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Wednesday 9 November 2022

"There's a famous seaside place called Blackpool..."



                                The Albert and the Lion pub and Tower


The opening line of the monologue, made famous by Stanley Holloway, ‘The Lion and Albert’ and written by Marriott Edgar.  I should know as I’ve taken to closing my ‘Pictures of an Exhibition’ talk with a rendition of this (for reasons which will become clear if you come along to one of the Talks some time 😊 )  The following line is “that’s noted for fresh air and fun”, which I’ve always regarded, perhaps unfairly, as being somewhat dubious.  However, the proof of the pudding and all that, so when my wife suggested we should take a short break and see the Blackpool Illuminations, I put aside my doubts and agreed to give it a go.

You know that expression that goes ‘if something appears to be too good to be true, it probably is’?  Well, I really should have taken that on board when we were searching for somewhere to stay.  We cast around for some time on one of the online booking sites and kept hitting problems with the possible options.  They were either (a) booked up, or (b) had vacancies but dire reviews, or (c) had vacancies and good reviews but nowhere to park (which seems to be a common problem with Blackpool, probably because most of the properties were built in an age when the motor car was a niche concern).  We finally came across an option (d), vacancies, great reviews, just off the Front and an unbelievable price.  It still didn’t have anywhere to park but, what the heck, it was dirt cheap!  We couldn’t believe our luck!  We trawled through all of the reviews and they were overwhelmingly positive and gushed with praise for the hosts and the standard of the breakfast.  We checked the on-site pictures, which showed a basic but contemporary and nicely decorated establishment and all of the reviews had remarked on the standard of cleanliness.  The main aspect was the price – just £90 for three nights for the room and breakfast!  £15 each per night!  How could you turn down such value?

Armed with our booking, we set off yesterday (Tuesday, 8th November) for our autumnal break.  I had a certain foreboding about the whole venture, which wasn’t helped as we set off in a torrential downpour.  After a slog up the M6 (which can’t be anyone’s idea of fun) we finally landed in Blackpool just as dusk was beginning to fall.  We found our venue but had to drive around the block a couple of times to find a sliver of on-street parking, so that we could off-load our luggage.  It has to be said that driving around the back streets of Blackpool is not an enervating experience.  Blackpool has a somewhat ‘Potemkin Village’ quality to it, in that the Front is exactly what you would expect from a premier British seaside resort but the streets leading off it leave a lot to be desired.

After spending a fraught few minutes doing my ‘reverse parking’ bit, generally known as my ‘Reginal Molehusband’ moment (do you remember that Government Information film from years ago?) I was perhaps not in the best frame of mind as we heaved our bags from the car and marched along the wet pavements to our hotel.  Clutching my phone, on which I had the email instructions as to how to access the front door and the door to our room (there being no staff present at that time in the afternoon) we negotiated our way past the key pad and entered the hall way.  This was somewhat less than impressive, being a narrow corridor with various anonymous doors off and a steep flight of stairs to the right.  The sign indicated that our room would be up these stairs.  Three flights of extremely steep and narrow stairs later* we finally came across our room, which was at the very top of the property.

There are many reactions you can have when first entering a hotel room.  The one you hope for is joy and excitement, which usually stems from the room offering far more than you anticipated.  This rarely happens, but it’s nice (and memorable) when it does.  More often the standard British phrase that springs to the lips is “Well, this’ll do, won’t it?”, which usually means that it actually matches what you had expected, perhaps even a little more so.  What you don’t want is that feeling of your heart sinking.  Our hearts sank at a rate that would have given the Titanic pause for thought.

I think the best, and most accurate description of the room would be…depressing.  It was a narrow room with two single beds, one placed at either end, the bedding on these looked as if it had been chosen in the 1960s and no-one had heard a convincing reason to change it in the interim. At the far end of the room was a net-curtained window looking out onto the roofs and backs of the properties behind.  To the right of the window was the en-suite facility, which consisted of a hand basin with a soap dispenser (devoid of soap), a toilet and a shower cubicle.  Above the bed nearest the window, was a very small flat screen TV, that had been attached to the wall at a crazy angle.  My wife and I put our bags down and surveyed our surroundings.  The light outside was falling rapidly and our room was dimly illuminated by an overhead light which cast a yellow pall over our accommodation.  Presumably, if the photos of the establishment were to be believed, this was what you got if you only paid £30 per night.

