Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Bank holidays and Butlins

Half-term and I’m playing that grim old game of motherhood multi-tasking. I’m trying to frame some sensible questions to email to a professor for a feature while a plangent voice is wailing from the kitchen, ‘How many angles make up a triangle?’ I’d love to be able to take half-term off but time waits for no freelancer and, in today’s climate, you take what you’re given – and of course it’s always given (and expected back three minutes later) when children are off school.
Still, I’ve ratcheted up quite a few ‘Good Mother’ brownie points this weekend so I’m not feeling too guilty.
It was a weekend of rhubarb vanilla bellinis (not for the children, let me quickly add) and barbecues; of actually sitting outside and enjoying the sun on the terrace while the children were building a den in the big conifer arch. All terribly nice and civilised.

‘What shall we do tomorrow?’ said Adrian, still mellow and glowing from receiving accolades for his paella cooked on the open flame.
‘Well, I thought about Butlins.’
‘What?’ Spluttering into his wheat beer, horror etched on his face.
‘Relax. You don’t have to go.’
‘Are you totally and utterly mad?’

Sort of. Probably. Ah, what the hell? We only live half an hour from Butlins (the Minehead branch). Yet for the ten years of James’ life we have steadfastly pretended it doesn’t exist. Maybe we were a little put off by Adrian’s mate who once booked a week there with the family and left after ten minutes (I’d better not say why). But things are better now I’d been told. Still slightly high from Disney I thought I ought to stop being so arsey and pretentious and just go for it. If I could learn to love the Mouse…..

Anyhow, I have always had a sneaky desire to check it out. See, we never did Butlins as a child. We used to go to Southwold (when Southwold wasn’t fashionable) and Dover (which still isn’t fashionable). We would stay in b&bs with sour landladies who threw us out after our meagre breakfast and leave us to shiver in our rented beach hut (not remotely desirable then) as the rain lashed down and the wind blew straight in from Siberia. Butlins sounded fun. Actually, more than anything it sounded warm and dry. I yearned to go.

So we went. Me and James and his mate Jack (with Adrian waving us off incredulously and with relief writ large on his forehead). We were given a map and advised to get our bearings as ‘it’s big, really big.’ But it isn’t really. Most of the acreage seems to be taken up by the accommodation (including a rather smart set of flats that wasn’t there last time I drove by). The first shock is that not that much is included for free. You don’t pay for the rides on the fairground or the entertainment inside the big top but pretty much everything else – from the bumper boats to the go-kart track, from the paintball to the climbing wall to the bouncy playground, all entails extra cost. It’s not cheap either, ranging from roughly £2 - £10 per child per activity (with a few going even higher). I got sick of hearing myself say, ‘No’ and urging them to have another go on the good old Waltzers.

The second surprise is that the height restrictions are really, well, restrictive. Jack is several months older than James (and in the year above him at school) but several inches shorter. So we had the mad situation in which Jack (who is a dab hand at go-karting) wasn’t allowed to drive his own kart while James (who is, sorry lad but honesty compels me, rubbish) was.
‘I suppose I could drive you?’ I said to Jack who gave me the kind of look that screams ‘Are you totally insane?’
‘Or not.’ I quickly added. We moved on.
Same problem with the bumper cars. I really really don’t get this. Ten year old boys and bumper cars go together like Ant and Dec so the idea of Jack having to be piloted by decrepit old me was totally daft. Several other parents clearly felt the same as there was an ongoing rumble of discontent at several rides. However, on the plus side, there weren’t really queues as such and, if you like funfairs (and have tall children), then you could merrily spend a few hours making yourself queasy and dizzy.

The real hit, however, was the pool complex. Here the boys spent about two hours going on various slides and shoots and generally getting themselves a fabulous array of bruises and bashes. I meanwhile sat in the ‘viewing area’ (which is ridiculously sited so you can’t see half the stuff going on) and got my nose stuck into A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz (which is just absolutely and totally fabulous). I can feel my long-held adoration of David Mitchell starting to slip (just a little). I Just Can Not Believe it is his first novel (truly life is hugely unfair).

It was sweltering hot and if I closed my eyes (and ignored the whistles of the lifeguards) I could pretend I was sitting in the steam room of a spa. I swear I sweated off at least a couple of pounds.

Upshot? The boys loved it, really loved it. They voted the pool complex (free) the best bit, followed by the bumper boats (£4 per boat), the big climbing wall (£6 each for ten minutes) and the shooting range (£2 for twenty shots). As far as I was concerned, it wasn’t as bad as I’d expected but I do think Butlins could up their game. Include a lot more free rides and experiences, have a bit of a smarten-up (some bits are decidedly ropey), sweep up the fag ends and relax the restrictions on the rides: then, actually, it would be a pretty good day out.

36 comments:

ChrisH said...

Well done, you get a gold star for being a Good Mummy (Mags has done pretty well, too!). Some of those rides sound quite pricey when you have a gaggle of children in tow (which, hurray, I don't any more). Hopefully Butlins will now sweep up all the fag ends and let you in for free next time! (Word verification is 'grook' - good word, eh?)

