It is the annual summer holiday for the cotton industry, 1959, and the Singletons are on holiday for the week in Blackpool with their daughters sixteen–year–old Helen and Beth. Jack has his relationship with his wife Ruth to contend with and her burning ambition for semi–detached respectability as well as union men to talk to, and a letter from Crete (where he was stationed during the war) to consider, but at all costs keep hidden.
Ruth has had enough of living cheek–by– jowl with families who have no sense of proper etiquette or French cuisine and don't even scrub their dustbins every week, but her greatest fear is for little Beth, who has had heart surgery and therefore, Ruth believes, will surely die. Helen only longs to get away from her strict and stifling mother, wear lovely clothes and meet boys.
Seven–year–old Beth is kept very busy with her I–Spy Book of the Seaside, and befriending the hotel dog. She is also obsessed with a sign for the freak show on the prom, and is secretly practicing her snarling and leaping so that she too can be a Tiger Woman ...
Beth's longing to belong to a club of any kind has an extraordinary poignancy whose hold is only strengthened as the novel progresses and we understand exactly what lies behind the brusque and seemingly unloving exterior of her mother.