Are we Nearly There Yet?

Who remembers going on a holiday to the sea? A once-a-year pilgrimage to Rhyl, Severn Beach or Weston-super-Mare if your family was really posh. Coach trips were a popular way to get to coastal destinations in the 1960s, and it was common to see entire families hopping aboard together. At that time, cars were not common, so the coach was the only solution for families seeking a seaside holiday.

This trend for using coaches really started after the war, when transport ceased to be a functional solution and began to gain new ground in the tourism industry. Everyone would look forward to an exciting journey on the coach, which became part of the holiday itself. On the way back, the kids could catch up on their sleep as the adults unwound together.


The humble coach to me was a classic alternative to the Ford Pop

This trend for using coaches really started after the war, when transport ceased to be a functional solution and began to gain new ground in the tourism industry. Everyone would look forward to an exciting journey on the coach, which became part of the holiday itself. On the way back, the kids could catch up on their sleep as the adults unwound together.

The humble coach to me was a classic alternative to the Ford Pop. Anyone in my social circle who owned a car could only afford some clapped out heap. Coaches were different, they had a space age design, they had to compete with the likes of Fireball XL5 and Supercar. They did so remarkably well. All they needed was a set of wings and a rocket engine. The 60’s coach was a Tardis in reverse, full of the promise of adventurous luxury travel to exotic destinations on the outside and all of they pretty much of a muchness on the inside. They all had these hairy art deco pattern upholstery seats that absorbed the small of tobacco smoke from the ashtrays attached to the back of each seat. The headrests were covered with white linin to mop up the gallons of brill cream men would put on their hair. You felt travel sick before the diver even started the engine.

The driver’s cockpit was brilliant. A gigantic knobbly steering wheel, enormous pedals, a huge handbrake lever and the soup stirrer gearstick. Big round speedometer that went up to almost 30 mile per hour, oil gauge, fuel gauge, temperature gauge, vacuum gauge, and several other gauges I have no idea what they were for. Just to be on the safe side there were rows of long throw switches to swich on all sorts of things on and off. No wonder we would sing “oh he’s a jolly good fellow” to the driver at the end of the journey.

Road travel was slow. After all, cars were not common, and we were right in the middle of Dr Breeching dismantling the railway infrastructure. It was also pre motorway days. Therefore, the roads were narrow, overused and under maintained. Very little in the way of road lighting, road signs had glass reflectors, the cat’s eye was the guiding light of the roads. A 100-mile trip took all day. People queued at the Aust Ferry for three hours or took a five-hour car ride through Gloucester to get to Wales from Bristol. Imagine doing that journey in a clapped out Ford Pop.

Fortunately, there were lots of roadside cafes. Anything more then ten miles outside Birmingham was called The Halfway House. I have no idea where it was because there were so many of them. It seemed to be a way of reassuring the holiday traveller. It gave a sense of progress, a place in time and distance in the landscape to place yourself into context with the seaside. I found this interesting, as I would often not actually see the sea until the last ten seconds of the weeklong internal journey.

These roadside cafes were great. The plastic tablecloths, the plastic tomato sauce container shaped like a giant tomato. A row of Pinball and Ballyhole machines along one wall and occasionally a jukebox. Glass salt and white pepper and vinegar cruets and a large glass sugar dispenser. I was always fascinated how people put sugar in their tea.

The menu was always something with chips. Egg and chips, sausage and chips, pie and chips, chips and chips. Served with baked beans or peas and white thin sliced bread and margarine. Some cafes served crinkle cut chips. This was a real novelty for us kids. Only people on TV ate crinkle cut chips.

The café owner would put the tea pot on around about March, so it was almost ready by August. You certainly could taste the tea. For kids it was milk or a milkshake or orange squash. Served out of a machine that had a glass tank that sprayed the orange juice over the inside of the tank lid to cool it down.

These meals were marvellous and memorable. I had never used a serviette before, a change from the spit wash mom delt out. They were a very welcome break to what was an incredibly boring journey for kids. Adults would say the trip was part of the holiday. We just wanted to be at the seaside. I just could never sit still; I am still the same. I would eat my food then want to explore Halfway House. There would be a petrol station, with the old tall pumps and gantries. The pumps had sight glasses, with a little fan that spun around so you could tell the petrol was going in the tank. Oil sold in glass bottles or on tap in a measuring funnel. The shot of RedX can could be found at every garage. Free air and water was the logo, there to attract the passing holiday maker.

Refreshed, it was time to go back to the coach and onward to the seaside. Every coach had a clock, right at the front in middle of the isle. There for all to see. This was a clock on go slow; go very slow; go very very slow in fact. I was there, I watched it. The driver would announce that we would be arriving at out next stop in one hours’ time. One hour later the clock had moved five minutes. Not only did this encourage me to develop the concept of eclectic time, after all I did go on the crack the sequence of the gambling machine in the arcade. I was also forced to pluck up the courage to ask my mom that classic question “Are we Nearly There Yet?”

About morturn

Historian – Photographer – Filmmaker Retired construction professional with a passion for public, social and industrial history. I believe in equality, dignity and integrity for all. Don’t like people who try to belittle the ambitions of others. I am of the opinion that my now life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live.
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