25 Oct 2005
I hadn't been to Blackpool for almost ten years, which for a proud Lancastrian like myself is something of a scandal, as only the Scots go to Blackpool more often than us locals. I'm not sure why that is - but the souvenir shops there stock Scottish football merchandise, so there must be a lot of visitors from North of the border. People obviously buy the t-shirts of a cartoon man in a Celtic kit urinating on a Rangers kit (and vice versa), otherwise they wouldn't be on sale in all the souvenir shops lining the seafront. I certainly heard plenty of Scottish accents while I was walking around - the first I'd heard for a long time, of course.
It was great to see that Blackpool had hardly changed at all since I was last there. After walking out of the station and through a grimy underpass the first thing I saw was a middle-aged man vomiting in the street, with shoppers deliberatly ignoring him as only British people can. I ignored him too, and walked along a street to the beach, passing charity shops and others selling novelties, souvenirs and tea - the three cornerstones on which Blackpool was built. I reached the front and crossed over the famous tram tracks - Blackpool trams have to be the largest in the world - one rumbled past me at 3mph which looked like a Boeing 747 without the wings (and had a large advert for a strip club on the side). Here the biting wind really stung, so I went into the amusements on the North Pier to escape.
Again, the old North Pier looked exactly as it did when I used to go there as a boy - even the arcade machines were more or less the same. I couldn't find Operation Wolf though, which was a real shame - one of those dancing games with the footpads had taken it's place near the main doors. A crowd had gathered around two girls playing it, who were grimly holding on to a bar whilst marching along to steps displayed on the flashing screen in front of them. They must have been enjoying it, but really didn't look as if they were. As I wandered around looking for ways to rid myself of 10p coins (again, Blackpool doesn't seem to increase prices over the years) I realised that the last gaming arcades I had been in were the incredible multi-storey ones in Osaka. The other side of the world, but I was struck by the similarities - the serious faces of concentrating gamers, the resigned look of the serial fruit machine addicts, and of course the grapple-arm machines so beloved by arcade goers in both countries. The other Blackpool institution are the 'balancing cliff-top' machines, where dropping a 10p (or 2p) into the continually advancing and retreating layers causes those at the edge to be pushed off for you to collect (or not, in my case).
The wind was ripping in from the Irish Sea, causing the brown sea to foam as it rolled over the sand. A sewage-laden microbe paradise it may be (bacteria come to Blackpool on holiday too), but the beach there looks really good. A few hardy souls were down there, including the ubiquitous donkey rides. I can't recall ever having been on a donkey at Blackpool, but there can't be a more typical English seaside pastime. Eating chips out of a deckchair in the rain, maybe, I suppose. No rain the day I was there though, as the strong wind soon blasted the clouds inland and the sun came out. I walked parallel to the sea, taking in the classic Blackpool landmarks - the tower, piers, trams, etc. I passed the un-fun-looking Funland, which proudly boasted that their cups of tea were 'still only 10p'. I noticed they also did fish, chips, peas, bread and butter and tea for a not unreasonable £1.99. This is one reason why Blackpool is so popular.
The biggest reason though is that if you go on holiday there you know exactly what you're going to get. The resort town has practically the same things to do now as it did 20, 30yrs ago - and in some cases exactly the same things. Why go somewhere foreign where the food is different and you can't understand the language? When you book a holiday in Blackpool you know you'll be getting fish and chips, cheap beer, candy floss and funny plastic hats. The town can be summed up by a leaflet I was given on the North Pier. Despite now being owned by 'Leisure Parcs Ltd', the 142yr old pier has been maintained in order to keep the essence of romance and history that makes it so distinctly different. So too Blackpool - a resort well over a hundred years old purposely kept as it is - because if you come once and like it, chances are you'll be coming back...
Locations Visited: Blackpool