Welcome one and all to my beach hut

Grab a deck chair, Tea or coffee and help yourself to a buiscuit but you'd better mind the seaguls or they'll grab them first. Just look at that view and doesn't the sea look inviting.

Friday, 30 March 2012

Reading Matters - Kate Morton

Kate Morton is relatively new to the scene. I picked her second novel ‘The Forgotten Garden’ just over a year ago and enjoyed it very much. Then recently Skegness Library Book Club chose it for there book of the month.

Having read it before much of the story I soon recalled but being as we were to review it after reading I studied it much more closely and became really enthralled in its content so much so that I decided that I must read her first novel next, something I tend not to do.

Kate Morton grew up in the mountains of southeast Queensland, Australia. She has degrees in Dramatic Art and English Literature and is currently a doctoral candidate at the University of Queensland. Kate lives with her husband and two young sons in Brisbane.
Kate Morton's books have been published in 31 countries. The House at Riverton was a Sunday Times #1 bestseller in the UK in 2007 and a New York Times bestseller in 2008. The Shifting Fog (know The House of Riverton) won General Fiction Book of the Year at the 2007 Australian Book Industry Awards. Was nominated for Most Popular Book at the British Book Awards in 2008. Her second book, The Forgotten Garden, was a No1 bestseller in Australia and a Sunday Times No1 bestseller in the UK in 2008.

‘Forgotten Garden’ has been likened to a fairy tale and certainly for me it was very magical. One of the characters in the book is referred to as the Authoress who was famous for her Fairy tales, some of which are included in the narrative. The story begins in the early part of the 20th Century with a small girl left on a liner bound from England to Australia, all she has with her when she arrives is a small suitcase containing some clothes and a small book of fairy tales. The harbour master takes her in as one of his own whilst he waits for someone to claim her, but no one does. The small girl has no knowledge of this until her 21st birthday when her adopted father reveals the secret. The girl spends the next 60 years trying to discover her past, and this in turn lead’s her granddaughter to follow in her footsteps that will eventually change both there lives. It is clear that Kate has read very extensively, there are traces of Dickens in the tale of s young child growing up in Victorian London and you feel that you are in the familiar tale of Frances Hodgson’s ‘The Secret Garden’ much later in the tale. This book will appeal to anyone who has delved back into their own family history. Where and who the Childs family are is a real mystery which will lead you to and both the grandmother and granddaughter across the seas to Cornwall and a  small cliff top cottage overlooking a forgotten garden that can only be reached through a maze near a small Cornish fishing village. Who was the authoress? Who was the little girl’s parents? The mystery as many turns and will keep you guessing right to the end.

‘The House At Riverton’ is very different to the story I have just reviewed, though there are some similarities. The story also commences in the early part of the 20th Century. The narrator now in her 90s takes us back to when she was just 14 and starting out in service at Riverton. We follow her has she moves from being a house maid and her first involvements with those upstairs to her eventual becoming ladies Maid to one of  the daughters of the master of the house and estate.

This is a story of changing times and to a class structure that is drawing to its end. If you enjoy TV series like Upstairs & Downstairs and Downton Abbey then you will very much enjoy this novel, we see how the First World War affected both those upstairs and downstairs and how the balance of life changed because of it. There is a mystery concerning a death on the estate that will keep you guessing to the end. There is a love story and a story of youngsters growing up in the 20s and 30s with wild parties in London and the difficulties of maintaining the life style of the gentry. Has someone who as read much about the time and of families like the Mitford’s I found the narrative both believing and absorbing. Nearing the end I found it very hard to put this book down.

I will definitely read more from this author.

Monday, 26 March 2012

A New Lick of Paint and A Good Spring Clean

The great thing about living in a seaside town like Skegness is watching all the preparations in readiness for the new season. The town gradually changes from small sleepy back water with a population of a few thousand into a mass of people of well over 100,000 in just a few short weeks. It all start’s very slowly, you begin to see a few workmen about applying a new coat of paint to the shelters and railings along the front and before you know it the hot dog stalls and Fish and chips shops proprietors and the hoteliers are all out making small repairs and applying another coat of paint. Nearer Easter the gardeners will be out refilling the flower beds with fresh new plants and new light bulbs will replace those damaged during winter storms along the arcade fronts and on the rides in the pleasure beach. Everything will look bright and clean but is that all that is needed to keep the punters happy.

