Towards the end of my second year at Goldsmiths’ College, where I was following a teacher training course specialising in English and History, I saw the ad amongst others pinned to the student notice board. Students wanted for Summer Work in Mablethorpe: thirteen weeks, all lodging and other expenses paid. Mablethorpe? I didn’t have a clue. The library had a map.
With no other plans, thirteen weeks by the sea seemed appealing; and, having made enquiries, the pay was decent – with food and lodging thrown in, especially so. With any luck, I’d be able to save some money for the coming year. I signed on.
There were around twenty of us from all over the country, some returning for their second or third spell. We slept, most of us, in a vast dormitory room above a self-service café and restaurant facing out towards the concrete promenade, the beach and the sea, although most days you had to take the sea on trust. Our meals we collected from the café along with the customers, or, if it was after hours, cooked ourselves, with access allowed to all supplies other than the steaks.
We were part of a small empire that seemed to control much of the town’s entertainment and other facilities: dodgem cars, slot machines, hot dogs, ice creams. In particularly busy times, we would be deployed as necessary; otherwise, we each had a particular job and mine was working on the hot dog stand. Which meant helping to serve and take the cash in the afternoons and evenings and peeling a large sack of onions each and every morning. It took until Christmas for me to get rid of the smell of onions from my fingers.
Despite working long hours, we did have a reasonable amount of time off, some of which I spent strolling on the sand dunes or along the beach. I can’t remember ever walking as far as the sea for as much as a paddle, never mind a swim.
Things picked up when I got to know Shirley, who worked in a little cabin in a corner of the car park, dispensing cups of tea to travellers exhausted by the drive over from Nottingham or Doncaster. On my evenings off we went bopping to Trek Faron [Farron?] and the Unknowns – Trek a potato picker by day and singer & guitarist by night, his band a pale imitation of The Shadows – or to the local cinema, which had very desirable double seats in the balcony, though rain on the corrugated iron roof had a tendency to render the dialogue inaudible. And one day we caught the bus to Lincoln to see the Cathedral – I’d been reading Lawrence – The Rainbow & Women in Love – and been taken by his description of first seeing the spire from a great distance. Which we did.
Somehow, I managed to wangle a weekend off and arranged to meet a friend from Goldsmiths at the East Coast Jazz Festival, which was taking place a short distance up the coast at Cleethorpes. This was prime Trad Jazz time, and we ended up staying in the same B&B as Bob Wallis and His Storyville Jazzmen, who had a couple of Top 50 hits featuring Bob singing old music hall type songs in a gruff Yorkshire-inflected Cockney – “I’m Shy, Mary Ellen, I’m Shy” and “Come Along Please” – this even though their stage outfit made them out to be Mississippi riverboat gamblers.
The festival was not all traditional jazz: Tubby Hayes was on the bill, along with Bruce Turner and Johnny Dankworth, but my especial favourites were the Alex Welsh Band, joined on this occasion by the irrepressible George Melly.
There is, believe it or not, more to say about Mablethorpe, but, like the sea, that will have to wait for another day.