We experience moments every day. The vast majority are fleeting and as inconsequential as the cars and people we pass on the way to work. They flick into and out of our busy minds in their thousands during the course of a day and we pay no heed to them. But some moments stick. Some moments become anchored deep within our minds and the anchors are the sounds, smells and feelings we experience at that moment. That’s when a moment becomes a memory.
Chlorine and the sound of a tannoy, crackling into life are triggers for a lot of memories I have. I’ll come back to why in a minute but for me, they remind me of our summer holidays, from the early seventies to about seventy eight. A week spent at Butlin’s holiday camp.
It was always an early start to our holiday, packing the car with all our food, clothing and the kids piled in on top to drive the 60 or so miles to Filey in North Yorkshire. You had a slot of time in which to book in and get your chalet key, so all the urgency was about getting there in good time. It was also a bit of a gamble, as all our cars were on their last legs when we bought them and likely to cough and splutter their way on any journey longer than twenty minutes!
It was exciting to see the line of European flags that announced you were nearing the entrance to the holiday park. “We’re here kids, we’ve made it!” would be the relieved call from the front of the car and we would strain our necks to see over the bags of groceries, towels and clothes and into the park itself.
It was an amazing place. Brightly painted stucco on the buildings, the sky tram filled with people, waving at us new arrivals, the huge entrance hall that would be buzzing with families queuing patiently to book in. Then we’d all load up with everything we’d brought with us and using our camp map as a guide, troop off behind mum to find our chalet.
These were buildings built in the fifties; small and tightly packed into neat rows alongside the towering – well towering to us kids – two story apartment blocks. Getting settled in was really for the parents, us kids dumped what we were carrying and wanted to get outside and explore. We wanted to see the rides, the entertainment block, the outdoor pool, the beach, the dinner hall, and the sky ride. Everything, all in one go. And of course we wanted to check out the other kids too.
The days were taken up with visits to the swimming pool, playing on the beach and trying to play snooker in the huge snooker hall next to the bar; basically being out of our parent’s hair as much as possible. They tended to focus on relaxing on the grass outside the chalet with a drink, hopefully getting a suntan and playing cards, only calling us to run to the camp shop for eggs and bread or to come in for our tea.
Every available surface was covered in towels. The apartment blocks had wide covered balconies that ran the length of the block and all the apartments opened onto it. Outside each apartment would be washing line strung across the width of the balcony and attached to them would be the hundreds of bathing costumes and towels drying from the daily swim in the pool. And that’s why the smell of chorine hung heavily in the air. All the blocks and chalets were enveloped in it.
At night the smell was heady, especially when it was warm, like the perfume of night scented stock fills the garden on a summer evening. It was the first smell you get when you walk to your chalet the first day of your holiday.
Us kids fell asleep to the sound and scent chlorine filled towels billowing in the wind. A sound broken only by tipsy parents getting entangled in the many washing lines, stung like cobwebs across the balcony. They’d be caught in the web of towels as they come home from the entertainment block, where they’d been to see a gang show or old film or answering a tannoy call for the parents of a child in chalet 32 to go back to the chalet because the child was crying!
All those memories come flooding back to me the instant I smell chlorine or hear a tannoy. They are packed neatly away in my mind and unfold themselves like a letter from the past, a cherished past.