"Joyland" by Susie Mallett 1976
"My Uncle at Joyland " by Susie Mallett 1976
Me on horse Great Yarmouth 1963
On my last day in England I took a train journey. I think I can honestly say that it is my favourite train journey of all time, especially at this time of the year with misty, moisty mornings, cobwebs covered in dew and autumn sunshine.
Across the marshes to Great Yarmouth.
It was almost thirty-four years to the day since I began making this journey on a regular basis at the beginning of my adult life. I had left school and embarked on my art education with a foundation course at Great Yarmouth Art School. Being a Norwich girl I should have gone to Norwich Art School but I decided Great Yarmouth, and of course its art school, had more to offer. I was lucky as Yarmouth offered me the place first and it was with a very happy soul that I travelled daily from September 1975 till June 1976 on the 08.12 railcar to the seaside!
Everyday for that year after leaving the warmth of the train I would pull my flying jacket tight around me to face the bracing winds and I took a detour each morning to take a stroll on the deserted beach.
Even then I knew Great Yarmouth well, it being my grandmother’s home town. She ran a hotel in Norwich but all her sisters still lived at the coast and I remember with mixed feelings the visits that we made to our Victorian aunties and uncles. These visits were a mixture of fun, and trepidation. I hated the cuddly “Oh, how you have grown” stuff but I loved exploring in the old paper mill by the harbour where one Auntie lived and at the olde-worldly tea parties I was in my element.
There would be transparent wafer-thin sandwiches spread with crab paste, there was tea from the translucent pink china cups that I have now inherited. There were tit-bits piled onto a three-tier cake-stand the likes of which I am still searching for in the junk shops and car-boot sales!
That’s my Great Yarmouth of the 50s and 60s, not much to do with the sea and beach, we enjoyed that elsewhere. Somewhere where my mother could relax and would not feel obliged to visit relatives and behave herself by not eating chips on the market or licking an ice cream in the street. We just didn’t do it there in case someone of importance spotted us and reported back to the Victorian aunties! I still wouldn’t do it today even though there isn’t a soul there now who knows me!
In those days we usually made the trip by car, a black Ford Prefect with red leather seats, so it was only later that I discovered the delights of the train journey. The road and the railway track run parallel for much of the journey and along side them both run the rivers and the cut. It still thrills me today to look across the flatness and see the white sails of yachts seemingly moving effortlessly along through the fields.
Our visits as children would be to dark-brown Victorian houses, where smartly dressed ladies sometimes even wearing gloves, would meet us. There were four sisters, my grandma and three great aunts. Sometimes they would all be there and on occasions one or both of their two brothers.
My sister and I really did have to be on our best behaviour, seen but not heard. The more people there were gathered the easier it was for us to escape and we could always rely on the help of a Great Uncle who, also avoiding the ladies, would entertain us. He chased us in the garden and in and out of the house and down all its secret passages in much the same way as he had played with my mother.
Later in the 1970s I got to know my own Great Yarmouth which was no longer influenced by those golden days when Yarmouth had been the place for Londoners to take refreshing holidays. Being a port it never did have quite the status of Cromer or Sherringham but my Grandmother’s family didn’t seem to realise this. Great Grandfather was a chemist and therefore a man of much stature in the town, and his five girls where known as the most beautiful in town. They were shown off at every party, tea dance and ball but sadly none of them really found the prince of their dreams!
The day that I started travelling to Yarmouth alone in September 1975 I remember feeling just like I did on that day in 1989 when I went off to Budapest. It was another day that changed my life. The time at Yarmouth art school was extra special. It was a time when I discovered that I really enjoyed doing something and was actually already getting quite good at it: drawing.
As I have mentioned in other postings I discovered a teacher there from whom I learnt to draw.
He and his wife remain my friends and it was to meet these two that I went on my favourite train journey again last week, on an autumnal misty, moisty morning over the Norfolk marshes.
None of us feel any different now to how we were thirty four years ago, we don’t look much different either, except we all three have greying hair.
We still love being in each others’ company and we thoroughly enjoyed this trip down memory lane, the first time we have met in Great Yarmouth for years. We usually meet up at home either theirs or my family’s.
We looked at the market, the beach, the harbour and the estuary. We drove past the art school and several of my favourite drawing haunts. While waiting at the station for my return train we concluded that really nothing had changed, even the chips on the market smell the same and still I didn’t dare eat them!
We remembered because we were in situ many things that were long forgotten. Adventures such as building huge kites which got blown out to sea, the brave ones dressing up for rag week in wigs and straw skirts (not me), cycling twenty miles for a celebratory pub-lunch when we had all been accepted for degree courses and silly things like who cried at the drawing crit at the end of the big all-day-draw on Thursdays (again not me).
Yarmouth is much the same apart from the off shore wind farm, a few more seats in the market square and the new harbour that is just under construction. The Noah’s Ark and the octopus have disappeared from Joyland at the end of Britannia pier. The metal palm trees remain as does the wonderful Victorian architecture that is hidden behind flashing lights and gawdy, kitsch facades.
Great Yarmouth –
Britannia Pier - http://www.britannia-pier.co.uk/history.asp
Joyland – I went on this ride on 24th June 1976 as a treat with the art school’s printmaking lecturer. If you look closely you will see the palm trees in the background.