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Writings of Albert Morris
Article 90 - Sands running out for seaside holiday symbol

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.

Nowadays, 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 revitalised resorts.

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.

My 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, bed-and-board providers.

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 relatives.

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.

I 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 anti-sunburn cream.

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.

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