By Paul Ainsworth

THERE’S nothing funnier for children to watch than a long-suffering wife getting battered with a cudgel by a short-tempered violent husband – or so you’d think if you watched a seaside Punch and Judy show.

The hook-nosed, sociopathic bully Punch is celebrating 350 years of seaside fun, laughter and domestic violence this month, and in Britain they are so fond of the demented puppet that they’ve held special birthday celebrations in London, while no doubt up and down the English coast, grimy, pebble-shored seaside towns will echo to the sound of naughty crocodiles getting walloped.

I don’t think I ever saw a Punch and Judy show as a child, as if I had I’m pretty sure I’d have spent the rest of my youth waking up in a cold, clammy sweat after nightmares of being chased by the demonic little freak on a deserted, moonlit beach, where I trip up on a string of rubber sausages before Punch falls upon me squawking, shrieking and cackling as he beats me to a bloody pulp.

Thankfully, the cosmic horror of Punch and his ugly missus never really took off this side of the Irish Sea – perhaps the image of a policeman involved in violent confrontations with a brightly-dressed menace in a hat became uncomfortably similar to shellsuit-wearing, baseball-capped denizens of Belfast squaring off against the peelers.

Whatever the reason, I’m thankful, and thankful also that Ireland’s hand puppet needs were catered for by RTE’s much less evil yet worryingly androgynous – Bosco, remember him/her?

Our seaside towns are sinister and depressing enough without the malevolent goggle-eyed glare of Mr Punch leering from a candy-striped canopy, and with recession still biting, such towns could be as far as many get for a holiday this summer.

Scattered around the coast, these soul-destroying, grotty ‘resorts’ are all cut from the same mouldy cloth, and often begin with the word ‘Port’. Think myriad pound shops, strange smelling snooker halls and restaurants run by grannies who consider a salad to be chips slathered in jaundiced, lukewarm mayonnaise from an ancient crusty-tipped bottle.

Then there are the beaches, often trumpeted as wild and scenic, but in reality they’re  grey, haunting coastlines where you’re more likely to spot a rotting seal carcass being slowly dissolved by flies amidst the stench of fermenting seaweed than seeing windsurfers somersaulting like they’re in a ‘Discover Ireland’ advert.

Of course, that’s if you can make it down to the beach past gale-force wind and golfball-sized hailstones – in July. Having spent my university years living in such a town, I can safely say I’m speaking from experience. For every happy couple walking hand-in-hand enjoying the view along the promenade, you’re likely to spot a suspicious old man in a cardigan and flannel trousers enjoying the view of the couple canoodling.

Perhaps my resentment of these salty cesspits comes from having pumped countless quid into machines in the sticky ‘amusement’  arcades (drunk and skipping uni lectures of course) hoping to hook a soft toy manufactured as a by-product of a Taiwanese asbestos factory.

I know they are fixed but one day, one sweet day, I hope to strike it lucky.

That’s the daytime taken care of in ‘Port (add vaguely Anglo-Irish name here)’; now how about the nightlife? Such towns usually have a choice between gaudy ‘nightclubs’ selling bottles of neon-coloured poison to preteens, or a sinister looking watering hole where getting ID’d on the door means flashing your jailhouse Red Hand of Ulster tattoo. If you don’t drink then  you can always rent a well-worn VHS copy of ‘Three Men and a Baby’ from the local video store’s ‘new releases’ section.

 

“For every happy couple walking hand-in-hand enjoying the view along the promenade, you’re likely to spot a suspicious old man in a cardigan and flannel trousers enjoying the view of the couple canoodling.”

 

Methinks I’ll stay at home this year rather than visit our lovely coastline. Or maybe I’ll brave the devilish grin of Mr Punch and take in a weekend in a traditional British resort, where the donkeys are faster, the dodgems less rusty, and the fish and chips come with just the right amount of salt to send my blood pressure skyward.

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