Essays

Some British Traditions are Worth Preserving

One morning last September, my partner spoke the dreaded words every man fears as they settle down to read the newspaper “Darling, I’ve been thinking…”

The object of her thinking was that we visit a British seaside resort, enjoy fish and chips on the seafront, and then browse through the local shopping arcades in the hope we might spot a bargain. So a couple of days later – having stocked up on “Haribos” and “Cadbury’s Clusters” for the journey – the sat nav was primed for the quickest route to Southport on Merseyside, and we set off in a north westerly direction along the M6 motorway.Unlike my partner I had never been to Southport before, and I was looking forward to visiting the town that was an RHS Gold Medal winner in 2002, and which the “in-laws” had visited a couple of weeks previously for the annual flower show. Having found somewhere to park the car and it being lunchtime, we immediately set out looking for somewhere to indulge our longing for seaside fish and chips.

A young man with a mass of wavy hair and wearing John Lennon glasses was handing out leaflets directing people along a side street called Scarisbrook Avenue where, he assured us, The Dolphin Restaurant and Take Away offered the best in traditional British fare.  He wasn’t wrong; a large haddock, steak and kidney pie plus two portions of freshly fried chips and two cans of pop, all for less than nine quid. We took our lunch freshly wrapped and headed toward the promenade, where we found a bench close to the entrance for the Model Railway village and with a wonderful view of the immaculate gardens that grace this classic resort. Looking up and down the wide promenade with the conference centre at one end and the Royal Clifton Hotel at the other, it is easy to see why Southport holds such attraction as a venue for party conferences and variety shows. Unlike some seaside resorts, there was none of the drabness and decaying atmosphere that we observed in previous visits to Blackpool and Skegness, nowadays even Margate appears to be gripped in a downward spiral of boarded-up shops and general pessimism

Lunch finished and having taken shelter from a passing shower, we ventured back through Scarisbrook Avenue to the main shopping area that is Lord Street. Like most main streets it is bedevilled with chain stores systematically squeezing the independents out of business, only to be replaced with Help the Aged and other charity shops. There were however a few beacons of light, which seemed to indicate that in some areas at least, the independents were attempting to hold their own.

In the Wayfarers Arcade there were a number of specialist shops, fashion boutiques, coffee bars, a shop selling sporting memorabilia and another dealing in antique books. In the far corner I observed Sweet Memories, a shop where the shelves groaned with jars of all sorts of sweets and treats from yesteryear – black jacks, fruit salads, dip dabs, pear drops, raspberry dust, tins of lozenges and my own perennial favourite, sweet peanuts. The other half permitted me to purchase a quarter before half dragging me out of the arcade, lest I ventured into the book shop, where she would have had to give up all hope of exploring any further. We ventured into a few other establishments while dodging the rain, but came away without securing the hoped-for bargain. While returning to the car we came across John Duncan’s shop, and drawn in further by the window display, we ventured inside to what can only be described as a bastion of maleness. There we found all sorts of wonderful items on display; racks full of pipes, glass jars full of tobacco from all over the world, cufflinks and tie slides, cut throat razors, silver-plated hip flasks and ornate walking canes with metal tips. It was the kind of place where those of us of a certain generation, might have memories of being taken into by our fathers and grandfathers, and where doubtless, gentlemen of a certain vintage can still to be found to frequent.

One display cabinet contained montblanc and aurora fountain pens and retractable pencils, each one a perfect example of handmade craftsmanship, but with a price tag to match. The writer in me looked at them enviously; for I could imagine the likes of Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck and Graham Greene, each poised over notebooks ready to turn their thoughts and ideas into everlasting prose. As for me, I may have the moleskine notebook, but I’m writing my notes with a rather fetching four-colour biro costing £1.50.

We left Southport a short while later – still without the mythical bargain – and headed south, and home. While looking through my notes again some time later, I came to the conclusion that our seaside resorts DO have a certain character and tradition all of their own: and despite the popularity of cheap foreign holidays, there are some British traditions that are definitely worth preserving!  

First Published in Scriptor 9 by Green Arrow Publishing October 2008

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