Andrew and Fleetwood 2005

The first sight of Fleetwood beach was optimistic – this looks OK we thought, no one there, parked or walking on the dunes. Then we got out of the car. Immediately we were hit by strong wind. Sand everywhere. Strange how it gets in between your teeth. Not just a fresh sea breeze, but a howler straight from Ireland. Even the grass, what there was of it, bent inland. So what did we do? We played pitch and put, links-style. Any shot above ten feet missed the target. Andrew missed it anyway with his sliced pea-roller. The greens were true and four-putting was a cinch. Round in under a hundred? Maybe, but we didn’t count. The man in the booking office smiled as if it happened all the time – two grown men playing with sticks and a ball in a gale.

It started raining then. We’ve been here two days and it hasn’t stopped. A large caravan park is a depressing sight at any time, but in the pouring rain its suicidal. Dripping roofs and standing water. Wet through before you’ve walked twenty yards. Umbrellas and storm ware. Roads resembling inland waterways. Everyone’s trying to make the best of it.

The tat-king has been at it again. Just up from the factory that makes ‘Fisherman’s Friend’ is Freeport Leisure. Let’s have a gander, might be the odd ride. Somewhere to escape the rain. It was actually a shopping centre which I immediately abandoned. Not so Andrew who returned to the car ten minutes later with golf club. Another for his collection of drivers.

Andrew likes his pint and a game of pool. But, back at the caravan park they’re playing bingo. Thirty sad gits and there’s always one who gives you a dirty look during your high five as the black hits the back of the plastic pocket with a satisfying smack.

Two pints later and the weather doesn’t seem too bad. And we murdered the Aussies at 20-20.

Waterworld and The Pleasure Beach. We brave the Blackpool rush hour traffic. How come Blackpool is so busy? And so many big houses. I walk the dog north of The North Pier. Thousands of purple-patterned jelly fish. Crunchy under-the-foot shells. The noise of surf and wind. The symmetry of an iron pier with a floor of salt-water pools and drip-puckered sand. The Tower never far away.

The dog safely back, I catch a tram from Fleetwood to Blackpool. The coastline here is mostly about getting there. All cars, buses, trams and the longest promenade. The tramway comes from an industrial museum/preservation society complete with appropriate labour practices. Each has three staff, one to drive and two to collect the money. Points are handled manually. 4 to 12 miles an hour so it took 30 minutes, time to catch the view in pre-war/1950’s comfort. Either the sea or hotels and apartments, until The Tower that is, where the tat begins.

Madame Petulengro is a gypsy clairvoyant to the stars. She has three shops/outlets/booths on The Golden Mile. How does she do that?

The Pleasure Beach is managable out of season. No queues. £20 for all day rides – only open from midday to six o’clock. Pepsimax used to be 4 tickets. It’s now 7. How do they price these things? Andrew has an Asian guy sat behind him. ‘Sheeeeeeit’, he shouted as they descend that first vertical drop. Must have been urdu.

IrnBru Revolution is one loop twice, forward and back. Forward was fine for Andrew. It was the coming back that did him. Looking at the ground, suspended upside down.

Bling, what kind of name is that for a ride? Goes in three directions at the same time. ‘I’m not going on that again,’ says Andrew. Only he did, three times, 20 minutes before closing, ‘It was the only thing still open’.

Pleasure Beach FM blares continuously.

There are gems, tucked away. A memorial garden to the victims of Dunblane. Plaques describing the history of some of the older rides. A freize of Accrington brick depicting a saucy day on Blackpool beach – by Bruch or Bruck, a well-known sculptor/ress. Considered too risky by the council for the entrance to a shopping mall.

Crowds of girls, three generation families and the odd foursome – how come there’s always a fat one and a thin one. No groups of hoods with baseball caps. Lots of far east looking – how do they look, like chinese? Everyone’s the same after a ride in the burger bar, same arm movements going down and round, impossible descents and curves.

‘Let’s go play pitch and put. I want to test drive my new golf stick’. Mercifully it was shut. Two teenage hoods with baseball caps were messing about on the course so Andrew asked how much one of their balls would be. £5. We went for a drink instead and played pool at The Steamer, a good boozer on the front at Fleetwood.

If Blackpool is gaudy, Fleetwood is sad and charming. One up from New Brighton and it’s still raining. Deserted beach and obselete ferry to Knotts End. Winos in the lee of the old lighthouse. A memorial to the trawlermen who did not come home. Matt Monro in the arcades, and the largest emptiest cafe you’ll see with a great line in breakfasts. The lady in tourist information said the ferry was reopening later in the year. How do people get there now?

A game of crown green bowls, until the rain starts again. Andrew is good at it, but bores easily. The Tower for a tenner apiece. Dinasaur ride which was dire. It’s more fun on the top of a tram. The lift to the top of the tower is worth it, though for me its purely a painful white nuckle ride. A quick look at the ballroom and it’s time for the circus. Excellent space, like the ballroom, and an excellent two hours of entertainment. One of the top act from America nearly fell off a giant wheel, smaller versions of which can be found in a gerbil’s cage. In the final water scene he really did fall off as he rode his motorbike inside a lattice sphere.

Saga holidays, wheelchairs, walking aids various and strange looking youths with mixed up hormones from day centres.

And then the shit hit the fan as we discovered the sun was out. Andrew was already nouty about the guy who fell off because he didn’t give us our tenner’s worth, but also he’d suddenly got too many choices. Go to the pleasure beach, have a barbecue and play pitch and put. As two of them were already shut and the dog needed attention, we settled on a pint overlooking The Irish Sea. Andrew tested his new stick on some beach stones and dented it. So we tried some pool, but the dog moaned and had to be banished to the car. A row about money – he hasn’t enough left for his second visit to The Pleasure Beach. Did he have to buy a stupid golf club I reminded him. Not the best comment to make. I’d lost just a little perspective – Andrew has always been good for learning about self. He recovers and I survive.

It really chucks it down then, so we do another pitch and put. The man who hands out the sticks takes pity on us and lets Andrew play with his new club. He pitches, pitches, pitches and puts, puts, puts, all with a driver. Gets it about two inches above ground and pretty straight a lot of the time. The only thing in danger is a Fleetwood tram. Shanks and tops and slices galore. He pronounces it a success. I’m soaked.

We come across The Cabin Lift – from the tram tracks to the lower promenade next to the beach. An ornate long brick vertical box which shuts when it’s too windy. Still staffed. Built in the 1890s, it’s always been council owned. Filled-in boating lake at the bottom. Just further north is the former Miners’ Home. A palace more like. It has to be the pictures when its raining this hard – Star Wars. Then a good enough meal in Spinnaker bar, a small section of Fleetwood’s The North Euston Hotel, the biggest longest emptiest hotel I’ve seen. We wave at two trawlers arriving on high tide. They wave back.

I park on tramlines in Fleetwood – a driver gives me a world weary shrug.