Our seaside tourism industry is relatively new. Less than 140 years ago Skegness was just a small fishing community with just the odd hotel that catered for the few visitors that could afford to travel and enjoy the sea air. Then with the growth of the railways the then Earl of Scarborough saw the potential of cheap travel to bring the masses to the coast and the profit that could be made from it. Before very long a new town had sprung up, a pleasure Pier had been built to cater for the needs of the visitors. The pleasure gardens with its new pavilion were soon to follow and the people flocked to Skegness in there thousands. New bathing machines were installed along the beach. A small fair and a ship turned into a museum appeared on the beach and theatre's began to open to cater for the needs of the visitors. In the 1920-30s paid holidays were introduced and coach loads of visitors came to Skegness from the many factories in the midlands and Yorkshire towns, many of these brought there local town bands along with them and they would play daily in the band stand of the pleasure gardens soon to be known as the Tower gardens whilst the children enjoyed the daily Punch and Judy shows. It was about this town that Billy Butlin turned up in the town and opened up the first proper fun Fair. He was perhaps to become the most influential person in Skegness's  short history. He brought the first Dodgem cars to be seen out of Europe to Skegness and it was during the 1930s that he opened the first of is Holiday Camps here in Skegness.

Then the war came and everything halted for a while. After the war Billy re-opened is camp and spent big money improving and expanding. Big changes were made in Skegness too in  the 1960s. The Natureland Seal Sanctuary was opened and Bottons took over the Pleasure Beach and brought new and exciting rides for our enjoyment and once again the crowds poured back to our town.

Then in the 1980s came the slump in the British seaside tourism. Thousands took advantage of cheap package holidays to Europe and mostly to Spain where the hot weather could be guaranteed all week long and the booze was very cheep.

Now due to the collapse of the Euro and the cost of fuel the days of affordable package holidays are receding and the people are starting to return to holidays at home, times have changed though, many now stay in caravans instead of the traditional bed and breakfast and more come for short breaks rather than for the customary week stay. But they are returning, many of them have not visited for many years and notice that during there absence nothing much has changed and that’s what worries me.

We need moor entrepreneurs of the likes of Billy Butlin to take an interest in the town, We need the hotel chains like Premier and Holiday Inns to run alongside the traditional seaside B&B’s to cater for the needs of those who come on short stays and are used to the kind of hospitality that these kind of hotels have to offer. But above all we need new attractions for the 21st century.

How much longer will we get away with just adding a new lick of paint and a good spring clean before the punters desert us for more modern looking resort? Butlins are spending vast amounts on the Leisure complexes as they call them now and Skegness needs to do the same if it wishes to remain one of the countries premier resorts.      

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Those 1960s Classic Instrumental Hits

Today’s teenage boys list of must have items mainly consist of the latest smart phones and games consoles but back in the 1960s  when I was growing up there was just one item that the majority young men wanted to buy and that item was an electric guitar. In the 1960s music shops were springing up in many high streets and taking centre stage of the window displays were the shiny new Gibson or Fender guitars.

Once you had your guitar it was essential that you find at least four pals with similar musical instruments to form a group. Your average group consisted of a lead guitarist, rhythm guitarist, base guitarist and a drummer. If you couldn’t afford the equipment you could always form a Skiffle group, all you would need for that would be a washboard, a base made from a wooden box with a brush stale through the middle and a piece of string going from the top of the stale to the box and of course you with your guitar. This is how the Beatles started out with a skiffle group called ‘The Quarrymen.