We faced each other, glumly, and tried to second-guess the other’s reaction.  In an effort to instil a degree of optimism, and as a first bid in what I guessed would be our subsequent negotiation, I pointed out that “there’s a hairdryer down there on the side table, we weren’t expecting that!”  The hotel information had advised that a hairdryer could be provided on request and, as no self-respecting Briton would possibly be caught asking for something as effete as a hairdryer, we had brought our own.  My wife did not look as if this was the best news she had received all day.  I made another bid “I suppose I had better go and find somewhere to park the car?” I suggested, without any real hope of this being a likely scenario.  She looked miserably around the room and said “I don’t think I can stay here”.  As this had also been my gut reaction, it was with some relief that I said “Well, we won’t then”. 

There followed some frantic searching online for alternative accommodation.  Given our failure with independent hotels, I opted for the tried and trusted.  Premier Inns were sold out for miles around, which was disappointing but not unexpected at this late stage in the game but, hurrah!, there was a Travelodge, with vacancies for the night, just a hop, skip and a jump from where we were.  It was the work of a moment to book for the night and it was with slightly lighter hearts that we hauled our bags back down the steep stairs to the corridor below.

Another tour around the mean streets of Blackpool, with the rain bucketing down again, we found our home for the night.  Now we had a modern room, with a King-size bed, plenty of room and lighting, very nice en-suite facilities, a large flat screen TV and a very effective, temperature controlled, radiator.  Apart from the frustration of trying to pay online for the car park (don’t ask!) this was a huge improvement.  Admittedly, the cost of the room for the night was just £10 short of the cost of three nights at our previous accommodation but, for the sake of our sanity, it was well worth it.

We went down to get a bite to eat and a drink and plan our evening.  The bar was crowded, mostly with men, and we had a job to find a vacant table.  Behind the bar the one lad who had been manning Reception was also trying to serve a queue of people.  When it came to my turn, and I asked if I could order some food, I was told there would be a 1 hour and 15 minute wait.  Given that we hadn’t seen any alternative eating establishments in the vicinity, I said, in answer to the inevitable question “Is that alright?”, that it would have to be.  Nursing my pint at the table and reflecting on the rather unfortunate occurrences of the day, I noticed that a lot of our companions seemed to be sporting Middlesborough football scarves.  A quick check on the internet revealed that our Travelodge was directly across the road from Bloomfield Road Stadium, the home of Blackpool FC and the venue for that  evening’s match between Blackpool and Middlesborough.  In all fairness, our compatriots were no problem, apart from some fairly fruity language at times and a depressing habit of falling into football chants with little encouragement.

As the match neared its commencement, the room cleared, leaving a sea of empty glasses and bottles and our food miraculously appeared, considerably earlier than the expected hour and a quarter delay.  As we munched our burgers (the menu was a bit limited) I watched the rain splatting against the window and asked my wife if she still wanted to see the illuminations?  She said she thought she had seen enough of Blackpool for one day, so we retired to the relative warmth and comfort of our room.

The following morning, we went to breakfast as early as we could, anticipating a repeat of the previous evening’s crush, but it was much more sedate and less crowded.  I was going to say that we then packed our bags but, in all honesty, we had never unpacked them.  We confirmed with each other that we were still fine to go home and we both agreed we were.  However, I could not, in all conscience, visit a seaside resort and never see the sea.  So we put our bags in the car and marched, resolutely, seawards.  There, on the Front, we could see the Big Dipper in the distance in one direction, in the other, Blackpool Tower.  In front, a strong wind caused a grey sea to lash at the nearby promenade.  We viewed the scene, we looked at each other, we nodded and headed back to the car park.  We had done our duty, as British Citizens, and now we wanted to go back to the ‘privy of our own home’ as Benny Hill used to put it.

Unpacking later, I remarked that it’s not often you get to take half of your wardrobe on a 200+ mile journey just for the fun of it!  She gave a wry smile.  It was illuminating!

P.S. If you’re interested, Middlesborough won 3 – 0, which might explain the somewhat more sedate atmosphere at breakfast!


* I was tempted to say that we passed a mountain goat on the way up, but that would have got me into one of those off-colour jokes about always knowing when you’ve passed a mountain goat because you can’t get the toilet lid down, which I’m sure you wouldn’t have appreciated?

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