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Friday, 25 November 2016

Butlin's Holiday Camps: 80th Anniversary

One of my first holiday jobs after leaving school, before going up to Oxford University in 1963, was at a Butlin's Holiday Camp. I wanted to earn some money to go abroad, although I should have been concentrating on a long reading-list of books (Virgil and Milton, et al). I still haven't fully recovered from the Butlin's experience - and I'm not inclined to celebrate the 53rd anniversary of my brief period of employment at one of the holiday camps.

Alongside Norwegian students hoping to improve their English, as well as a small army of seasonal drifters, I was a washer of dishes, loading and unloading a giant washing-machine's conveyor belt three times a day, as a kitchen porter in a badly understaffed kitchen - as well as doing a second job as a drinks waiter in the music-hall (if we spilled a drink we paid for it). I occasionally have nightmares about the endless stacks of breakfast plates (thirty thousand dishes after every meal), prising the plates apart, as they were usually stuck together by congealed egg-yolks, as if by superglue. The red-hot plates came out at the other end, the loaders' hands roughened by dermatitis because of the effect of the industrial-strength detergents used.

All for five pounds a week.

A good introduction to industrial relations and human behaviour - a temporary insight into the daily realities of thousands of  underpaid seasonal workers labouring most of their lives on the minimum wage - or less - at the bottom end of the catering industry? There was certainly no union to defend their interests. It was alright for me. I could 'escape' after five weeks (the minimum contractual period if you wanted to get paid - if I remember correctly), then be free to hitch-hike on the continent, before going on to read works of English literature in the college gardens or library.

It was also very different for the happy campers:

Butlin's as it was, from Mailonline - A new book celebrating the history of Butlin's has been released - complete with dozens of never-before-seen photos. The first of the park's holiday camps was opened in 1936 by Billy Butlin in Skegness. Today, his legacy lives on as Butlin's celebrates its 80th year as an iconic British institution.

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