As I See It: Catherine Drea’s fortnightly column as published in the Waterford News & Star
AFTER my Mother died, we went through the winter on pretty slim pickings. In spite of Christmas being a bit of fun, there was little prospect that my Dad would pull out of his dark mood and bring us on any kind of a holiday in the coming summer months.
I began to pester him about Butlin’s Holiday Camp when I first saw the ads on the TV.
It was really the glorious swimming pool that caught my eye; turquoise blue with coloured streamers and toys hanging from the roof. I was agog.
‘The kids would have a ball, yes, but Dad must have been thinking about the long days and nights on his own with four girls under 10, including a baby still in nappies.’
The only indoor swimming pool I had ever encountered up until then was the old Iveagh Baths in Dublin. Here you could dip in and out of a freezing cold hole in the grey hard concrete. It was one of two cold pools in the inner city and often local children would come in with bars of soap as it was probably their only means of having a wash.
Coming up to 10 years old, my dream was to learn to swim properly. Our summer trips to date were dominated by my Mother’s journeys home to her midland town of birth. It was all I knew except for the odd excursion to the beach. I am supposing she wasn’t too keen on the sea.
Eventually due to mounting pressure, Dad sent away for a Butlins brochure and myself and the other kids drooled over it. Butlins Mosney was virtually on the beach. You could spend all day going from one fun activity to another. You could get free rides on any number of hurdy gurdies and best of all you would stay in your own little house and have every meal catered for in a giant cafeteria.
The brochure just increased the pressure on poor Dad. He would look at me, saying nothing while I pleaded my case. Then he would stare kind of longingly into space. I can only imagine now that the poor man was trying to weigh up the two sides of this decision. The kids would have a ball, yes, but he must have been thinking about the long days and nights on his own with four girls under 10, including a baby still in nappies.
Pleeeeeeese we begged. On and on I ranted about learning to swim and how I would mind my sisters and maybe he could play golf? All the things I thought might offer up an attractive proposition.
Eventually he gave in, and soon the promise of going on holidays to Butlins was the most exciting item on the agenda in our house. We counted the days until we would set off; practicing swimming by lying down in the grass, holding our breath and doing the breaststroke around the garden.
Aunties again stepped up to the plate and provided summer dresses and sandals. My dress was described by my fashionable aunt as a “tent dress”. She made it herself out of bright orange fabric with enormous flowers on it. She showed me something very similar designed by Mary Quant in a magazine. Yep! I got the jist.
While most of that precious holiday is a blur, I did actually learn to swim. Dad, fairly typically, messed up the final triumphant moment when I was to receive my certificate. We were late and I had to do the lengths of the pool on my own to get the approval of the coach. No matter what, I just had to have that cert! In fact I never got it, and obviously never forgot it either.
Our days were spent going from the pool to the toy car roundabout. This turned out to be our favourite ride. You could sit in tiny cars and pretend you were driving while they went around in circles. Well we were charmed by it.
Listening to Dad years later moaning to anyone who would listen, about his week in Butlins with four little girls, I could never fully believe that we had been to the same idyllic place. Bleating on about how he was the only man nappy washing in the washeteria, having to eat what he called “square” meal, and late nights with a wakeful baby and a few sunburnt kids.
There were no lone parents in those days that we knew of anyway. My Dad was single man marooned in a “holiday camp” amongst a hoard of happy families. At night he would sneak out to the bar. Those mornings after, when the sun poured in, would prove to be the bane of his existence.
“Dad, Dad, wake up, I can hear the loudspeaker. Breakfast is ready!!”
Out cold to the world, our champion, legend of a Dad, would groan, clutch his forehead and mutter, “Right, get your shoes on, off we go… again…”
Catherine Drea blogs at Foxglovelane.com