Memories of a Felixstowe summer

Plastic shoes, stripy windbreaks and to round off a perfect day, fish <br/><br/>and chips at Cordy's, Jayne Lindill remembers the delights of a family day out at Felixstowe

Plastic shoes, stripy windbreaks and to round off a perfect day, fish and chips at Cordy’s, Jayne Lindill remembers the delights of a family day out at Felixstowe

My most enduring memory of the Suffolk seaside is actually quite painful. No, it’s not the day my ice cream melted and fell off its cone. Nor is it the time I plopped my last coin into a fruit machine and still went home empty handed.It’s not even the day I turned up for a ride on the ghost train – my favourite – only to find it wasn’t running any more.It’s those stones on the beach.Now, I know Suffolk’s famous for its rugged shores and the lingering hiss of the shingle is part of the charm, but those stones are a killer for tiny bare feet.If the just-above-freezing temperature of the North Sea didn’t put you off, the stones did. In books and films, children ran headlong down the beach towards the sea, where they plunged into the waves in a carefree fashion.At Felixstowe we hobbled.Even if you could make it over the bruising big stones at the back of the beach, you still had to contend with the sharp little ones nearer the water’s edge. Thank heavens someone invented those plastic sandals, the forerunners of today’s jelly shoes that gave us the freedom to play on the beach and paddle in the sea to our hearts’ content, under clear blue summer skies. Well, that’s how I remember it.I’ve come full circle with Felixstowe. As a child growing up in Suffolk I visited most of its seaside towns, but Felixstowe was the most familiar.Just a short trip from Ipswich, its seaside attractions provided year-round entertainment close to home and kept me amused until well into my teens.Almost two decades of living on the other side of the world in a country famous for its beach life hasn’t dimmed my enthusiasm for the charming Victorian town and now that I’ve returned to Suffolk I’ve chosen to make Felixstowe my home.It’s changed in some ways, as everything must, but judging by the families that flock there on warm weekends it’s lost none of its appeal. Cast your mind back to the sixties – the decade of my first camera (an Ilford that only took black and white photographs), my brief career in the Brownies, two TV channels and Sundays when we didn’t go shopping.It was also pre-MPV days, so five of us – that’s both my parents, my brother, my sister and I – piled into the family’s little yellow Ford Popular (soon to be replaced by a new green Ford Cortina) and headed for a day at the seaside. A day in Felixstowe – usually a Sunday – started with finding a suitable spot on the beach. This meant somewhere away from the main crowd that didn’t involve a half-mile hike to the nearest public toilet.The first job was to erect the essential stripy windbreak by hammering its wooden poles into the stones. This provided protection from the easterly sea ‘breeze’ and a degree of privacy as you struggled into your swimsuit with nothing more than a small towel to shield your modesty. Then out came the ground sheet, possibly a deck chair or two, Mum’s basket with the packed lunch and our buckets and spades. Then what? This is where it gets a bit hazy because I can’t actually remember how we amused ourselves on the beach. Surrounded by acres of stones (honestly, it’s the last time I’ll mention them) we couldn’t build sandcastles and even beach games were difficult. We spent most of the time in the water, which seems unthinkable now that I know the temperature of the North Sea is palatable to polar bears. Mind you, I’m not saying it didn’t feel cold – it did. But once you’d paddled in up to your thighs and let the icy waves wash over you, working their way up your body until all parts were practically numb, it was possible to spend hours in the water, splashing about, trying to swim aided by your inflatable rubber ring and having a thoroughly enjoyable time.My cousin Verity joined us on one trip to Felixstowe. She was about 13 at the time and pretty confident in the water. She even had her own Li-lo (an inflatable airbed) that she took into the sea and paddled around on. At five years her junior I was impressed.After a session in the water my sister and I retreated to the beach leaving Verity to float around in peace on her raft. It was a hot day and everyone nodded off – Verity included. Some time later my mum looked around for her niece and spotted her drifting off in the direction of Holland on an outgoing tide.Well out of her depth, Verity woke up and realised her dilemma. Fortunately, my father sprang into action and rescued her before she made the Dutch coast.When we were bored with the beach we invariably headed off to Mannings amusement park, a pink palace that still injects some kiss-me-quick character into otherwise genteel Felixstowe.I loved the ghost train and found it genuinely scary, more so even than the ‘scenic railway’, a towering wooden structure from which the screams of fun-seekers ‘enjoying’ a rollercoaster ride could be heard as far away as the pier. The pier and the pier pavilion opposite were also Felixstowe favourites. A few pennies in assorted slot machines bought hours of amusement trying to win a soft toy or some item of plastic jewellery. And I never went without a stick of candyfloss or a toffee apple.I loved the pier, and not just because from the far end you had a great view of the promenade with its bright lights, or because you felt that bit closer to the ships out in the channel. I loved to look down, because there in the gaps between the wooden boards was the sea, crashing around beneath me, smashing into the great legs of the pier, trying to get me while I was safely out of its reach. A day at Felixstowe usually ended in a sublime treat, a meal at one of Cordy’s two great seafront restaurants – the Alexandra (now The Alex) or the Regal. Formal by today’s standards, with starched white tablecloths and gleaming silver cutlery, a meal at Cordy’s was nevertheless a family occasion. The big room was full of chatter and the scraping of plates as we diners – with appetites made keener by the sea air – tucked into tasty fish and chips with bread and butter, washed down with tea poured from a heavy silver pot.It was here that I learned how to use a fish knife – now an almost extinct implement – and developed a passion for the banana split. I frequently amazed my parents with how much food I could put away at the end of a day on the beach, but we are talking about a time when the most we got between meals was an ice cream – if we were lucky. Felixstowe remained a magnet for me right through my teens and into early adulthood, when boyfriends in battered old Minis would drive us girls down to the beach on a Saturday evening to the accompaniment of music blaring out on the car stereo system. We’d share a bag of chips, while away a couple of hours at Charlie Mannings’. . . Like I said, some things change, but some things don’t.

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