21/05/2011

Seaside Shuffle


An early column looked at the British seaside town through the rather glum prism of Morrissey and Every Day Is Like Sunday. It was a very particular perspective, one partly borne from the angst of growing up and seeing the resort round you become smaller and more tatty: empty boarding houses, derelict funfairs, the faded grandeur of Edwardian hotels. That is, of course, a partial view of the British seaside. The other side of the coin is the signature tune of ‘I do like to be beside the seaside’ , which has been the backdrop for a sunnier and jollier view for generations of holiday makers heading for a week of being characters inside a Donald Mcgill postcard.

Some resorts tried to stay a cut above the more traditional image of the British seaside. Torbay, for example, described itself as the English Riviera – a feasible analogy, with the blue sea, palm trees and marina. Less feasibly, however, Morecambe saw itself as ‘the Naples of the North’ – I haven’t been to Naples but I suspect it has never had a World of Crinkley Bottom theme park. Brighton, too, has always been rather different, a place where the sea is a backdrop to the town rather than the main attraction. It has always been near enough London for a day out by the sea - or the ‘dirty weekend’ of old for Mr and Mrs Smith - but also had the Regency Royal Pavilion, the winding alleys and little squares of The Lanes, the London to Brighton vintage car run and a growing reputation for a bohemian and cosmopolitan atmosphere. Martha Tilston’s Brighton Song summed up its more recent appeal –“ I'm gonna watch from my living room the cavalcade and the basses boom... nothing can stop us, we're bubbling, nothing can stop us, we're effervescing. This is the feeling”.

The song here then –Seaside Shuffle from 1972, about driving down from London for a day out on Brighton beach – seems a bit cheap and cheerful for Brighton now, more reminiscent of donkey rides, whelk stalls and variety shows at the end of the pier: even the sailors hornpipe section sounds as if it should be danced wearing a kiss-me-quick hat. It was a one-off hit for the group, Terry Dactyl and the Dinosaurs, in reality a blues band called Brett Marvin and the Thunderbolts, who had supported Clapton’s Derek and the Dominoes on tour. (One of its members, and the song’s author - Jona Lewie - subsequently went on to solo success, including the perennial Christmas offering, Stop the Cavalry).

The song itself would seem to owe something to the influence of Ray Dorset and Mungo Jerry, with echoes of In the Summertime, with the jug band feel, kazoo and stop-start technique halfway through, and of Maggie off their 1970 debut album. Songs like these, and ones such as The Pushbike Song by the Mixtures, were an odd sub-genre of music in the early 70’s: not rock or underground but not bubble-gum either. You could see these artists as the UK equivalent of groups such as Spanky and Our Gang or Harpers Bizarre a few years later. You could also see them as part of a strand in British pop that went back through some of the Small Faces’ work, Joe Brown and Lonnie Donegan to skiffle and beyond to the music hall. (For a surreal experience, the clip below shows the Bee Gees singing Donegan’s My Old Man’s a Dustman – not a combination one might think of googling).The tradition was continued by the BBC throughout the 70’s with their Seaside Special shows, where a bemused Three Degrees might find themselves appearing alongside a chimpanzee act, Rod Hull and Emu or Kenneth Mckellar singing of the Scottish Highlands in a kilt.

In a way, the cheap and cheerful sound is perfectly suited to the British seaside, if not Brighton itself . Once the preserve of the wealthy seeking to improve their health, the seaside became the holiday choice of Britain’s working class, whether Londoners decamping to Brighton or Margate or whole mill towns in Lancashire and Yorkshire going off to Blackpool or Morecambe in Wakes Week, where their next door neighbour in the terraced street at home would take the same holiday boarding house. Those glory days may have been well on the wane by the time of this song but the echoes were  there with the man selling ice-cream and the walk along the pier – where you still might see Alan Price or Dusty Springfield at the end of the pier show. "It’s a warm day, the sun is shining”/”Everything is silent and grey” –same place, different eyes.

51 comments:

  1. Wow, I had no idea at all about British seaside culture - except from your column "Every Day is Like Sunday" - thanks Geoff!

