As you may have read elsewhere in this blog, my mum’s father left Norfolk for London to join the police. Though she was born in North London, my mum spent much of her childhood back in Norfolk as an evacuee and when my nan was in the sanatorium. I too spent some considerable part of my childhood in Norfolk – well only 22 weeks to be honest but it seemed like half a lifetime.
The reason was that we spent our annual family holiday staying with my Great Aunt in Gorleston. Two weeks every August – no choice of dates because although my dad was office based both the firms he worked for in those days revolved around factories and they shut down, so everyone had to take their holidays.
Gorleston, for those that don’t know it, is the gentle, older sister of Great Yarmouth on the south side of the Yare. Once in Suffolk until the Victorians reordered everything, it is much less gaudy than glittering Yarmouth but a jewel in Norfolk’s crown. Don’t tell everyone but Gorleston beach is one of the best in the country.
I was born in the summer of 1963 and we didn’t go away that year so my first trip to Gorleston would have been the summer of 1964. In those early days my dad didn’t drive – he cycled to work at Websters in Waltham Cross or got the bus in the worst of winter. So to go to Gorleston we went by train.
Once upon time Great Yarmouth had no less than three railway terminus but the first, Beach Station, closed in 1959. We started out taking the train to Southtown Station but Saturday traffic along the Southtown Road was so heavy we later went into Lowestoft and were picked up by a family friend. At one point you could get a train right into Gorleston but they shut that line too. Whichever route we took, I was as excited as you could be. I loved travelling on trains in those days. Nowadays I avoid public transport with all my might. I had four years of commuting into London daily (I know, I know, some of you have probably commuted for 30 years) and that was more than enough for me. If I do ever catch the train from Norwich to London now, that last half mile as you approach Liverpool Street, though much has changed, still evokes a very happy memory in me.
And those holidays were such happy times. My Aunt Flo was a lovely lady. Widowed in 1957, her late husband Tom Styles was a local councillor with a special interest in education from whom the Styles School was named shortly after his death. She always had a dog. I remember Fly, a black and white mongrel, Gay the Mexican Chihuahua, and Heidi a miniature schnauzer who came to live with us when my aunt died. Gay went everywhere with aunt Flo. When we were up and out and about at stately homes and other amusements aunt Flo would be with us and Gay would be hidden in her shopping bag. I don’t ever remember her being caught and evicted.
We obviously spent a considerable amount of time on the beach. We walked there of course. We might hire a windbreak and a couple of deckchairs but more than likely we would just lay out a few towels. More often than not we would be sat there in our plastic macs too. Do you remember those semi-translucent coloured macs so popular in the sixties.
If not on the beach we might go off somewhere but it would have to be on a bus route. Kessingland Wildlife Park is now the full-grown Africa Alive but then it was a small, almost shoddy, little zoo. I remember a mynah bird in the car park that said “Ave you got a loight boy?” No-one else I speak to does. Who knows?
And of course we would go across the river to Yarmouth. I think this was mostly in the evenings. Gorleston had amusement arcades, the fabulous outdoor swimming pool, the best ice cream in the world at Della Spinna, so met our daytime needs quite well. Yarmouth though had the theatres. We used to walk there too. Set out early evening and walk alongside the river on the Gorleston side until you got to one the ferries. I think it was the lower ferry aka the Birds Eye ferry as in the daytime it took dozens of workers across from Gorleston to the Birds Eye factory on the South Denes. I may be getting my ferries in a muddle. I remember it being a motor boat maybe 20 feet long. Took 20 odd people at a time including a few bikes. I think the fare was 2 old pence. I could Google this but it doesn’t really matter.
Then we would walk along the river on the Yarmouth side before cutting in to the town or the sea front. There was a theatre on Britannia Pier, the Aquarium at the end of the Golden Mile and others along the promenade itself but it is the ABC I remember most. A beautiful building (It reminded me of a giant old-fashioned wireless or a jukebox) long since ripped asunder. We saw Freddie and the Dreamers there one year. I remember them doing this sketch with them sitting in a car on stage using back projection to look as if they were moving. The following year R!lf H#rr@s did essentially the same gag but he was in a wheelchair with one leg in plaster.
After the show we would go to the market. Even at that hour (10pm) the chip stalls were still open and doing great business. We had our portion of Great Yarmouth chips. They were – and still are – the best chips in the world. Sorry veggie friends but it’s because they are fried in beef dripping.
After that it was to the bus stop to get a number 8 blue bus back to Gorleston. In those days all the buses carried the name of a character from David Copperfield (which Dickens set in the area) and we had great fun guessing which bus we might get.
My aunt died in the spring of 1975, quite suddenly. I was devastated (As was my mum). It is the first time I remember feeling grief even though I had lost close relatives before. That year we booked a caravan in Dorset. It was OK! The following year we went away with other family to Pontins at Camber Sands. It was OK! The following year we booked a chalet in Norfolk. We were happy again!
22 weeks isn’t long in the scheme of things but it was long enough to lay down some incredibly happy, indelible memories. Much as I am nostalgic I can usually keep the past and present in their correct places but, oh, what I would sacrifice to just go back to those glorious summers in Gorleston for a few more hours.