Boiling hot, I know, so I hope you’re reading this somewhere shady and have got plenty of Factor 50 on your bits. No-one wants chapped lips. Whilst we are recovering from our book launch, we’re resting the food recipes for another week or so. I’m thoroughly enjoying having an opportunity to practice my writing hence the longer but less frequent posts, but given we always get such good feedback on our holiday entries, I shall continue with them. A favour though! I really would love your comments and feedback – did it make you laugh? Is the writing style nice and clear? That sort of thing. I know it’s a lengthy blog entry but you know me, when I get going I really go. I really do love hearing from you all, so please don’t be shy. Regular readers of the blog: the food recipes are coming back, I promise. But until then, let’s continue with part two of our recent mince around the UK, with our overnight stay in Blackpool. Enjoy!
When we last spoke, you left Paul and I as we embezzled a free anniversary pudding and settled in for the night, with a plan to rise early and make our way down to Blackpool. The original plan of course was to walk alpacas around the edge of Derwent Water whilst we screamed and slipped – standard – but the inclement weather had put paid to that. Still, Blackpool would surely provide the chance to be spat at by some blonde with badly-spaced teeth, so it was a good plan B. We were just settling down to bed when Paul asked, unusually coyly, whether I had seen the toiletries bag. I confirmed that I had indeed seen the bag and had even left it next to his toothbrush so before we set off on our road trip, he could pop his toothbrush into the bag and then he could put the toiletries bag into our rucksacks. It was an effortlessly simple plan and one I was terribly proud of.
However, it relied on Paul being attentive, and that’s where it fell down. Our toiletries bag, to the surprise of none, was still on our bathroom windowsill at home. We laughed and shook our heads at each other in a way that hopefully conveyed how much I wanted to defenestrate the forgetful sod, then made to go to sleep. Him wondering whether he could go a whole week without his vitamins, me agonising over whether I had enough aftershave to get me through the next few days without reverting to my normal state of smelling like a horse’s arse. Despite our woes we slept well and were on the road by 9am, having decided against breakfast as neither of us wanted to be the only ones sitting there expectantly whilst the chef cursed us for ruining his early finish. I like my toast with Marmite, not ire and spittle.
We managed about five minutes of happy motoring over the hills before we turned a corner to be met with a sea of sheep in the single track road, with a very obvious hole in the wall to the left where they were all merrily spilling out of and a barbed wire fence on the other. Have no fear, I said, telling Paul that I could sharp corral the sheep back into the field with no trouble at all, having read at least three James Herriot books when I was a youngster, but he seemed doubtful. I further explained that sheep can tell the difference between a frown and a smile and so gentle encouragement and a flash of my teeth would be all that was required to put them back where they needed to be.
Almost goes without saying that my approach didn’t work. As I carefully cajoled a few of them back through and turned my attention back to the ones in the road, the rescued sheep decided they needed to see if the stragglers were having a nice time and came back through. I thought I’d cracked it after five minutes or so with a good three quarter of the little buggers returned only to spot that the sheep were now pouring out from an open gate a hundred or so meters down the road. I’d have had more success trying to sieve water. I returned to the car with thin lips – Paul having the good sense to keep quiet – and drove past very gingerly whilst they did everything in their power to try and get under the wheels.
Yeah you better run, you painted whores!
We made progress for about another half a mile when we crested a hill only to be met with another road full of sheep and not a farmer or a sheepdog in sight. This time I simply put the car in reverse and drove, a mite testily, backwards until the previous junction, where I set off in the opposite direction and decided to let Waze sort me out. Happily, after spending a couple of minutes of it deliberating whether we wanted Blackpool in Lancashire or Blackpool in the Yellowstone National Park, it got us back on the right road. When we next return to the Lakes I’ll strap a bottle of Colman’s Mint Sauce on the front of my car to show them I mean business.
