Once a year it came around. We all looked forward to it. It was the 'Chapel outing' to Mablethorpe by the sea. In contrast to this, the 'Church outing' always went to Skegness. We Methodists preferred the quiet informality of Mablethorpe,
it seemed to suit us fine.
Weeks before the outing, children that were not regular attenders at the Chapel would start attending to ensure they were allowed on the trip. Most of us however were regular at the Sunday School this was all
part of upbringing - it was We enjoyed the lessons and collecting the stamps and then at the end of the year getting another bar on our medal for attendance.
Our Chapel Anniversaries were always great occasions. Each year we would have
a theme and everyone of us were given poems to learn and recite before what seemed like the whole village on a Sunday afternoon. We loved it, despite having to dress up in a pair of rather long, short trousers made from a rough greenish tweed material, a tartan
tie and hideous claret coloured soxs (I hated those long claret sox I couldn't wait to get the things off. Even then I knew they didn't match. I tried so hard to destroy them or wear them out, but several times a year out they came and on they went and
off I went looking stupid).
My memories of the Chapel were only good. Miss Linton on the organ, smiling and giving out instructions of when to stand, when to sit and to keep smiling as if we were enjoying it - when in point of fact
we were, but never told her. I have always felt sorry for those who had the misfortune to be brought up in a strict religious atmosphere with no joy or reality. We had joy by the bucketful and this seemed to come from our teachers, who through careful (and
very patient) instruction and a sensible reverence brought us all up understand that the Christian faith, of which I had precious little in those days was something for the ordinary person to enter into.
Before I leave the Chapel it is
worth mentioning the Chapel parties, which were special. I remember the egg sandwiches, the fantastic cakes and of course the jelly and ice cream, that always ended up all over everywhere and everyone! After the party came the games. After the games we would
all go outside to a little lawn to pay, whilst the adults did the washing up. I'm sure that this was repeated all over the fens. We never tired of it. Neither did my soxs, they kept on coming out and I kept on trying to destroy them.
I didn't have to wear them on the Chapel outing. I was given my favourite checked shirt, Khaki shorts, 'S' belt and plimsols and felt great.
After this short digression I return to that which interests us - the Chapel outing.
The old Austin bus picked us up very early in the morning stopping at various points in the village. Rex was one of the first to be picked up so he always reserved the back seat for us both. We were the only two boys,except for his cousins who were
younger and both dressed exactly the same, they always had smartly pressed grey shorts and grey jacket,bow tie and white shirt. Their golden hair was plastered to their heads with Brylcream and a neat kiss curl hung on their forehead. Max and Morris was their
names and they were only allowed to play games that didn't get them dirty. Their mum was very strict. Morris, the young of these incredible brothers was quite rebellious and had at times deliberately take out his kiss curl when out of view of his mum and had
been known to express his dislike of wearing his tartan dicky bow - I had never heard him say that, but Rex, who due to his late appearance was in actual fact, was their uncle,told me this was the case.
Traveling in the old bus was an adventure.
We had sandwiches and penny bags of crisps which as soon as we got on the open road we began to pester the grown ups to open. The whole atmosphere was one of excitement.We sang as soon as we turned out of the village and only stopped singing to munch sandwiches
and penny packets of crisps. We started with several green bottle sitting on the wall and kept going round the mountain wearing bright red bloomers. On reflection I feel sorry for the poor driver, who in exchange for a day at the seaside had to do such
penance. , subsequently, have this picture of a group of men sitting with stern faces in a smoke filled room drawing lots to see who got the Dunston Chapel run this year. maybe in my wildest moments picture an old army revolver on the table just in case it
was all too much for the loser.
The journey itself, took a couple of hours and soon we could see Mablethorpe in the distance. Unlike Skegness, there was no big wheel to look out for, but you could tell when we were getting near as
Mablethorpe had these odd concrete roads. Max and Morris were allowed one muted cheer when our destination was sighted, they contained themselves for about a mile on the concrete road and the muted cheer was emitted on command when we passed the sign stating
our destination. Mrs Ramsbottom was concerned that over excitement would stain their trousers so it was discouraged.
Arriving at the old bus station we met other 'day trippers', who like us just poured off their bus, screaming and shouting
about what they wanted to do during the day. All except Max and Morris who were not allowed to scream or plan or in particular they were told not to approach any of those dirty donkeys on the beach, Mrs Ramsbottom wasn't convinced where they had been
or of their cleanliness, so a wide berth was to be given.
