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Sunday, 1 June 2014

The Curse of the Jolly Fisherman - Part 1

This is the Derby Telegraph article for May, 2014.  

Do you remember the Jolly Fisherman excursion trains which used to run from Derby to Skegness during the Spring and Summer?  I'm sure you will remember the iconic  posters featuring a rather obese but ridiculously happy old chap in ancient seafaring gear, skipping over an impossibly sunny beach?  I think that picture calls to something deep in the soul of all Midlanders.  It speaks of the seaside and everything that we associate with it.  It conjures up images of warm, sunny days, ice cream, seafood stalls and fish and chips.  What is doesn't bring to mind, but probably should, are howling gales, driving rain and the sea so far in the distance it would confound Mo Farah to reach it.

I happened to see the advert for the excursion as I walked past Burton station one day in the early 1970s and it called to me.   I had recently started work and so had a few pounds in my pocket and thought it might be a good idea to treat my mum and my sister, Anne, to a day out at the seaside. I felt a bit guilty that Anne had not had a seaside holiday up to that point in her life.  Whilst a day trip to Skegness would hardly make a huge difference, it might be something she would enjoy.  I booked the tickets for the first excursion of the year, which might have been some time in March (you're beginning to spot the flaws in this plan already, aren't you?)

The day came and started sunny and bright.  We caught the No. 6 bus to Burton Station and this was where the problems started.  Anne, like me, was never a good traveller and the excitement of going to the seaside, combined with the rolling action of the double-decker bus, meant that as we disembarked at the top of Station Bridge, she was spectacularly ill.  I suppose the only saving grace was that it didn't happen in the bus itself.  Having cleaned things up as best we could, we hurried down to catch the connecting train from Burton to Derby. 

At Derby Station, we joined quite a throng who were waiting for this first excursion trip.  Anne, who would be about six or seven years old at the time, needed to go to the toilet.  I think mum offered to go with her, but she was confident she could manage on her own.  A few moments later the relative peace of the station platform was shattered by an ear-piercing shriek and the sound of gruff oaths being uttered.  Mum went racing into the toilet where she found Anne crying and shaking like a leaf.  It appeared that she had opened a cubicle only to find a tramp asleep. This bloke had reared up at her and yelled, causing her to shriek.  Mum went off in search of the Station Manager, who evicted the vagrant and apologised profusely, but the damage was done.  Anne, understandably, could not be persuaded back into the toilet and I was beginning to get a sense of foreboding about the whole proceedings.

The train trip to Skegness was, after that, happily uneventful.  Many of the passengers had witnessed the commotion and asked if Anne was alright after her ordeal. 

The further east we travelled, the bleaker the weather seemed to get and, at Skegness Station, we disembarked to be met by brooding clouds and a bitterly cold wind.  Along with the rest of our, by now less than merry, band, we did what the British do best and trudged seaward for no apparent reason. 

Anne (right) and little friend

Mum realised that, dressed as she was, Anne (see picture, it was pretty likely that she was wearing something like this) stood a good chance of getting chapped legs at best and hypothermia at worst.  She decided to take her to the nearest clothing store to get something more appropriate to the climatic conditions.  As it was fairly apparent to mum that the day was not turning out quite as I had hoped, she suggested that I take myself off to the nearest pub for a pint.  I didn't need telling twice!