With no further ovine calamities befalling us, we made it to Blackpool in good time, with a mere three stops at the services to break up the 100 mile drive. Paul shares the same love of services as I do so never grumbles even if we’ve only been on the road ten minutes before I need to stop for a wee and a snack. Tebay Services is on the way to Blackpool and always worth a stop, if only so you can sit and people-watch for a while. It always amazes me how busy these places are – which I know sounds like a trite and obvious observation, but where are they all going? All these people with cars and families and children and plans all have a home, somewhere to be, things to do, a job. So many little stories to be mined and discovered and because I’m an inherently nosy person, I want to know all the details. Then you start wondering about how many degrees of separation lie between you and the mother smacking her kids’ legs for wanting sweets or the old couple who have taken seven minutes at the till to figure out the contactless payment or the lorry driver who looks as though he slept once last year and didn’t care for the experience. Of course this is all entirely moot because the answer is I know them all personally from overtaking them doing 35mph on the slip road rejoining the motorway.
So, Blackpool then. It’s a place that divides opinion for sure. If you look online – particularly in threads about the ‘worst places in the UK’, it is often mentioned as being a dying town full of people itching to cause trouble at the slightest provocation. Indeed, Bill Bryson, my favourite author, took a very strong dislike to the place in Notes From A Small Island, although amongst his complaints he did give us the killer line: ‘well, all I can say is that Blackpool’s illuminations are nothing if not splendid, and they are not splendid.’ – I’d kill to be that cutting. I, however, unashamedly and unapologetically love the place.
If you go to Blackpool expecting fanciness and class you’re going to be sorely disappointed, it is true. By way of illustration, as we parked the car at the station car-park there was a woman hunkered down behind the wall having a big steamy piss with little effort made to either hide what she was doing nor where the frankly endless stream was spitting out of. She looked like an old tractor whose engine had overheated in the sun. As welcomes to a town go, it is certainly below a cheery planter full of chrysanthemums and yet somehow above those patronising signs that say ‘thank you for driving carefully’, which I always think is a touch presumptuous – but then I don’t like any welcome that makes me look up from my phone when I’m speeding along: it’s just careless.
And, certainly, there are parts of Blackpool where I keep one hand on my wallet and the other on Paul’s shoulder lest we get mugged and I need to push him in front of me as a sacrifice, but there’s places like that in every single town and to suggest otherwise is a failure of observation. We all know a pub where you go in through the door and leave out the window. Unless, of course, you live somewhere like Chalfont St. Giles, but then you have the permanent trouble of living somewhere that sounds like cockney rhyming slang for haemmorhoids, so it’s take with one hand and give with the other.
No, I love Blackpool. It is unpretentious, welcoming, full of things to do and – perhaps most importantly – full of people there to have fun. If you walk around with a stick up your arse it’ll sharp be taken out whereas if you go for a good time without expecting too much, you’ll thoroughly enjoy yourself. Long time readers will remember that Paul and I had a similar epiphany about Benidorm: snooty as all out when we hadn’t been, but then fell in love with the place upon visiting. One thing I especially like about Blackpool is the people living there: good-natured people who don’t take things too seriously. If you’ll forgive a whorey cliché a hoary cliché, Northerners are indeed more welcoming, and apparently none more so than those who want to flog you a pint for £1.90 or a bag of broken rock to pull your fillings out. This is my third time in Blackpool, having visited twice previous with a mate, but Paul came in with only what he had seen on ‘Bargain Loving Brits in Blackpool’. If you’re using a Channel 5 docusoap as a measure of a place you’d be forgiven for gritting your teeth well in advance, but he was excited. Anything for a Kiss Me Quick hat, that boy.
Doesn’t look like Paris to me
After taking an hour or so to look around the big Tesco to replenish our toiletries – me with toothpaste and deodorant, Paul for some Deep Heat to try and fix the cold shoulder he was getting from me, we went to check in at Hotel 33 on Dickson Road. The owner was a lovely chap who seemed unusually delighted to welcome us to his B&B, though there was no breakfast, so really only a B, but if I said we had joined him in bed you’d get the wrong idea. As it happens I did toy with checking us into one of the more…adult B&Bs in the area but decided against it. We’re too old for that sort of schtick I feel – these days if someone poked their erection through a hole in the bathroom door I’d be liable to hang a towel off it. If the towel stayed put then perhaps I’d schedule him back for later. No, all we need these days is somewhere to get our head down rather than our head up, and this place was fine. Very clean, a good shower and a bed that didn’t have a crust on the mattress. I’d previously stayed at Mardi Gras (amazing) and Boulevard (like someone delivered a hotel meant for St Ives to entirely the wrong town) but a change is as good as a rest. That and Boulevard had recently contacted me to proudly announce they’d just hosted Priti Patel for the evening. As allurements for a return visit go that’s like sending me an email to say every bed has been freshly shat in and the bathroom suites had been replaced with showers that dispense nails at the speed of sound, so I unsubscribed.
