Since turning 30 this month I have been taking a look down memory lane and researching some of the places that feature heavily in my childhood memories. A lot of my most treasured memories are from our family holidays at Butlins in Minehead.
I can’t remember how many times we visited but I have very vivid and varied memories of the holiday camp. My family had a connection with the site as my Grandfather and Dad had both been builders for a time and assisted in the building of the indoor swimming pool. I know my family had been holidaying at the camp before I was born but my memories start from around 4 years of age. I remember the whole family (2 or 3 cars full) travelling the short distance from Bristol to Minehead and staying in adjacent budget chalets. Budget chalets were basic but completely functional and at that age I was just too excited to be on holiday to care much about where we were sleeping. I can clearly remember sleeping in a cot instead of a bed for a couple of years so I was either very young or it was cheaper to have a cot than an extra bed! There would be me, my sister, 3 of my brothers and their partners, my parents and my grandparents (on my Father’s side).
When I was around 10 years old and my older siblings no longer came on the family holiday we stayed in one of the more expensive and more “luxurious” holiday apartments. It seems silly now but we would have felt so lucky and posh to be staying in one of the apartments and having the corresponding coloured sticker displayed on our car. These chalets would be decorated nicely and fully fitted kitchens – considered standard nowadays!
In the 1980’s entertainment was less high tech than it is now and it was easier to keep us kids occupied. I would be perfectly happy going on the same fairground rides every day, paddling in the outside pool, or watching a show performed by the redcoats. I loved going on the monorail that travelled in a figure of 8 formation around the two main buildings, I loved going with my Dad on one of the rowing boats on the lake, I loved everything! We very rarely went offsite because it felt like there was enough to do within the Butlins site. I may have been young but I can never remember any trouble with teenagers, unruly children or even any rowdy drunks. It just seemed like everyone was just there to have fun.
I think one of the main points of excitement for me was the evening entertainment. The preferred venue for us was the Princes Ballroom. It would have probably been my first experiences of disco and live music. It all felt so glamorous at that time with the second rate bands on stage going through night after night of cover versions. Sparkly, over-the-top dresses and big hair were a must for the performers and I loved it (unsurprisingly!) There were also occasional shows from “famous” performers. I remember seeing Keith Harris with Orville the Duck when I was very young and one year the Radio 1 roadshow came to Butlins whilst we were there. A young Philip Schofield was presenting and one of the main acts was Timmy Mallet singing “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini!”
Another important part of the holiday would be the competitions. Whether it was fancy dress, glamorous granny, father & son or nobbly knees we would never be shy in going for it! We would stand on the stage with our number and wait to be interviewed by a redcoat. I can’t remember if I won any of these competitions but that didn’t matter. It was all part of the fun of being on holiday to get dressed up and make a fool of yourself.
Obviously, it being a family holiday it wasn’t always smiles and joy. There were arguments and dramas. One year I got really ill with scarlet fever and had to stay in bed for a couple of days. That just meant that I made up for lost time once I felt better! Another time my Dad was rushed to hospital and I remember being very upset and being looked after by my sister.
Butlins in Minehead has undergone major refurbishment since I was last there around 15-20 years ago. It is unrecognisable and much of what I remember has been changed or demolished. The monorail has gone, along with the cable cars and half of the lake has been filled in to make way for a new fairground. I don’t think I would want to go back there now. I’d rather remember it as it was when I was young and it seemed magical.