Illuminations: An Anthology of Welsh Short Prose

By Meic Stephens | Go to book overview
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Butlins

Gwilym Tudur

When Sir Billy Butlin died the other day, I'm sure some people would have been surprised to learn that I felt a small pang, not of grief, since I never met the man, but of botheration, as on losing some very familiar object, such as an old penknife. Surprised, because I don't have all that much to say to any sir, still less to any Welsh sir, and especially to a poet who sells his soul for a knighthood. The little man with the moustache and expensive suntan was a typical Englishman, yet the Gorsedd of Bards 1 might well have honoured him if only they had known about his achievement, his creation of something that's pure poetry. For that's what Butlins, or Bucklings as it's known to local people, is.

When a war-time navy camp was foisted on the tranquillity of the Penychain headland, not far from Afon-wen, and later turned into a holiday-camp, it was only to be expected that some of the proud inhabitants of Lly+̂n and Eifionydd would feel anxious. Not everyone; some saw an opportunity for making a living, and who's to say that they weren't right? I would go so far as to claim that the old Camp which is a quite awful sight for the unsuspecting traveller has turned out to be almost as crucial as the Rhyd-y-gwystl Creamery in keeping people at home for two more generations, thus keeping a community going on a far, unremarkable peninsula, thanks to Sir Billy's genius.

His first inspiration was to realize before anyone else that the worker needs a holiday just as we all do; that if only a large, paternalistic operation were to be created to take care of everything, a whole family could have the time of their lives for a week or two, far from the tyranny of kitchen and factory and the organizer would make a fortune as well. Mind you, as a child I didn't take such a philanthropic view of the place. There would be twelve thousand of the poor souls there in mid-August. A not insubstantial number would manage to lose their way about the district every Saturday morning, and I fear that naughty children like me were responsible for some of their confusion. If a car stopped to enquire the way to 'Chillywog', 'Penny Chain', or 'Pulley Welly', rather than to Chwilog, Penychain, or Pwllheli, it was in danger of being sent in the direction of Nefyn, that way. The children of 'Betsy Code' very

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