Such limitations were not for us, neither did our parents impose them on us. We were free to roam, play and spend our pocket money however we wanted. Mablethorpe was perfectly
safe, cars were few and far between near to the front and it was so small that you hardly ever got out of the sight an adult. We played endlessly in the penny arcades, where most games were a halfpenny a go and generally you could win enough pennies to play
over and over again. If we ran short, then Rex and I would stand at opposite ends of the arcade moving from one foot to another, drawing in breath between our lips and asking all the grown ups we saw for a penny to address our obvious condition. It always
worked and within a short time we were back again on the machines. Whenever someone put money into the laughing Policeman we would all gather round and see who could stand their the longest without laughing.. When our pennies ran out we would watch others
playing and be just as excited. It seems odd looking back now, how we were never bored, neither did we long for new machines, we were delighted with the old ones.
However the bulk of our saved money would be spent towards the end of the
day in the nic nac shops. they were wonderful, full of great treasures, Lone Star silver cap guns and Sheriff badges, hairy spiders that moved when you squeezed the rubber ball, Lone Ranger pen knifes. plastic daggers that 'went in' when you strapped
someone and bow and arrow sets. We would enter into the cave with eyes wide open, it was the most wonderful place in the world. You could always tell the kids who had been there. They were the ones with silver guns strapped to their waists and a gleekit look
on their faces. Often cap gun fights would just happen for no reason. One gleekit look, spying another gleekit look in the amusement arcade - not knowing where each came from, it could have been Yorkshire, or Mansfield , or even the posh South, but they began
a shooting, diving in and out of cover until one of them was whisked away by a parent, or until they both spied a poor unfortunate that was going through a Red Indian phase and had chosen to buy a headdress and rubber Tomahawk then happened to
walk into the wrong part of town.
I remember once Rex and me joining together with a red haired lad from Boston and chasing a Scunthorpe Red Indian for half an hour until we all gave up and sat with an ice cream cornet on the beach
watching the donkeys and talking about our schools.
Ah. but that is another story, the donkeys. I have always thought it strange that a lad like myself, who had been born and bred in the country could be afraid of Livestock. I just turned
to jelly when a cow or horse came near. I have no bad recollection, save one of a cow grazing inside our tent during a fishing trip. But I seemed to have been born with problem,
This fear caused me to dread the fateful words ' Donkey ride!'
This usually happened over lunch time, when all the families would meet together on the beach to eat sandwiches (aptly named!). It was then, with everyone in view the parents would give us the money for a ride on the donkeys. This was mostly followed by us
all going on the 'Duck', a World War Two Amphibious thing that sped along the beach then crashed into the water and became a boat. I liked that. I did not like the donkeys. I fear that they could sense that and didn't really like me.
particular year I couldn't avoid it. Last year I went for a long Pee just as I sensed that Donkey time was coming up, thus avoiding the whole unpleasant experience.
The cry went up and Dad thrust money into my hands and Ieft with Rex and
some girls to find our mount. This was the only time that I envied Max and Morris who were forbidden to go near anything that didn't smell of disinfectant. We approached the Donkey man. I eyed up the assembled beasts. What was more disturbing, they were
eyeing me up. Some had such cute names like 'Dobbin', 'Neddy' 'Bill and' Sam'- but that didn't fool me. I knew that behind that sweet exterior was a wild beast that would take a dislike to me.
'Which one do you want lad?' The Donkey man
said looking at me.
Here now was a big decision. If I chose 'Lucy' or 'Kate' then if I fell off or I looked scared, then I would have lost all credibility. However if I chose a mount with a more 'manly' name, then it might be better.
'Er.. I'll have ..' my eye went down the line..'That one at the end, the one with the blue saddle'. There I had done it.
'That'll be old Jehu .good choice son' he said.
Now I liked the 'old' bit, this
could turn out to be a steady plod over the distance. I didn't understand the Jehu, but it seemed a nice name,anyway he was one of the oldest there as the Donkey-man went on to say, not only that, but he only did two lunchtime runs a day. I assumed this was
due to his great age. This looked better by the minute.
I approached old Jehu with great caution, I needed to show him that I wasn't afraid. He eyed my approach with a Donkey kind of indifference. I was helped into the saddle by Donkey-man,
I remember thinking how high up it was - I will not be afraid, I kept repeating. I felt the beast between my thighs, I could feel its movement as it breathed. I was shaking. Old Jehu sensed it.
