Wise About Morecambe
Posted by philwhiteland on Thu, 16 May 2019
I've always had a lot of faith in the ability of the internet to answer just about any odd or bizarre question you can throw at it. No matter what peculiarity you happen to be interested in, you can pretty much guarantee that someone, somewhere has been interested in it too and has already done the necessary research. Therefore, when I posed a simple question about parking arrangements, I was shocked to find no clear answers and some very conflicting ones.
Put quite simply, later in the year we're going for a short break in the Isle of Man. This is a place I've always wanted to visit, so it's somewhere else to tick off my bucket list. For reasons best known to ourselves, we've chosen to go by ferry (it turns out that it would probably have been cheaper and easier to fly, but I do love a ferry crossing) and we're going as foot passengers. This means I need to leave my car at the port, which is Heysham. I decided to check on parking availability, charges etc. and to see if it was possible to pre-book. This is where the internet let me down. One site said there was ample parking and it was £3 per day and this was the site we consulted when we made our ferry booking. Looking again, and this time at the ferry company's website, it seemed that there was limited parking and it was £12 per day! The various travel advice websites were no better, with no clear indication of what the situation actually was coupled with some dark stories about rapacious parking site operators. No matter where I looked, I could not get a clear and definitive answer about how much parking there was, how much it was going to cost or whether you could pre-book. I did learn that someone had a driveway about half-a-mile away that I could book at a price but that didn't appeal. Frustrated with the whole process, I announced that there was only one way to sort this out and that was to have a trip up to Heysham and see for myself.
In all honesty, this wasn't my sole reason for the trip. I had also realised the Morecambe was just a few miles away and I'd never been there. Why the interest in Morecambe? Well, because of the statue at the top of this article, mainly. I'll come back to that in a moment.
We found Heysham Port and the mysterious car park. Not the biggest I've ever seen, I'll grant you, but certainly not full to bursting and I doubt it ever would be, except possibly when the TT races are on. Signs about parking charges were pretty limited but the £12 per day thing seemed to be correct (unfortunately). It took a little while but I finally tracked down the parking ticket machine which is cunningly hidden on the railway station platform. This seemed relatively straightforward and purported to be able to cope with credit and debit cards as well as hard cash, so I was reassured that, one way or another, we would be able to pay for our parking on our return.
With the business of the day disposed of, we pottered up to Morecambe. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. I don't quite know what I expected, probably a lesser Blackpool I suppose, but it was nothing like that. Miles of perfectly clean beaches, spotless promenades that also go on for miles, generally quiet and understated. Yes, a little run-down in parts, as unfortunately you could say about most British seaside resorts that enjoyed their heyday in the late Victorian/early Edwardian period. Nevertheless, there were some nice touches, for example the old Victorian railway station hasn't been flattened and replaced by a concrete pill-box (as it was in Burton upon Trent, and I'm still bitter about it) but has been preserved and is now split between a performing arts centre and a Greene King pub.
The fact that it was a beautiful sunny day with a nice cooling sea breeze probably helped my view of the resort and I dare say I wouldn't have been quite so well-disposed had the rain been coming down sideways.
I came across the statue I had been looking for, almost by accident. Typically, there were no signs to show where to find it, that I could see, yet it must be one of the main draws for people coming to Morecambe.
I have been a devoted fan of the late Eric Bartholomew for as long as I can remember. I don't believe there has ever been anyone with such a complete knack for delivering hysterical lines with panache and brilliant timing. He was the archetypal British comedian and I doubt whether we will ever see his like again. One of the plaques that adorn the small square in front of the statue makes the point that the Morecambe and Wise Christmas Special of 1973 was watched by 29.5 million people. In other words, roughly half of the British population tuned in to see that show! Can you imagine any other act having that sort of pulling power? Famously Eric was once asked what they would have been had they not been so successful and he said "Mike and Bernie Winters" and I think the gulf between those two double acts speaks volumes.
Toward the end of his career, everyone knew his health was poor and I think we were all hoping and praying that he would stay with us but not push himself too much. When he died, I think the whole country felt the loss quite keenly. It wasn't a surprise but there was a huge hole now in British Light Entertainment that would never be successfully filled. It must be quite something to be loved and adored by so many people. The only other comparable national affection for an entertainer I can think of was for Terry Wogan, although I know he irritated as many as he enthralled. I was one of those who thought he was unbeatable as a radio presenter, and still do.
Of course, being British, the visitors to Morecambe didn't queue up to have their photo taken with Eric's statue. They sort of hovered in the general vicinity, not wishing to show any untoward enthusiasm. When they finally did take the plunge and line up for a snap, it was almost as if it was an afterthought, rather than the whole purpose of their visit. I know because I did exactly the same!
Trudging back to the car park with my precious picture safely stowed in my phone, I noticed a second hand bookshop across the road. Bookshops are a magnet to me and this looked particularly promising. Old books were arranged on some shelving that spilled out onto the pavement and, when I went inside, the whole place was crammed from floor to ceiling with books of all descriptions. It would have been a marvellous place to lose yourself for a day and I'm quite prepared to believe that you might never be found again if you went down some of the aisles. Terry Pratchett's 'L Space' writ large.
Unfortunately, I didn't have the day to devote to idly browsing. My quest in bookshops is to find old P.G. Wodehouse editions (I'm trying to collect all his works but, as he wrote 96 books in his long life, it's something of a daunting prospect). Fortunately, the bookshop owner was able to point me in the direction of quite an impressive collection of Wodehouse books of mixed vintage and I was chuffed to bits to find two that I had been looking for. If you're ever in Morecambe, I would highly recommend a visit to The Old Pier Bookshop on Marine Road - you won't be disappointed.
Clutching my purchases, I reflected on how it was odd that the internet had let me down but that had led me to having my photo taken with one hero and getting a couple of sought after books by another. Perhaps the internet hadn't completely let me down, after all.
When he's not trying to track down car parking facilities, Philip has been known to write the odd thing. You can find it all here.