“To my land full of rainy skies and gales...”

If you've come to this page expecting to find links to other sites, you'll have to shufty on over to the cunningly-named Other Sites page instead. But not just yet though, eh.

THE LINKS

No, The Links, as in Whitley Bay Links, refers to the vast grass-and-dog-poo seaside area that stretches from Watt's Slope all the way to the lighthouse approach. Does that road have a proper name? [No, I've checked and it doesn't — Ed.] There used to be a little parking attendant's hut, with pictures torn quite possibly from Razzle on the walls. (And now we've got that out of the way, we can continue......)

The pathways across the Links were once criss-crossed with colourful dusty-pink tarmac. Most of it has been shoddily replaced in grey or just left to rot, notably the path within the small oval garden overlooking Watt's Slope. The gardens around this part of the Links were planted with prickly bushes with squishy red berries (abundant catapult ammunition, and hairy seeds inside which made great 'itchy powder'). The same bushes, and two flights of steps, also provided cover in winter when chucking snowballs at anyone going into the lavs.

Some municipal tyrant with job-lot of earth made the unthinkable decision to fill in and grass-over the sunken gardens and rockery next to the Cenotaph. Then, rather cruelly, they buried alive the resident fairy-folk in the nearby Rotary Club wishing well by filling it with more soil. Mind, having said that, the well did have a plaque onto which was engraved the most inconceivably crap poem which went something like this:

"[can't remember this bit]......wishing well
And in it fairies do dwell,
So make a big splash as you throw in your cash,
And they may weave for you a good spell."


Bloody champion, that, and to think someone was probably paid a vast amount of money to write such utter tripe. Well many a time the fairies' spell proved fortuitous for us as the hatch on the "safety" grid was often bereft of padlock and so it was open to climb in to trouser any coins, Scottish pound notes and pesetas that had been tossed into the stagnant water.

See various side panels further down to the right of this page for other Links-related stimuli.






Trawling The Net

In 1978 and again in 1979, two rusty old fishing trawlers, in separate incidents whilst being towed away to their doom, broke free and ran aground right onto the beach at Whitley Bay.

The first boat aroused our sense of adventure, what with school holiday repeats of the old black and white Robinson Crusoe series. So naturally, and with the TV cameras from Look North rolling, like the Somali Pirates of our day we felt obliged to climb aboard. Having been gutted beforehand, the vessel was an empty shell — nothing to pinch in other words — but you could climb down below deck and explore the hold and engine room, deep with black oil and highly dangerous.



One evening on board, as the sky turned a menacing black, the boat began to bob up and down. The tide was coming in, wasn't it, and we found ourselves literally at peril on the sea. So what could we do but abandon ship and jump off into the pitch blackness and three feet of rough, freezing water.

The first trawler was slowly cut up and bits of it are probably still under the sand. Didn't notice when the other boat (was it called the Granton?) went.
 
THE BEACH and PROMENADES

Many years ago the main road along the sea front was festooned with ornamental street lamps, at the top of which were little enamel plaques with illustrations of the lighthouse and a civic motto whatever it was ('Sic transit gloria mundi' if they'd had any sense). I have been told that these lamps were once kept lit by methane from the sewers — if that were true, wouldn't now be a good time to bring them back, the emanations from extractor fans behind certain Whitley Road take-aways would probably do the trick on their own.

Crossing the road at the Rex (a good idea at the best of times), past an unsmiling octagonal clock (one guess what colour it was recently painted) and several "Bloomin' North Tyneside" tubs of soil and cans, there are plenty places to go and get a soaking when the sea is rough — a scattering of ill-thought-out steps, random seating areas (are those people contemplating suicide or just enjoying the view?), and concrete urinating platforms, some leading to nowhere and some which teeter down to where the beach begins.

At the bottom of the main slope down on the Lower Prom was once a tumultuous mini-world of buzzing souvenir sellers, chippies and cafés; and friend-since-1969 Rob Healy's family ran a little well-stocked buckets and spades and rock and pop (sweets, not records!) shop from which we would "borrow" new swimming trunks and leap about and have seaweed fights in the warm lagoons left by the tide. It's all boarded up now except for the brave (and rather excellent) Down Under restaurant and a well-kept Lifeguard station. (It's comforting to know that, while you and your airbed are being swept out 200 yards at sea entangled by giant squid, the lifeguard is sitting painting red blobs on the table and floor of the watch hut — go and take a look!)

The Promenade proper begins just down from the ammonial tang of the Watt’s Slope bogs. In the '70s, God's Gestapo (Salvation Army) would perform regular gigs here in the open air, just outside the door to the gents (beats whistling to cover the offending noises from any toilet duties I can tell you). At the top of the slope near the Tourist Info Centre, was a wooden stall from which an elderly lady sold mussels and willicks. At the bottom, the Watt's Café was then a large tumbledown yellow shed, with barbed wire around the back to stop kids from climbing onto the roof. On the sand nearby were shuggy boats, merry-go-rounds and donkey rides (and donkey droppings, still steaming, that you could sit round and warm your hands on).

