I’ll tell you what, regular readers of this column: I like Paris in the Spring but I prefer Cleethorpes in the Autumn. Oh yes; who needs the Eiffel Tower in the bright sunshine when you can have the Grimsby Dock Tower in the drizzle?
Who needs the Champs Elysses when you can have the Prom with a view of the distant sea making its leisurely way back to the shore like someone westering home after a night out in Wombwell?
Give me off-season Cleethorpes every time, so that’s why my wife and I decided to drive over to the Jewel of the East Coast the other day to have a stroll on the tops, stop somewhere for a cup of coffee and a slice of cake, have another stroll on the tops and then wander over to the Ocean Fish Bar for two Seniors’ Specials with mushy peas, bread and butter and cups of tea. I enjoy an espresso in a pavement café in Monmartre, but you can’t get mushy peas there. No sir. Non monsieur! I’ll spend the day here taking in the sea air that is like the finest wine you can get in the French capital and which doesn’t give you a headache or make you say daft things.
You might not have noticed this because I’m not employing CAPITAL LETTERS but I’m actually shouting these paragraphs to make sure that you can hear them over the loud and turbulent wind that threatens at any moment to frisbee the flat caps off old blokes’ heads and send them twirling onto the sands where they’re worried by a dog or three. Yes, there’s what my late mother in law would have called ‘a bit of a breeze’ today, and if this is a bit of a breeze then I’m a bit of a tap dancer.
Still, it’s Cleethorpes so you expect the bit of breeze so we stroll along the tops gazing out past the forts to the other side, where the sea goes so far out that sometimes you expect to feel it unexpectedly sneaking up behind you and soaking your walking shoes because the tide had retreated such a distance that it’s met itself coming back.
My children recall with great affection that classic volume Postman Pat’s Blustery Day where the eponymous Pat had wind-based calamities involving entire sackfuls of letters and cards being redistributed all over Greendale to hilarious effect. Well, let me tell you that, compared to our day in Cleethorpes, Postman Pat was having a calm day. A really calm day with no moving air at all. ‘It’s blustery!’ I said to my wife as we wandered towards a café but she couldn’t hear me because it was so blustery.’ I turned my voice up a few notches, projecting like I was on stage at the Royal Opera House: ‘I SAY IT’S BLUSTERY!’ With exquisite coming timing and without missing a beat, my wife replied ‘I can’t hear you. It’s too blustery.’ Yes, you’re right, it was like Abbott and Costello Go To Cleethorpes.
After the strolls and the coffee and the cake and another stroll it was time for the crowning glory of the day, the Seniors’ Specials in the Ocean Fish Bar. Yes, I know other Fish and Chip Shops are available but we like the Ocean. My favourite part of it is that the condiments come with a pair of scissors so there’s not more of the spilled Tartare Sauce down your new shirt when you try to rip into the plastic with your ageing teeth.
Suddenly we were indoors and it wasn’t blustery any more; suddenly all you could hear was the clinking of the knives and forks and the snipping of sachets of red sauce. And you could tell, just by looking round the crowded dining room, who the people were who’d been in Cleethorpes all day: they were the ones with their hair sticking up like a fascinator. They were the ones with red lines round their foreheads where their flat caps had been before the wind cast them aside. They were the ones who kept trying to wipe the sand out of their eyes which, as everybody knows, only makes it worse.
Crucially, they were the ones with RAISED VOICES because they’d been out in the wind too long. They were Blustered Out. Just give them some fish and chips and they’ll be fine. I said JUST GIVE THEM SOME FISH AND CHIPS AND THEY’LL BE FINE.