of baksheesh-waving palms and seeing yet
another Romanesque basilica or bronze- age burial chamber, are sampling,
especially in mini-breaks, the joys of bracing sea-air, and reputedly
greatly-improved catering in restaurants and hotels in Britainís
According to a press report, Barcelona is out and
Bourne-mouth and, doubtless, other resorts including ones in Scotland, are
in. Indeed, a spokesperson for VisitScotland told me that 92 per cent of
visitors - especially since 9/11 - were from Britain and that Scotlandís
seaside resorts were "getting their fair share" of domestic holidaymakers.
wife and I are among the new wave, splashing our cash, judiciously on
"stay-in-Britain" holidays and the experience has been, apart from
crowded, spasmodic and dilatory train services, laggard buses and
car-congested tourist attractions, enjoyable.
While we can still find
ourselves in hotel rooms next to lifts that sound like wind tunnels at
full blast, where the air-conditioning makes noises like a stick drawn
along railings or situated above the kitchen where serious, late-night
Sicilian vendettas appear to be erupting, our hotels were mainly well-run,
PERVERSELY, I miss the eccentricity of some
establishments I visited from the late 1940s to the early 1980s. Some
small Scottish ones appeared to be run by females who, poker-stiff,
behaved towards staff and guests like Panzer Grenadier sergeants. In one
such establishment, outside Oban, the embroidered text, "The wages of sin
are death", was hung on a wall of the parlour, as a warning to importunate
guests, alongside photographs of flint-faced, disapproving, bearded
One Highland hotel had a proprietor who signalled
dinner-time with a premonitory blast from his bagpipes that, for nervous
guests, had the sonic effect of a gas explosion. A Basil-Fawlty-type,
Lakeland hotel owner accused me of using the toilet "too late" at night
and, afterwards, "running the tap noisily". He ordered my wife and me to
leave, saying he was sick of catering for ingrates.
sometimes muse on the dear, departed dark days as I sit on beaches
nowadays, surrounded by squabbling, laughing, necking, chattering crowds,
including females with thighs as long as shipsí masts and males resembling
melting candle-grease. I rejoice that our resorts are experiencing a
comeback and appreciatively sniff the air, redolent of that bracing,
British seaside smell - old seaweed, deep fries, flask tea and
I establish beach-heads with my own deckchair and
see that others are also flaunting personal, peppermint-ball-striped
banners of seaside seating tradition. Truly, the more things change, the
more they remain the same.