Felixstowe, 1977 to 1978
From Fleetwood to Felixstowe. From the Fisherman’s Mission to the British Sailor’s Society. From a dingy flat amidst other dingy flats, in the middle of noisy, smelly and drunken docklands; to a three-bed semi, with a beautiful-red-shiny front door – our own front door – at the beginning of a quiet street, leading to other quiet streets, leading to the beach. The house in Cowley Road had potential. It had a lot to offer a seven-year old in her seventh year of need. A seven-year old in need of a break-out!
And, so began the summer of 1977, six weeks of sun, saltwater and stones. For the beach at Felixstowe was no ordinary beach. It had minimal sand, just lots and lots of we’re-here-to-attack-your-bare-feet pebbles, and was, hence, no place for building sandcastles. No place for the creative.
It was, however, the ideal location for grannies on holiday – and my Nanna loved the place. Nanna Joan Cool of Albrighton, Shropshire, daughter of a Miller from Penderford, and direct descendant of Humphrey Kynaston, the cave-dwelling highwayman from Myddle, loved Felixstowe. She loved coming out of the cold, damp, shadowy world of the middle-country dwellers. She loved the sea. And, she loved Cowley Road.
And, when at Cowley Road, Nanna Cool liked to talk, and talk and talk some more. So, whereas, on arrival I had argued with my brother over who should have the second double bedroom, I now thanked my fairy godmother for the refusal of that particular wish; a refusal, which had resulted in my box-room imprisonment. The benefits of box-room habitation were now clear. I had a tiny room to myself; my brother had a large room shared, for six whole weeks of the summer holiday, with the world-record-holder for non-stop talking. I was in Felixstowe heaven; my brother had gone over to the dark side.
To add to its advantages, my box-room had the special feature of an add-on sticking out window, with the sill shaped like brow of boat. I had my own look-out post, from which I could see the people of the front world go by. I could see down into next-door’s front garden to check on the arrival of its regular week-end visitor, my new best-friend and joint-business partner (1), Verity. Verity Ricicles.
And I could do regular spot-checks on the entrance to the alleyway over the road, the one that led to the alleyways of a ladder of parallel streets, all direct copies of Cowley Road, but all with different names: Cobbold Road, Leopold Road, Tomlin Road and – the best one of all – Princes Street. If I kept up a vigilant routine, I would occasionally get lucky. Sometimes – a boy on a bicycle would emerge from the alleyway’s depths. Jamie Ricicles of Princes Street, Jamie, my new best boyfriend.
My devoted reader will, undoubtedly be assuming that Verity and Jamie were siblings or cousins, being the owners of such an unusual shared surname, and living in the same town. But, the Ricicles assured me that they were not; that they had never even heard of each other. The latter belief was plausible – they both attended different primary schools, Verity being just a weekend visitor to her grandparents in Cowley Road, who lived elsewhere in the ‘vast’ seaside town of Felixstowe. But, the former belief was very likely ill-informed. And, I do hope today, that my two best friends of all time might have connected themselves up, if not with me, with each other, via my trusty friend and current lover – Ancestry.com.
Oh, and if the botanists among you really want to hear about it, I can tell you about how I looked out and down onto the small front garden featuring beds of prickly red roses, encircled by crazy paving.
Nanna Cool and my mum loved the beach. Equipped with buckets and spades, swimsuits, trunks, towels and Catherine Cookson paperbacks, off we would all toddle. Toddle being the wrong word entirely. Off Nanna Cool would march as the rest of us: mum, Big Brother and I, ran along behind her. I never understood how a lady with such short legs could imitate the strides of a six-foot-tall Olympic runner.
Once at the beach, breathless and baffled: the towels were laid out, the ladies settled, and the children berated. Berated for being so slow. The ladies got their books out and settled in for the long haul. My mum loved these trips, not the departure part, but the arrival part. The beach, for mum, was the real break. The break from Nanna Cool’s incessant chatter.
For the only time Nanna Cool’s voice-box became outwardly inactive, was when Cookson reached out and pulled both mother and daughter-in-law off the Suffolk beach and into South Shields.
In a world of grand men, my Nanna subverted the trend for silent ladies, and became a Lady of the Manor – barking out essential orders; the Head Cook was informed about the best method for baking short-crust pastry and the Butler was given short-thrift for claiming to know all about silver service. And, in that same world, my mother (who knew her place) applied for the post of Scullery Maid at the rival manor house – thence acquiring a much-needed break from her mother-in-law.
With the Lady and Maid lost to us, Big Brother and I tried our best to make good use of the buckets and spades. In the absence of sand, I collected dried-up-and-dead starfish in a bucket of salt water; and Big Brother built up walls of stones to create the largest damns in the world. And then? And then we got bored. And when we got bored, we bickered. The starfish were released into salt-water graves; and the damn got knocked down. The damn had to be rebuilt; and alternative dead starfish had to be plucked from the stones. In time, though, the Lady became hungry and started to mumble. The mumbling transformed itself into accele
rating chatter. And mum decided it was time to resort to Plan 2.
Plan 2: When Mother-in-Law Cool starts talking again, buy her an ice-cream. With a full stomach, she might drift off to sleep.
The ice-cream part of the plan was, without doubt, genius. Big Brother and I got ice-creamed up too! But the second part never worked. Once fed, Nanna Cool, just like Big Brother and I, became re-energised. And the chatter, now up to full speed, continued. Time to go back to Cowley Road.
Cowley Road. Home. Buckets down. Oh!
Buckets up! Back past the red roses. Back down the quiet street to the other quiet streets that led to the stony beach. For, by the time we’d reached ‘home’, the deader-than-dead starfish had resurrected themselves. The now-very-much-alive-and-wriggling starfish had to be returned to the sea.
Back in my box-room, with a little bit of quiet time to consider the merits of the day, I would wonder why I felt so hot.
Missed part of the beach-trip plan: If you are a ginger, take a bottle of sun-cream (2) with you and remember to apply it!
Copyright owned by Jay Cool, August 2017
(1) Verity became my business partner when, in the summer of 1977, we set up a stall in her Grandmother’s garden at Cowley Road, selling our works of art; some beautiful felt-tip penned drawing of yellow ladies, sunbathing on Felixstowe beach, complete with splodges of orange sun-tan lotion. Our business went into liquidation almost immediately, due to negative equity; we sold one picture for 10p (obviously mine!), but had spent in excess of that figure (of course I don’t remember how much!) on the felt-tip pens (the paper was a freebie!).
(2) Nowadays, a mother doesn’t make it two steps out of her front door before some well-meaning, holier-than-thou neighbour, informs her about the dangers of not pasting Factor 100 sun-cream over every moving object.
Photo of pebbly beach by Tim Marchant: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/ & http://www.geograph.org.uk/profile/2083 & http://colneis.co.uk