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  2. I didn't know about Torbay being the English Riviera - but looking at photos online (http://www.devon-online.com/beulah-apartments/montageariel.jpg), it definitely seems true!

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  3. I wasn't sure about the Donald McGill reference - but it seems to mean saucy beach adventures in 1950s-looking swimsuits usually involving large women - here are some examples for other curious people! -

    http://lh6.ggpht.com/_NC4d7MFA2Mk/RXwbhu03vjI/AAAAAAAAAAY/GOxKCYdJVn0/Donald%20McGill.jpg

    http://www.britannica.com/blogs/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/GR-SAUCY-POSTCARD-MUSEUM021A.jpg

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  4. Hello,

    Donald McGill was my grandfather and I now run the Donald McGill Postcard Museum in Ryde (Isle of Wight). We have 1000s of cards on display. We also focus on the trials and tribulations that Donald experienced in the 1950's, as he was prosecuted under the 1857 Obscenity Act for producing some cards deemed unsuitable for the public to see. You can see more about us at http://www.donaldmcgill.info. Thank you.

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  5. Uhm, great video too Geoff:) Awesome chicks walking on the beach. Shame that weird dude singing kept popping into the frame though!

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  6. Ingenious band name!:) Teradactyl. And the singer reminds me of weird Al Yankovic.

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  7. Totally agree about the echoes of "In the Summertime"!

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  8. I remember the original "In the Summertime" - it was popular in LA and I was a lifeguard on Redondo Beach where everyone's radios were playing it!

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  9. Here is my version of "I Do Like to be Beside the Seaside" - In the Style of Reginald Dixon at Blackpool Theatre Organ. That's me playing.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2AZ44KuvaoA

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  10. Ha ha ha, I definitely don't think Naples has a "World of Crinkley Bottom theme park" - whatever that may be!

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  11. It was an attraction in Happy Mount Park in Morecombe but it closed only 13 weeks after opening in 1994!

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  12. I only know of Morecambe because of the tragedy in 2004 (in Morecambe Bay when Chinese immigrant shellfish harvesters were drowned). I had no idea it was supposed to be a cheery seaside town (or glamorous like Naples)!

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  14. Here is a 1905 postcard stating that Morecambe is the "Naples of the North" - http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_qrNR5aHBFfI/TBuSNyFBEaI/AAAAAAAABng/1eV0JN-hlmc/s1600/morecambe+poster0001.jpg - I think because Naples is also on a bay and by the sea, full marks for imagination. :)

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  15. Here is a postcard called "Soaking up the sun at Morecambe, early 1950s".

    http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_qrNR5aHBFfI/TBuMcUuq1hI/AAAAAAAABnY/ubCKSk7LcFY/s1600/morecambe0001.jpg

    Yes the great British summer and we do like to lay in the sun, but sometimes it is best to wrap up. I suppose the 1950s were the last of the mass holidays to British seaside towns. In the 1960s the population became more affluent, package holidays arrived and people discovered you could guarantee sunny weeks abroad. Despite its decline I always have a soft spot for Morecambe or maybe it is a memory of the giant ice creams they used to sell there. Brucciani's Ice Cream Parlour in Morecambe have been selling ice cream for nearly 100 years, maybe that is where this idea came from.

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  16. Geoff, if you haven't seen The Entertainer, filmed in Morecambe’s Winter Gardens, you should watch it. At one point the fading vaudeville comedian Archie Rice, played by Laurence Olivier, says “Don't clap too loudly, it's a very old building.” It's a symbolic line in this 1960 film which testified to the beginning of the decline of Morecambe, popular into the 1950s for its summer beauty pageants. It's a must-see for anyone interested in English seaside towns.

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  17. Hasn't Morecambe made a comeback? The Guardian, in summer 2008, declared Morecambe the UK’s top coastal holiday destination – somewhat of a turnaround since 2003, when it was rated number 3 in the book Crap Towns: The 50 Worst Places to Live in the UK :)

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  18. Morecambe is a pretty rare taste of the real, unreconstructed British seaside (and that’s in spite of its missing piers). An oddball town with rundown cafés, eerily quiet boarding houses and a quirky outsize sculpture of Eric Morecambe inscribed with many of his catchphrases, it makes for an strange but compelling setting, I love it.

