A day trip was the nearest thing to a holiday many kids could look forward to in the fifties.
Since 1836, when John Jennison opened his Pleasure Gardens, Mancunians have flocked to Belle Vue. Our journey there was not as simple as today’s car ride. We had a fair walk, followed by two buses. Transferring from one vehicle to another, we must have looked like refugees about to cross the Gobi desert.
Dad hefted the pushchair. Weighing a couple of stone, its only concession to transportability was a fold-down handle. Mum carried her handbag, the baby, plus all the changing paraphernalia, including wet nappy bags (no disposables then). My burden could be macs and/or umbrellas, and a bag with stuff like damp cloths and sticking plasters.
Our first port of call was generally the zoo. The animals were interesting, though their welfare left a lot to be desired. I’m still haunted by the memory of the famous polar bear as he paced around that stark enclosure.
My parents paid up for rides and ice creams. But Mum wasn’t going to stand in a long queue for over-priced food and drink when a few butties and a (glass) bottle of ‘mineral’ would hardly be noticed amongst our survival gear.
The Belle Vue memory I do cherish is gliding at treetop level on the Scenic Railway. The cost – and long queues – were drawbacks for rides like the Caterpillar. Those ‘free’ fake ruins we loved to play on must have been a godsend for parents.
For something farther away than Belle Vue, an enterprising neighbour might organise a coach trip to the seaside. The whole street would set off for the day, and if it was Blackpool, it might even include the illuminations.
Local newsagents acted as booking offices and designated collecting points for day excursions. Outside the paper shop, kids would compete to be the first to spot the ‘chara’ approaching at its maximum permitted speed of 30mph!
Special clothing for leisure activities didn’t exist then. The small crowd of women would be in ordinary dresses, light coats, nylon stockings and comfortable footwear as they waited for the coach. And if not actually in their Sunday best, kids would be respectably dressed. I would have my hair in two plaits with ribbons and a couple (or more) hair slides. My outfit would be a candy striped frock or similar, white socks, and leather or newly whitened canvas sandals.
Adults and children held diametrically opposed theories for what constituted the perfect day trip. All kids wanted was to get cracking with buckets and spades, while adults deluded themselves that the farther the destination, the more exciting the outing (a notion that would soon be dispelled).
About 10 minutes into any journey by train or coach, there would be a plaintive chorus of “are we nearly there?” or “I’m starving, can we eat our butties yet?”
My personal exception to the distance versus enjoyment ratio was New Brighton, where half the pleasure lay in the train and ferry to get there.
Deckchair hire was an expense, so to keep costs down, a decision had to be made about the fewest number they could manage with. Then someone was nominated to fetch the tea tray. A deposit of 10 shillings secured a pot of tea, milk, sugar and the required amount of thick white cups and saucers to be taken onto the beach. By the time the tray arrived, we kids would have discovered what delights the greaseproof paper packets held. Whatever the filling, sandwiches were invariably warm, soggy and sandy.
Where underclothing was concerned, mum made no concession to season or location. Modesty demanded my dress doubled as a changing tent. Vest, underskirt and navy knickers had to be removed under it, before wriggling into that elasticated pea-green swim suit.
Southport was our favourite seaside destination, so unless there was a sudden downpour, those ghastly swimming costumes never got wet. We loved the Peter Pan (later Happydays) playground in Southport. Grandad could usually be pestered into taking us there before he settled down to read the newspaper, with his trouser legs rolled up and a knotted hankie on his head.
Disposable plastic and electronic games devices were unknown. Back then, we set out with little more than a few sandwiches in greaseproof paper and a couple of comics for the kids, and lived to tell the tale.