Now thats all well and good Mr Billy Butlin, presenting your holiday camp empire as a haven for well behaved car owning middle class families where the father’s only concession to not being at work is to just remove his tie and slip a pair of tennis shoes on – but the reality was somewhat different in my recollection.
The reality is possibly exaggerated by my father for having already paid to return year after year to Wallis’s Holiday Camp at Cayton Bay he would always do his best to convince us kids that Butlins was for poor people, that it was in fact a prison camp for naughty girls and boys and they were made to sew mailsacks and weave raffia baskets all day long rather than ride on the free funfair while their parents played tennis of an afternoon – an impression which Butlins did little to deny in fact because as we drove past their Filey Holiday Camp, just down the road from our own Wallis’s haven, there was indeed an eight foot high chain link fence topped by barbed wire all around the site where’as Wallis’s was only bordered by low white ranch style log fencing, “See what I mean?” our father would always point out as we slowed down to gape at the Butlins inmates behind the wire, “prison camp, I told you it was a prison camp, once you get in you can’t get out you know…” and we believed him for he was our father and knew everything.
But the Butlins video has something that strikes a resonance with us Wallis’s clientele for right at the end of it, just as the father has dressed in his work suit and tie to go out to spend the night drinking and dancing whilst leaving the children locked up in their chalet, you catch a glimpse of the baby patrol nurse – and we had a baby patrol at Wallis’s too but it wasn’t a nurse in a nurses uniform oh no, at Wallis’s it was an old bloke in a raincoat with a torch.
It sounds incredible to todays generation that as a parent of two very small children you would ever consider tucking them up in bed, kissing them goodnight and then tip-toeing out of the door, locking it behind you and then clenching your fist in the air in triumph you shout “YES!!!! Lets go get pissed now…” and run off to the campsite clubhouse to join hundreds of other parents hell bent on making merry while their offspring snooze the evening away in their caravans and chalets, all being safe in the knowledge that an old bloke in a raincoat with a torch will be patrolling the site and will tell you if any of the kinder awaken and start crying after finding their parents have abandoned them in a strange caravan/chalet with an old man in a raincoat peering in through the window.
But its true, it really did happen that way, the theory went that when you arrived at the camp clubhouse you put your caravan number on a list and later in the evening the old bloke in the raincoat with the torch would walk around the site peering in through the curtains of each caravan on the list to ensure that your children were still tucked up in bed and snoring.
In order to do this of course your parents had to leave at least one curtain open for the old man int he raincoat to peer in, and here is where things start to go a little wrong in the museum of recollections for the more I think about this the stranger the facts become.
You see we would always take our holidays in August, as did most people, and of course in August it stays light until at least 10pm every evening. Our parents would always want to get to the clubhouse early to get a good seat and my lasting memory of those times is of my father standing at the caravan door looking at his watch and telling my mother to “stop dolling yerself up and lets go, we won’t get a bloody seat you know” and so at a guess I’d suggest that they would be out of the caravan by at least 7pm every evening, locking the door behind them.
Which meant that it was still bright daylight outside, and they’d put me and our Ned to bed, 7pm was barely halfway through the day, there was still hours and hours of sunlight outside to play in and yet we were put to bed and the curtains drawn in the caravan (all but one for the baby patrol man), whilst outside other kids would still be playing for hours yet, those were the kids who’s parents didn’t go to the clubhouse to drink beer and dance all night long, or “the bloody miserable buggers” as my dad would call them.
“Ooh we didn;t see them in the club last night” my mother would say
“No, haven’t been out all week, they’re bloody miserable buggers” my dad would complain as if there was something wrong with them and it wasn’t normal not to want to lock your kids in a tin box while you went and got drunk and danced.
Ah The Bachelors, such nicely turned out boys, and they read this blog too, such good taste you have boys…
Anyway, where was I, yes, leaving your kids locked up in a caravan – if your kids were found to be crying by the old man in the raincoat peering in through the windows making all the kids inside cry, then with the aid of an old Army surplus walkie-talkie radio set he would call up the doorman at the clubhouse and advise him of the caravan number that contained the squealing brats at which the doorman would walk to the front of the ballroom where a large blackboard stood on the stage with the painted-on message “Baby Crying In…” and he’d chalk on the board the errant caravan number, at which point the parents were supposed to dash from the clubhouse, their night ruined, to tend to their kids.
My dad wasn’t having none of that, at 6.45pm prompt he’d have me and our Ned in pyjamas stood by our bunk beds while he drew all but one of the curtains in the caravan, then he’d give us the warning, every night…
“Right, its bedtime, in your beds and not a peep out of the pair of you and if the baby patrol man looks in the window you;d better both be fast asleep for WOE BETIDE YOU if I EVER get called out of that clubhouse …”
Thats was it, the warning, “woe betide you” was a common feature of our parents warnings, our mother used it all the time, “Woe betide you when your father gets home” she’d say, “Oooooh, woe betide you tonight…” and I still don’t know what it means although fortunately no-one has used it on me recently, not these past forty years anyway, its a good job for if my boss at work ever said “Woe betide you if you don’t get that job done today” then it would really mess with my mind, for in my mind “Woe betide you” is probably the worst threat of something horrible that could ever be made of a person.
if only they still had a baby patrol man these days, especially, lets say, in Praia da Luz, for instance, then all of that business some years ago need never have happened and Kate and Gerry would still be dancing the night away safe in the knowledge that someone would chalk up their villa number on a blackboard if anything happened, rather than steal their kid – just a thought mind.