I used to live near a seaside resort. New Brighton is tucked away on the top right corner of the Wirral coast. It has a rich past. In its day, thousands of day-trippers would head for the long stretches of golden sand and the jolly funfairs. Once it had a tower. It was taller than Blackpool Tower.
One of the saddest parts of my life was watching the untimely demise of this once popular part of town. It didn’t happen overnight. With an air of inevitability, as though some unseen evil force was driving its destruction, I saw the gradual but vital closures of New Brighton’s key attractions. The outdoor fair, the Tower Ballroom, the pier and the ferry just seemed to disappear off the face of the earth. Then the year I moved away from Wallasey, New Brighton baths was savaged by the raging sea.
I remember sitting on the doorstep of my Auntie Edie’s doorstep in Egerton Street. It was the first week of the summer holidays and I was staring at the entrance to the fair. It was always busy and it was never disappointing. It was a real moment of excitement.
Today there has been a renaissance of sorts. A collection of national retail outlets and a programme of rebuilding has brought back some life to the old place. I can’t knock that. There are jobs and there is a focal point for the area so I’m not going to start a rant about modernist architecture and the uniformity of large chain attractions. I don’t really know enough about it to make any reasoned valid judgements but it seems that there is a variety of opinions about the re-birth of New Brighton.
Last weekend I went to Eastbourne. My latter home is now in East Sussex. I went with old friends. We arrived early, had no problem parking and the weather was glorious. It was the final day of the airshow. For a couple of hours, we sat by the beach and watched the world go by.
My, what a world we have. an army of seaside troopers of every shape and size filed past with their own quirky little cabaret. There was a lot of body on display. Large tattoos strutted past, bare-chested with arms held out. I saw the full tanning spectrum from pink to dark. These were silent soldiers. They looked straight ahead, frowning seriously whilst clutching their plastic beer glasses.
Then there was the mobile division. Prams, scooters and bicycles sailed past with their own soundtracks of discontented children and overheating exasperated parents.
There was ice-cream everywhere. Like me, some people were in wheelchairs. I chatted happily to some of them while we queued for the disabled toilet.
In amongst the passing throngs, some examples of dignity and elegance floated past; or at least they were those who cared about their appearance. From greying men with white jackets and old school ties to younger, more glamorous specimens, they punctuated the human mess.
Most memorable were the full fold-over stomachs. They were bare-chested, the bottom of their enormous bellies wobbled shamelessly over their abdomens and they didn’t care.
There were two outstanding moments of this day. Firstly, I sighed at the pier. I thought about the loss of New Brighton pier.
It was an empty feeling.
Then there was the man of the match. The Lancaster bomber roared slowly through the air like some predatory bird, absurdly stark and menacing. That Airfix model I’d made many times on the kitchen table was now above me. It was the first time I’d seen it in the flesh. I felt humble and proud at the same time. It represented a time of great human suffering. For many of its former crew members, there must have been a mixture of excitement and fear. It left me quite spellbound.
I’m sure that New Brighton has its fair share of troopers in all their glorious variety, chipping away in that familiar old accent. But sadly, it no longer has a pier. I can no longer steal a bit of the river to look back at the friendly old coast. It still has some significance however. Every pilot I’ve ever spoken to knows about New Brighton. From the air, it is a significant marker for orientation and navigation. It was an excellent day. It fired so many memories and experiences.
Thank-you for reading.