13 May 2017

Summertime

When I was a university student in the seventies, I had long summers to fill. Back then it was relatively easy to find vacation jobs.  In 1974, I spent a few weeks working at a small agricultural chemical factory back in the village of my birth. One of my tasks was to fill aerosols with sheep dye using a certain sealing machine but about every hundreth canister would explode showering me with indelible blue or red ink.

I went home for tea only to be greeted with unsympathetic familial laughter and sheep impressions. Getting that red or blue ink off my face and arms was nigh on impossible. The Incredible Hulk may have been green but I was the red and blue version.

After a month or so, I quit that awful job and bought a plane ticket from Leeds to Dublin. I had a massive rucksack filled with everything I might need and set off on a six week camping tour of Ireland, staying hither and thither and sometimes treating myself to a night in a youth hostel or a room above a pub. By the way, you can read about the drama that happened at Leeds-Bradford Airport in this post I wrote in 2009 - "Lard"

"The Troubles" were raging in Northern Ireland in 1974 but I was sticking to The Republic. The country attracted far fewer tourists than it does today. I have many memories of those six weeks, drifting around, meeting people, getting to know Ireland and The Irish.

They spoke English but they were not English. This was definitely another land, another culture. There was humour and openness and yet there were undercurrents too - of departure and loss. In Ireland they loved to tell a story and people had time to chew the fat. I drank Smithwick's bitter in smoky little pubs down in Cork and Dingle and Ennis and Baltimore and an old man rowed me out into the middle of Lough Ree where we caught fish and took them back to his two room cottage to fry over the turf fire.
Oh I could write a dozen blogposts about that six week tour. I haven't even touched upon any of the lifts I had while hitch-hiking round Ireland. None of them were ever straightforward. There was always a tale to be told. It was as if Ireland was simply a novel unfolding -  a page turner of interconnected chapters filled with laughter, love, tragedy and bizarre happenings all viewed against a beautiful backcloth of green fields, Atlantic sunsets, tumbledown cottages and ancient history.

In 1975 I worked at Butlins holiday camp near Filey on the Yorkshire coast. It doesn't exist any more. It was razed to the ground in the eighties. 

The holiday camp had fences and barbed wire round it. Holidaymakers stayed in basic chalets and within the complex there was everything they needed for a fun time. There were dining rooms, swimming pools, sports fields, a ball room, bars, snooker and table tennis halls and a permanent funfair containing all manner of rides.
Most of the visitors were working class folk from big northern cities like Leeds and Newcastle. You paid an upfront fee for your week's holiday then pretty much everything was free. On commercial British TV channels adverts for Butlins were very familiar - "You'll have a really wonderful time at Butlins by the sea".

In the daytime I worked in the catering stores, checking deliveries in and checking out orders to the different dining venues. At night I worked in an amusement arcade with a bunch of keys and a dirty great screwdriver. I was what was laughably called the "technician" - unjamming coins and bashing the various old machines to make them work again.

Butlins seasonal workers lived in their own separate encampment, sharing cramped chalets. There was a staff bar but I only went in there once. It was like a saloon in the Wild West. A fight broke out and chairs went flying. No wonder plenty of the workers seemed to sport scars. It was a rough place with rough people and I kept my head down, happy to escape  after two months with a nice wedge of cash and no injuries.

When 1976 arrived, I was determined to do something different that summer. No more sheep dye, no more turkeys on the turkey farm where I had also worked and no more detainment in a  Butlins prison camp. 

One day at university I saw a poster on a noticeboard  - BUNAC - British Universities North America Club. There were smiling faces in a forest. Perhaps I could be a camp counsellor on an American summer camp. Surely that would be better than the other things I had done. Free flights, free accommodation and food plus a small income.. But was it really me?  Well this will be the subject of my very next post - "Counsellor".

24 comments:

  1. I love this post, Yorkie...and am certainly looking forward to reading your next chapter! :)

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    1. It was written in the style of the famous Australian writer - Lee George.