I began telling myself that Donkeys cannot
think, that is not like we can. They cannot reason, they only do what they are told, they eat when told and walk when told and stop when told. I kept saying to myself, that Old Jehu has done this many times and was skilled at going up and down the beach, reaching
the turning point and returning. I consoled myself with the probably fact that he had taught all the other Donkeys in the group and that he would continue to be an example to them. I imagined the young Donkeys being told ' Just keep your eye on Old Jehu, do
what he does and your'l be okay'.
I think that one of the reasons why in later years I developed hypertension, was due to the fact that I worried and reasoned out every day in such a manner, that my approach to life was one of constant
concern and reasoned caution.
However we were ready. Rex was on Dobbin, a friendly looking animal with half an ear. Sandra Buckingberry was on Lucy, Peggy on Peg, Jill on Neddy and a bunch of kids from Scunthorpe mounted the rest of the
I glanced as Rex, who kept on shouting 'Charge!' and 'Let's get them Injuns!'. I smiled, my only concern was hanging on and getting through this ordeal.
A few years ago we were allowed to ride with out cap guns
slung to our waists. This practice was halted after several cattle rustling and bank robberies were enacted by the boys and the Donkeys became very nervous about the cap guns. I was glad of this. A nice stately stroll was fine by me. No rustling, no charges
and definitely no Injuns!
''Giddy up'!' said Donkey-man and we all together 'giddy upped', Old Jehu leading the way. As we moved off I remember thinking that this wasn't all that bad after all and maybe my fears were unfounded.
As we moved down the beach, we passed the bathing huts, then the dunes and the amusements were in sight. The Duck sped passed, the Donkey troop didn't even lift an eye, they seen it all before, they steadily plodded on to the distant turning
point near the promenade.
Slowly it approached, I felt reasonably comfortable. The beach train was approaching. It was a real steam train the size of a pedal car, driven by an oversized man and towing open carriages behind it full of children.
This was always a great attraction, it went up and down the beach turning near to the place where the donkeys turned.
As it came nearer it was obvious that the point of turning for both donkey and machine would coincide. Both kept
to the hard sand near to the tide line. Donkey-man shouted at Jehu to go steady and slow the troop down . He seemed a bit agitated. The train came nearer. The marks in the sand where it turned were clearly marked - however for some strange reason the driver
kept coming, I thought this a bit odd at the time. He passed the turning point, then about ten yards on, made his turn ,right in front of Jehu. The train screamed past the old donkey and as it did the driver reached for a lever in the cabin and sounded the
The noise was deafening as steam expelled sideways from the small funnel right in front of old Jehu, who, I had assumed was a bit deaf and short sighted hadn't a clue it was coming. I was wrong. Donkey-man cursed
and shook his fist at the driver, the driver laughed at the Donkey-man and made a rude gesture in return and sped off to join his marked course.
All that happened in slow motion, at the same time Jehu's ears shot up he heard it alright,
the whites of his eyes became more prominent and he and I took off along the beach towards the South, leaving the group behind.
This complete turn around in fortunes was very disturbing. The wind in my face the blurred scenery, the jolting
feeling of a large uncontrolled beast beneath me heading south. I was beginning to get a bit concerned.
At this point I should explain what had happened, otherwise events make no sense at all.To start with old Jehu was not the beast I first
thought he was- on the contrary, the reason why he only did two lunchtime runs was because he was so unreliable. You see he had a tendency to bolt, that was why he was called Jehu after the Old Testament Biblical character of the same name, who was famed for
scaring the residents of Jerusalem by driving his chariot furiously through its streets. Old Jehu first began to bolt when he was first employed as a young donkey and could often be seen charging down the high Street, dodging in and out of people and cars
and often entering into the amusement arcades. His reception was mixed, but all the locals knew him.
'Look out!, here comes Old Jehu again!' they would say.
Old Jehu? Yes, you see Jehu wasn't old at all,
people just called him that. In fact he was not even middle aged in Donkey terms, what I should have remembered was that Lincolnshire folk often used the term 'old' as a mark of familiarity. I'd been duped not only that but but duped and on the back of a runaway
crazed young stallion of a Donkey.