We immediately drank the free hot chocolate, scattered some milk on the floor out of those tiny UHT pods and shared the one Lotus Biscoff biscuit that had been given. I don’t know when Lotus Biscoff biscuits replaced those Walkers Shortbread White Chocolate and Raspberry cookies as the biscuit of choice in hotels but I’m not happy. In fact, I blame Alex Polizzi. Too busy looking for pubes on the toilet seat to care for us fatties wanting a more substantial snack.
Paul had booked us to do the Dungeon Escape Room in the – you guessed it – Blackpool Dungeons, under the tower. According to their own email we weren’t due to start until 1.30pm so we set off to have a look around the arcades. You can imagine our surprise then when we received a call at 1.10pm from someone quite aggressively asking where we were and that we were ten minutes late. Forever polite, Paul apologised profusely for their mistake, and we minced (Paul) and waddled (me) to the dungeon. I showed the email to the person on the front desk who looked at it as one might look at a spread of dog shit on a fancy shoe and we agreed as a trio that although their email had specifically said 1.30pm, we were clearly idiots for not understanding this actually meant 1pm. I mentioned that by that metric they could expect a five-star review later and by that I actually meant a one-star review. Actually I didn’t, because I’m British and cowardly, so I just seethed a little.
The escape room wasn’t bad by any stretch – it just wasn’t great. Lots of puzzles and an interesting final dynamic but when your room requires lots of reading on the wall, it might be an idea to provide a torch. I’m of an age where I squint reading things on my phone at full brightness – asking me to ascertain a knight’s lineage by the gentle glow of a fire exit sign isn’t going to happen. That said, we never got stuck for long thanks to the clue system which didn’t so much guide us when we were stuck as walk us through each puzzle before we had a chance to consider our options. I’m not suggesting for a second that the Escape Mistress was trying for an early finish but boy was she keen. At one point I stopped to tie my shoelace and was expecting ‘TIE ONE LOOP AROUND THE OTHER AND PULL, YOU FAT USELESS BASTARD’ to flash up on the screen. We finished with half an hour to spare and were bustled out of the room like they were evacuating due to fire. Thank god for that exit sign.
It turns out we weren’t quite finished. Paul, possibly suffering from a bout of scrapie from our sheep encounter, had also booked us to do the dungeon experience. When I asked why he looked panicked and said it had all happened so fast, but we had no time to make an escape as we were shepherded into a holding pen. Where we were the only people. Can you think of anything worse than being the sole focus of a range of actor’s attentions for an hour whilst they screamed and shrieked and hollered at you? Because frankly I couldn’t. We waited to see if anyone else would turn up and thankfully, at the very last moment, they did, just as someone descended from the ceiling in a Grim Reaper costume and a cloud of Rightguard Xtreme. Even better: it was a family of four with two young children so you know who would be singled out for jokes and ‘hilarious’ skits.
Yep, me. I got asked to pretend I was a grave-digger at one point, which necessitated wailing. Then in the fake courtroom, I got put on trial for bashing the bishop too often, which required a bit of bawdy back and forth. Then, perhaps the most awkward part: I was asked to be the victim whilst a genuinely fit man explained how reprobates were tortured back in the day. Imagine my distress as someone made to trouble my nipples with a set of pliers and threatened me with a red hot poker. Had the family not been there I’d have asked for a safe-word and a rag soaked with poppers but instead we kept it family friendly whilst Paul absolutely pissed himself at my obvious discomfort. He’s lucky: Paul didn’t get selected for anything other than holding the door open for one of the actors to nip out for a cigarette.