Exmoorjane said...

Chris: Grook sounds like a new variation of grockle... To be fair, they did let us in for free -but even so the rides rack up the cost....

Frances said...

Good report, Jane. Glad that the boys had a good day out.

Also, thanks for the book recommendation. I'll have to look for that Fraction.

xo

Zoë said...

Recall seeing this when we were down your way autumn before last, and instinctively sliding up to the other end of the beach from where Butlins is and the quaint of fishing harbour area.

My kids would have loved a day out there too when they were younger, but a week? Think I would offer myself up as a target on the shooting range.

This half term I don't think I will even see my sproglets, funny how one day you are frantic for ideas to keep them entertained, and then one day they are gone and off entertaining themselves.

Preseli Mags said...

I went to Minehead Butlins on a school trip when I was ten. It was, shall we say, prison camp chic. It was out of season, the rides were all locked, but we did get to kayak, abseil and were marched across Exmoor to be rewarded with Horlicks and fruit pastilles. So the school could identify us we had all been made to knit black and yellow striped bobble hats (buzzzzzz). It sounds a whole lot better now!

Phidelm said...

Well, you know me: I'd rather be hurtling around the 'contour path' or all along the top of Gribbist Hill on horseback; but this was an excellent report - hope Butlins takes your recommendations to heart (especially since so many young families are having to cut back on holidays).
Thanks for the new novelist alert, too: always on the lookout for good ones.

Westerwitch/Headmistress said...

Well that must rack up a humungous amount of 'good mummy' points and it is behind you now and sounded not too painful and even worth a repeat when the boy/s get restless . . .

I went to Butlins mnay many years ago it was ghastly - more like a prisoner of war camp than a fun day out . . . really grey and dreary . . .

Dave Pie-n-Mash said...

First, let me say what a great and groovy Mum you must be to take your son and friend for such a day out.
Unfortunately, I share your husband's view of Butlin's and if I had a medal, I would award it to you! My parents would never go to Butlins either, preferring instead cheap package tours to Spain's Malgrat and Callela where it was possible to mix with a better class of scum than we were used to. I used to think it so unfair at the time! I went to the Butlins camp at Clacton when I was 19 or 20 with friends for a weekend and after that experience, I never went back. What amazed me was that I kept running into people from Dagenham that either knew my Dad or knew me and everyone of them either stunk like an ashtray or stunk like a brewery - or stunk like both. I couldn't understand why a person would spend your life propping up the bar at The Matapan pub on Green Lane and then go to Butlin's in Clacton and prop one of their bars up while surrounded by the same people from The Matapan pub.
After that weekend, I vowed I would never go back to Butlins again in my life and secretly thanked my parents for having aspirations in life!
So yes, you deserve a medal and as soon as I buy one I will send it to you.

ArtSparker said...

A serious undertaking in terms of the financial investment. They let you in for free, and then you're a captive audience. There is something wonderful about them out of season, and of course there's "The Third Man".

Exmoorjane said...

Frances: thank you.. You would love the book, I think....he has THE most original voice and a wonderful use of wordplay. I haven't been as cheered by a book in a very long time (not since David really).

Zoe: Yup, Minehead really is a place of two parts - it is gorgeous down by the quay...

Mags: love the bobble hats. Yup, it all seems a bit sad and sorry for itself on a grey drizzly day.

Phidelm: Ah yes, you know the good spots! You would LOVE this book....

WW: still fainting at the sight of your name on a blog (AND you posted too!!). What IS going on?

Dave: I am deeply envious. Would have LOVED Spain when young. We were hauled on long walks which culminated in a pub (with us sitting outside nursing a lemonade as children not allowed in). Happy days. Yup, I reckon I need a HUGE badge. Will trade on this for at least a year.

Exmoorjane said...

ArtSparkler: You snuck in while I was replying to the others! Yes, I agree. What I really REALLY want is a theme park peopled by your Alice in Wonderland creations. Anyone who hasn't seen - go check out AS's blog!

Reasons to be Cheerful 1,2,3 said...

Good on you - mixing with the common folk! ;-)) Will look for that book.

Maddie Grigg said...

You know, years ago when I went to Butlins on day trips with my family, everything was free. But no longer. I once had a press trip to Pontins and was so not in love with the common people I stayed in my room and Number One Son was conceived. However, Mr Grigg and swallowed our snobby pride a couple of years ago and went on a soul weekend at Minehead. It was fab, great value for money as long as you took your own drinks and consumed some before you went out. I have been meaning to organise a village outing to a 70s weekend. I'll let you know if I ever get round to it.

claire p said...

We went there last year with Little rays, the special needs group we belong to. We went for three days and Jamie loved it. We had avoided it like the plauge, as we had Disney, bit it was all paid for so off we went. And I actually thing we might go again. Oh God what am I turning into?

ModernMom said...

Sounds like a fab time and you must have scored millions of good mommy points!

clareybabble said...

Glad you had a good day. Hubby and I stayed at Butlins pre kids and the accomodation was awful (think it may have been in Bognor), there was a questionable stain on the bed covers and the shower was really, really manky. It's put us off for life!

