Sunday, June 20, 2010

In this part of the world, especially if you live near the coast, going to the beach is a commonplace activity, and you will go there because you want to swim, cool off, surf, or perhaps have a beach picnic or barbecue.
In England, where I lived until I was 7, a trip to the seaside seemed something quite different. It was like a ritual, an outing, a holiday celebration, an opportunity to escape from the routine and hundrum of daily life and work. And one did not go to the beach - you went to the seaside!!
Where we lived was not an enormous distance from the sea, but lacking a car, our contact with the ocean was generally restricted to holiday times. I do recall one time when we took a day trip to Bognor, a popular seaside resort on the south coast of England. My mother and I travelled in a coach, while my father followed behind the bus, with my sister in his sidecar.I also have memories of a coach trip to Broadstairs for a Sunday School picnic outing.

My mother had a brother, Albert, who lived with his wife Ivy and daughter Joy at Folkestone.

In my uncle's backyard with my sister and some cousins. Note the bomb shelter.

It become our favourite holiday venue.Their narrow three story terrace was only an easy walk from the sea and sand. There were piers from which boats left for France, and the French coast was clearly visible.

As you can see in this picture, English beaches were filled with deck chairs, which could be hired for a reasonable price. I have seen pictures of people sitting in deckchairs in suits and ties. Sometimes the trousers would be rolled up a little in order to have a paddle. Just being on the sand, or beside the sea was a healing and therapeutic experience, and British seaside resorts used to have hundreds of little hotels and boarding houses and Bed and breakfast establishments to cater for those who went there for annual holidays, or for a weekend, or for a public holiday. There was far more involved than swimming or surfing. Like many other seaside resorts, Folkestone had many other attractions and entertainments for the beachgoers. There would be souvenir shops and teahouses. And every seaside place used to sell its own "rock". This was a roll of pink and white peppermint candy (taffy style) with the name of the town embedded right through the length of the rock.
At Folkestone, they would set up a Punch and Judy puppet theatre on the sand each day, and I used to love it when the puppeteer emerged from the canvas at the end and call me a "Silly Old Sausage" - a term that became an important part of our family vocabulary.
There was a mini- zoo nearby, and you could take donkey rides along the beach. There was a type of funfair area, and I have strong memories of placing a penny on Number 7 in a type of Roulette game - and winning!!! Amusement Parks were common at the seaside, and some of the larger towns, like Brighton, had enormous pleasure piers with all sorts of fun attractions and shops.


We wore home made swimming costumes (often made with shirring elastic) and rather heavy rubber bathing caps with straps that went under the chin. These caps did double duty, because at the end of the day, they would often be used to hold the winkles (periwinkles) that we liked to collect before going home. At Folkestone I recall, one could also purchase a saucer of winkles, all ready removed from their shells, and served with salt and vinegar, for sixpence. Here on Norfolk Island we also gather and eat periwinkles (known as hi-his). The flavour is the same, but they seem much tougher than the English ones.
Now one of my best memories of these times are the family games. There would be the usual sandcastles, and burying each other up to the nexk in the sand. Sometimes my father would lie back on the sand, and lift his feet. I would stand on the soles of his feet, and hold his hands. Then he would slowly raise his legs, and once I felt steady and balanced, I would let go of his hands, and stand up there high in the air!!

Here is a picture of my Nana at Folkestone. I am not sure about the origin of the arches. I have seen them in pictures of other British beaches. We used them as shelters. Two of these shelters had steps leading from the promenade above, and it was always an exciting exercise for me to guess which ones had the stairs!
Further along from this part of the beach, the cliff was steeper, and there was a type of cable car whuch carried people down to the sand below. Trips to Folkestone often included visits to Dover Castle around the point, or to the lovely miniature railway at Dymchurch.

Now I thought I would show you a picture of this same Nana taken some years before, with my grandfather, when they lived in Hong Kong in the 1930's. Just look at that early form of Li-lo!! And those hills would be crowded with buildings and high-rises today!!

We were very fortunate, because most of our other relatives lived on the Isle of Sheppey, where there were a number of beaches.
The beach at Sheerness was a shingle beach, as you can see in this picture taken with some aunts and cousins. (More deck chairs!) The stones were somewhat uncomfortable to walk on, so we always wore "plimsolls" (sandshoes) even in the water. The beach here was divided into sections with timber fences - presumably to slow down the erosion of the sand in king tides. They were a great place to gather winkles.
Sheerness also had an enormous amusement park area above the beach, with all sorts of attractions.
It had been a great naval dockyard area in the past, and the great Admiral Nelson had lived there. In fact, one of my uncles lived in the former home of Nelson's paymaster.
During World War 2, an American boat, the Richard Montgomery, had been sunk just out from the beach, and part of the masts were still visible above the water.
 Boats used to take sightseers out around the wreck. One time, I went in the boat with my sister and older cousin Peter. When we returned to the shore, Peter and Sally tried to convince this gullible little girl that we had landed in France! I have since learned that this wrecked boat contains enough undetonated ammunition to set off the biggest non-nuclear explosion the world has known!
When we migrated to Australia, our family continued to enjoy time spent at the beach, and now we had a car to take us in the weekend, or even in the early evening in the summer. Our beach of choice was Coogee. Funnily enough, I never became a strong swimmer, but I do treasure great family times spent with the sand and the sea.


Anonymous said...

That was a lovely story of your memories Mary.
I wish I had my photos here of the amusement park at Sheerness, I was there the month that it closed down (1991) and was so very sad that it was being knocked down and replaced with a woolworths.
I have disliked Woolworths ever since and refuse to shop there.
xox Tina

Karen said...

What great memories. My grandmum used tell us how she'd swim and eat the mussles (same thing?) at the shore as well. I still remember visiting Brighton with her and going out on the pier and seeing the entertainments. It's interesting reading novels by English authors because you're right going on vaction to the seashore does figure promently in English life.

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