I REMEMBER when going to the beach involved nothing more complicated than mum and dad having thruppence each for a deckchair?
The kids would spread a towel and sit on the sand.
This was the same towel that was used to wrap round you when you changed into your swimming costume, a manoeuvre that was not too bad because it was accompanied by anticipation and excitement.
Getting dressed afterwards was more difficult. Wet skin clung to the towel unhelpfully, embarrassment was just a slip away and the anticipation had been replaced by depression at leaving the beach to go back to the boarding house in time for the evening meal.
Parents rarely stripped off to sunbathe. Mum might slip off her stockings and dad might roll up his trouser legs for a paddle in the briny. Caps were never removed.
Usually, grown-ups were content to sit in a deckchair and read the Daily Mirror or, if it was afternoon, snooze after a lunchtime in the pub.
Oh, those lunchtimes at the pub. This was before children were allowed inside. Youngsters would be told to wait on the doorstep with a bottle of lemonade and a packet of crisps. Occasionally, I would be let loose in a Corrigan’s arcade with a shilling in change and tackle the slot machines. It sounds dangerous now, but paedophilia had not been invented then.
Times changed and in the 1970s families would stake their territorial claims with a windbreak at their back and the accoutrements of beach warfare around them.
“Don’t move that lilo, our Terry. That marks the end of our territory.”
To be honest, I haven’t been on a beach since Abersoch in 1982 when my wife, Maria, me and our two young daughters held our own against all comers in beachhead retention. In fact, it crossed my mind that the tactics learned then would have helped troops going ashore at Normandy in the D Day landings.
“This is how to consolidate your position, Private. Bucket and spade to the west, picnic basket to the east and the windbreak dead ahead for cover. It will be a brave enemy who tries to encroach on that.”
Holidays further changed with thousands of families going to hotels in the sun where early morning battles were fought against Germans involving towels and sun loungers.
Had the challenge of the sands faded into history?
And then recently I saw a holiday photograph of a crowded shoreline in a newspaper and realised the whole dynamics of beach warfare have changed.
These days it is not good enough to have one windbreak. You need enough to form a circle, possibly in case the Apaches attack, but certainly to dissuade anyone else from pushing onto your bit of sand.
Within this boundary of multi-coloured cloth and plastic are placed lilos, loungers, camping chairs, beach balls, portable barbecue, hamper, cold box for lager and Chardonnay – and small tent. No longer need anyone change within the confines of a towel. The tent also comes in handy during a typical British summer when it usually rains.
From a distance, this new form of beach life can look like a camp of refugee Bedouin.
“Where did you escape from?” you might ask a neighbouring sheik.
“Birmingham. Five hours on the M6. It was hell.”
“Still, you made it. Now lay back and enjoy the view.”
And yet all you can see are the rainbow stripes of your windbreak and the wife’s mother complaining about her wobbly seat. Is it your fault she’s overweight?
Occasionally, someone in another encampment stands up like a Meerkat to view the wider scene or check the kids have actually gone in the right direction to find the sea or cast an appreciative eye on the young lady sunbathing next door without her top on.
This may all be very modern but it’s not beach life as I know it. Am I alone in having a nostalgic pang for the seaside times of Bamforth’s postcards?