A day beside the seaside, beside the sea

Murray Lawrie revisits Portobello
Murray Lawrie revisits Portobello

On running down the steep exit from Portobello Station we entered the underground tunnel which was fairly short, writes Murray Lawrie.

What a lovely noise seven of us could make as we stamped our feet and let out piercing screams which echoed loud and clear, much to the grown-ups displeasure.

Today when I hear complaints about brat children and words like too much money in their pockets, I am not so sure we children of the 1940s and ’50s were a whole lot better? It is true we did not spray paint on walls or smoke drugs, but in our own time we must have been just as 
annoying.

Anyway, back to Portobello. Even heavy laden we managed to run and dodge around the many families heading for the beach. As I look back now, the strains and cares of that particular time were made far worse with wartime rationing and most breadwinners were usually absent.

The weather did not matter. We were in Portobello at long last. Never as long as I live will I forget that first glimpse of the sea. To say it was breathtaking would diminish the impact it had on me.

Where Station Road joins Portobello High Street we would cross to Bath Street and just stand there and look down. The blue sea was everywhere and in my young mind, it joined the sky.

I did not see or care about the ugly poles sticking out of the water a little way from the beach.

The poles I was told were to prevent or delay landing barges crowded with German soldiers coming in to Portobello. I admit I kept a sharp lookout for any strange craft I did not know. I was looking at the Firth of Forth, a very wide saltwater firth which was used to shelter ships when the weather was rough.

All the war talk was soon forgotten when we felt the sand beneath our feet for the first time. We would gather at the police box where Mum and Dad rented the deck chairs at sixpence each for the day. We, the children, just stretched out on the sand.

Although the beach was crowded, Dad usually managed to find a sheltered spot nice and warm against the promenade. Once settled, Dad would roll up his trouser legs leaving on his shoes, socks and suspenders, removing his jacket and hat but leaving on his stiff collar and tie. I used to wait for him to remove his trilby leaving a red mark all the way around his forehead. A handkerchief tied at each corner would be applied to keep sunburn off the bald spot at the back of his head.

The next procedure was changing our clothes. This was done by holding a towel by each other until everyone was dressed in an assortment of bathing costumes.

My own costume had been purchased at a church jumble sale and must have belonged to a Dolly Parton type because even with my mother’s efforts to knot up the back straps, it could not disguise the bulge in front and when wet the front would droop down. It might have been seen as a hazard had I spent a lot of time in the water.

At that time everyone was making do. I was no different from hundreds of little boys on the beach not being introduced to swimming trunks until my teenage years.

We then explored the promenade and had a look at Cadona’s arcade, where you could have your fortune told for a penny or try to get a watch from a grab crane.

All this was too rich for our pockets and we entered the showground and watched the various roundabouts and shooting stalls, goldfish stands and dart-throwing stalls. We held on to our pennies and waited and waited to see who would spend their penny first.

Isobel was the first to break down and she tried “roll your penny on the square and I will play fair, and on the line the money is mine”. Bill was usually next and we would follow, hoping that our penny would land in a square.

Very occasionally we were lucky and fortune would smile on us.

We did not care. We were free and when we tired of mingling with the crowd we continued exploring, finding little rivers running into the Forth. Discovering crabs among the rocks was a popular game and so was trying to guess the height of the Portobello Power Station chimney which seemed to reach into the clouds.

We had an amusing incident. On the way back to the beach we passed a little restaurant and a knock on the window attracted our attention. It was our aunt who ran the restaurant and she beckoned us in. We got stuck in to buns and biscuits.

Meanwhile Dad – thinking we had been on the loose long enough – came looking for us and nearly had a fit when through the restaurant window he spotted us getting stuck into a cake stand full of goodies. We received the signal get out of there. No doubt Dad was calculating the cost of our excursion but Aunt Meg came to the rescue assuring Dad all was well.

Soon our day came to an end and a tired group headed home to Eskbank Station tired but happy.