I started this piece with the intention of making it the fourth part of my “Devonian Sojourn” series concerning my holiday last summer but as it doesn’t relate all THAT much to that trip and I still haven’t finished it seven months later, I’ll try to make it stand on its own.
Whilst on my July 2010 holiday in the south-west of England I didn’t actually get to visit the little seaside town named in the title of this article (although I DID spend a day in Lyme Regis, which also gets a mention – so that makes it almost relevant!) but it’s a place that opens a “box” of very clear memories for me. And it is setting down the contents of such memory boxes for posterity (whether posterity likes it or not!) that is the main reason for me doing this blog in the first place. So there!
I first visited Sidmouth in Devon in the summer of 1971 when I was all of 18 years old. It was the last year that I attended the annual summer camping week with the 3rd Ipswich Boys Brigade Company. After that I grew out of going on holiday with boys until 1977 – which is another story! For this trip though I was one of the (nominal) “Supervisors” of about 30 little beasts aged from 11 to 16.
While we were in some pretty rough and ready tents and the toilet facilities had to be dug out or filled in with a shovel we DID retain the use of the coach that carried us down from Suffolk and its driver for the week, and were therefore able to go on fairly wide ranging outings along the coast.
Incidentally it’s going to be interesting watching the effect of the “tags” that I put at the end of this document as they will now have to include both “camping” and “outing” and I may well disappoint some people searching WordPress for those terms!
As you’ve probably guessed, one of the trips we took was along the coast from our base in Charmouth in Dorset and took in Lyme Regis and the aforementioned Sidmouth.
I don’t actually remember stopping in Lyme Regis but DO recall, quite clearly, driving through it in the coach. This was because of the singing!
The coach was from the pre-air-conditioning era which meant that panels making up the top quarter of each window could be slid open by the passengers for ventilation as needed and because it was a VERY hot day we had them ALL open.
As we went through a rather constricted old part of the town we happened to be having a bit of a sing-along involving some rather crude football chants and some absolutely filthy rugby songs!
And just as we got to the worst (and loudest) part of a particularly smutty offering the coach pulled up at traffic lights and a party of old people on their way from the coach park to the seafront caught the lot in their delicate little ear holes!
Our Captain and the other officers had been sitting at the front of the coach and due to engine noise and probably more than a little “selective hearing” they were giving every appearance of being completely oblivious to our musical antics. They were, however, suddenly accosted from outside by outraged senior citizens throwing sentences including words such as “filthy”, “degenerate” and “hooligans” at them!
Fortunately the lights changed, the driver made off towards more western parts of the coast and we at the back all assumed amazingly innocent expressions while trying not to laugh! Strangely, the songs we were heard to sing after that were somewhat more, shall we say, wholesome!
After crossing over from Dorset into Devon we eventually made our major stop for lunch, fresh air and exercise at the quaint seaside town of Sidmouth with its glorious red cliffs and “Olde Worlde” charm. Or, as it appeared to a bunch of 11 to 18 year olds looking for some fun, “what a dump”!
Having been dropped at the back of the town furthest from the sea we had to make our way through the centre, which seemed to be overflowing with elderly people.
Knowing exactly what WE wanted we asked a passer-by where we could find “the Amusement Park” and followed the directions given. And it tells you a great deal about the kind of “holiday resort” we were actually in when I tell you that the said “amusement park” comprised half a dozen tennis courts, two bowling greens and a cricket pitch! Not a Dodgem car or a fruit machine to be seen!
In fact it pains me to report that the bunch of us found exactly TWO things to do with ourselves during that interminable afternoon – both pretty infantile!
The first was to split into teams and form queues outside the public telephone boxes that stood on either side of the central square. This, in the days long before personal mobile phones, prevented the locals from using these facilities for quite a while and I think someone would have put a stop to it had they realised that we were each taking it in turns to call the other box!
And then when we tired of THAT super-intelligent game we headed for the beach. A couple of my contemporaries and I decided to do a spot of sunbathing and stretched out on the beach just below the promenade while the younger, more energetic horde decided to play at football hooligans! This involved tearing up and down the promenade, screaming and shouting with occasional mock brawls and punch-ups.
At some point I became aware that the nearest bench seat to us on the “prom” was occupied by an elderly couple and chatting casually to them was our noble Boys Brigade Captain, Bernie Walker. As our own little mob ranted past them chanting “We took Sidmouth!”, the old couple obviously made some sort of derogatory remark and I clearly heard Bernie’s response to them:
“Yes, it’s disgraceful! I blame the parents!”
I suppose it was the better part of valour NOT to mention that he was, at the time, the de facto guardian of the whole bunch of them!
The really weird thing was the sheer number of elderly people (by which I mean anyone 40 years or more older than 18 year old me) inhabiting that town.
And the really, REALLY weird thing is that I visited Sidmouth with Faith, my wife, in the summer of 2008 and they were STILL there; still 40 years older than me!
I swear they could easily have been the same ones that expressed their disapproval in 1971, the only “amusement park” is still of the grassy kind and the telephone boxes are still there.
Some sort of “time bubble” on the South Devon coast seems to be the only answer.