Dad changed jobs in early 1963 and went to work for, what was at the time, the worlds 3rd largest auction house. They were family business based in a turning off Bond Street. Dad’s new job was as their chief credit controller reporting to the finance director and as such was immediately in a senior management position. As a family business, they prided themselves in treating their staff well. Every employee, from the junior porters to the managing director, were enrolled in a profit-sharing scheme which paid a bonus every financial year. Everyone also got one extra weeks salary every Christmas and just before they took their summer holidays. The company owned a flat in the Dorset seaside resort of Swanage that they made available, free of charge, to any of the senior management for up to a fortnight each year.
Dad decided to take up the offer and at the end of July 1963 the family set off to Swanage. Well Mum, Dad, and I did, my brother who was a few years older went off with friends to stay on the Isle of Wight, but my grandma came down from Yorkshire to join us. We were told that the flat was “fully equipped” you just needed to take clean sheets with you! Our first problem was how to get there as neither Dad or Mum drove and Dr Beeching had recently removed the railway service. The answer was to travel by Royal Blue coach from Victoria Coach Station.
In 1963 Royal Blue operated coach services all over south coast from Portsmouth to Cornwall and was jointly own by Southern National and Western National Buses, part of the state-owned Transport Holding Company and their Royal Blue and White coaches were a common sight on the road. Several years later they became part of National Express and had to paint the fleet in the new corporate colour of pure white, which made retaining the Royal Blue name on the side rather incongruous.
Dad’s old army pal Billy was once again the method employed to get us to Victoria and I suspect we were the only family to arrive at the coach station in a Bentley that Saturday. Victoria Coach Station was an ugly building on a corner of Buckingham Palace Road at the rear of Victoria Station. My abiding memories are of a grotty waiting room, with an inadequate departure board, mumbled announcements, the smell diesel exhaust fumes and general chaos. How we managed to find the right coach and get our luggage safely stowed I still don’t know.
Royal Blue had a real assortment of coaches waiting to load up. Some were smart new ones but several appeared to be much older with steps up the back of the coach giving access to an area of the roof to carry luggage which was strapped down and sheeted over in case of bad weather. Fortunately, ours was one of the newer ones with underfloor luggage space accessible from the sides and rear. Coaches were departing every few minutes and several people were employed to help the drivers reverse out of their stands. I remember wondering how they weren’t run over in the general confusion. But then we were off heading out into the London traffic.
The coach stopped for the passengers to have a toilet break at Winchester, the first time I had ever been there. I have little memory of the stop other than a gloriously sunny day, a busy coach park and a statue of King Alfred! On to Swanage and the coach pulled in to the coach park that was beside the Old Swanage Station. We had no idea how far it was to our holiday flat so Dad grabbed a taxi. Swanage is of course only a small town and nowhere is very far, but when you have a fortnights luggage and no idea where you’re going a taxi is not a bad idea. As it turned out the flat was in Kings Road East only a few minutes away. The taxi pulled up outside an old fashioned dairy shop and there was the front door to our flat next to the shop entrance.
Once inside, a steep staircase took us to the accommodation over the dairy. The first floor consisted of a large living room/dining room, kitchen, double bedroom and bathroom. On the opposite side of the living room to the entrance staircase was a door leading to another set of stairs up to a massive attic room. This room had two rows of four single beds rather like a dormitory. Mum and Dad took the double bedroom while Grandma and I tried out the single beds to find the most comfortable. The flat was all wood panels and partitions and smelt musty and unused. In the living room were a huge old black and white TV and a valve radio.
It was by now about 4 o’clock on a Saturday afternoon and before the shops shut, Dad and I were quickly sent down to the dairy for milk, butter, eggs and bacon, just up the road to a bakers for fresh bread and to a little old fashioned grocers for sugar, tea and a packet of cornflakes. We were all set for breakfast the next morning. Mum and Grandma unpacked and made up the beds. We were all getting hungry as we had left London early and only had a sandwich on the coach so we set off to find somewhere to eat. In those days every seaside town had loads of cheap cafes and we went window shopping the menus until we found one we liked. I have no recollection of the food only that I had a bottle of Hubbly Bubbly Cola, funny the things that stick in your mind.
The next morning I was woken by the smell of frying bacon drifting up from below. It didn’t take me long to dress and rush down to a bowl of cornflakes followed by fried eggs and bacon. Then it was off to the beach. Dad had organised the hire of a beach bungalow for the fortnight. Not a common or garden beach hut, but a larger hut complete with deck chairs, a gas ring, kettle, sink, water and your own space marked off outside to sit. At Swanage, the area behind the beach is a promenade and behind that, the Shore Road the row of beach bungalows were on a wide pavement on the other side of the shore road. Behind them, the ground rose steeply to a playing field where they held the annual donkey derby. We had to pick up the keys from the beach office at the end of the row of bungalows.