 Most young up and coming guitarists drew there inspiration from American acts like Bill Haley and the Comets, The Coasters and Chuck Berry who’s guitar riff at the beginning of Johnny ‘B’ Goode was perhaps the most copied guitar opening of them all. We mustn’t forget Bert Weedon the man who was perhaps one of the biggest influences from Britain, who’s sheet music for Guitar Boogie shuffle perhaps out sold any of his rivals.

Most young singing sensations of the day always had there own backing group. Cliff Richard had is Drifters who soon changed there name to The Shadows, Billy Fury had the Tornados, Johnny Kidd had his Pirates, Freddie had is Dreamers and Billy J Kramer had the Dakotas, Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders and Brian Poole & the Tremeloes to name just a few. Whenever any of these acts had there gigs it was common for the backing groups to open with 2 or 3 instrumental numbers before the singer took to the stage. Many backing groups later broke away from the singer and had chart success of there own, these included The Shadows, Mindbenders and Tremeloes.

Some of these backing groups recorded some of these opening instrumental numbers and released them as singles. The most successful of all these groups were the Shadows who had a whole string of these singles making the top 20 and even some of them reaching the number one slot in the charts of the time.

The shadows hits include Apache, Wonderful land, FBI and Foot Tapper, but during the 1960s there were more instrumental tracks in the charts than in any decade before or after
Jet Harris & Tony Meehan (Ex members of Shadows) Diamonds & Scarlet O’Hara
Tornados                                 Telstar & Globetrotter
Dakotas                                   The Cruel Sea
Johnny & The Hurricane’s      Red River Rock 
 &Beatnik Fly
The Ventures                           Walk Don’t Run   
Then there were the solo artists
 Acker Bilk                               Stranger on the shore
Duane Eddie                           Shazam and Because They’re Young
Kenny Ball                              Midnight in Moscow And many many more

There were so many guitar groups around in the sixties that every conceivable venue was booked up every weekend. Every Pub, village,church and Dance hall had a group playing and the quality and competition was very fierce. Those really were great days if you liked popular music.

For myself I always looked forward to one particular part of the performance that would usually happen half way through the gig and that was the drum solo. Two good reasons these guitar groups used to always insert at least one drum solo into their act besides giving the drummer a chance to shine was that it gave the other members of the group a chance of a rest and a quick drink, an average drum solo could last between 5 and 8 minutes depending on the skill of the drummer. We also saw through this period a number singles featuring drummers in the hit parade, Sandy Nelson’s Let There Be Drums Jet Harris & Tony Meehan’s Diamonds and The Surfaries Wipeout being perhaps the best known ones.

Many of these instrumental hits of the sixties are still in regular use today in adverts and Films seen on TV. Perhaps the most used instrument hit of the sixties over the last 50 years must go to the John Barry Severn and their recording of the James Bond Theme…. Great memories and Happy Days  

Monday, 5 March 2012

The "Daredevil" Gatsby's

I spotted the post below on the Visit Skegness forum site and was intrigued to know more about Daredevil Peggy and his son Leslie as to their story and how it related to Skegness. I’ve seen a photo of the one legged High diver that performed on Skegness during the 1930s, was that who it referred to?

I am sorry to hear of Winston Kime's passing I met him on my long running gathering of the story of Daredevil Peggy and his son Daredevil Leslie in December 1996 when Winston was 84 and his help was invaluable I will share with you the excerpts from my diary

"We have passed the Skegness News when we came down to the library and locate the tiny house where the office is. The gal behind the counter could not be more helpful. She volunteers to put something into the local paper and provides us with the names of a handful of local historians . . . One more phone call to Winston Kime, first local historian on our list. Winston's phone whistles like an off key kettle and he apologises that he ain't his best on the phone. Invites me around straight and I, Jake and I walk around the bloke and knock on his door. The eighty four year old invites us in. The off key kettle whistle is still with us. The buzzing continues through the taped interview from his out of tune hearing aid.

Winston is a bloody gem. He's been talking to ninety year old Howard Wilkinson that very day. Wilkiinson was official pier photographer and captured exactly what we are looking for. Winston locates a set of pictures and hands the originals to me. I am gobsmacked astounded. "I am coming back on Saturday I will bring them back straight away."

