It's a memory that has stayed with me for over half a century. It was 1958 and coming to the end of the school year.
The eight year old me with my younger brother
Seventy children, all aged about eight, crowded onto two buses for a 70-mile journey to the coast. I made sure I was sat with my best pal, Stubbsy. Our destination: Filey. Mother had prepared me well. I had a duffel bag packed with boiled egg sandwiches a bottle of fizzy drink, sweets, and packet of potato crisps; the old-fashioned kind with the salt in a tiny blue, twist bag.
There were no motorways back then, and the journey would take anything up to three hours, including a half hour toilet stop on the outskirts of York. For a gang of eight-year-olds, three hours on a bus passed surprisingly quickly. All anyone could talk about was the sea.
Other than in books, on TV or postcards, most of us had never seen it, or if we had we were too young to recall. Some of the lucky ones, Stubbsy included, had been on caravan holidays and they’d seen it, they knew the thrill of playing on the sands, of looking out over the gleaming blue waters of the North Sea. I drooled at the prospect.
ByPeter Church [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Mr Gaunt was the teacher in charge, and Mrs Garrett was his 2IC. First priority when we got to Filey, was another toilet call, then get the kids on the sands, their backs against the rough stone of the sea wall and call it lunchtime.
I sat with Stubbsy, chewing on my boiled egg butties, looking out across the sands and an undulating slab of grey which stretched for as far as we could see
Like everyone else, I couldn’t understand why we all painted the sea a rich blue, and anticipated it in blue, when in reality it was much the same bland colour as my short trousers. It was the subject of much discussion and I became so distracted by it that I dropped one of my carefully cut sandwiches and it got filled with sand. So I threw it away.
Mr Gaunt came down on me with the wrath of God. “Robinson, do you imagine that the good people of Filey have nothing better to do than tidy up their beach after clots like you?” A suitably contrite response. “No, sir.” “When we’re all finished, you will clean up the beach.”
Staring around, I was terror struck. The beach was miles long. It would take months to clean it all up. Was he just going to abandon me there while everyone else went back to Leeds? Where would I sleep? What would my mother say?
It was some relief to learn from Mrs Garrett that he meant only that part we had populated and polluted. You’d be surprised how much mess two classes of kids could produce in half an hour, and to this day, that lesson stays with me. I never litter the pavements, I always use the bins.
Carr Naze and Filey Brigg
From the beach we moved on through Coble Landing where our teachers spent some time explaining the local fishing industry, and then we walked out along Filey Brigg, that spit of land that juts out into the sea from the end of Carr Naze cliff. It was a slippery path littered with rock pools which were a magnetic attraction. They teemed with marine life: aquatic plants and other creatures. We even saw tiny crabs, scuttling away to hide from our prying eyes.
Then it was back to the bus for the journey home, bursting with stories for my mother, father and brother of the things I’d seen, the places we’d visited (but I never told them about being made to clean up the beach). And, of course, back at school the following day there was the inevitable essay to write: A Day Out in Filey
That was the start of a lifelong love affair with this pretty little town. I met my wife there in 1979, and we still go back at least once a year. Small wonder that when I chose to write cosy detective fiction, the first title was The Filey Connection.
It wasn’t the only school trip I went on. In the 10 years that followed, up until I left school, there were many more, but Filey sticks in my mind. Even today, every time I walk along the sparkling new promenade, I can still see that eight-year-old boy throwing away a boiled egg sandwich, and then cleaning up the beach.