Seaside 

MY first holiday overseas was to the quiet, almost sleepy (well it was way back then) French seaside resort of Hendaye Plage.

It was a school trip for a bunch of 15 year olds who for the most part were venturing outside Britain for the very first time.

Hendaye Plage is the furthest point in the south west of France, facing out to the South Atlantic Ocean and with the Pyrenees not far away. It is situated about half way between Biarritz and San Sebastian in Spain.

It has a medieval Basque old town and to us it seemed extremely exotic. The trip there was almost as exciting. After a flight to Paris and a day sight-seeing in the capital we took an overnight train, travelling the length of France.

Very few of us slept. There was too much going on, what with spectacular thunder storms which sporadically lit up the sky and the presence of French soldiers, together with their rifles and bayonets, sprawled out along the corridors outside our compartments.

When we finally arrived at Hendaye Plage at around seven in the morning one of the teachers decided the best remedy for a sleepless night was a game of football on the glorious, sandy beach. This was definitely better than school!

It got even better shortly afterwards. After all the usual hotel checking-in procedures, the teachers gathered us all together for a ‘briefing.’  It was the usual dos and don’ts, the biggest of which was as 15 year olds we were not supposed to drink or smoke. Yes, we all nodded obediently.  Minutes later I had sampled my first Gaulois Disc Blue and a bottled German beer which went down a treat.

Add to this mixture the heat of a glorious French summer and within a few hours many of us were confined to our hotel rooms, feeling or being sick. Happy days!

Hendaye Plage popped back into my mind recently when a family trip to see a relative in Hull led to a 20 mile excursion eastwards to the quiet, almost sleepy (well, it was then) seaside resort of Withernsea on the English east coast.

It was on a Saturday at the fag end of the summer holiday season, the kids had only just gone back to school.

Withernsea felt tired and jaded, not helped by atrocious weather. The 2001 census put its population at nearly 6,000 and like many British resorts it looks as if it has suffered a decline in visiting tourists (apparently known by the locals as diggers).

Even on a Saturday in early September some amenities were already closed down. As we arrived, the storm clouds gathered in a huddle like a bunch of cowboy wagons awaiting an attack from the Indians.

They looked so menacing that there was little encouragement to go out and explore. But first we sampled the standard British holiday menu of fish, chips, mushy peas, bread and butter and a mug of tea in a basic but accommodating restaurant/chippie.

We then parked up on the promenade, drawn by the irresistible lure of actually setting eyes on the sea.

Apparently the promenade has recently been rebuilt and redesigned and features pier towers which are the last surviving part of the town’s 19th century pier.

Where to next? The town council website had sung the praise of the leisure centre and Withernsea market and then added proudly: “What seaside resort would be complete without the amusement arcade and Withernsea is certainly no exception”.

It further proclaimed “a good selection is available ranging from the ‘one armed bandits’ to the latest video game technology and from bowling alleys to children’s adventure playground.”

The town also boasts the Lighthouse Museum which was opened in 1989 as the Kay Kendall Memorial Museum.

Born in Withernsea, Kay Kendall was a famous British film star. She starred in the 1953 classic Genevieve, which was about a vintage car race from London to another famous seaside resort, Brighton.

Kay was married to My Fair Lady star Rex Harrison. They were having an affair whilst he was married to another actress when he was told by Kendall’s doctor that she was dying from leukaemia. She was never told the truth, she thought she was suffering from an iron deficiency.

But Harrison divorced his wife and married Kendall before she died at the age of 33.

Her connection with the lighthouse came through her grandfather who worked on the construction of the lighthouse from 1892-1894 and also served as coxswain on the last rowing off-shore lifeboat from 1911-13.

So decisions, decisions, where to go to next? But by now those storm clouds were ready to go to work. The rain came and came and came. The Enjoy England website described Withernsea as a “wonderful blend of seaside attractions with just a touch of wilderness about it.” Well it certainly felt wild that day.

The heavens literally opened and we were reduced to snatching four cornets of home-made ice-cream from a parlour just by the sea front which we devoured enthusiastically inside our car.

As the rain pounded down on the roof and the mist reduced our vision to zero, the decision was made to cut short our stay and head back to Hull once the storm had abated.

The Withernsea trip also ignited memories of my very first holiday experience – way before the Hendaye excursion.

That was to the caravan mecca of Ingoldmells, which lies just north of Skegness on the Lincolnshire coast.

Skegness, or Skeggy as it is commonly known, was a haven for working class families from the Midlands, an east coast alternative to Blackpool.

Ingoldmells had miles and miles of caravan sites, many of them sporting their own social club and outdoor swimming pool.

Fine if the weather was good but for a nightmare for youngsters on wet, miserable days when you were confined to the caravan.

Skegness got some unwanted publicity this summer from Boris Johnson, the controversial Mayor of London, who speaking in a national newspaper interview about his desire to have a foreign holiday, exclaimed: “I say stuff Skegness, I say bugger Bognor.”

This prompted a storm of protests from supporters of British seaside resorts.

Me, I can see both sides of the arguments, for both home and foreign destinations have their attractions.

However on my return from Hull I trawled the Internet to try and find some information about modern day Hendaye Plage.

Apparently it now has a marina and casino and is regarded as a good venue for water sports, such as wind surfing.

And through the wonders of modern technology, I chanced upon a web cam which took me to that very beach where many, many years ago we played football.

It was around 7.30pm in the evening, holidaymakers were strolling leisurely around and the sun bounced off the sea as the surfers continued to enjoy their pastime.

Now then, Withernsea or Hendaye, hmmm…… let me think.

The title of this article is part of a famous music hall song.  Here are the lyrics:-

Everyone delights to spend their summer holiday
Down beside the side of the silvery sea.
I'm no exception to the rule
In fact, if I'd my way
I'd reside by the side of the silvery sea.
But when you're just the common or garden Smith or Jones or Brown,
A business up in town
You've got to settle down.
You save up all the money you can till summer comes around,
Then away you go
To a spot you know
Where the cockle shells are found.

Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside
I do like to be beside the sea!
I do like to stroll along the Prom, Prom, Prom!
Where the brass bands play:
"Tiddely-om-pom-pom!"
So just let me be beside the seaside
I'll be beside myself with glee,
For there's lots of girls beside,
I should like to be beside
Beside the seaside!
Beside the sea!

You can listen to this song on You Tube

 Photo by Your Teacher