Andy McSmith: Six weeks' work in a holiday camp was enough for me

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The Independent Online

Between school and university, aged 18, I spent six weeks working at the Butlins holiday camp in Clacton, sweeping up and clearing tables. The place was a "camp" in more senses that one. We were there all day, and in the evening were bussed to a hostel called Ambleside, where there were uniformed security men at the door. There was no escape from it, even at weekends, when there was as much work to do as in the weekdays.

There was no social contact between staff and holidaymakers, but they seemed to enjoy themselves, certainly more than we did. Despite the security guards, there was plenty of sex and hard drinking in the hostels, none of which, disappointingly, involved me.

I seemed to be the only English kid in the place on his way to university. There were also European students there improving their English, but they mostly kept to themselves.

One evening, the English decided to relieve the boredom by beating up a big German lad named Horst, who carried the bruises on his face for days afterwards. He did not dare complain, and no questions were asked.

My presence – a diffident Oxford entrant desperate not to cause offence, lest I too get a working over – was a source of amusement. "He'll do absolutely anything I tell him, you know," one of the women supervisers announced to fellow staff, in my hearing. "Andy," she added, "Drop your trousers."

I was wondering how to react when someone told her: "You'd run a bloody mile if he did it." My belated thanks to him.

My father had told me I should find a job better suited to my educational qualifications rather than go to Butlins, but what 18-year-old listens to his father? When I got home, there was no way I was going to admit what a relief it was to have escaped at last.