Oliver Cross: All the joys of the British seaside - including the rain.

Children watch a Punch and Judy Show at City Beach, Millennium Square, Leeds.
Children watch a Punch and Judy Show at City Beach, Millennium Square, Leeds.
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ON MONDAY, I went with my son and two youngest grandchildren to the Leeds City Museum, remembering, too late, that the museum is closed on Mondays.

Which was a pity because the museum would have been an educational experience and the chief purpose of British childhood is now to increase children’s educational attainments, so they can compete with Chinese or Korean children and maximise their shareholder value.

However, my grandchildren, including a 15-month-old who should have been practicing for her first tests, were forced to spend an hour or so frittering away a vital opportunity to become more economically viable. Instead, they went over the road to Leeds City Council’s rather quixotic attempt to create a typical British seaside resort in Millennium Square.

The council and the fairground operators did very well, though, helped by a traditional British seaside monsoon, which soaked the sand on the otherwise unconvincing beach to such an extent that it looked as if the tide had just gone out.

Actually, the Millennium Square version of the seaside was as much a re-creation of the past as exhibits in the City Museum would have been.

It reminded me of my visits, in the 1950s and early 60s, to the Lincolnshire coast of my childhood, chiefly Mablethorpe and Cleethorpes, which, on a hot day when the tide goes so far out that you can scarcely see the sea, looks very much like the Sahara desert. It was, incidentally, at Cleethorpes that I once realised, with alarm, that I was the only person on the entire prom without a walking disability.

Later, as my first taste of foreign parts, I was taken to Rhyl in North Wales, which still had a broken-down What the Butler Saw machine, an early precursor of the softy-porn video.

Millennium Square on Monday didn’t seem to have moved on much from the seaside of my youth. There were vicious showers, unhealthy snacks, inappropriately-dressed visitors (though how anybody is expected to dress appropriately for this climate, I don’t know – Hawaiian shirts and Pacamacs?), plus a heritage Ferris wheel of the type which has thrilled nobody over the age of five since Edwardian times.

Still, everything worked and the ride operators were charming to my grandchildren. They didn’t look, as many fairground workers used to, as if they were awaiting a court appearance due to anger-management issues.

And the council gardeners had dotted plants around the place, so that the square looked like an unlikely amalgamation of a palm court and a scaled-down Blackpool Pleasure Beach, which, against all the odds, is a very good look.

There was also a painted board showing a large lady and a weedy man (in the tradition of Hattie Jacques and Charles Hawtrey) with cut-out faces so people could use the miracle of photography to insert themselves into the seaside scene.

These have been around for longer than I have and are a reminder that British seaside culture feeds on nostalgia, even though children, who are supposed to be at the centre of that culture, can’t do nostalgia.

I suspect this all started a long time ago and that when I went as a child to the seaside, I was experiencing something invented in Victorian or Edwardian times, when railways reached the coast and industrial workers got their first big intake of ozone.

The rides are now a lot more exciting and lattes and wraps are available in sea-front cafes, but apart from that not much has changed, nor, until we can all afford to spend Bank Holiday weekends in Rio De Janeiro, does it need to.

THE RESIGNATION of Sayeeda Warsi from the government was a blow for the Tories’ hopes of presenting themselves as an inclusive, all-Britain party.

The problem was not just the resignation issue (Gaza) but, said Baroness Warsi, the fear that David Cameron couldn’t secure a majority at the next election because he had failed to attract ethnic minorities.

By which she could have meant Muslims, particularly Muslim women, but I think the real problem lies with another ethnic minority, Yorkshire people.

The thing which separates Lady Warsi, daughter of a Dewsbury mill worker who became a successful businessman, from the rest of the coalition cabinet is not just ethnic background, but class.

There would have been no problem with another person of Pakistani origin who turned to politics. The cricketer Imran Khan was educated at an English public school and Oxford University, so nobody in the establishment worries that he’s a Muslim.

Lady Warsi went to her local high school and Leeds University and has retained her Yorkshire accent; she was destined not to fit in.

MILITANTS are bad people prepared to do very bad things, as we learn daily in parts of the Middle East and Africa and as we once learned from the destructive (though not deadly) activities of the Militant Tendency in Britain in the 1980s.

I used to sometimes call myself a militant atheist, but only in response to what I thought was a hysterical outburst from John Sentamu, archbishop of York, who said in a speech in 2012 that the country was under threat from aggressive militant atheists intent on driving religion out of public life.

Which struck me as ludicrous because atheists (or humanists or agnostics, who are all different but who are equally condemned by the immensely rich and powerful ‘faith communities’ lobby) don’t generally have an agenda; they don’t want to take over schools, control the BBC or persecute people who disagree with them. Even Richard Dawkins, the most militant atheist of them all, has done nothing more threatening than write some books you don’t have to read.

And anyway, the word ‘militant’, as in ‘church militant’ used to be a badge of pride for many British believers, who might, counting the death toll arising from recent militant actions, want to distance themselves from it now.

I’m abandoning it because the word (says the Oxford English Dictionary) means “favouring violent or confrontational methods in support of a political or social cause”, which is fine when it comes to fighting despotism or poverty, but horrible when it comes to burying women and children alive. Non-belief, or weak-belief, is always the better option.

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