“You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.”
You might recognise this quote as being Obi-Wan Kenobi’s description of the Mos Eisley spaceport in Star Wars, but having visited one of the UK’s most ‘popular’ seaside resorts last weekend, it could just as easily have been taken from their Tourist Board.
On Saturday, I took the family to Blackpool.
The trip was my idea, as a treat for Ollie having behaved so well during half term. We had intended to keep the destination a surprise until we got there, but his incessant whining and endless questions on the journey eventually wore us down and we told him.
“Is it McDonalds?”
“No, it’s better than McDonalds, but there might be a McDonalds when we get there.”
“Is it Disneyland?”
In fairness, when we told him we were going to Blackpool, to spend a day at the seaside, he did seem thrilled – and the family, led by yours truly, entered deepest Lancashire in good spirits.
“Who’s the more foolish, the fool or the fool who follows him?”
The day started relatively well. The rain which had been forecast earlier in the week (which is always liable to ruin a day out – but especially one at the seaside), had not materialised, and we had a good journey up the M6 and then across on the M55.
The first indication that Blackpoolians (I have no idea what the actual term for the locals is, but ‘toothless inbreds’ seemed a tad harsh) like to rip off tourists, was as we approached the town centre – which, to their credit, the Council have made easy to locate by sticking a bloody great tower in the middle of it.
As we drove along, we passed a sign which read: “All other car parks full. Park here.” The fact that the car park in question was nearly empty, indicated one of three explanations:
- We had arrived at precisely the moment that all other car parks had reached saturation, but before anyone had had the chance to turn around and make it back to this particular expanse of Lancashire concrete;
- The subsequent car parks were indeed full, but no one wanted to park this far from the centre, so they had either abandoned their vehicles by the side of the road or, if they were really wise, they had carried on home;
- The owners of this car park were full of crap.
More than a little certain it was the third explanation, we carried on and, sure enough, the next car park was only slightly more populated. This one had the sign “Honestly, this one really is the last place with any free spaces. Park here quick!”
And this continued for perhaps three or four (almost identical looking) car parks, until we reached one with a sign that read: “For the love of God, do not proceed further! It’s chaos up there! Park here while you still can and you won’t regret it.”
Clearly, Blackpool Council aren’t familiar with the fable of The Boy Who Cried Wolf, as by this point we knew the signs could not be trusted, so, with the Tower now looming above us, we decided to get just that little bit nearer. However, as with The Boy Who Cried Wolf, there always comes a time when the prophecy is fulfilled, and sure enough the next car park was rammed. Inevitably, having spent fifteen minutes driving around in the hope someone might leave, we gave up and (very much tail between legs) returned to the previous car park outside Blackpool F.C. From this direction, there was a sign which simply read: “Told you”.
Once I had settled on a fair price with the car park’s owners (having persuaded them that we didn’t have any livestock with which to barter, and it would have to be cash), we walked back in the direction of the promenade. I would argue that ‘promenade’ is perhaps a little too grandiose a description, but ‘mile of colourful tat and horse shit’ is hardly going to pull in the tourists. And I’m not even joking about the horse shit either, it was everywhere. The way I see it, if you need to install bins solely for the disposal of equine crap, then you have too much of it.
“If there’s a bright centre to the universe, you are in the town that is farthest from.”
It was only a few years ago that we last visited Blackpool, and whilst I have always seen it as our tackier, run-down version of Vegas, I have to admit that I didn’t remember it being this dreadful. Nevertheless, we were here now, and although the first people we encountered looked like extras from Dawn Of The Dead – and, I must stress, the fact that it was Halloween was pure coincidence – we soldiered on, determined to make the best of a bad situation (as only the British by the seaside can).
Having walked for less than five minutes, and in spite of the two large bowls of cereal he had devoured before we left, Ollie suddenly decided he was ravenous. It is a trait / fundamental flaw of my family, that we can go from ‘a little peckish’ to ‘starving and miserable’ in the space of a few minutes, and Ollie appears to have inherited a concentred version of this DNA. He went from fine, to emaciated-with-hunger, in a little under thirty seconds, and we knew we had to find him food swiftly if we were to salvage the day.
Fortunately, my wife has an astonishing memory (which she often uses to recall comments I have made years earlier) and, putting this power of recollection to good use, she quickly located not only the same pub we had eaten at on our last visit, but exactly the same table. Having reeled off the menu to Ollie as quickly as possible, I memorised our table number and order, and set off to join the great unwashed of Blackpool at the bar.