Dad had paid for the beach bungalow by cheque several months before and had a receipt so doing the paperwork took seconds and the plump jolly manager, who Dad promptly christened ‘Mr Swanage’, handed over the keys and a sheet of rules which basically said you couldn’t sleep in the bungalow! I do remember there being a number of people trying to rent a bungalow but they had all been let weeks before. We settled in, got the deck chairs out and got our first cup of tea on the go. We were well located to “people watch”. People strolled by on both sides of the road and there were some wonderful sights, including our next-door neighbour’s brother and his wife. If I wanted to swim the beach was over the road and I could change out of my wet swimming gear in the bungalow, much better than a towel around you on the beach.
We had some great days out from Swanage, a trip on the steam railway to Corfe Castle, a ride on the bus to the Sandbank chain ferry and a trip on a paddle steamer to the Isle of Wight. The buses to Bournemouth ran along the seafront road bang in front of the bungalow and had a special cutaway bit a the back so that it didn’t scrape on the ferry ramp. The highlight of the holiday was a trip on the paddle steamer to the IoW. I think it was probably the Waverley but it was so long ago I can’t be sure. It was not the best of weather when we set off from Swanage Pier. We were going via Bournemouth Pier and a surprisingly high number of passengers got off, but quite a lot got on. We then headed out to, I seem to remember, Freshwater pier.
My brother was waiting for us when we docked and we all headed to Alum Bay where we filled test tubes with the coloured sands. The sea was a touch rougher on the way back and seats on the decks were in great demand because below decks the smell of sick was overpowering. At the back of the open deck were a couple of seats that no one wanted because every so often the boat would roll and one of the paddle wheels would come up to a level that allowed it to skim water off the top of a wave and deposit it on those seats. About halfway across a big fat man and his big fat wife and equally fat son and daughter came and sat on those seats. Strangely not a soul said anything, but did we snigger when the fatties got drenched!
A couple of other memories from that first holiday in Swanage are still with me. One was a very wet bank holiday Monday. We had set out for the bungalow in a drizzle in the hope that, as the weather forecast suggested, it would clear up. Rather than clear up it had got heavier and heavier and we had sat inside the hut all day watching the occasional person wander past and drinking tea. About 5 o’clock we had just decided to go back to the flat when Mr Swanage pulled up in his Austin Cambridge and offered us a lift. We were delighted to accept and got home warm and dry.
The other thing I remember was coming downstairs one morning and Mum and Dad were listening intently to the radio. A Royal Mail train had been robbed overnight and the crooks were believed to have got away with a small fortune. Today the TV would have been on immediately but this was 1963, there was only BBC and ITV (BBC 2 started the following year) and no breakfast TV. We spent the day at the bungalow and Dad even bought a special edition of the Bournemouth Evening Echo from the man who came along the prom selling them! Of course, we put the TV News on that evening and saw the pictures of what was already being called the Great Train Robbery.
The following year we returned to Swanage, but this time my Grandma didn’t join us, instead my Mum and Dad suggested that I ask my friend Graham if he wanted to join us. Graham lived three doors away and we had been friends since he moved in 12 years before (and we are still friends today). We hired the same beach bungalow and Mr Swanage greeted us like old friends. The next day Graham and I decided we wanted to play cricket on the grass behind the bungalow and asked Dad to join us. He had his nose in the paper and didn’t want to, but Mum talked him into it. Dad batted first, hit the first ball and went for a quick run. He dived to beat the throw to the bowler and lay on the ground moaning. We took the Mickey thinking that he was just trying to get out of playing. Anyway, he insisted his shoulder hurt and went back to the bungalow.
Later that afternoon Mr Swanage came along chatting to all the folks in the bungalows. When he got talking to Dad he suggested that he should run him up to the cottage hospital. Being a Sunday I suspect the ‘B’ team was on duty but he saw a doctor had his shoulder X-rayed, was told it was only bruised, had this arm put in a sling and was given pain killers. So much for any more cricket.
Graham and I had a wonderful time we went swimming, exploring Swanage, caught buses to all sort of place, went to the Blue Pool, Lulworth Cove and Bovington Tank Museum, bought the summer specials of all the comics and enjoyed eating in the cafe, that Graham christened the Nosh Shop, and drinking Hubbly Bubbly every evening. Poor dad was in such pain that the pain killers hardly touched it and the bruises on his shoulder were from his fingertips to his neck.
When we got home, almost two weeks later, Dad went to see his doctor as there was no way he could use his right arm. The doctor sent him straight to the local hospital A&E. Once again he was X-rayed and told it was badly bruised. The hospital doctor thought that some physio might help and sent dad round to make an appointment at the Physio Department. The physiotherapist took one look at Dad’s shoulder and said, “That’s broken.” Dad explained it had already been X-rayed twice, but the Physiotherapist insisted and took Dad back to the X-Ray Department and told the Radiologist exactly which way to do the X-ray. Sure enough, it was broken but in such a place that it couldn’t be put in plaster. Dad spent the next 6 weeks with his arm in a sling and then got his physio!
I have been back to Swanage several since then, but not for over 50 years. I bet it’s hardly changed. Maybe I should go again soon, but I won’t be playing cricket.
© WorthingGooner 2020
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file