You know what though: it was really fun. I mean yes, naff as all outdoors, but rather like Blackpool itself, if you don’t go in all cynical and trying to be clever and ‘too cool for this’, you’ll have a good time. The actors were giving it their all, some of the effects were decent and the tiny drop ride at the end elicited a little scream from one of us. Not me though: I was too busy eyeing up the lad who strapped me in to pay much attention and it was over before it had really begun. They are a bit cheeky calling it a drop ride given it ‘plummets’ about five foot, though I appreciate when you are Paul’s height that must feel like jumping off the Eiffel Tower. The whole experience including the escape room took around two hours – probably only ninety minutes to most but there was a section with mirrors where we obviously lost time as I gazed appreciatively at myself from every conceivable angle – and for £52 all-in it wasn’t bad value at all. Escaped twice over, we went for a wander down the promenade.
A giant dick
Look how happy he is!
One of the benefits about visiting Blackpool that they don’t mention in their marketing is that your trousers will never sag with carrying too much change. Everywhere you turn there’s an opportunity to throw your coins into something. In the arcades you can waste a few quid trying to win a teddy so old you wouldn’t be surprised to find a packet of Pall Mall strapped to the other side. Walking down the street you’ll be spoilt for choice for chip, sweet and tat shops (not always all three at once but I’m fairly sure I spotted one business offering it all). You can buy sticks of rock shaped like giant dicks, rock that tastes like weed, ashtrays shaped like a massive pair of tits, and my personal favourite, a gigantic stick of rock that when sucked, revealed the word ‘C*NT’ in giant letters. I’m censoring that purely so this doesn’t post doesn’t get stopped by any over-zealous filters, though I assure you the word wasn’t CENT. There are blokes trying to encourage groups of tiddly-squiff ladies onto horse-drawn carriages as they walked past, although I noted that Paul and I weren’t asked, presumably because we didn’t provide them the opportunity of a growler-flash as we climbed aboard. The injustice never ends. There’s even a few caravans / huts / repurposed electricity substations that promise you the opportunity to have your future read by a ‘Medium to the Stars‘, with photos of those very same stars in black and white on the side of the hut. Now I don’t know about you but whenever I see that half of X-Factor’s Eton Road endorse a product, I know it’s going to be quality. I do wonder though, if I had the gift of clairvoyance, whether I’d be using my gift to rinse tourists out of a tenner a pop on the promenade or picking out the winning lottery numbers and nicking off to Marbella. Still, not for me to reason why.
Amongst all of the rides and attractions we came to my absolute favourite and something that Paul and I have been looking for ever since experiencing it in Scarborough a decade ago: Prize Bingo. You know those old bingo games where you have a pair of boards with little curtains you pull across to hide the numbers as they are called? Here it was, and for only 10p a board. A proper little slice of seaside nostalgia right there. Back when I was a child, my parents would take my sister and me up to Seahouses on a Saturday afternoon. Overcome with the generosity afforded by the happiness of having somewhere sunnier to smoke, they would press a few quid into our hands and tell us to go entertain ourselves whilst they did adult things like fishing and eating winkles. Steady. After we had rinsed the 2p machines by bumping into them and bought ourselves some chips, my sister and I would end up in the prize bingo above the chip shop where we would spend an hour or two excitedly trying to amass enough tokens for a teasmaid or a crystal dolphin or some other tatty ephemera that would delight for moments. We never did manage that – think the sum total of our wins was probably a Wham bar and a lecture off my mam for wasting money – but the memory is a happy one. That prize bingo place is a sea-facing apartment now, because of course it is. When Paul and I played Prize Bingo in Scarborough twenty years later we won a pack of microfibre cloths and we were glad of it – so could we replicate the thrills here?
This was taken on the first trip, before chaos ensued. And look at Paul’s watch!
