I remember this. Playing on the beach under Paignton Pier. Granny had retired to Torquay and my mother got to offload her idiot offspring on her mother for one excruciating weekend per year for all concerned.
We were never allowed onto the pier, of course, for it was a place for the down at heel, the dissolute and practitioners of all seven known deadly sins and a few more besides. So of course getting onto Paignton Pier became not so much an ambition as a life goal. And we made it.
It was here I played my first arcade game, an early version of Forza Motorsport, otherwise known as an unwound coat hanger with a model car on one end and a steering rack on the other, allowing the driver (in exchange for two new pence) to ‘steer’ said car while some murky film of an on-board lap of some unknown track was projected on the background. It was bloody disappointing even then.
And now, nearer half a century later than I would care to admit, I was back.
We came to find the Riviera – not the one in France (because that would involve a navigational error that not even my desperate sense of direction could excuse) but England’s equivalent (because overseas travel is somewhat sub-optimal at present). And it really exists, not just as some abstract construct in the increasingly addled brain of an ageing hack but as a real place – a Unesco Global Geopark, no less, alongside those in Tuscany and Provence, not to mention the Ngorongoro volcano in Tanzania.
At this stage, you might think I’m making this up. I promise I’m not. So where once you may have thought Cannes, Antibes and St Tropez, try saying Torquay, Paignton and Brixham. As you can see, here they also have sun, sea, palm trees and at least one Bentley. And does Cannes have a pier where a dodgy-looking bloke in a glass booth will tell you your fortune? Not that I could find. Does the Casino de Monte-Carlo have wall-to-wall slot machines projecting son-et-lumière effects to sear your eyeballs and eardrums? I think you will find it does not. And as you gaze out across the Promenade des Anglais from your suite in the Negresco in Nice, will you find inflatable slides and bouncy castles? Not the last time I was in town. Besides, if it’s real promenading Anglais you want, especially those of a certain vintage, it’s our Riviera and not theirs to which you should head.