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  19. Ah British seaside towns: buy a bag of fish and chips, some cockles in vinegar or some potted shrimps and sit on the seafront gazing out at the ocean. Still glorious!

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  20. If it’s a clear day, you’ll also understand why 1930s ads described Morecambe as ‘the Sunset Coast’. It's beautiful.

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  21. I have been to my fair share of British seaside towns, including Morecambe. Decaying architecture, rotting art deco, faded grandeur, camp yet sad. The endless twilight of Edwardian gentility. They evoke the passing of an epoch - the gradual dimming of an earlier era. Yet that era should have passed by now! It's the kind of extreme romanticism that is claustrophobic. They remind me of Graham Greene's line: "Seediness has a very deep appeal; it seems to satisfy, temporarily, the sense of nostalgia for something lost; it seems to represent a stage further back".

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  22. I like how this song's sound and imagery evokes the long departed seaside carnival.

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  23. I think the highpoint for Morecambe was 1890 to 1960. The resort's popularity was confirmed in the early 1930s by the construction of Oliver Hill's breathtaking art deco Midland Hotel. Which was/is gorgeous.

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  24. Also, I just saw your comment at the end of last week's column. I'm glad you got The North of England Home Service - and yes, I thought of your earlier column on Chatteris with that character. :)

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  25. Tiffanye is right that regeneration is ongoing. Apparently now the phrase being used to describe the regeneration of Morecambe is none other than "The Brighton of the North"......

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  26. It all reminds me of John Betjeman's poem Margate 1940:

    From out The Queen’s Highcliffe for weeks at a stretch
    I watched how the mower evaded the vetch,
    So that over the putting-course rashes were seen
    Of pink and of yellow among the burnt green.
    How restful to putt, when the strains of a band
    Announced a the dansant was on at The Grand,
    While over the privet, comminglingly clear,
    I heard lesser Co-Optimists down by the pier.
    How lightly municipal, meltingly tarr’d,
    Were the walks through the lawns by the Queen’s Promenade
    As soft over Cliftonville languished the light
    Down Harold Road, Norfolk Road, into the night.

    Oh! then what a pleasure to see the ground floor
    With tables for two laid as tables for four,
    And bottles of sauce and Kia-Ora and squash
    Awaiting their owners who’d gone up to wash –
    Who had gone up to wash the ozone from their skins
    The sand from their legs and the rock from their chins,
    To prepare for an evening of dancing and cards
    And forget the sea-breeze on the dry promenades.

    From third floor and fourth floor the children looked down
    Upon ribbons of light in the salt-scented town;
    And drowning the trams roared the sound of the sea
    As it washed in the shingle the scraps of their tea.
    Beside The Queen’s Highcliffe now rank grows the vetch,
    Now dark is the terrace, a storm-battered stretch;
    And I think, as the fairy-lit sights I recall,
    It is those we are fighting for, foremost of all.

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  27. Don't forget, Morecambe's decline wasn't just to do with the new availability of cheap holidays in Spain, it was because of the construction of reactors at a nuclear power station at Heysham.

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  28. I have many fond memories of the years in which beauty surrounded and health abounded in a Morecambe that quite rightly occupied an unassailable spot in the premiership of British holiday resorts. We were never Blackpool and we never wanted to be but nonetheless, there were eight cinemas and in the summer, 11 live shows at Heysham Head, the Palace, West End Pier, the Alhambra, the Arcadian, the Winter Gardens, the Harbour Band Arena, the super Swimming Stadium, the Central Pier, the Royalty and the Tower (which later became the Gaumont). Four major dance halls, not postage stamp-sized discos, each capable of entertaining 2,000 people - at the Tower, Central Pier, Winter Gardens and Floral Hall - were pleasure palaces of which to be genuinely proud with the attraction list completed by two holiday camps at Middleton Towers and Morecambe Bay near Heysham Towers. The resort's buzz was unquenchable and fuelled by an exhilarating entertainment package, assiduously assembled by the tandemed efforts of town council and private enterprise. The council comprised unpaid but passionate men and women, voluntarily investing their time and energies for the common good - adding further jewels to Morecambe's glittering crown. Of course there were vested interests but those of Britain's bonniest bay were always paramount.

