Gleanings . . . . . . . .

Evergreen - - Contents Summer 2015 - Bob Rogers

Re­mem­ber — you’re in­vis­i­ble; the campers don’t want to see you, so do your jobs and keep your heads down.” And so we were wel­comed and in­ducted into the happy fam­ily of But­lin’s Hol­i­day Camp, Barry Is­land, back in the sum­mer of 1972.

There are no “Hol­i­day Camps” any more, nowa­days they are “Hol­i­day Parks” and the func­tion of the staff is to en­sure their guests’ free time is as free as pos­si­ble; but back then they were not guests, they were “campers” and as such, like over­grown Scouts and Guides, they needed to be or­gan­ised, shep­herded, herded, en­ter­tained, knob­bly- kneed, glam­orous- grannied, fed at set times and ad­e­quately wa­tered of an evening — and that’s where our lit­tle team came in.

We worked in the Beer Stores which housed not only beer but ev­ery other drink a thirsty camper might de­sire: crates and crates of ale, bar­rels and bot­tles, spir­its of all de­scrip­tions, soft drinks, cock­tail mix­ers, Noilly Prat, Baby­cham, snow­balls, sher­ries and even a few bot­tles of wine for those get­ting on the in­creas­ingly fash­ion­able con­ti­nen­tal band­wagon.

A ve­hi­cle whose clos­est rel­a­tive was a milk float pulled two or three trail­ers around the camp vis­it­ing each bar in turn to stock up ready for the com­ing day. In the early morn­ings the camp was a rel­a­tively peace­ful place, most of the hol­i­day­mak­ers tucked up in bed, maybe with one ear open lis­ten­ing out for “Good Morn­ing Campers!” echo­ing over the tan­noy.

Our lit­tle float would hiss around the de­serted amuse­ment ar­cades ac­knowl­edged only by the squawks of im­pa­tient seag­ulls or the rare camper out for an early morn­ing con­sti­tu­tional. Be­hind us the flat calm wa­ters of the Bristol Chan­nel would turn from grey to pink as the sun rose and burnt the mist away from the head­lands, its re­flected light bounc­ing off win­dows in We­ston­superMare on the other side of the wa­ter, and some­where out in mid- chan­nel the deep foghorn of a mer­chant ship would an­nounce its ap­proach to Cardiff Docks.

Un­like the Red­coats, whose job it was to min­gle with the campers as the “faces of But­lin’s”, we were ex­pected to do our jobs as anony­mously as pos­si­ble and then van­ish. The campers, we were told, were there to for­get all about work for a week or a fort­night and so didn’t want to see any­one do­ing any.

The Red­coats were not sup­posed to speak to the rest of the staff and we were not to speak to them. They were there to min­gle and en­ter­tain: it was a stip­u­la­tion that Red­coats had to be able to sing or dance or play a mu­si­cal in­stru­ment.

We, on the other hand, only had to de­liver drinks — but in our own small way we were not with­out tal­ent. One of our num­ber, Eric Gor­ton from Manch­ester, was a great rock and roll singer and used to guest with the house band, The Chuck Fowler Trio, in the Re­gency Bar. Oc­ca­sion­ally, they would let

me and my guitar sit in too and the campers, who prob­a­bly had no idea it was the boys who had de­liv­ered their drinks as the sun rose, seemed to en­joy it.

The wages were not great but all our meals and ac­com­mo­da­tion were free and so it was “pocket money”. There was a staff bar where the drinks were cheaper but it was pretty ba­sic with just a juke box and some tired ta­bles and chairs pen­sioned off from the ar­eas open to campers.

We were more in­clined to min­gle with the campers of an evening in the Ball­room Bar with its panoramic view of the sea or the Pig and Whis­tle with nightly live acts and a weekly cabaret which at­tracted some of the big­gest names in Bri­tish en­ter­tain­ment tour­ing on a six- week rota. I saw Bob Monkhouse on sev­eral oc­ca­sions do­ing the same act, but such was his fi­nesse, tim­ing and com­edy ge­nius ev­ery time seemed like the first and, un­re­stricted by the tele­vi­sion cen­sors, he de­liv­ered a rip- roar­ing adult set that in­evitably brought the house down. I still re­call al­most ev­ery word of his un­broad­castable ver­sion of “My Way”. They say the Six­ties didn’t ac­tu­ally end un­til 1973 and the air of free­dom was made even more heady by liv­ing the whole sum­mer in a hol­i­day en­vi­ron­ment full of fun and pos­si­bil­i­ties. We were young, all in our late teens or early twen­ties, with the fu­ture

spread out ahead of us packed with un­lim­ited po­ten­tial. Even though I came from a de­prived town in the South Wales val­leys I, like my com­pan­ions, be­lieved I could be any­thing I wanted to be.