Yummy Mammy said...

Completely off topic but I once went to Butlins Minehead on one of those all weekender club 18-30 things. It was fab!!!!! And certainly not for kids LOL

Billie Jane said...

About 7 or 8 years ago I gave in to the constant adverts on tv that suggested Butlins had improved and took the kids for a week, Stalag Bognor I think it was. It was horrid. The accommodation was barely ok but outside the door it was like a slum... dirty disposable nappies and other dodgy stuff blowing in the wind... never the less we threw ourselves into it, including attending the evenings entertainment - couldnt bear it, the table was sticky and when I asked a waitress to wipe it, she used the cloth that she had just wiped a hundred other tables with... and looked at me like I was insane when I told her it was still sticky! The pool was so overcrowded it was impossible to enjoy any of the slides... Oh God it's all coming back to me... If Disney was the anti-Christ Butlins is hell on earth!

Erica Douglas said...

You've come a looooong way since Disney, 'cynical Jane' does Butlins!

*Something* happened that day at move it, shake it, celebrate it :)

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Mark said...

We used to go Butlins at Filey; my father refused to go, so my mum would team up with her friend and take us all for week - always when the ballroom dancing championships were on. The thing I remember most were the bars and cafes - all red rexene and formica tables, little pyrex coffee coffee and tin ash trays - I used to think it was SO sophisticated.

Everything was free them; there used to be a roller rink with those rollerskates that you strapped to your shoes - oh the grazes.

And then there was Judy, from a junior dance team from Birmingham - my first proper snog. I think she even wrote to me once.

Happy times.

Mud in the City said...

Wow - the fairy dust from Disney is still having an effect! You must have racked up enough brownie points for a weekend in a spa by now. Doesn't Adrian think so?

Exmoorjane said...

Reasons: I AM the common folk...just do a good cover-up job some of the time...!

Maddie: sounds like a hoot - absolutely let me know.

Claire: don't worry, whatever it is I think I've got it too! I think it's called being a mother..

MM: I have SO many good mummy points I have a positive halo!

Clarey: yuk. Stains on bed SO not good.

Yummy Mammy: the adult weekends crack me up - sometimes we'll go to Minehead and see thousands of bikers or teddy boys or whatever. Hilarious.

B-J: sorry, hope I haven't reactivated some PTSD!

Erica: no, there was something in those mojitos - I just know it!

Karmina: eek, sounds a bit scary...

Mark: Ah, now I've made someone happy! Glad to have been of service....nothing like that first snog.

Mud: Oh please God.....a spa is JUST what I need - but don't think it's going to be happening too soon...

Annette Piper said...

That sounds like a cross between fun and excrutiating? We don't have anything like that nearby (thankfully!) but any thing aimed at the children is always a money pit. Glad to see they enjoyed the free bit too!

Irish Eyes said...

I spent a year in Butlins one day when I was a child. Mum and Her-Next-Door took six of us to Mosney in Co Meath - we had a wonderful train ride, arrived at the camp and 45 minutes later wanted to spend time on the beach, and that was in the rain...we spent the day asking "can we go home now please?"...u n f o r g e t t a b l e!

Calico Kate said...

Rhubarb & Vanilla thingys sound delish. The thought of Butlins leaves me cold but the pool sounds fab.
Well done for going!
CKx

Mum Gone Mad said...

Little award over at mine for you :) x

Pondside said...

You, Jane, are indeed a Good Mum. That was over and above the call of duty. I've spent many hours in steamy pool 'viewing' areas, actually having some of my best naps in the hot, noisy, chlorine scented bleachers.

Cait O'Connor said...

Well done Jane, I've never been to Butlins. Perhaps Disney world has given you a taste for it?

LittleBrownDog said...

Wow - v impressive on the Mummy front, Jane! Am rather relieved and reassured to read this, as I've just booked my boy on a Butlins weekend with a friend's family (and I have to confess, I did almost have to supress a shudder when I signed the form). However, I gather it's the new black. Almost cool, in fact.

Welsh Girl said...

Ten gold stars for you - that beats the bbq paella hands down for effort!

DulwichDivorcee said...

Well done you and the book sounds great! But why did those friends leave after 5 mins? I think we should be told!

Thames said...

I always wondered about Butlins. Everyone says the kids love it, but the parents hate it. I'm going in Seot. so will see...

Wearebutlins said...

Thanks for your review and the comments. We have passed the main points on to the relevant team members and also our MD who has taken everything on board.

Laura McIntyre said...

Don't say bad stuff about Minehead we are due to spend a week there in the summer, kids are 4,2 and not yet 1 so hopefully they will enjoy it.

Making sure to take the car so car so can go to other places to

stephen said...

I am in a similar boat, multitasking single mum, in the middle of LONG summer holiday! I will be staying in a lovely devon accommodation really looking forward to my break near the coastal path it sounds so beautiful, i just hope the kids appreciate it! Although it's doubtful. mine are teenagers and will be bringing the x box and i pods so same old stuff for them but at least i can enjoy the beautiful surroundings!