Journey by Bike: Porthcawl Adventure 2 (Chips & Scrimps)

The trip to Porthcawl was punctuated by stops. Chief amongst them was a chip-shop in Talbot Green where you could get ‘fish scrimps’ for free. Depending on where you come from these might be known as scrimps, scrumps, scraps, scrapings or some other name; the bits that come off battered fish as it is fried, and need to be removed from the fryer or else they burn. These days they are usually thrown away, but then most chippies would put them to one side for hungry children such as us – free food, a rare and sought-after commodity. On the way out we would buy chips but on our return, being broke, the free scrimps would be required to get us over the ‘Col de Barn Hill’!  Maybe this instilled in me the belief that chips are the perfect cycling food. Even our final destination was my Uncle’s fish & chip shop in Trecco Bay – a vast trailer park which an un-enlightened civic impulse had carved out of the dunes some time in the 1960s. These days, the creation of ‘the biggest trailer park in Europe’ on top of a unique and irreplaceable dune system would be regarded as an act of breath-taking environmental vandalism; but in the South Wales Coalfield flattening some dunes didn’t seem such a big deal next to the despoiled hills and blackened rivers. In the days before really cheap package holidays Trecco Bay would receive a great influx during the ‘Miners’s Fortnight’, the first two weeks in August during which most of the manual workers took their annual holiday. During this time Trecco would become a displaced version of the mining valleys, a sort of vast prefabricated working men’s club by the sea, with sand replacing the spoil heaps, severe sunburn taking the place of coal-dust blackened skin, and a constant round of evening entertainment washed down with weak beer. According to my father, many years before the Trecco trailer park was built, families would take their annual holidays there by transporting the contents of their households on the back of a lorry, so that you might suddenly come across the surreally displaced contents of a miners cottage, bedstead and all, with the family living amongst the dunes for a week, like itinerant gypsies. A walk along the beachfront at Trecco would take you to the funfair at ‘Coney Beach’, a diminutive version of the more famous funfair on the other side of the Atlantic perhaps, and the ultimate destination for any child on holiday. Seen from an adult perspective it now looks tatty and seedy, and the rides which terrified us then now seem banal compared to the industrialised themes parks that have sprung up. But a child’d eye sees things differently; the Ghost Train and the Helter Skelter, the Appollo and the Waltzers, the Water Chute that wouldn’t pass a health and safety inspection now, the candy floss and hot-dog stands – they all seemed wonderful and exciting to us on excursions during the ‘Miner’s’ or the ‘Club Outings’ on bank holidays. The club outings were another feature of the predominantly working-class area where I grew up. The Workingmen’s Clubs, of which there were many, would organise ‘charabanc’ trips to Porthcawl or Barry Island. Essentially these were coach trips to the seaside, but organised on an industrial scale, with actual double-decker buses hired for the purpose. These would line up along my street from the source of the outing at the ‘Central Club’ almost to my front door several hundred yards away. In the days before everyone owned a car this was a convenient way to get to Porthcawl for a day out. Mothers and children would go to the beach or the fair, while the men – at least the older or unaccompanied – spent the day in the bar drinking. As a consequence, the journey home would be punctuated by many ‘rest’ stops:

Club Outing
Double-decker bus
and Dai times twenty . . .
pints of C.P.A . . ?
no, ten was plenty.

A hot day, if lucky . . .
or the usual summer
rain-soaked, collective
groans more likely.

The bus made it – worth it,
the ten-bob contribution.
Top deck, at the front (if you could)
to see the sea first.

The journey back, a headache,
the price of liquid overload,
with frequent stops for Dai
to jettison his bladder-load.

On return excited
tales of our vacation
fill the empty calendar
’til next year’s destination.

So there we ended up, sitting on the roadside eating pie and chips and contemplating the return journey. Looking back, I can’t imagine how I did it, the equivalent of the Tour de France for a 13 year-old on a supermarket bike; but then, my father cheerfully informed me that he had done the same during the war on a fixed-wheel butcher’s bike and survived by foraging from the hedgerows – earlier generations always had it harder.

2 thoughts on “Journey by Bike: Porthcawl Adventure 2 (Chips & Scrimps)

  1. Lovely times. Spent every summer in my grandparents’ caravan on Trecco. I genuinely thought I was on the most exotic and ultimate holiday. Loved meeting people from the other valleys that seemed so far away back then!


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