I don’t think the gathering of ‘people’ at the bar – and I include the staff in this comment – could have made me feel any more unwelcome if I had turned up wearing a sandwich board emblazed with “PNE rule. All Tangerines are fruits” across it (it’s a football gag, Mum, I’ll explain it next time we’re over). Imagine that scene with Bruce Willis at the start of Die Hard With A Vengeance, only with slightly more animosity towards me… and more guns.
“He doesn’t like you. I don’t like you either. You just watch yourself. We’re wanted men. I have the death sentence on twelve systems. And I’m banned from all the pubs in Lytham.”
Despite the (lack of) welcome I received at the bar, I somehow managed to order our food and drinks via a girl splattered with blood (I think this one was a Halloween outfit, as many of the staff were dressed similarly, but I couldn’t be certain) and returned to the table.
The food arrived soon afterwards and, whilst it was nothing spectacular, it hadn’t cost much and I wasn’t expecting miracles anyway – the most important thing was to get Ollie eating. Sure enough, his mood improved immeasurably (unlike Isaac’s, which deteriorated to the point of screaming to get out of his high chair, so that he could run amok around the tables).
Once we had finished, we set off to find our fortune among the 2p slot machines. Ollie was surprisingly good at what he called the ‘Tipping Point’ games, and made his £1 of coppers last over ten minutes, whereas Isaac just liked all the flashing lights. He did grab one of Ollie’s coins to have a go himself briefly, but lost interest once it had disappeared into the machine. In fairness, I’m not sure he grasped the concept of the game anyway.
Once the novelty of the flashing lights had worn off (which is really the only thing separating Blackpool from a known crack den), I decided to leave Ollie with my wife and take Isaac outside to see the tower and the sea. Sadly, this only kept him entertained for a few minutes, so we went back inside and coaxed Ollie away from the slot machines with the promise of some ‘crazy’ golf I had spotted a few doors down.
Now, I love crazy golf as much as the next man (assuming the next man loves crazy golf), but one of my pet hates is being made to play with a crowd of people backed up behind me. Unfortunately, Ollie hasn’t particularly mastered the game, and tends to take wild swings like he’s on the home plate at the Yankee Stadium, so it wasn’t long before we caused some congestion.
The gathering crowd of people, coupled with some highly questionable scoring from Ollie (“Let’s just call that four, shall we?”), meant that it was now my turn to get grumpy. I don’t mind losing, if it’s fair, but I felt cheated out of what should have been a fun family activity, and I was intent on blaming my mood on Ollie and every person behind us (even though, I now accept, they were being extremely patient with us).
As it happens, I did end up winning, but I suspect my wife might have engineered the result whilst adding up the scores just to placate me. She’s good like that.
“I see your point, mummy. I suggest a new strategy…. let the Wookie win”
By this point, thanks in no small part to the cramped and sweaty space that passed for Blackpool’s premier crazy golf course, we were in urgent need of refreshments, and I made the conscious decision that we should try to find a Costa or Café Nero for a drink and some cake.
I am by no means a food snob, but my reason for selecting this type of establishment was two-fold. Firstly, all of the cafés I could see in the vicinity looked like they should have been shut down by the Food Standards Agency years ago, and I would rather spend a bit extra to know what we were getting. Secondly, I had a feeling that the vast majority of Blackpoolians would regard somewhere like Costa as an unnecessary extravagance, to be reserved for special occasions like a 50th birthday party or wedding reception, so we had a better chance of getting a seat and avoiding their kind in the process.
The problem is, whereas in most town centres these establishments are like rats (in that you’re never more than fifty yards away from one), we had a real job finding somewhere. Eventually, just as we were beginning to get desperate, I spotted a shopping centre. As I suspected, as soon as we got inside we spotted a Costa. Sod’s law, there was a wedding reception on, but we managed to find a table in the corner and enjoy a quiet drink while we listened to the Best Man speech.
By the time we had finished, it was getting dark outside, so we wandered back to the seafront to watch the famous ‘illuminations’ come on before heading home. Ollie was decidedly underwhelmed, and I have to admit I remembered them being far better as a child (which is more than likely because they were, rather than my distorted recollection), but Isaac was suddenly the happiest he had been all day.
So, the trip was a relative success. Even though we had all taken it in turns throughout the day to border on being miserable, we walked back to the car happy and smiling. Ollie had loved the slot machines and the golf, Isaac saw some pretty lights, my wife did some shopping, and I got a beer. You can’t say fairer than that.
Still, we won’t be rushing back.
Stay classy Blackpool.