Absolutely we could. Honestly, of all the good things in Blackpool, this is probably my new favourite. It isn’t the drama of almost getting a line and then having it snatched away from me at the last minute – I’ve become accustomed to that – but rather how unbelievably seriously some of the old guard take it. Bear in mind you’re playing to win a token, and said token might be banked and eventually cashed in to exchange for something that you’d find in one of those Kleeneze catalogue-o-shites that used to be posted through the door, there’s not much to victory. But in the hour or so we saw it all – grumblings about a favourite seat being taken, actual swearing when someone called house, the drama of running out of 10p coins and not having enough chance to catch the old fella with the change machine before the next round started, the lot. There’s an old joke: ‘how do you get forty old ladies to shout fuck – get one to shout house’ which absolutely applied here. Even the bingo calls were old-fashioned – none of this ‘your place or mine, 69’ nonsense.
We somehow managed to keep our composure and ended up winning a token. As we are savvy we banked it into our wallet in case we ever came back – why waste it on a pencil sharpener shaped like an anus when you can put it towards a cup that says ‘I Beat The Millennium Bug’ with a centimetre-thick rim of dust, after all. We actually came back the next day when it was far busier on our way back from the Pleasure Beach and caused a genuine scene: Paul, despite his best concentration face (imagine a squirrel trying to solve a tricky jigsaw), managed to mishear a number and called house incorrectly. Well, octogenarian anger ensued: the ripple of annoyance that someone who hadn’t witnessed the Second Boer Way first-hand had won (“never seen him before”, “he’s not taking it seriously”, “bet he doesn’t struggle for a piss at 3am”) which was accompanied by them clattering their boards to reset them…only to be then told the call was invalid and the game was continuing.
You could have cut the atmosphere with a knife, you really could. See you’re told not to reset your board until the call is confirmed so it was entirely their own fault, but fucking hell – you’d have thought he had got up and stuck a bingo ball up his arse the way they were carrying on. Amid a sea of barely-whispered complaining and enough venom in the air to make the hair in my ears crinkle, the game continued.
Paul called house – correctly – on the very next number.
We decided there and then not to stop to cash our tokens in: partly because we thought we ought to let someone else win, partly because I didn’t fancy us getting shived by the sharp end of a walking cane and pushed into the Irish sea.
We spent the rest of the day in the arcades and farting about on the beach, then got changed and headed out for drinks. I’ll say this: Monday night on the Blackpool gay scene doesn’t really do the place justice. That’s not to say we didn’t have a good time, we really did, but everywhere seemed to shut down at 10 bar Sapphires and that looked one spilled drink away from a dance-off and someone coming in to hold a meat raffle. Now in their defence I’ve been a couple of times previous and it’s been an adventure then, so perhaps it was just an off night. At Mardi Gras we attracted the town drunk who seemed insistent on staying with us until I mentioned that I work in law. I think he took that as me being a policeman rather than the truth of photocopying deeds in a law firm but either way he buggered off into the night to have a scrap with a postbox. For the record the best bar is The Flying Handbag because it has decent music, lots of space and more importantly for two gay blokes who have started making appreciative noises when afforded a chance to sit down, plenty of seating. Plus it’s called The Flying Handbag for goodness sake, and if that isn’t the best name for a gay venue I don’t know what could be. Until I open my own seedy sweatbox nightclub called ‘Gape’ that is. We finished the night eating terrible takeaway in bed.
Having time of us life xoxox
We checked out early the next day, Paul taking special care to ensure he had left his coat in the wardrobe, and took our bags to the car. Blackpool Pleasure Beach was our next destination. I’m not going to prattle on about theme parks because lord knows I need to save some content for the Thorpe Park entries, but I’ll say this: it was brilliant. We had managed to get a cheap deal on the tickets using our Tesco Clubcard points but even without a discount it would have been excellent value for money. I will confess that for a few days beforehand I was nervous because it has been a long time since I had been on a rollercoaster. I used to be absolutely terrified of them but then, somewhat rashly, booked Paul and I a Florida holiday many, many moons ago. I remember standing in front of The Incredible Hulk – and Paul was standing in front of a rollercoaster – and trying to decide which would win: my phobia of rollercoasters or my Geordie stinginess of not wanting to waste money. My tight-arsed nature won in the end and I’m so glad it did for I now absolutely adore rollercoasters. I actually gave myself heart arrhythmia from riding Manta too many times. Nothing scares me as long as I’ve got a restraint and a bad attitude. However, as I said, it’s been such a long time since I was on a coaster that I wasn’t sure that bravado would still be there. Plus, getting old aren’t we: I imagined every ride finishing with me stumbling around with the balance in my inner-ear swirling like a draining bath.
