15. Working on ‘the sands’

The North-east coast of England has the most wonderful long sandy beaches. When we were young, the fact that most of the time it was freezing seemed to make no difference.

However in the summer months it seemed glorious to spend hours lounging on the beach and paddling (or ‘plodging’ as we call it) in the sea. Swimming was an altogether braver challenge.

Before package holidays, at bank-holiday time ,which was often the same (first) two weeks in August for everybody, the beaches were so packed with people that it was difficult to find a spot where you didn’t encroach on anyone else. You should also remember that a lot of folk hired deck-chairs to sit in, and tents to change in. These had to be carried between other groups before erecting. I have a wonderful black-and-white photo somewhere of my grandfather on the ‘sands’ complete with tweed suit, tie and cap; my grandmother with her best frock and hat, my mother in a woollen knitted swimming costume and my father with a one-piece costume.

The problem was not helped by the fact that during ‘Scotch Week’, which in reality lasted about three weeks, train loads of Scotsmen and their families arrived at Tynemouth and more-so Whitley Bay. This accounts for these two railway stations having very long platforms to service more than one train at a time and why the town now has empty hotels which then would be turning people away.

I worked at least one summer on Tynemouth Longsands which, back then had cafes and amusements at both North and South ends. There were ‘shuggy-shoes’ (or if you lived in Whitley Bay ‘shuggy-boats’). These were swing-boats which held two people facing inwards and propelled by ropes hanging from a crossbar above. My particular job was on an, inadequately electric powered, small roundabout, which because of its lack of power had to be propelled by me towing it round until such time that the motor might be switched on. Lord I must have been fit.

One of the perks of working on the beach was beach-combing for lost coins. You probably have discovered that if you drop a coin on a dry sandy beach, it disappears, never to be seen again. Well actually that’s not actually true as given a high wind, the sand blows away and the coin appears on it’s own little mound. When the visitors had all returned home or to their b & b for ‘high-tea’, we were left to cash-in on their losses and believe me we could earn more than a days wages sometimes. Another trick was to wait for high tide washing over where they had been sitting and as the waves break and recede on the sand, the coins flip over and over to be collected at will.

The beaches are still here and I feel sure that the temperatures cannot really be much different, but the crowds seldom turn out like they used to. The amusements at both ends have gone and only one cafe remains to service the surfers, dog-walkers and those who make the effort.

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