I would never have to work in the steel­works or go un­der­ground, I was go­ing to be dis­cov­ered and be a rock star, it was only a mat­ter of time, and we all had sim­i­lar dreams. None of us could en­vis­age the lives our par­ents had en­dured, blighted by war and re­ces­sions. A brave new age beck­oned, we had put men on the moon, there was near to full em­ploy­ment — and I al­most had enough saved for a down­pay­ment ment on a mo­tor­bike. I would ride to Lon­don with my demo tapes, play them to “The Man” and the rest would be plain sail­ing.

In the mean­time, how­ever, there was the small mat­ter of quench­ing the per­pet­ual thirst of 6,500 new campers ev­ery week. The bar man­agers would hand us their

writ­ten drinks or­ders at the end of the day and early the next morn­ing we would load them up and de­liver them. On a good day we could be over the worst of it by 2.30pm and then our thoughts would turn to more cre­ative pur­suits.

We formed what could prob­a­bly be de­scribed as a skif­fle group with two gui­tars, a card­board box drum kit, a tea- chest bass, har­mon­ica and vo­cals. Af­ter a lit­tle re­hearsal we man­aged quite im­pres­sive ver­sions of “Ruby Don’t Take Your Love to Town” and T Rex’s “Get it On”. We called our­selves The Beer Stores Bunkie Band but we were easily dis­tracted and never re­hearsed enough to hit the big time.

One blus­tery day, our work done, we de­cided to see if we could con­struct a kite so big it could lift a hu­man be­ing into the air. None of us had ever seen a hang- glider and so we worked on in­stinct us­ing a cou­ple of out­size bam­boo poles which had once been in the cen­tre of some reels of car­pet and a tar­pau­lin sheet left be­hind by a de­liv­ery truck.

The kite was nine feet four inches tall and, held by three of us, was launched out on an un­manned test flight across the seafront. It soared to the end of our coil of rope and then, as if pos­sessed, screamed to the ground and straight through the roof of an ice- cream par­lour! The sub­se­quent dress­ing down by our usu­ally stern Scot­tish boss, Mr. Dal­housie, was soft­ened by his pro­fessed ad­mi­ra­tion for our ef­forts. A for­mer bomber pi­lot, he took the trou­ble to point out our kite’s dis­crep­an­cies be­fore warn­ing us of the dire con­se­quences of at­tempt­ing it again.

As the weeks passed we honed in­vis­i­bil­ity to a fine art, blend­ing into the fab­ric of the camp as we went about our busi­ness and not even the oc­ca­sional soda- siphon fight or im­promptu sing- song drew

more than a cu­ri­ous glance. We weren’t re­splen­dent in red blaz­ers, just a bunch of scruffs rolling bar­rels and car­ry­ing crates.

We didn’t know it but we were part of some­thing in­trin­si­cally and ec­cen­tri­cally Bri­tish, mak­ing our un­seen con­tri­bu­tion to thou­sands of life­long mem­o­ries. It was an un­for­get­table sum­mer and although I have had some quite ex­tra­or­di­nary life ex­pe­ri­ences since, noth­ing has ever recre­ated that feel­ing of ab­so­lute free­dom.

When­ever I hear the sounds of that sum­mer — Terry Dactyl and the Di­nosaurs’ “Sea­side Shuf­fle”, “Cal­i­for­nia Man” by The Move or “Run Run Run” by Jo Jo Gunne I can al­most be­lieve I am back in the sum­mer of ’ 72, the smell of sea air and candyfloss car­ried on the wind and the decades stretch­ing out ahead full of what­ever I cared to fill them with.

But­lin’s Camp, Barry Is­land.

Bob Monkhouse, who put on an un­for­get­table per­for­mance.

Post­cards of the hol­i­day camp by John Hinde ( 19161997) who be­came fa­mous for his many pic­tures of But­lin’s.

The Beer Stores per­son­nel, with Bob Rogers, mid­dle row, right.

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