"I'm meeting him at 'The Jolly' next Saturday", my older sister confided to me as she unpacked her shocking pink froufrou under skirt, then undoing her clutch bag she proudly pulled out a half strip of black and white photo-booth pictures of her with Gordon, her Skegness boyfriend, giggling together cheek to cheek. A very daring pose for a 15 year-old in the year before the decade of the swinging sixties when morality flew wild like our long hair in the wind of change.
'The Jolly Fisherman' was a pub on Skegness front, not far from the Pier and the clock tower which was emblazoned with the town's larger than life mascot, the happily skipping wellingtoned 'Jolly Fisherman'.
Although it was on the 'front' this did not necessarily indicate its close proximity to the sea. Skeggie had an extremely long foreshore and it was a popular joke of the time that to view the sea from the parade one needed a good pair of binoculars. If you didn't have one then 6d. would buy you a go on the creaking metal telescopes that, once in focus, gave a blurred misty view of the distant rolling waves.
My family lived in Nottingham, one of the furthest points from the coast in England, so a trip to the seaside in my childhood in the early fifties usually meant Skegness or Chapel St. Leonards. There were three grades of accommodation on offer, the Boarding House, the Guest House and the Hotel. In my early childhood our little family stayed at a Boarding House.
Dad and Mum struggled to afford the week and Mum knitted me and my sister identical cardigans for the holiday with little round buttons shaped like a carefully sliced pieces of seaside rock but unlike that pink sticky seaside confectionary they did not have the blue lettering.
The Landlord locked up the house in the day as it was assumed that their guests or 'boarders' would not need to return until the evening meal. So, on rainy days, we spent our time trailing round amusement arcades, a miserable experience when money is tight, or eating chips from damp newspaper in sea front bus shelters cold and shivering in wet rubber sandals and brightly coloured coats. It was because of this that we started 'caravanning', a more laid back kind of holiday where you could come and go as you please, and on rainy days we could play cards and read comics.
Later my parents became a little better off and we moved up to Guest Houses which proved to be a little more hospitable. Hotels, of course, were out of our reach.
It was a time of innocence, of pseudo respectability and of keeping up appearances, a safe time for us children. Just after the war no one wanted anymore shocks, just gentle refined pleasure. The scariest thing was the Figure 8 on Botton's Fun Fair.
The great flood of 1953 had left Sutton on Sea, a village just up the coast, devastated and Dad drove us past the ruins of some bungalows swept away by the storm. Mum had known an old man who lived in one and had died in the tragedy. Mum however was more shocked at how small his now partly demolished kitchen had been!
Skegness Theatre, at the end of the 4th longest Pier in England, was always a fascination and a treat to visit. Walking along the board walks you could see the threatening monster of the grey sea through the gaps in between the boards. Sadly on the morning of 12th January 1978 the people of Skegness awoke to find part of their beloved pier had been ripped in half by an angry sea. The theatre remained stranded in the waves like a phantom island accessible only by boat when the sea was calm.
The theatre was left to stand alone for a few years before being finally demolished. I used to gaze at it imagining who was that last person to lock up that stormy night, there was still a sign for Walls Ices Cream and a door marked Fire Exit. For me it stood as a ghostly memorial to the lost Music Halls, Vaudeville, and the strong lady; clowns and traveling repertory groups who performed saucy farces along the coast during the summer season.
After demolition the pier was sealed like the stump of a leg amputated at the knee.
There was, however, a place I hated and dreaded when passing by the side of the pier at its opening onto the grand parade, it was a display in photographs of the Japanese atrocities committed on their POWs during the Second World War. I remember walking past Bottons Fun Fair and seeing a man go in with a child on his shoulders, I wondered even at that young age how the child would feel when confronted with such wickedness.
Skegness now is not dissimilar in appearance, only busier and brassier, but the feeling and the atmosphere of the place is beyond any recognition of former times. The 'Jolly' went long ago as did 'The Dirk and Dagger', those sea front Pub/Hotels where my sister met Gordon and I once met comedian Tommy Trinder. These are now replaced with rows of amusements arcades with gaudy neon lights proclaiming their mission "to amuse you" whilst taking your precious holiday pocket money. Night clubs have sprung up and when darkness falls, be it summer or winter, skimpily-clad girls and boisterous groups of shaven headed lads queue to get in past the black overcoated bouncers who guard the door.
The old Embassy Ball Room has been rebuilt and is now a modern visitor centre "complex", and the old pleasure gardens seem to have grown a lot of concrete over the past decades. The sea never goes out so far as it used to and rainy days seem more frequent.
Lumley Road, the shopping "High Street", is filled with "cheap shops" and Nottingham holiday makers are known as "Chizzitts" by Skegness locals because of their constant queries to weary shop keepers "ow muchizzit". The grand hotels that we could not afford have become faded and still retain a fifties look, offering short holidays to trippers who are bussed in from everywhere for a cheap but bracing seaside break. In winter bored youngsters in souped up cars scream around the empty seafront car parks doing "Figures of Eight".
The word "commercialized" comes to mind; rarely used now but I remember Dad steered us away from anywhere he considered to be too commercialized and dragged my sister and I away furiously when he found us jiving outside the Chapel St. Leonard's amusements arcade as the jukebox inside roared out the latest the Everly Brother's hit record.
I remember trying to make my way through the big Teddy Boys crowding round the jukebox smoking fags and wearing big rings. I was warned that after you had put your threepenny bit into the slot you had to press the buttons quickly to get your play before the Teds pressed them to select their choice.
When finances got better for Mum and Dad and the sixties had started to "swing", we were able to afford holidays in posh Hotels on the South Coast and the Isle of Wight. We were warned not to laugh as dickie-bowed waiters presented us with menus all in French. Clean tablecloths appeared on our table each day, along with carefully rolled linen serviettes held in decorated silver rings. My father told us that they had a waiter just to serve wine, but I as a kid found this hard to believe. It was a far cry from the days of chips in damp newspaper, cold caravans with gas lighting and homely seaside landladies serving breakfast in flowery aprons.
In later years I took my own little family to Weston-Super-Mare to see a faded sixties idol performing at the Winter Gardens. Once a proud and "posh" resort to which Welsh miners came to enjoy the sea air as early as the 30s, it still held a certain elegance that Skegness had never owned.