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    2. Hahahahaha! You twi! lol

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  2. We used to beg our parents to take us to Butlins, it seemed like the best place on earth from the TV adverts. Alas, to no avail. It was Uncle Sid's guest house in Bognor Regis every time.

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    1. Did they have smiling Red Coats at Uncle Sid's guest house? When I was about nine or ten I collected tokens from my weekly comic and wrote off for a free family day pass at Butlins - Filey. I can still see the grim expressions on parents' faces when I gave them the news. "Oh no!"

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  3. Butlins in the '70's .......when the waste-paper bins in the rooms had a hole in the bottom to make sure people didn't pee in them as it was a long way to the toilets!

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    1. Sounds like you know what you are talking about Sue!

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  4. Sounds the perfect teaching practice to me!

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    1. Did you do your teaching practice at The Butlins Academy, Skegness? Good training for Wolverhampton.

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  5. ive noticed Butlins advertising jobs lately at Skegness ,
    I wonder if Brexit has seen off there usual Polish staff ?

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    1. The furniture at Butlins was always well-polished.

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  6. This was very enjoyable reading, YP. Looking forward to more. Butlins did sound rather like a prison - at the edges, at least.

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    1. While the rich English enjoyed grand European tours, the poor but employed took their holidays in regimented camps. It was a hang over from World War II.

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  7. I loved reading this, my brother in law worked at Butlins Pwllheli in the early 60s, he actually met his wife there, he worked alongside Ringo Starr who he says still owes him £3.00 !!
    We stayed in a Butlins in 1996 when we went to watch the golf ( British open ) at Lytham-St-Anne's, the man at the gate advised us to leave our car outside, I spent hours scrubbing the bath and toilet with my shampoo !. Then the police arrived because people were booking in and leaving their children there while they went into Blackpool for the weekend knowing the children would be fed and entertained while they were away.

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    1. At Butlins Filey it was common for parents to put their kids to bed in the chalets and then go out boozing while Red Coats were on duty around the chalets - babysitting maybe fifty kids each. Thanks for calling by Tweetart!

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  8. My mother and my aunt (her sister) once took myself and my cousin to Butlin's at Filey, many years ago, possibly sometime in the late 1940's. I have no recollection of it - I was about three years old. Apparently it was so awful that they phoned my uncle to come and collect us after three days !
    Small world that it is, I recently found some photos taken there, when my cousin and I won a fancy dress competition. My mother always used to wonder what in the world possessed them to go in the first place, and my aunt always said they fancied something a little different ! It certainly wasn't a holiday ever repeated, and the following year our two families went to France.

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    1. Butlins holiday camps weren't everybody's cup of tea. I wrote this in response to another commenter - "When I was about nine or ten I collected tokens from my weekly comic and wrote off for a free family day pass at Butlins - Filey. I can still see the grim expressions on my parents' faces when I gave them the news. "Oh no!" " Looking back I think it was their idea of a horror day out but for my brothers and I it was brilliant. We loved it. How many times did I ride on "the Mouse" mini-rollercoaster? Wonderful!

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  9. Student summer employment was a challenge. Employers wanted you for many different reasons. My worst job was working 6 weeks on a little delivery truck that moved almost everything. We delivered to slums and I came home very stunky!

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    1. Stunky is a good word. I like it. Perhaps this should have been your nickname rather than Red. Hi Stunky!

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    2. Oops! That's a mistake that you won't let me forget.

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  10. I'll look forward to the next 'counsellor' post. Maybe later you could do a weekly series on your early Irish travels. Were you taking photos in those days?

    Alphie

    Alphie

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    1. In those days I spurned the very idea of taking photos Alphie but the images are all in my memory bank.

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  11. I've read about Butlins. They're almost all gone now, aren't they? Anyway, it's interesting to hear about your summer experiences. I wonder why BUNAC had to recruit counsellors from England? Didn't American students want to be counsellors? Or was this more of a cultural exchange program?

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    1. Yes I think there was the idea of cultural enrichment. For example, I would go to Ohio and enrich the east Cleveland kids with my high level English sophistication.

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