For us Northerners, Blackpool illuminations is a rite of passage. It’s a coming of age moment. Right up there with your first Greggs pasty, chip barms and rickets.
I’ll not lie, I had high expectations. So much so I may have bigged it up a little too much.
In my defence, I’d not been for over thirty years, and whether it was selective memory, rose-tinted Timmy Mallet glasses or that sugar rush you only get from a stick of rock, in my head it was to be the sensory show to end all shows. I was expecting lasers, holograms and if I’m being totally honest, technological advancements as yet undiscovered. This was, is and always will be the Vegas of the North.
And before you go mocking the Vegas comparison, I’ll have you know some of the backstreet B&B’s now come with en-suite facilities as standard. Standard I tell ya!
And that’s not all that’s changed since I last visited. The joke shop now stocks air rifles. The Blackpool Tower dungeon has, and I quote, ‘One exciting ride!’. And whether this is a sign of impending gentrification or not I don’t know, but some of the teenagers now cruise the strip on their very own mobility scooters.
And yet none of this dampened my enthusiasm. High on a heady mix of headache inducing arcades and the sweet, sweet smell of deep fried sugar, we headed to the furthest point, grabbed some fish and chips and dined al fresco on the sea-front.
The street lights flickered a false dawn, so to build up the anticipation we went into the nearest amusements where I invested £10 on educating the kids in the requisite skills required to beat the 2p pusher machines. Proof of my pusher prowess came when the next £10 resulted in a whopping payout of £16! Damn this autocorrect. I meant pence. 16p.
After filing for bankruptcy I finally coaxed the kids out of the arcades by directing their attention to the neon light-show emanating from the street. More fool me, it was just a stall selling plastic brightsabers (not to be confused in any way with lightsabers).
I bought two, obviously.
Back to the car and we joined the queue of traffic. Such was the excitement I may have let out a little bit of wee. And yes, it was excitement. Nothing to do with my winnings being 4p short of the 20p needed to use the public toilets.
“Look! Icicles … I think?”
Sonny: “Who’s Basil Brush?”
“Who’s Basil Brush? Boom boom! No? BOOOOM BOOOOM! Still no?”
Luca: “Who’s Richard?”
“Are you kidding me? Who’s Richard? It’s Richard … Sooty and Sweep Richard! What do you mean, who’s Sooty? Sooty! Sooty and Sweep Sooty. You threw the mother of all tantrums in Poundland just so I’d buy you their DVD. We watched it every day. For TWO YEARS! ”
Sonny: “Why has that man left the toilet door open. Ah, he was waiting for his friend to join him.”
“Look everyone, a mermaid … and another …. and another … and … no, you can’t turn your lightsabers on while I’m driving!”
Luca: “Why are we parked on a roundabout?”
“We’re sat in traffic”
Sonny: “Can I put my lightsaber on if we’re not driving?”
“No. Have you seen the Dalek?”
Sonny: “Been staring at it for twenty minutes”
Luca: “Are you sure we’re not parked on this roundabout?”
“Will you stop poking me in the head with your lightsaber!”
Sonny: “If you let me turn it on I’ll be able to see where your head is”
“We’re not moving, shall we go home?”
Luca: “Can I play with my lightsaber if we go home?”
“Yes you can”
So that’s what we did. We turned round and headed home, but not before watching the man in the car in front get repeatedly hit around the face by his young daughter and her glow-in-the-dark fairy wand.
And it was this that brought my childhood memories flooding back. You see, the illuminations were always pretty shit, even in the eighties. But a trip to the illuminations was never really about the lights.
It was about being the first to spot the tower and the sea. Of soggy chips sat shivering on the seafront. That unmistakable sound of a change machine turning pounds into pence and when you’re sat in a traffic jam having crawled past the umpteenth dancing girl in as many minutes, it’s about making your own entertainment, even if that means smacking your parent round the head with an over-priced toy of questionable quality.
But more than anything, Blackpool illuminations is a shared experience. It’s being in the car at night, as a family, long after you should be in bed.
And I’ll bet my last 16p that the little girl with her wand, just like my boys with their brightsabers, had the best night ever.