A literary journey
Nostalgic Irish prose
Irish culture & folklore
Ulster-Scots short stories
It’s 1986, I’m ten years old, and God is reigning over Butlins.
I queue for the chalet key, I take a deep breath and I sigh because my life’s ambition is right before my eyes. There stands a woman in white plimsoles happed in a red blazer, a pleated skirt and a smile. O to be a redcoat!
I await the ‘hi-de-hi camper’ call in the morning, and I could greet when I remember that it only happens in Maplins, and then I smile when the redcoats say ‘Good morning campers’ in the dining hall where the whoop and cheers swell each time the plates stained with boiled sausages clatter on the brown, square carpet tiles.
There’s an outdoor pool with a red and white fountain, and I skreich as my bare belly hits the icy water. I chitter and shiver and I thaw in a towel by the side of the pool where the adults slarry suncream on their goose-pimpled skin. I grab my coat and my cousin and we race through rows of pink and lemon chalets towards the Big Dipper, the Mexican Hat, the chair lift, the wee train, the Tilt-o-whirl and The Donkey Derby.
Dusk descends on the bonnie hills of Ayrshire, and I know that God is there when the skinkling silver sphere of the Stuart’s Ballroom alights like a moon across a dancehall filled with children. ‘Let’s do the Time Warp again,’ I sing and it’s astounding and time is fleeting as I jump to the left and skip to the right. There’s another tune and I follow the white plimsolls in long lines of vigorous hip twisting, my heart thumping as ‘pi-a-pia-piano’ tinkles from the ebony and ivory of my fingers and I sweep my Dambusters’ aircraft through the room in a flight of joy.
I sip my blue Slush Puppy and watch as my brothers jook away to the penny gambling machines at the back. Mammy and daddy believe in Butlins because they are drinking Bacardi and cola in peace and they feel the hand of God again as they deliver their children back to the chalets and into the care of a burly Scotsman. He has a walkie-talkie and he patrols up and down the neat rows of pastel-coloured chalets, crying, ‘Quiet!’ as we ticher and kicher and listen out for our parents return from the Beachcomber bar.
I sleek into the Beachcomber bar with my mammy one night and I swear that it’s paradise. Trees and plants laze in swirling ponds of multi-coloured fish, and women with wide-rimmed glasses and tipped hair gab and gaup at the cabaret. The Krankies aren’t so fandabbydosey after seeing that.
It’s time for the annual pilgrimage to the home of Rabbie Burns, the bard of Ayrshire, my daddy’s hero, and I wonder who’d be inclined to make a living out of writing old-fashioned words like that. I stand on the bridge and gie a smile for the camera and pray that the next bus is destined for Butlins.
My daddy knows a man who doesn’t believe in Butlins. I nearly died. He took his children there, and didn’t think much of the chalets. Imagine having a pachle of a daddy like thon!
The donkeys and the Tilt-o-whirl and the tin chalets are all retired, but I think God is still looking after Scotland. Anyone can see that it’s the palette from which He painted the world. When I’m in Ayrshire, I raise my eyes heavenwards, and I see the residue from His brush clouded up in diluted shades of the kaleidoscope of the land.
O Butlins! Ae fond kiss, and then we sever! Ae fareweel alas, for ever!
82 Waterloo Road
The Teacher Voice
The Last Day of Summer Scheme
Uniquely Girls' Brigade
The Children of Latharna
The Band Stick
The Bully up the Brae
A dander around Larne
History & folklore
The Protestant in Irish Fiction.
The Protestant in Irish fiction - the novels.
Ulster-Scots in Irish Fiction
The reality of being an author.
Learning the Irish Language.
John Hewitt Summer School