Ahh the Great British institution that is Butlins holiday camps. I didn’t go to a Butlin’s but I went to Pontins a similar franchise a few times with our Dad. Butlins had red coats and Pontins had blue coats I think that’s the only difference. Pontins was in essence a faux Butlins!? They were a bit of a melancholy affair as I had to write emotional letters to Dad post divorce encouraged by my Mum, for him to spend quality time with me and my bro and sis. My Mum was worried Dad was drifting from us and as I was good at tugging at the heart strings (I used to write Dad bad why do you go to the pub so much poetry) My Mum spotted and exploited the talent of her emotional child (as she never had her own Dad) and desperate for us to keep ours she told me to write to him – to reach out. Well he was still living with us in the same house so writing to him was a bit odd! But none the less he had a depressed feeling around him. I think living together after divorce is an admirable decision but the reality of my parents living together in the house brought its own odd vibe – especially as is was for about 8 years until I was 16 …when Dad and my brother moved out and in together to this damp house on dog shit alley – which was only up the road from our house.
My brother would very occasionally pop back to ours when he lived with Dad on dog shit alley and when he did he bought his own dinner sat on the poof in the sitting room and said he couldn’t stay long. He had left school at 16 and got a job he was different, he wore a shirt and smart trousers and had shaved his head and he had his own fish and chips! I thought this was super inspiring and couldn’t wait until I could leave school and buy my own fish and chips dinner. I quizzed him on his dinners, I have always been highly motivated by food. He said he had his own job now and can buy whatever he wants and sometimes he buys a take a way burger for dinner. Heaven I thought! This all seemed very glamorous having a job the fish and chips element especially. So the men had left me my sister and Mum to rein our bigger nicer but bonkers house not on dog shit alley with far too much female energy! Our arguments were epic! I continued to write to my brother and Dad as if they were distant male muses!
Anyway I’m jumping ahead lets go back 4 years to the first Pontins holiday when our family still cohabited boys and girls and where the package holidays were affordable for Dad and the potential of a single Dad vacation glimmered. I had instigated our holidays. My 12 year old letters had worked and made Dad cry. He was willing to take us on his first single Dad type holiday. YIPPEE we were off on holiday and Dad’s crying – GREAT.
I’d love now as an artist to make a documentary on the British institutions of holiday camps like Butlins and Pontins! Im still attracted to their melancholy – everyone trying overly hard to have a good time. We did have a good time too tho. Turns out so did Dad – he hooked up with a lady named Maria who also had kids and later we found she’d sent him a weird mix tape in our house called ‘songs to make you think songs to make you drink’ And I don’t think she meant cola! They both liked a drink! Which by the way we were only allowed one cola or slush-puppy a day. Dads rationing a bit bizarre. We always ended up on water with our Mum on holiday but that was on account of our bad behaviour having it removed as a punishment not cos it was not within budget. How was he affording the drinks at the bar with Maria then? Hmmm whatevs!… we made friends and had a little gang and I sang my first karaoke song ever with my sister “I will survive” I also spat at a boy right in the face who was bullying us. I still shudder at how vile that was of me. On the up I played tennis with Dad which was ace and my sister won the table tennis championship – I mean fair play only 3 people entered and one was me but she got a mini trophy we thought it was awesome!
Our second Pontins holiday was when Dad took us to Pontins Camber Sands holiday camp the tennis court was quarter size of normal ones & he won the Dads tennis competition and we left JUST before the diarrhea epidemic that struck which was quite exciting as it was quite a big deal was on the national telly news – we were like that’s OUR HOLIDAY CAMP! Lush.
Anyway there was something about these places that genuinely was good being able to have freedom as a kid to bowl around with friends and also something sad in their artificial-nous. Maybe the juxtaposition for me as the institution of parents marriage crumbled I invested in the dream of the great British institution of the holiday camp packaged holiday and while we were there everything was gonna be great. But the memories are vivid and I thought Pontins was a fascinating looking glass into so many families that I observed, when I wasn’t too busy with my crocodile club or fancying a boy that didn’t fancy me or asking Dad for money for another cola!