Further along from the tatty end of the concrete Prom, the surface suddenly exploded into life with battenburg-like pink and pale yellow paving slabs, all the way to where the money for such things ran out. They are still there in the main, but worn and faded by time and lashings of North Sea and Glaswegian Jesus sandals.

The many sets of steps leading down to the sand were the scene of 'dodging the waves' at high tide; if you dared to run from one set of steps to the next, a big wave would come swooshing in and pin you against the sea wall in your drenched crimplene flares, leaving seaweed in your hair and wet sand up your bum. Nature always bats last...

Along the beach are several outlet pipes which I think are where various streams and denes reach the sea. They were just big enough to crawl inside but got a bit creepy and dark and smelly the further you went in. Our theory was that when local householders flushed their toilets, this is where it all came out. Yet we would still see how far we could scuttle in, and make dams in the milky water from sand and stones and bits of driftwood.

A little further after the main Promenade comes to a ragged slopey conclusion, a humpbacked troll bridge crosses Briardene, overlooked by what we used to call the Captain Scarlet flats (Beacon House — great view from the roof up there by the way) and the former BP garage where the guy collected old Land Rovers, a clifftop footpath continues along by the 'pitch-and-putt' golf course, passing a curious little fenced-off 'boat yard' on the shore (in 40 years I've never actually seen anyone working in there — maybe it tilts up and out pops Thunderbird 2), to the highly picturesque sea wall promenade snaking round to the lighthouse causeway. Shockingly before this sea wall was built, folks would come from all around to dump fridges, cookers, mattresses, rubble, perhaps some kittens in a bag, and the odd Ford Anglia over the edge onto the rocks and sea below!

THE PANAMA DIP and FOLKMOOT

This once floral and ornate sunken-gardeny 'ampitheatre' was the stage for many a show of pre-rucksack global harmony. First of all I remember the wonderful marching, droning 'Scotchies' as we called them. The massed bagpipes and drums were deafening, and I still get a huge thrill when I hear that sound.

But then we were given the Folkmoot, an astonishing annual week-long gathering of musicians and dancers, from all across Europe to as far away as Russia and the Americas. Scores of beautiful doll-like girls with rouged cheeks, weird togs and pigtails. Lots of whirling, riotous accordian music and stamping of clogged feet. Carpet-wearing piping Peruvians. Carpet-chested fearsome Turks, clashing their long, curved swords and shields. And, though having had their thunder stolen from that last bunch, adding an eerie Wicker Man touch were the hankies and bells of the Morrismen gay from the faraway land of Monkseaton.

Just Us Kids #1

One Friday evening in September 1980, like something out of Weird Comic Tales, two wicked boys took a spade, a roughly-made wooden cross and a milk bottle with a few flowers shoved inside, and crept down to the Links next to the Panama Dip where they turned over a grave-sized area of turf to give the impression that someone had just been buried there.

A grim local constabulary, tipped off by a zealous council gardener, were soon at the scene in force. Oblivious to the fact that there wasn't the giveaway mound, digging deep they found six feet of undisturbed soil. It had all been a prank! "I suspected black magic," the gardener told a reporter.

News of the macabre hoax was allowed many a column inch throughout the region's press, the Evening Chronicle leading the way in style by describing the mock grave rather sensually as a "full length seaside hole". Bless.

Well, the gruesome twosome responsible for such a "sick" (sic) and "grisly" act of vandalism were soon caught, and were up before The Beak quicker than you could say: "Quick lads, it's the rozzers!"

"Right Burke and Hare..." quipped the Court clerk afterwards, as he came to collect cheques from our fathers. Best just to keep out of mischief. But click this image above to enlarge, it's a scream!
 
I cannot recall when the Folkmoot began, just sometime in the early '70s I think. Boyhood friend Clin and I were press-ganged into selling programmes, which amounted to walking around the masses, shaking a tin at shaking heads unwilling to shell out 10p for fourteen pages of adverts for the Royal Hotel and Featonbys. But the 'Moot grew in size and popularity over several years till eventually the organisers allowed proper grandstand seating and stage decking, the latter from which we improvised skateboard ramps in the evenings when no-one was around. Didn't the festival week always kick off with a procession from the town centre? Stirring stuff and all, sadly, long gone. But now the slightest glance of the cocktail-stick mini-flags, piercing the diced Edam of in-store supermarket promotions brings it all back in a cheesey flash.

The authorities, in what was a gesture of goodwill to all nations I'm sure, would later put an end to the much-loved intercontinental gathering. Then another incompetent, with more soil than sense, took it upon himself to have the decorative fountain in the Panama Dip removed and the pool filled-in, rather disrespectfully, and leaving behind the plaque bemoaning the loss of lives in WWII for whom the fountain and pool were put there to commemorate.

THE RENDEZVOUS CAFE

If 1970s Whitley Bay reappeared in the mists like a sort of Brigadoon, this seafront temple of the snackular would look pretty much as it does today. A wondrous place and just the same as ever it was, with its wobbly formica tables and big arched windows looking out onto the panorama of sand and foam, the "Ren-dez-vowse" (as we called it before school taught us how to pronounce exotic words) is sadly the last remaining of the truly notable buildings that stood along the Prom.



