As we drove North on the M1, the sky opened up. It had been sunny and warm all week, so we thought a trip to the Yorkshire seaside for Luke’s Mum’s birthday would be a great idea. Luke sped up the windscreen wipers as the wind whipped the rain in every direction, our little Volkswagen rental car nearly blowing into the next lane.
We rode in silence, Radio 1 on low, the sound of rubber swiping the windscreen every few seconds and the rain tap, tap, tapping against the roof of the car.
We pulled off of the highway on the A64, past fields that are a shade of green I’ve only ever seen in England, and towards a much brighter looking sky. The clouds seemed to disappear as we passed York and carried on following signs to Scarborough.
“I’m so excited to show Laura the British seaside,” Luke’s mum kept saying all week. It’s one of her favorite places and she’s always eager for me to see new parts of the country, especially her beloved Yorkshire.
“Don’t expect much,” Luke kept saying, “It’s like a smaller Blackpool.”
I’d heard a lot about Blackpool. Mostly from TV shows and Luke’s stories of what a strange place it was – a seaside town in North Western England where families went on summer holidays. It’s not in any way glamorous, and descriptions of it from other British people include words like: tacky, run-down, old-fashioned, and not-that-nice.
But just like the Jersey Shore, just like Atlantic City before it had its makeover, or like Coney Island, these places hold nostalgia for us. And although I’d never been to a British seaside town before, when we arrived in Scarborough and parked the car, I couldn’t help but feel like I’d want to come back to this place, too.
We walked along the pier, past a brightly colored ferris wheel and out to a lighthouse.
“It’s not as nice as some lighthouses are,” Luke’s mum said in a deprecating way, almost apologizing for it’s rusting panels and the deserted fishing boats that surrounded it.
I smiled, took a breath of sea air and watched people dip their toes into icy cold North Sea water. From the pier we looked back at the main street. I could have used all those words that people use to describe Blackpool: tacky, run-down, old-fashioned, perhaps not-that-nice, but I didn’t feel that way.
Sure, the paint had faded on the shop fronts, the lights on the arcade signs were a little bit dirty, some didn’t even light up at all, but it was like looking back in time, kind of like looking back at childhood.
Everyone was walking around with ice cream cones, old men and children, teenagers and their mother’s. Some people were in shorts even though it wasn’t much more than 60 degrees. Everyone was smiling, walking on the sand barefoot and laughing at each other. All of the arcades were full and every snack shop had a line of customers.
“Are those donkeys?” I asked as we got closer to the beach.
“Yes, don’t you have donkey rides on the beaches in America?” Luke’s mum asked.
“No,” I said, half laughing at the thought, “at least not any of the beaches I’ve ever been to.”
“You’ve always been able to take donkey rides at the beach here,” she said, “I even have a picture of me riding one as a child with my dad.”
We spent the rest of the afternoon playing games in the arcades that line the street. Spending a pound or two in each one before moving down the street to another.
I liked the ones where you put 20 pence in the machine and aim it at a goal. If you get it in you win; the sound of coins clanging into the change bowl became a sound of victory.
Then there were the old fashioned wooden machines that only costs 2 pence to play.
We laughed so hard, we got competitive, trying to distract each other when it wasn’t our turn.
Then we bought rock candy in a store that sold toffee and peanut brittle and candied nuts. It smelled like cotton candy when you walked in. Luke grabbed my arm and dragged me out, sensing my growing excitement of all things sweet.
When we got back in the car, it started drizzling again. We laughed, all a little bit full of sugar, all a little bit tired, and we drove back South as the clouds darkened around us.