My Boy says he has never, ever ridden on the famous Littlehampton Boat Train. I have no reason to doubt him though I find it difficult to believe. I didn’t think there was a single member of my family who hadn’t
taken at least one ride on the Boat Train.
Interestingly, a few days before our latest visit to Lovely Littlehampton, I found the very first photograph taken of
grandchildren Jack and Hazel - Hazel at one year old, Jack two and a half - with their Grandad, Mr B, in front of the Boat Train. Ever since then it has been tradition for Team Baldwin, as we call these two grandchildren, to have their photographs taken in
exactly the same position. In the early teenage years their mother, the Youngest of the Darling Daughters, and I used to have to bribe them with hot doughnuts before they would pose for us - more recently they have given in to our requests with reasonably
good grace, on the basis that the sooner we snap, the sooner they can escape. I mention this because it is of tremendous relevance to the news I am about to impart.
being one of the hottest May Day weekends of all time, we decide that it is just too, too hot for Brighton and the Sea Life Centre. Rather, the beach at Littlehampton beckons. My lovely friends Sue and John offer to keep Mr B company over lunch so I am free
to join the rest of the family - My Boy, the Darling Daughter in Law and the (Not So Very Little) Welsh Boys for a few precious hours of sand, sea and sunshine.
set off before me and I join them at the Crazy Golf an hour later. I have to park a little way off, in the Swimming Centre car park, but at £3 for four hours I’ve struck lucky. My Boy is less than impressed as he has paid over seven pounds for
his Parking Experience. I tell him, blithely, that it’s only money but he isn’t convinced, especially as I hadn’t thought to advise him on Alternative Parking Arrangements.
My Welsh Boys are quick to point out that there have been a fair number of changes made to the Crazy Golf course since the last time we played. These include the installation of a larger than life-size and most realistic pirate at
one hole. So realistic is he that I find myself apologising to him when I nearly hit him with a poorly aimed golf ball. Much more important, however, is the inarguable fact that some of the previous easy holes have been made much more difficult thorough relaying
the surfaces. As a result, there is no gentle roll down to each hole to accommodate every misfit ball. This is particularly evident in the hole where the Pirate King stands - this was always, but always, an almost guaranteed hole in one. But no longer.
Our plan for lunch in the nearby café is thwarted when we find it is not serving food because it is short-staffed, while there is a long, long queue outside the East
Beach Café - so we agree to take the Boat Train along the prom in search of another eating-place. We have the usual discussion about whether all the adults should ride along with the children and I decree that they should, especially given the fact
that My Boy has apparently never had the pleasure. We take our seats and I tell the owner / driver about the photo I had found of that sunny day eighteen years ago.
a bombshell! The Boat Train is going into retirement! It is to be replaced next week with a more spirited engine with greater pulling power. I am beyond despair. The Boat Train has been part of our Family Seaside Days for eighteen years - every grandchild
has ridden on it, eyes shining, hair windswept, waving manically and trying to guess which of the people we pass will be “wavers” and return our salutes. “We are wavers!” the Middle of the Darling Daughters has been telling her Trio
of Rampaging Rascals ever since their very first trip aboard this very special train.
There will still be a train, chugging along the prom. Indeed, almost every
seaside with a long promenade boasts a train. But there has only ever been one Boat Train. I wonder if some talented wood carver might make a name for him or herself turning out model Boat Trains for people like me, bereft at the loss of a sweet seaside tradition.
All we can do is to stage a last photographic memory. I stand with my (Not So Very Little) Welsh Boys while their father does the honours. Sam the Eldest has something to
show me - he has been standing by the name written on the Boat, purposely blocking out the last letter so that it reads “Cherish”.
my Boat Train. I will cherish the memories of so many precious moments aboard you.