We returned the photographs to Winston a few days later and he sent me a lovely letter of thanks including a colourful story of Daredevil Leslie losing his bike on one of his dives which had been told to him by Henry Wilkinson and involved I think Harry who I assume is Harry Gapper the Skegness boxer.

Winston ends his letter by saying

"I'm sorry to add that Henry Wilkinson died a week ago, aged 95 (the above must have occurred in the 1930s) He was very ill when I saw him a few days earlier and I could see he was near the end of the line. Over the years, I have had many a chuckle at some of his tales. He spent several summers taking 'walking snaps' of visitors to Skegness Pier."

I hope that Winston's dream of a museum takes shape with the Daredevil Gadsby's alone there is some story to tell and Winston Kime's help finally led me to where I am now having pretty much the complete story from Peggy to Daredevil Les which my friends and I have been gathering since 1993 of which Skegness forms a part with all this material I am in the closing stages of a script for steam radio, a play that answers the question what happened to the Gadsby's, were did they come from, where did they go?

Finally today I found the time to visit Skegness Library and rummage through their wonderful collection of items related to local history and many thanks to Ben who helped me unearth the following story.

Frank and Leslie Gadsby were well known to the regular visitors to Skegness pier in the early half of the 20th Century. Apart from being a father and son partnership they were also both high divers who performed for visitors by diving off of a specially constructed platform on Skegness Pier into the sea below.

“Daredevil” Peggy Gadsby was the senior member of the partnership. Frank Gadsby was born in Nottingham; he lost a leg at the age of four and learned to swim at the age of 12 under the instruction of Professor Touhy. It is reported that Professor touhy had also given swimming lessons to King George V and General Gordon as well as devising a system of Cutlass Drill for the Royal Navy. In 1911 Frank Gadsby had swam from Hastings to Eastbourne in 5 hrs and 45 minutes and had earlier given an exhibition of swimming before King George and Queen Mary. Mr Gadsby had taken part in many swimming competitions on the continent and at seaside resorts around Britain before setting out in his career as high diver on Skegness Pier.

One of “Daredevil peggy Gadsbys most recalled performances was on Skegness cricket ground when before a large crowd he set up what was to be called ‘ The Death Dive. Standing on a specially constructed tower over 60 foot from the ground his plan was to jump and land in a small tank no more than 16ft in diameter which was to hold a mere 5 ft of water in depth. Before jumping petrol was poured into the tank and set alight and then Frank wrapped in flame proof material, set himself alight before jumping to the tank below.

Frank was to repeat that stunt many more times around the UK and surprisingly lived to the grand age of 80.

Franks son “Daredevil” Lesley was also a high diver who worked on Skegness pier; often in the early days supporting is father in his act. One of his tricks was to perform a backward somersault whilst sitting on a chair off of the high board built on Skegness Pier. It is said that Leslie had made some 30 lifesaving rescues from the sea during his life. One such rescue was reported in the Skegness New in August 16th 1939. A couple of young men from the Derby area on a day trip to Skegness had decided to take a swim. They swam out towards the pier head but when the turned round to swim back towards the shore found the tide to strong for them and soon found themselves in real trouble. Their cries of help were heard from the pier and word soon reached “Daredevil” Leslie who without any hesitation dived from the pier into the sea and guided the men to the vertical ladder that was attached to the foot of the pier. A large crowd witnessing the rescue raised a loud cheer and the two men once they had stepped onto the safety of the pier were profuse in their thanks to the gallant rescuer.

Unfortunately Leslie Gadsby had to have part of an arm amputated after an accident during a performance with his father on Weston-Super-Mare pier but was still able to carry on performing diving feats around Britain for many years afterwards.

I do hope that the play which was spoken of in the above post is completed and successful and hope that one day it may be performed in Skegness.

The Post also refers to a museum that was the dream of the historian Winston Kime who wrote many books about the resort and who sadly is no longer with us. But like many residents of Skegness I hold on to the dream that one day a museum dedicated to the name of Winston Kime can be opened in our town.