Stuff Yourself!

The Rendezvous yesterday, shutters still down as staff inside frantically arrange chocolate snowballs, slices of yummy lemon meringue pie, and other tempting tooth-loosening treats, onto doylied plates, to the whirr of buffing parquet.
 
 
An unspoilt and spotless nostalgia-fest of frothy espresso, wafers by Tunnocks, and toilets you could eat your dinner off. A place to sit and soothe with a mug of milky tea and a cream horn, admiring the original parquet flooring whilst rubbing the dried sand off your legs with a rolled-up sock.

“Woah! Am goan too see me girlfriend...”

I have this lovely memory from 1975, during that scorching hot summer, of walking back from St Mary's Island along the glistening sunny beach to the sound of waves and laughter, and there was the very beautiful Tiziana, of the family who own the Rendezvous. She (who was in the year above me at Star of The Sea primary school) was playing in the sea and singing 'Barbados'. A lovely, golden snapshot of that time, though it'll mean sod all to anybody else. Hi Tiz!



























































































The Motor Show

The Flower Show was for puffs. You'd have to be a real toffee-chewer to get your pleasures from gawping at some bloke's bulbous prize tomatoes under the sweaty hot canvas of a marquee.

The Motor Show, on the other hand, was just the horses's knob. Organised by the Post Office Auto Club, and originally held on Beaconsfield, it moved in 1978 to the Links, just around the corner from our house.

For a few years, me and boyhood friend Clin helped to set out the stands and put up banners, and so were allowed in for nowt (that's me above at 11 Brighton Grove in 1978, getting ready to help out) and generally mooched about the TR7s and Cortina GXLs, collecting badges and brochures, and getting rides in hot rods and Jeeps and articulated lorries and stuff. Hogging the big gun tractors on the Territorial Army stand, didn't we think we were the donkey's todger (as Sid Smith might say).

The Motor Show carried on for a number of years, becoming bigger over time with top celebrity openings and more bells and whistles since sliced bread. But it was those few early years that were king.
 
OTHER BUILDINGS ALONG THE PROM

a) The Panama Café was a ramshackle 'L'-shaped wooden yellow and white hut that sold ices, steaming tea and beachballs. It had little round outside tables, each with a central leg made from a chimney pot, and a back door that always looked kicked-in. After years of being a tatty eyesore, the site has been transformed into a terrific skatepark (but 30 years too bloody late for us!).

b) The big, red-tiled deckchair/windbreaker station, which was probably handed the poisoned chalice and demolished because the steps in the arched doorways stunk of wee even in the winter, a sure architectural design flaw.

c) That ugly featureless block of the Panama Swimming Club, inhabited by those insane lardsters you see on Look North on Boxing Day, smearing themselves in a protective layer of goose fat before plodging shriekily in amongst the tampax to work off all that turkey and advocaat. (Just kidding guys, jealous 'cos I can't swim!)

“The History book on the shelf, is always repeating itself.”

d) The 1936 Coronation drinking fountain (if seagull shit is your tipple), following decades of fading paint and droppings, has, like most of the surviving decorative things around the town, been painted a doleful black. And indeed, like its commemoratees King George VI and Queen Mum, the water function has been late and lamented for many a year. But, though in mournful disrepair, it remains, if only for the cocking of hairy legs.

Seaside Benches

What is it with those memorial benches near the lighthouse, multiplying quicker than the Tribbles in Star Trek. A nice idea but come on. Give it a few more months and there'll be a dralon 3-piece and the seats from an old Cortina. There will.

Commemorative wind turbines in a range of bespoke finishes — that's what the place needs.
 
 
e) The shelters. They are plural, and were positioned originally for the use of. Nowadays often railinged-off, sometimes to the extent that it would have been less effort to demolish them, they are put to good use as storage for litter and lager cans.

f) Lovely little multi-coloured swivelling bathing huts in which sensible elderly couples (when not noisily sucking Murray Mints on the lower decks of buses) would sit on stripey folding chairs, shelling hard-boiled eggs, nibbling daintily at sandwiches of Pek Chop Pork (a tinned pink 'meat' for the dentally impaired), and taking swigs from a shared bottle of warm Barrs orangeade with bits of floating food from passing it back and forth.

The line of roofs was perfect for running along from end-to-end when the huts were in use, at which purple faces in knotted hankies and tank tops would appear from below, yelling at the unrulies who by this point were just distant specks on the horizon. Like left overs from the Cod War [That's Cold War — Ed.], the rather hazardous surviving concrete bases with rusty swivel tracks are still in evidence. (And current rumours abound that the huts may return, but a visit to Ladbrokes at this stage just might be a little impulsive.)



























Footnote #3 — Whitley Sands became the suntrap of its day for the plump, kept, be-thonged women of Whitley Lodge, recumbent behind striped flustering windbreakers, dripping in sun lotion and sovereign jewellery, cat-like Kate O'Mara eyes and hissing dyed-black perms, with bronzed oily backs you could griddle your chops on. Sorry, just had to get all that off my chest......