    The alarm bells began sounding in the 1960s when holiday habits were revolutionised by the package deals transporting traditional Wakes Weekers to the sun-drenched Spanish Costas.

    Attempts were made to turn the tide and retain the home market by council-sponsored enterprises like Marineland, the revamped Heysham Head with its Winged World, go-kart track and an old English Village and there were even pipe dreams of a multi millionpound Morecambe Bay Barrage and a Westgate-based entertainment complex called 'Wonderama'.

    Many swear that the local government reorganisation - joining unwilling partners Morecambe and Lancaster together in a shotgun wedding - was the final nail in the coffin of the lost resort.

    But the real truth is that holiday habits changed as the world contracted.

    The tragedy is that too many people have been unable to swallow the unpalatable reality of the 1974 Local Government reorganisation still regarding it as indigestible. Nearly 30 years on, the old battle scars should, by now, be healed. Morecambe can never return to its golden days bristling with theatres, cinemas, two piers and dance halls. But its magnificent location and the indescribably beautiful views across Britain's bonniest bay - the Naples of the North - cannot be erased any more than the town's proximity to The Lakes, The Yorkshire Dales and even the magnificent Forest of Bowland.

    The glorious past has gone forever but with careful nourishment, an entirely different and challenging future beckons.

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  29. TS Eliot said it all in "The Waste Land" - "On Margate Sands./ I can connect/ Nothing with nothing./ The broken fingernails of dirty hands./ My people humble people who expect/ Nothing."

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  30. You might enjoy this Geoff - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-gE7REAiQeQ - I took part in it!:)

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  31. I think that the comments on Morecambe suggest the song is more evocative of a resort like Morecambe than of Brighton! I hadn't heard the description of Morecambe as 'Brighton of the North' before - not to be confused with New Brighton near Liverpool, developed in the 19th Century as a"desirable residential and watering place for the gentry"!

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  32. That is a fascinating clip of surrealism, Simone!

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  33. I have a rising sense of panic whenever I visit a British seaside town - it all summons WH Auden's description of Britain's decline:

    "On the sopping esplanade or from our dingy lodgings we
    Stare out dully at the rain which falls for miles into the sea"..........

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  34. Yes, Geoff, people seem to have wandered off the Brighton path toward Morecambe! Well, in an attempt to get us back on track, here is the "Brighton Song" Geoff mentioned - the only version of it I could find: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ov8bn_qEqa8

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  35. Brighton also has a history of riots that were deeply connected to music. Here's a video of Mods and Rockers clashing on Brighton beach in May 1964: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zn5vYOwCTak. You can see me being put into a police car around 1.13 minutes. I was, of course, a Mod.

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  36. Geoff I was struck by your description of London to Brighton vintage car runs - and found a short clip of such an event! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DeooSQrI8Qw

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  37. Geoff, I've been waiting for an opportunity to post this - maybe a column about Texas or something - but the mention of the 1950s this week seems as good a chance as ever: thought you might enjoy this clip of my mother throwing knives at my sister and I in Austin Texas in April 1950. I was only 2 and a half. There were actually 3 of us (another older sister too) who were part of her act but my other sister isn't in this clip. Back then this sort of thing was an entertaining family act, of course today it wouldn't be allowed.

    www.youtube.com/watch?v=4S8cNrIR5ac

    Sue

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  38. It's a fascinating piece of history that I knew nothing about - the idea of "whole mill towns in Lancashire and Yorkshire going off to Blackpool or Morecambe in Wakes Week, where their next door neighbour in the terraced street at home would take the same holiday boarding house". Apparently in Blackburn, there are efforts to revive the tradition:
    http://www.lancashiretelegraph.co.uk/lookingback/4513785.Blackpool_exhibition_to_promote_return_of_Wakes_Weeks/

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  39. I had no idea about that genre of music you describe Geoff - the "sub-genre of music in the early 70’s: not rock or underground but not bubble-gum either" - with roots back to the music-hall. Fascinating!

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  40. Ah, the 1970s. Here's The Pushbike Song by the Mixtures. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CCWAGpChSRI

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  41. What an amazing knife throwing clip! I am sure Health & Safety might have something to say!

