Blog On The Beach

The more observant among you, will have noticed that there was no entry last week (at least, I hope you did) and this was because we were on holiday – firstly in Norwich visiting my in-laws, and then, last weekend, we went to Peppa Pig World near Southampton. A place of strange people, weird smells and unusual noises… and then we went to Peppa Pig World (joke – I happen to like Norwich very much).

You might think, bearing in mind my newly discovered fondness for Peppa Pig (the show, rather than the irritating little pork-scratching herself), this entry would be about our experiences last weekend. For example, I could write about how I became a bit star-struck when I met my hero, Daddy Pig:

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Or I could explain about Isaac (whose tiny little mind was well and truly blown when we arrived), and the fact that he was too shy to go near any of his idols, except for Zoe Zebra (who he cautiously high-fived, and then spent the rest of the day grinning and staring at his hand, as if he would never wash it again):

Honestly, he hasn’t stopped talking about her since, and I suspect this is his first crush. I haven’t the heart to tell him ‘Zoe’ was probably a desperate-for-work student, who cries themselves to sleep every night at the thought of going back to work the next day (I am certain I heard Suzy Sheep mutter ‘fuck my life’ at one point under her oversized costume, but in fairness that’s just typical of Suzy – so maybe it was part of the character).

Anyway, rather than write about Peppa Pig again (a subject which has been done to death on the parenting blogs of late), I wanted to tell you about another of my pet hates.

You see, while we were in Norwich, we spent a gloriously sunny day at my in-law’s beach house in Bacton (a coastal village about an hour North-East of Norwich). The beach house is lovely, but – for me at least – it has one fundamental feature which I would rather avoid: it’s by the beach. I know what you’re thinking, and yes, I am well aware that a beach house is rather redundant if it is not at least in walking distance of the coast (and it would surely be called something else anyway), but I could live with that.

And it’s not just British beaches either. True, they have the added disadvantage of suffering largely shit weather for most of the year, when compared to their European counterparts, but I do not discriminate – I hate all beaches. Not to the extent that I will run screaming if I encounter one, and I can willingly suffer them for the kids, but I would far rather stay in sight of the sea (perhaps drinking a cold beer sat outside a beachside bar), than actually on the beach.

There will be people reading this who love going to the beach, and who will no doubt question my sanity, but I will give you eight perfectly good reasons why beaches are crap, and it would not upset me to never go on one again:

1. Sand

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Yes, I know this is an obvious one, but I hate sand with a passion. No matter how cautiously you position yourself on the beach, it will find a way to enter your every crevice, and it will remain there regardless of how thorough your washing regime may be, for many a week to come. Worst still, on a windy day (which, let’s face it, were accustomed to in the UK), it will get in your eyes, up your nose and will whip your face until it is raw.

And then you have those people (I like to refer to them as ‘idiots’), who will take a picnic onto the beach, fully aware that they will consume more sand than anything else they have brought. Since when was grit a condiment? No one in their right mind would go into a restaurant and, having declined the offer of black pepper, beckon the waiter over to ask if the establishment perhaps has some lovely sand that could be liberally sprinkled over their lasagne.

2. The Sea

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Another blindingly obvious one but, as has tragically become all too apparent in the news of late, the sea is really, really dangerous. Fortunately, our boys are too young to be venturing into the sea unaccompanied, but there are many families who will watch their offspring from a distance, as they wade out into the ocean, and it only takes a few seconds for the situation to get very serious.

I don’t like swimming full stop, as it happens, but swimming in the sea scares the bejeezus out of me.

Then, on top of the perils of large waves and rip currents, the ocean has the added hazard of having some really mean fuckers swimming around in it. No, I don’t mean pensioners, I mean the kind of sea life which, given half a chance, will do its level best to injure or even kill you. True, we don’t have many sharks in our waters, and those we do have are supposedly quite harmless, but we most certainly have jellyfish, crabs and the like. They serve no purpose other than to inflict pain and misery. They are the wasps of the sea.

Also, even if we leave aside the dangerous elements of the ocean, who in their right mind would want to swim in it anyway? It’s very cold (even abroad) and it’s incredibly salty.

If I wanted something cold and salty that could possibly kill me, I’d go to Little Chef.

3. Seaweed

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Ah, seaweed. The cobwebs of the ocean. I am sure that seaweed serves some kind of biological purpose, but for the life of me I can’t imagine what it might be, and the very fact there are around 450 kinds of the damn stuff (all with their own stupid latin names), leaves me with nothing but contempt for it.

4. Sharp things

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Mother Nature has determined that, if the sea and sand were not unpleasant enough, there should be the added ‘bonus’ of various sharp implements – particularly stones and pieces of shell – dotted around for you to impale your feet on.

Added to that, mankind has come along and, via the very worst of our society, littered the beaches with the likes of broken bottles and needles. Ok, this is more common in Blackpool than the Costa del Sol, but we have to share some of the responsibility for making beaches so damn hazardous.

5. Seagulls

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Evil winged bastards.

Evolution gave us the rat, which is horrible, ugly, and carries all manner of nasty diseases. Then, we have pigeons, which are essentially rats that can fly.

But trumping both of those, ladies and gentleman, there is the seagull. Which is an angry pigeon hell-bent on attacking you. So, in other words, a very large, vicious, kamikaze rat of the sky. They will attack you and steal your food without any sense of remorse, and I had enough of that shit at school, thank you very much.

6. Building Sandcastles

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The favourite past-time of a child on the beach (that, and burying their sibling or parent up to their ears). Except, sandcastles are largely rubbish, rarely work as they are supposed to, and require countless trips to the sea to make the dry sand sufficiently wet enough to build with. Which leads me to my next issue…..

7. Getting Clean

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My main gripe with going to the beach is trying to get clean afterwards.

Sea Water + Sun Cream + Sand = Impenetrable Cement.

It will not come off. Your feet, in particular, will become encrusted with the kind of material they should probably construct aircraft black boxes from, or the nose cone of a space shuttle, because nothing will break it down.

8. Beach bodies

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National statistics dictate that only 1% of the British population has a body worthy of showing off at the beach (probably). Don’t get me wrong, I admire anyone who is comfortable in their own skin, we all should be, but there are certain people who, frankly, are enough of a sight to put me off my gritty ham sandwich.

But so long as they are happy, then fair play to them, and I will simply avert my eyes and settle my stomach.

The people I cannot abide, however, are the 1% who do have good bodies, and who make me feel tremendously inferior/inadequate/in danger of being rolled back towards the surf.

Ok, you eat well and you work out. Probably a lot. Well done you. But if you could see your way to donning a costume slightly wider than a piece of string, I’d appreciate it.

With the greatest respect to the civil parish of Bacton, the beautiful people tend to favour the beaches of Europe, not Norfolk, and some of the sights I witnessed on our recent day trip were frankly upsetting.

One last thing: What do you think to this week’s title? I was considering ‘BlogWatch’, but felt that was a bit misleading, and you might assume it was about crime rather than a lame reference to the ’90s David Hasselhoff show. I then settled on ‘Sex On The Blog’, and nearly went with it too, but worried that my mum might think I’d decided to branch out into some weekly erotic fiction, so I changed it at the last minute. I await your feedback (and any private requests for erotic fiction).

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Oh, I Do Love To Blog Beside The Seaside

“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:

  1. 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;
  2. 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;
  3. 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.

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“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.

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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.

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Stay classy Blackpool.

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