Butlins, conception and pleated skirts

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This is a response to the piece published recently on the front page about Butlins Holiday Camps.

Although I joke now that being conceived at Butlin's, and born in Leith was the least auspicious of beginnings in life, I can, as a result, rationalise my subsequent upward social mobility as predictable and unsurprising, if for no other reason than downward social mobility from this point would have been virtually impossible.

My conception was no doubt preceded by my mother's consumption of a sweet stout or two at the Pig and Whistle, followed by a romantic dance to the dulcet tones of 'The Vibratones' or whoever was the resident popular singing combo in the Beachcomber Ballroom that year. Against a backdrop of Red Coats1, Knobbly Knees and Glamorous Grannies2, the 'Vibratones' no doubt provided the overture to countless thousands experiencing a similar start in life to mine. I can visualise my Father, filled with the promise of imminent romance splashing out on a Babycham3 for my mother in the ambient charms of the Beachcomber Bar, whose décor could only be described as Early Sub-tropical Rainforest. Complete with artificial tropical storms and lagoon they undoubtedly sat at a table on the shore as the words Are you lonesome tonight filtered down from the ballroom. So, with rainforest, Elvis and Babycham, the setting was almost complete: the outcome made inevitable however by the backdrop of the papier-mâché volcano whose regular, spectacular and voluminous eruptions offered my parents the promise of forthcoming eruptions of an altogether more personal nature.

I assume the consummation of all this promise did involve a bed and a chalet4, for although I can push my thoughts of my parent's sexuality as far as the seduction scene, I reach a barrier thereafter that is only fit and proper. There are some things no one should have to suffer and I certainly can not handle the thought of my parents having a Knee Trembler up the back of the Gaiety Theatre. At least the chalet of my imagination allows the benefit of a door that can be firmly closed, leaving my mind with the more manageable images of the distant creak of the cable cars, gently swinging red and white street lanterns, and the sound of waves crashing on a beach against the backdrop of the Isle of Arran silhouetted against the night sky.

In the 1960s, romance and Butlin's went together hand in girdle.

So, like a baby salmon who instinctively knows where to head when his hormones kick in, Butlin's had entered my consciousness before I had one. Over subsequent years, Butlin's became a magical place, a place of fun and freedom to roam that children born subsequently, my own son included, will sadly never know. Through each stage of my childhood, Butlin's is there: as a toddler in the crèche and fun fair with toddler size rides. At seven with my friends and no parents to supervise on the miniature Steam Train with its ear-splitting whistle that we simultaneously hated and loved. To the children's delight, the driver blew the whistle with all the vim and vigour of a Red Coat on amphetamines as the train entered the incongruous fibreglass tunnel that had been built to order by Hornby5. As a ten year old, my idea of heaven was to spend a whole week in the swimming pools, both indoor and outdoor, complete with huge slides, three tiered fountains and vast viewing windows that allowed you to see under the water from a walkway at the side of the pool, and more importantly for a child, to see into the walkway from under the water. And finally when boy reaches the point where fun fairs seem less important and girls start to be interesting, there was no better place to learn the Rules of War that is the lot of sexual relationships. In these lessons, the camp discotheque played a major role, which was not surpassed until much later in life when I discovered an altogether more exciting and more tastefully decorated form of camp discotheque, but that is another story. Butlin's was, however, to leave me with two more deep scars on my psyche.

Our final holiday week at Ayr with the extended family was to be followed by two weeks on Crete: everyone of my generation can remember where they were when they heard that Elvis was dead, and I was in the games room of the Beachcomber Ballroom playing air-hockey with a kid from Easterhouse. Had the fat b*****d (Elvis that is, not the kid from Easterhouse) consumed one less deep fried banana, peanut butter and burger sandwich with extra jelly, and had lasted another week, I would have been in Greece during the fateful event. Whilst this may seem unimportant, consider this: as long as Elvis is remembered, there will be a part of me that is forever in Butlin's, on the 16th of August 1977. As a result, whatever I do, whatever I achieve, I will remain resolutely working class. Had he lasted one more week, I may have made it to the dizzy heights of the lower middle classes, and gained so much more from the exotic charms of Benidorm, Can Picafort and Agios Nikolaos.

Once again, Elvis Presley and Billy Butlin had conspired to change the direction of my life. However, through self-analysis, hard work and appropriate counselling, I have since learned to not take it personally.

The second scar is altogether more pleasant, and is worn with the pride of an aesthetically correct facial scar borne by a Hussar in memory of a noble duel. At the time when young lads hormones enter full flush, the presence of all this freedom, sunshine and Lady Redcoats was an intoxicating cocktail. Now, in my early forties, the hormones are on the decline, the hair is thinning and I am more likely to be found re-potting a begonia than shirt-off-up-the-front at Cream. But there is something about crisp white pleated skirts combined with seamed, flesh-coloured, stepped heel stockings that will endure until I die. They may even be my last ethereal thought, but these items of authoritative femininity can still fill this 40 something body with the unbridled hormonal release of a teenager, and due to the cyclical nature of the fashion industry, I look forward to the dawn of the summer of 2005 with baited breath.

However, if during that year someone releases a camp-house version of Blue Suede Shoes, I may find myself back in therapy before you can say 'Good Morning Campers'6.


05.12.02 Front Page

Back Issue Page

1Male and female camp attendants who are responsible for everything from clean bed linen to live entertainment.2Two of the many competitions open to 'happy campers' - very British and very naff.3A fifties drink aimed originally at the female of the species. It is slightly sparkling, akin to apple perry, and is best drunk with brandy for the full effect. It's trademark was a baby dancing deer.4The rather spartan accomodation provided for campers - think of a wartime nissen hut and add sparse soft furnishings.5Probably the best manufacturer of model train sets - every boy in the nineteen fifties either owned one or aspired to own one.6The 'wake-up' call to rouse campers for their breakfast.

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