Oh we still like to be beside the seaside, thanks

23rd June 2006 at 01:00
I've had less experience with younger children than I should have, so when I stood in front of Year 1 at Hearsall primary in Coventry and showed them a picture of my parents on Blackpool beach, I struggled for a sensible question. "OK," I said, rubbing my hands together, as you do when you're a teacher and on uncertain ground. "OK, this was taken in 1935. How many years ago was that?"

At this, a frisson of restlessness passed among the teachers at the edge of the room and one muttered: "I think they'll find that a bit of a challenge."

Nevertheless, there was one hand raised. "Yes?" I said, full of hope that the teachers' expectations were about to be confounded. The small boy wrinkled his brow and said, slowly and gravely: "It was a long time ago."

"Correct!" I boomed triumphantly, gesturing expansively round the room. "It certainly was a long time ago." The boy beamed with pleasure, and I felt a bit like the ageing gunfighter who turns back to the saloon bar, having proved yet again that he's still got it. In truth, I'd been apprehensive at the prospect of talking to Years 1 and 2 about what it was like at the seaside when I was young. As you know, this is a topic that the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority seems quite keen on (see KS12 history, "What were seaside holidays like in the past?" and in geography "Going to the seaside").

The QCA urges schools to wheel in people with happy memories of buckets and spades, donkey rides and Punch and Judy shows. But there is a bit of a problem here for many parents and grandparents, in that children expect that you'll have had a walrus moustache and a striped knee-length costume, whereas the beach in the 1960s wasn't all that much different from today.

Luckily, I have a good selection of photographs, including the one of my parents, young and blissful, making sandcastles together. I can't look at it without going misty-eyed. Then there's me, aged about two, riding a donkey, one of my grandfather on the prom somewhere in a three-piece suit, flat cap and watch-chain, and several of my wife and her five brothers and sisters in Dead Bash Street Kids mode at Weston-Super-Mare (my future brother-in-law is wearing home-made short trousers with braces.) So I could put together a pretty decent show, all in all. We did a bit of dry-land "paddling", mimed building a sandcastle, speculated on the feeling of sand between the toes, and tiptoed painfully together over imagined pebbles. I confirmed that, yes, there was ice cream in those days and that, no, we did not go down to the water's edge in a bathing machine.

I thought I'd done pretty well - until my granddaughter in Year 2 professed to have been embarrassed by the whole affair. Ah, families...

Gerald Haigh

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