What started this bolting thing? This goes back to Jehu's infancy and Donkey-man's personal dispute with the train driver over the allocation of beach. The train driver wanted to turn much further
North, but Donkey-man had that patch and refused to let him. What followed was nothing short of an open war with the Train driver turning into the path of the Donkey troop and hooting his horn to scare the donkeys. Donkey-man in turn, when bringing his donkeys
to the beach in the morning, led them past the pick up point of the train and at the word of command made them drop their breakfast in neat piles, just where the little station was sited and the people alighted. And so it went on and on. Until a kind
of truce was called and the outbreak of hostilities became more sporadic and unpredictable. Sometimes the droppings would come- like this morning and the Train man would respond, usually at lunch time, when Jehu was leading, by timing his approach exactly
and screeching across the path of the lead Donkey and scaring him. He chose lunch times,because he knew Jehu was the lead. Why on earth the Donkey-man didn't change and put Dobbin or Sam at the front remains a mystery either he never caught on or that he refused
to se why he should change on account of the situation - he was very stubborn. Of course the Train driver didn't aways get it right, nor did he intend an attack every day it all depended on the Donkey droppings and his timing.
he got it just right and Jehu responded perfectly charging off in a panic. A panic that went right through his body into mine and both of us panicked in unison,
As we passed the train boarding station,Jehu snorted as if this gave
him greater incentive and he increased speed, darting around from side to side. I hung onto the beast. My great concern was whether or not Jehu would turn right into the high street and take me for a tour of the amusement arcades or head for the nearest housing
estate only to be stopped by a road block somewhere.
Jehu kept going. He passed the turn off and kept to the beach. I thanked God for small mercies as he headed along the beach towards Sutton on Sea - at least the beach made for a softer
landing I thought.
On we went. As we passed people simply stopped and stared. At this point I realised that it was possibly to feel both fear and embarrassment simultaneously, this mingled with physical discomfort reminding me of my mortality
all surged through my body.
On we went. Then suddenly as if he had run of energy, Jehu slowed down, broke into a trot and then a walk. It was all over, no dramatic end, no broken bones, it was just over. Jehu had decided that it was enough
for the day, so he stopped - as it seemed miles away from anyway, in the stretch of beach no-one used.
It was here that I thought that it was a long walk back. But then why should I walk! I had a steed between my knees, albeit a spent
beast, but he had to get back as well, so I reasoned that we should do it together!,
I'd seen it on the movies, so I dug my right heel into Jehu's side,pulled right on the reigns and to my amazement, Jehu turned. I corrected the turn and
with the Helter Skelter set right between Jehu's large ears I dung in both heels and said 'Giddy up Jehu' and he did! He set off back towards Mabelthorpe. I felt great. We were bonding, boy and beast in harmony.
Those left behind were worried.
They all thought that was the last they would see of me. Even Dad, who was never phased by anything, he'd been at Dunkirk and the Landings,seeing his only son disappear on the back of a runaway crazed Donkey was nothing to be concerned about, even he was somewhat
As Jehu and his master rode into view,I could hear cheers and intermittent clapping. Slowly we made our way passed the Prom, passed the train station, towards Donkey-man and the rest of the pack.
looked with astonished amazement as I rode into town on my trusty steed. Sandra Buckinberry smiled, I felt a funny feeling that I was to know later as the stirrings of an interest in the opposite sex. It felt good. I tried to squint, like John Wayne and nearly
fell off, so thought I looked cool enough without pushing it.
I reigned Jehu in and brought him to a halt. A sigh of admiration came from the girls. In such a short time I was a hero, a tamer of Donkeys, a master horse man, a hero, the
John Wayne of Mabelthorpe. I patted Jehu, as if he and I had intended all the time to have this little workout.
I took a last look at the scenery,turning in my saddle as if to check for Injuns, then made as if to dismount. The Donkeyman
saw my intention and ran towards me to lift me off. Did the Lone Ranger need Tonto to lift him off Silver? Of course not! I would do it by myself.
Before my adoring crowd, I raised myself up swung over my right leg to dismount, putting
my weight on the left stirrup. Unfortunately, my plimsol slipped out of the stirrup and I completely lost it, the whole of my body sliding down the side of Jehu ending up flat on my face beneath him I lifted up my head and spat out what felt like half the
The crowd of my admirers turned from their admiration to laughter. That was the end of my hero period, I had returned back to being an ordinary nine year old.
The rest of the day went off without
incident. A couple of attacks by some Red Indians from Barnsley were successfully repelled. Peggy was sick, Max and Maurice got too excited, Max managed these new feelings okay,but Maurice couldn't control himself and went home wet. All in all it was a good
trip. We managed two hundred green bottles and the driver survived to take the bus back to the depot ad that was it for another year.
© john cropley