I went to Skegness on the final afternoon of my last holiday. Let's get it written-up and out of the way. Then we can look forward to the next holiday, only three weeks away now.
Skegness is Lincolnshire's best-known beach resort, and surely one of the premier East Coast resorts - a place that everyone has heard of. I'd visited it several times before, but the previous occasion had been way back in 2006. It was time for another look.
I chose a warm and sunny day, a Sunday, and the place was packed with holidaymakers and day trippers. It was a stark contrast to the forlorn emptiness I saw at Withernsea and Mablethorpe. But even off-season, Skegness would have something extra that those smaller resorts do not possess. It's a proper resort, with all kinds of major holiday facilities. I'm not saying it has charm and elegance. I admit it's loud and brash. You wouldn't book a holiday in Skegness for its scenic beauty or cultural attractions. But if you had a family, and wanted a beach full of golden sand, and plenty going on, and all the usual seaside things, then I'd say - without the slightest irony - that Skegness has exactly what you want.
It must be clear by now that, whether they are serenely picturesque or riotously populist, I have a warm place in my heart for traditional British seaside resorts. Some are sad and depressing, others are exciting. But they all have that Something that connects, however tenuously, with the varied seaside locations of my childhood: Barry Island, Burnham on Sea, Bournemouth, Swanage, Exmouth, Ilfracombe, Combe Martin, Treyarnon Bay, Padstow, and Newquay. Even B list resorts like Littlehampton and Herne Bay have a fascination for me. I like to visit them and wallow in nostalgia, and recover an elusive flavour of distant years when I was young. All the best things of my childhood happened when on holiday, or at least on a day trip to the seaside. And it's an odd thing, but there are many, many locations around the coast that really haven't changed very much since the 1960s. I can still go there with a camera, even decades later, and take meaningful pictures that I couldn't at the time. Post facto momentoes of formative years, when some things were right, and some things were wrong. Insights to consider, to ponder over, and draw greater self-understanding from.
But it's equally about having the Genuine British Experience. I always feel like the Great Outsider, somebody in perpetual Tourist Mode. I understand the tourist who is there for a day and not likely to come back soon. And so I'd recommend any foreign tourist to go and see Skegness (and places like it) if they want to tap into British Life and come away feeling that they have had their finger on the British Pulse. Plunge in. Get wet. Then return to the coach richer in experience than you might have been.
The only caveat I'd mention is that just as London is not England, Skegness is in no way typical of all British seaside resorts. It's distinctly Northern, and quite a different kettle of fish compared to (say) the holidays places of Devon and Cornwall, or Wales - or Sussex, for that matter.
So, where to begin?
Well, I had parked in the Tesco car park next to the station. So let's begin there, and then walk down the pedestrianised street to the sea front. Skegness station has in recent years been tarted up with stainless steel and glass, but it's still basically a terminus station with several platforms and a big waiting area that at one time would have been bursting at the seams with travelling holidaymakers, but now has an overly-spacious, somewhat empty feel. I don't know why they haven't provided more seating.
The station still enjoys hourly train services to and from Nottingham, where you can change for many other places. The 2011 makeover extended to the concourse outside.
Sigh. There's always a hoodie hanging around places like this. I don't know what kind of mental disease you have to have to bury your head in a hood. The sign of a cretin in my book. As much as wearing a baseball cap the wrong way round is the sign of a feeble-minded idiot.
Still, it's all neat and tidy, and kind of adds to the town centre amenities. I headed off to the right in the shot above.
Already I'd seen more people than I did in an hour at Withernsea! And so into the pedestrianised street, lined with gift shops. It was very hard not to take a picture with disabled people in it. Usually I try to avoid making a disabled person part of a picture, but in Skegness that afternoon there were so many persons limping around, or using crutches, or in wheelchairs, that I had to give up my scruples, and just take the shot.
Did I mention gift shops? Anyone looking for a very cheap item of clothing, or a toy, was very well-served. Although why you would buy a big yellow Pokémon mouse was beyond me.
I passed up the chance to acquire a wicked tattoo.
