Return To Blackpool

We hoped to coax Grandad out of mourning… but would my plan grind to a halt, high and dry on the beach?

That’s my grandad in the photo. Grandad Albert. My mum took it while he was paddling in the sea, and he didn’t know it was being taken. He never even heard the click of the Box Brownie as it took his picture.

Mum said she simply had to get it, as it was momentous. I think that means important.

Though I don’t understand how paddling in the sea at Blackpool, with your trouser legs rolled up, and your shoes and socks in your hand is important, I’ll never understand.

Grandad hasn’t had it easy for the last two years.

Grandma Flo died suddenly in 1950, and his life has ground to a halt.

He never wants to go out – Mum even has to do his shopping as he says the Co-op is too much for him to cope with. I suppose it is a bit demanding for an old man of 70.

Mum’s tried to persuade him to apply for an allotment, or go into the library for books.

But his answer is always the same. “I’m all right where I am, thank you.”

One day, Mum said, “Dad, don’t you think you should try to move on?”

“Move on?” Grandad snorted – yes, actually snorted, like a horse. “I don’t hold with these new-fangled expressions. I’m grieving, woman.”

Grandad has Grandma Flo’s obituary out of the Oldham Chronicle in a frame by his chair. That’s sad, isn’t it? He lives mostly in the past.

Conversations always get round to when his dad met his mum at Blackpool, one Wakes week holiday from the clothing factory where they worked in Oldham. And how, after his parents were married and he came along, holidays always had to be at Blackpool.

Grandad Albert says he never remembers going anywhere else.

One day during the school holidays, Mum said, “Gilly, would you like to go on a day trip to Blackpool? We can take a picnic and go on the sands and have a paddle.”

I didn’t need asking twice, but I had an even better idea.

“Mum, can we take Grandad with us? It would do him the world of good. When we do his shopping for him tomorrow, I’ll ask him to come, shall I?”

Mum didn’t think Grandad would agree, but I was cunning.

“Grandad,” I wheedled. “Do come with Mum and me on our Blackpool trip. Mum isn’t sure how to get from the station to the front, and she doesn’t know the best place to set up our deckchairs, and she can’t remember if the ice-cream man is up at the North Pier or not.

“Say you’ll come and take charge of us. You know Blackpool like the back of your hand, at least that’s what you’ve been telling us for years.”

That did it. Grandad did another of his snorts and said, “Looks like I’ve no option if you two aren’t to go and get yourselves lost, or worse still, arrested.”

He stated firmly that he would see us safe to the sands and help set up three chairs by the sea, but that he wouldn’t move from there.

“You won’t get me back in the sea again. It will bring back too many memories of when me and Flo used to spend hours splashing around, having fun.

“Paddling’s a thing of the past for me. I can’t ever do it again.”

So off we set, the following Thursday, catching the early train from Oldham to Blackpool.

Grandad steered us safely to the front.

We hired three grand striped deckchairs for the day and set them up in a line, then sat down together to eat our picnic of sandwiches and slices of home-made fruitcake.

Me and Mum paddled after that, but though we begged Grandad to join us, he refused to get his feet wet.

“I’m all right where I am, thank you.”

It was coming close to train time, and mum said we simply must have an ice-cream before we went home.

Again Grandad declined. Poor Mum was terribly disappointed that the day hadn’t seemed to help her dad at all. He hadn’t even got his toes wet.

On coming back to our deckchairs, ice-cream trickling between our fingers, we stopped short. Grandad was not there.

We looked all around, but he was nowhere to be seen.

“Where on earth has he got to?” Mum groaned. “ We only left him for five minutes and now he’s disappeared.”

I shielded my eyes against the sun, which was lower in the sky now, and took a good long look along the beach.

“Mum!” I gasped. “Look! Look in the sea. Grandad’s paddling.”

Mum dropped her unfinished ice-cream in the sand and grabbed the Box Brownie, creeping up to the edge of the sea behind Grandad.

“This is one photo I don’t want to miss,” she whispered. “Your Grandad – moving on at last.”

But he wasn’t moving on at all. He was just standing there, nearly up to his knees in seawater.

And his face was radiantly happy.

Our My Weekly Favourites series of short fiction from our archives continues on Mondays and Thursdays. Look out for the next one. 

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