Needn’t have worried though: we did them all and they were amazing. We did ease ourselves in entirely accidentally by jumping on the first rollercoaster we saw on the map, the Nickelodeon Blue Flyer. Upon joining the queue and seemingly being between two Year 3 classes out for their summer break we realised it wouldn’t quite be the white-knuckle experience we had anticipated, but it was a good bit of fun. Looking on the Blackpool Pleasure Beach website it is listed as ‘Kid’s First Coaster’ which I think sums it up. I was just glad Paul had remembered his Dora The Explorer rucksack so we didn’t look too out of place. Next was Avalanche where I spent most of the queue asking Paul whether it actually ran on a track or if it was just a free-rolling ride. He confirmed it was the former rather than the latter so you can imagine my delight when I realised this wasn’t the case. I’m fine with rides but, call me old-fashioned, I do like being fixed to the actual track. Paul may have lost weight but we’re still a hefty amount combined and I had visions of the car hitting a banked corner and sending us flying into the Irish Sea. Happily, that didn’t happen. Revolution was a lot of fun – the scariest part of that is waiting in the queue high up in the wind. By this point I was getting fussy because I wanted to ride The Big One – to be fair, it’s been a couple of months and I miss it – so we joined the queue there.
See? It’s big.
The Big One, of course, is the rollercoaster everyone knows at Blackpool – the absolutely massive steel coaster that takes you up around 230ft and then drops you down. I passed the time in the queue rubbing Paul’s sunscreen in (he applies it as though he’s Jackson Pollock then forgets to do all the important bits like his ears or his entire body) and reading facts about the rollercoaster. All very dry facts so I won’t bother you with them here but I did spot a story about the ride breaking down right at the top of the lift hill which necessitated the evacuation of the riders down the absolutely tiny flight of stairs to the side of the track. Fuck. That. I’m alright with heights as long as I’m strapped in / jumping off something but walking down a tiny flight of stairs made from mesh metal? Nee chance. I advised Paul that if this happened we would be living on that rollercoaster until they managed to get it going again, whether we were talking an hour or a year. Looking at the online video I don’t even think you get clipped into a harness – which is probably for the best as getting me into a harness is like wrangling a horse into a t-shirt – and I just couldn’t do it.
The ride didn’t break down and it was well worth the anxiety, although I do think once the big drop has happened the rest of the ride isn’t all that and a bag of chips. The rest of the park was great fun: Icon is an amazing coaster that knocks Rita at Alton Towers into a tin-hat, and Infusion saved me any amount of money on getting a chiropractor as it knocked my spine in and out of alignment. We took in the Tunnel of Love and Paul was delighted when he thought I was trying to hold his hand. Sadly not, I just wanted the Smints from his pocket. Even the Ghost Train was good fun – all proper creaking effects and hissing airbrakes – though we were more excited for Derren Brown’s Ghost Train at Thorpe Park. I’m sure that won’t disappoint, no no.
I’ll leave you with what I consider to be the scariest ride in the park – the bloody Steeplechase. How that is allowed I have no idea. I’m sure it is perfectly safe but when you’re sat on a metal horse and careering around a track at quite the lick with your husband hanging on for dear life, it definitely gives you the fear. I had to have two ice-creams to calm down. ACTUALLY no! This is the most terrifying thing in the park.
This can actually go die in a fire. Except it didn’t burn in the actual fun-house fire, it survived and they kept it. Why? Lord knows. But it is AWFUL.
But all in all, a lovely day and one I can certainly recommend if you like a theme park. It hasn’t got the showmanship of the big parks but unlike Alton Towers you don’t need to walk eight miles between rides. Plus, if you go at the right time, the queues are entirely manageable – we didn’t fastpass a single ride. Didn’t need to. There’s enough variety of rides to keep everyone interested and there’s more than enough to fill a full day out.
We walked back to the car, taking a long detour back to the hotel to pick up Paul’s coat, and then we were off to our next destination: Liverpool. Until then…
Hope you enjoyed! As ever, would love feedback!