Friday, September 30, 2011

1979: Lying awake intent on tuning in on you

Though my grandma was orginally from Wigan, she'd lived down south for decades. We had plenty of family up north but we rarely saw them unless they visited us. We had a lovely time when Auntie Joan - my grandma's younger sister and the youngest of the 13 silblings - and Uncle Derek came to stay while mum and dad were in America in 1976, touring the pubs of the New Forest each evening where it was crisps and Coke at every stop.

But even in 1979 I'd never been further north than Anglesea, and that didn't count as it meant driving through Wales to get there. The real north of course, is the north of England. So we were thrilled when grandma suggested a trip to see the Blackpool illumnations at half-term, something she'd been promising for years.

We'd get an overnight coach that arrived early doors on a Saturday, stay all day with Joan and Derek at their static caravan in the shadow of premium bond picker ERNIE, go to the Pleasure Beach, see the lights then head back home.

But my overriding memory of the whole affair was the coach trip up there. No sooner had we pulled out of Southampton than we'd stop at a pub. Then everyone needed the lavatory so we'd stop again. Then another pub., another piss, and so on until there were rivers of vomit streaming down the middle of the coach. No one on that chara was under 50 and all that booze, no food and the rumble of the old-fashioned Royal Blue bumping it's way northwards was clearly all too much. It smelled like chucking out time in Stevenage town centre.

There was no escape. Like in the scene from Midnight Cowboy, when Joe Buck is on the Greyhound to New York, his head leaning against the chilly window, falling in and out of a fitful sleep looking cold, uncomfortable and wishing he was elsewhere, haunted by voices and occasionally opening an eye to see billboards and truck stops whizzing by, that was our journey. It ended with us bleary-eyed, nauseous and dreading the coach ride home.

But in the meantime, we had things to do. There to meet us on a clear but cool day were Joan, Derek and their son, also called Derek. He must have been about five or six years older than me. He had a late-Seventies bouffant, a green checked shirt tucked into his drainpipe jeans and was super fun. He could have been in the Dooleys, whose The Chosen Few was shooting up the charts at the time.

He rode with us on all the Pleasure Beach rides time would allow, while this song belted out, fairgrround style and Joan and Derek chainsmoked on the sidelines. We had lunch at the static caravan, with a quick pop-in to the on-site social club where it was talent day, and two young twin boys got up and sang. My brother is convince we were seeing the birth of Bros, but I'm not so sure.

Then, as darkness fell, we were off to see the illuminations. I don't remember a single thing about them, I have to say, and perhaps by this time I'd dropped off, not waking up till the next morning.

I've not seen any of those relatives since. Joan and Derek are long gone, with young Derek living in Essex. I liked that side of the family. A warm welcome, nothing too much trouble but too far away in those days to make a lasting connection. Now, going up north is as easy as pie and I'm up there all the time. But I have no idea if any of the other relatives are around or even how I'd get in touch with them. Shame. I love the north.

Anyway, this song always reminds of darkness. In a nice way.


  1. Splendid recollections. Never done an overnight coach but I can just picture that trip...

    And the song, so often seen as being quintessentially 80s in flavour despite the '79 release is, of course, a cracker.

  2. Ooh we've crossed over today with the northern run and Blackpool outings. We were talking about those old coaches on last Tuesday's Radio Podrophenia - mostly the silver cigarette stubbers bolted to the backs of the seats, and the burn marks populated around them. As if those on the gaspers put the snouts out on the seat-backs and clearing the embers with the silver thing..

    Also, how hopeless the overhead fans and reading lights were

  3. Lovely stuff. Midnight Cowboy still managed to make coached look faintly romantic, whereas I can only associate them with the smells you describe. The ones in Ireland took the torture a stage further by having virtually no suspension and seats made of slippery plastic. The top layer of skin on your thighs would peel off as you stood up. Terrible.