Where are the crowds, you might ask. Well, they were all around me, and I had to wait for a chance to take a shot without someone walking into it. In the end I gave up, and included people in my pictures. I'm normally a bit shy about that, but I quickly became much more daring. Why not? I was using Tigerlily, my phone, and not a 'proper camera'. Who was going to notice, or care if they did?
I do hope that lady was heading for Harry's, Buddy's or Options Discount - and not Flirtz Lap Dancing!
It was getting much, much noisier. It was a bar, open to the street, packed with drinkers who were listening to a singer dressed in a black Elvis-style costume. He was belting out an old 1969 number by Creedence Clearwater Revival: Proud Mary. He really was full of energy, and giving it his all. I got in very close to a couple at a table, practically standing in their drinks, and nonchalantly took my shot. Nobody took the slightest notice of me.
Emboldened, I began to shoot people coming towards me. Almost daring them to object, you might say.
But nobody seemed to give a tinker's. By now I was in Documentary Mode, and was taking pictures in a methodical way, to illustrate what made Skegness tick as a seaside resort, to reveal its soul. I wanted to capture little details. The sea front was getting ever closer now. Suddenly there was Skegness's iconic Clock Tower, with an iconic fish and chip shop close by.
Waiting to cross the road was a mum with her child. She was carrying a bucket and spade.
Once over, I had a double view. The Clock Tower from a different angle...
...and Jolly Roger Adventure Golf.
Once again, I was bemused by the coupling of Piracy with Goff. Actually, it didn't look terribly adventurous. At Mablethorpe - where be Captain Jack's Adventure Golf, me hearties! - losers had to walk the plank. At Skegness things were different. Losers had to treat the winners to seafood.
I began to notice a lot of overweight people here on the sea front. This family waddled by. The father turned as I tapped the shutter button. He knew why I'd taken the picture, but he didn't make anything of it. 'Get along to Slimming World' I thought.
Another family, intent on a ride in an open coach-and-horses.
I was curious to know how much that 'treat' would cost. A little later on, I took a look.
Yikes, a total outlay for two adults and two children of £16! For a five-minute trot! If I had kids to amuse, I'd stick to buckets and spades on the beach. Ice creams? Lollies? They'd be lucky. Thankfully, it never falls to me to have kids on my hands, and if the possibility ever did loom, I'd get in a big pre-emptive No, on the grounds that I've never had children of my own, possess no maternal instinct, have no knack or rapport with kids, and I'm selfish and impatient. I swear it.
Now for the beach! You first passed a boating lake.
Well, this had much more to do with pirates than adventurous golf did! And once you had pedalled enough, there were more eateries to assist revival. More chubby people to look at, too.
What's an 'imitation' lobster tail? And what were the crabs dressed in? Tou-tous?
And finally, the beach. Yes, it was very nice. Very golden. The tide was right out, the sea a distant blue line.
Ah, a donkey ride! Along with Punch and Judy, the most iconic and traditional of children's treats at the English seaside. Punch and Judy men are called Professors. I wonder what donkey owners are called?
You never seem to see donkeys on Sussex beaches. I'm not besotted with these creatures, but they can be very sweet. I admire their patience with children. And they have just as much personality as any horse or pony. The ones here had been brought to Skegness in this big lorry:
They looked contented and well cared-for. They didn't mind my getting up close for a few shots.
Not only didn't the donkeys mind my getting close in for my shots - nor did the parents! That really astonished me. You'd think that a parent would object to a total stranger snapping away so nearby. But not a single peeved glance came my way. I suppose an unknown woman with a phone is not the same thing as a unknown man with a big-lensed camera. Well, I got my shots.
Back at Market Rasen Racecourse - where I was pitched while in Lincolnshire - I got a lovely surprise. The couple next to me, who were up from Brighton and pretty big-hearted, had picked up from something I'd said that my sixty-fifth birthday was approaching. On returning from Skegness, the lady and her daughter presented me with a bunch of flowers, while the husband looked on smiling his head off! It was so unexpected. I was delighted.
Next day, back home again, I popped them in a proper vase. They lasted quite a time.