The title says it all. "Wish You Were Still Here: The Scottish Seaside Holiday" by Eric Simpson tells the story of a remarkable rise and a sad decline. Seaside holidays to destinations around our coasts developed as an integral part of the lives of many Scots during the 1800s and this continued into the 1950s. But then package holidays became increasingly available and affordable to destinations, often in the Mediterranean, with beaches at least as good as our own, and weather that was far better. The result was what the author describes as "The Flight to the Sun", as Scotland's traditional seaside resorts went into decline, leaving those that could to reinvent themselves in another guise, and those that could not to continue to suffer economically and physically from the loss of a major source of income.
Between the covers of this fascinating book, Eric Simpson sets out in detail the story of the growth of this phenomenon; gives a real insight into just how important Scottish seaside holidays were to so many Scots; and charts the decline of the Scottish seaside holiday. The book is well illustrated, but the focus is very much on the story itself. The chapters are arranged in a broadly chronological order for the periods of growth and decline, while the large central section dealing with the heyday takes a thematic approach. We therefore start with a chapter looking at the Victorian period through to the end of the First World War. There are some real surprises here: it is quite shocking to read that one of the attractions of Portobello's Marine Gardens was a Somali village complete with genuine tribesmen and women, like an exhibit in a human zoo.
Thematic chapters include coverage of Rothesay as a case study; pierrots and funfairs; suntans and Scotland's (many) seawater swimming pools; transport to and from the holiday resorts by steamboat, train, tram and charabanc; recreations such as sailing, boating and golf; accommodation on offer from seaside landladies to grand hotels; and holiday camps and caravans. One way or another, just about every conceivable facet of the seaside experience is covered, and the book concludes with a slightly sad review of "the contemporary scene", relating how little of what was once here is still left.