Thinking Strange Thoughts - Bank Holiday Monday

Recently I told you about my Granddad’s old Bedford van, this got me thinking about Bank Holiday Mondays, when we would all crowd into the van and set off on a day trip to the seaside.

Preparations would begin several days prior to the actual trip, most of the furniture in the house would be moved into granddad’s van, tables, chairs, settees. Then food preparation would begin, there were my mom and dad, gran and granddad and brother and sister going on the trip but mom and gran would always do enough sandwiches for several thousand people just on the off chance that we met someone we knew. Cakes and pies were baked, pickles, jars of onions, bags of crisps were loaded onto the van, and finally several large flasks of tea. Then we were off, but first came the scary part, my gran dad cranking the engine of the van using a starting handle, at the time I had a small toy car which you would get to move along by twisting a little key which wound up an elastic band inside, when you released it, the car would move along a few metres. In those days I always assumed that real cars worked on the same principle, obviously they had a bigger elastic band so they could go further, the only difference appeared to be that it seemed highly dangerous winding up the elastic band on my gran dad’s van as he always seemed to be injuring himself doing it. I remember one occasion when we were sitting in the van, gran dad stuck the starting handle in, gave a thumbs up, turned it and was catapulted over the front of the van and into the veggie garden. He staggered out looking a bit worse for wear as my gran told him off for destroying her prize marrow, his dentures had shot out and it took several hours searching before they were found attached to a cabbage, anyway, luckily there were to be no such problems today, the engine started first time and we were off, zooming along at my gran dad’s normal 20 miles an hour.

Us kids would start eating before we had left our driveway and the grownups would stop and have a cup of tea every hour, this all seemed to be part of the day out, another thing that seemed to happen every time we went on one of these day trips, was after about an hours driving, one of the grownups would suddenly say “Oh my God, we’ve forgotten the…………”, this could be anything, the shovel, the piano, the dog kennel. Whatever it was, it was always a matter of life and death that granddad turned around and went back and got it. This would have been a bit boring but what always saved us on these long trips backwards and forwards was the singsong, the singsong was a major part of the trip, the grownups would be singing “Roll out the Barrel” or “White Cliffs of Dover” sometimes my mom would get a bit raunchy and do a bit of Frank Sinatra although this was frowned upon by my gran dad who thought that music like that could only lead to ruination. He certainly wasn’t happy about us kids singing in the back of the van, cause this was the 60’s, we were singing along to the Beatles or Gerry and The Pacemakers, obviously we kept well away from the Rolling Stones, we did not want to test granddad’s heart out whilst he was driving.

A Bank Holiday Monday in England is a strange thing, we were heading to Morecombe on the M6 motorway, and the strange thing was that on a Bank Holiday Monday, everyone else in Britain and indeed most of Europe would also head to Morecombe on the M6 motorway or so it always seemed. The traffic would get heavier and heavier until eventually we would come to a complete standstill, every now and again we would slowly move forward a couple of metres, this would be met by tremendous cheering, of course then we would stop for another ten minutes before we would move another few metres, the amazing thing is, if this happened now, I would go mad, I would end up leaving the car where it was and storming off, but for some reason in those days we must have been more patient cause it just seemed to be part of the day out. Infarct after we had not moved for awhile, we would get out of the van and start chatting to people in other vehicles, occasionally if things were really bad we would get tables and chairs out and have a cuppa by the side of the road.

Eventually vehicles would start slowly moving and we would continue our journey to Morecombe.

Eventually just as we were losing the will to go on, we would see the sign.

MORECOMBE WELCOMES SAFE DRIVERS, well we could only actually see some of the sign as a car had recently driven through the middle of it so that it now said MORE RIVERS, but still we were not interested in that, we were here to see the sea. Now this was not as easy as you might imagine it would be, first of all there were a couple of hours spent looking for a parking spot, this would involve a lot of pointing and shouting and abusing the other fifty drivers who were attempting to find the same spot. Once this was achieved came the other main problem in seeing the sea at Morecombe, and that was finding the sea, now I remember the first time I went, I was only about six and every one kept going on about the sea and to be honest I was not entirely sure what the sea was, I just knew it was something to do with water. So the next day at school I told everyone I’d seen the sea and there was a crab in it, but it turned out that this wasn’t the sea at all, it was just a rock pool. Later that day my mom explained to me about the tides, and how the sea goes in and out. Unfortunately, either we were visiting at the wrong time or no one had explained the concept of the tide to the sea at Morecombe, because whenever we were there the sea was no where to be seen. Anyway, be that as it may, today we were determined to see the sea. It was a bit of a walk from where we had parked to the beach and it was not easy carrying the essential items, deck chairs, tables, umbrellas, buckets, spades, ten bags of food and five flasks of tea, but eventually we got there. Not that you could actually see the beach, of course this did not really concern me as I had seen mud before, the only way we knew we had reached the beach was the fact that there were several million people sitting on it. Still, somehow we found a spare spot, mainly by pushing smaller families out of the way, and the grown-ups began the ritual of making a little home away from home on the beach, within minutes it looked as if our lounge was actually there, the only thing missing was the telly and I know granddad would have bought it if there had been somewhere to plug it in. Then came the moment we were all waiting for, granddad removed his trilby , put a knotted handkerchief on his head, rolled his trousers up to his knees and sat down in his deck chair, the day at the seaside had officially began. I was always transfixed by the sight of granddads bare legs, I suspect that this was the only time of the year that they actually saw the light of day, they were so thin and white, sometimes seagulls would sit next to him and it was difficult to tell whose legs were whose. Funnily enough, even though he would roll his trousers up a bit, if my gran sat down and tugged her dress up a few centimeters, he would say that it was scandalous and every one was staring at her. Now, far be it from me to knock my gran’s legs, but I very much doubt that people were flocking to Morecombe for a glimpse of gran’s lower calf.

Some really brave men would even take their shirts off, not that there was much chance of getting brown in Morecombe, in fact if you did get brown in Morecombe, it was much more likely to be rust than sunshine. I remember one man walked past with his shirt off and wearing sunglasses, my granddad couldn’t believe it and asked “what the world was coming to” not many ordinary people wore sunglasses in those days, in fact if I had put on a pair of sunglasses, I would probably have been ostracised from the family and compared to Oscar Wilde.

After something to eat and drink, the grow-ups began to nod off, I always wondered why they would go all the way to the seaside and then go to sleep, but years later I realized that they were exhausted by life and really just wanted to get away and have a rest.

Us kids, grabbed our buckets and spades and sticks of rock and set out to find the sea. We really thought we would find it this time, I kept thinking I saw it on the horizon, but when we got there it was still on the horizon, eventually we gave up, it was obviously just a myth, there was no sea at Morecombe, we walked back.

Everyone was still fast asleep, there was just one thing left to do, I bought a stick of candy floss, ate half and wrapped the other half inside granddads trilby so that when he put it on, it would stick to his head. I knew he would appreciate it. It was all part of the Bank Holiday Monday experience

Steve Ainley.


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