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  42. Thanks for writing this column! We actually released the song in 1971 but it wasn't until the rerelease in 1972 that people really bought it. It came about because one day I wandered into a junk shop near my college and saw an accordion that I bought on impulse. From the age of 11, when I first saw a piece of rare footage on television of Big Bill Broonzy, I had always enjoyed early American roots music including black Cajun music which was played by accordion artists in Louisiana and, when I got it home I taught myself how to play it, which was quite easy really because I was already a piano and keyboard player. I ended up writing a few songs on the accordion, one of which I decided I wanted to present to the band I was in at the time for their usage and felt great that they had accepted it, though a little disappointed that, when the record company decided to release it as a single, the band changed its name from Brett Marvin to Terry Dactyl. However, the track became a favourite at a particular club where a record scout happened to hear it and witnessed the great crowd reaction and wanted to have it on his own record company label, did a deal with the small record company and two weeks later it got into the charts after some brilliant marketing and promotion. The track had languished for a year before it became very successful. And it’s one of those good luck stories that show how the balance between success and failure can often hang on just a thread.It became a big hit, getting to number 2 in the U.K. charts in August 1972 and staying there for 3 weeks. It won a ‘Silver Disc” for having sold more than a quarter of a million copies. In addition a foreign version of the song went on to sell a million copies in Germany! Ironically all three separate original performances of “Seaside Shuffle” on “Top Of The Pops” got destroyed - an inexperienced BBC tape operator had been erasing original performances from the master tape for some 8 months thinking he was doing the BBC a favour by saving on tape costs which were very expensive in those days. It is virtually certain that no known copy exists today. He was promptly fired when the BBC found out though.

    Also, here's a video of Stop the Cavalry" in case anyone wants it - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zngTrdW-vio. It is "Stop the Cavalry" not "Don't Stop the Cavalry" by the way. It wasn't supposed to be a Christmas song - it was number 1 in France first in that summer of 1980. They released it in England though in November because of the one line that mentions Christmas. We didn't reach number 1 though. We were beaten by the St Winifred's School Choir and John Lennon. But it wasn't supposed to be a Christmas song - it was actually a protest song. Anti-war.

    You might also enjoy my song "You'll Always Find Me in the Kitchen at Parties" from 1980. - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=62eTq8ErUOQ. And I have a new solo album due out later this year. Cheers!

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  43. The Mixtures also recorded a cover of Mungo Jerry's "In the Summertime" before "The Pushbike Song" - which is clearly based on "In the Summertime" as well.

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  44. Oops, have amended the Cavalry title. Thanks for the background info on the song, Jona. I never really understood why the Stop the Cavalry song is often on the Christmas compilation CDs. As you say, its because of one word- rather like Cohen's Hallelujah being seen as a Christmas song.

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  45. I saw Brett Marvin and the Thunderbolts performing a few years back - tracks from their album "Big City Beat" - they were pretty great live. And truly one of the best (and longest running) blues bands ever to come from Britain

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  46. Wow, that clip of the Bee Gees singing Donegan’s My Old Man’s a Dustman is pretty weird. I guess this is what they were doing in the mid 1960s, before they hit it big in the 1970s!!!

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  47. Ha ha, I didn't understand half of that trash collector song...... I translated "council flat" as "apartment unit in the Projects" - but then got lost around "gorblimey trousers."

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  48. Apparently those BBC Seaside Specials also featured Abba one year......... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9RS-IEVHkTs

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  49. The BBC seaside special shows were pretty dreadful. But here's that Three Degrees performance Geoff mentioned:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QjNB3wdD6bo

    It's a great performance, with no evidence of the chimpanzee act (luckily) but you can get a sense of the odd variety-show vibe at the end when the two hosts come on stage for some banter.......

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  50. I'm pretty sure that this is from a Seaside Special too - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WkiQXroi4LQ - and it really captures the cheesy atmosphere of those specials.........

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  51. Yes, looks like it could well be a Seaside Special.

    I think My Old Man's a Dustman is pretty much of a time and era, Martha-I am not surprised you couldnt translate it!

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