Spent a somewhat nostalgic week's holiday down in Devon. We stayed in a bungalow in the Welcome Family holiday camp, a place I thoroughly recommend if you've got kids, in Dawlish Warren. When I was a kid, we spent several holidays down there, and I was gratified to se that some things hadn't changed, most notable of all being the banana fritter stall just before the railway bridge - the smell of deep-fried bananas has the same effect on me as madelaines and tea had on Proust, and wafts me back to a 1970's childhood redolent with hot sunshine, flares, cheesecloth shirts, findus crispy pancakes, casual racism and punk music.
The bungalow we stayed in had been recently renovated and given a vaguely Spanish makeover, including a small patio area in the front. It was part of a small open-sided quadrangle of apartments with a patch of grass for the kids to play on. Angus and Sean, the latter especially, made friends quickly, and spent much of the time outside.
Although there was much to recognise, the Warren has clearly seen plenty of modernising as well, from the rows of new houses on the site of the old Peppermint park, to the new facilities and sea defenses by the beach. Overall, it is a really good place to take the family. Even the holiday camp, a staple of the British Holiday experience, managed to seem up-to-date. All with one exception: the on-site club and evening entertainment.
The best thing that could be said for the club is that the smoking ban has made it safer to sit in. Apart from that, walking into it for the first time felt as if I'd gone back to 1977. It was an enormous barn of a place, packed with classic pub-style tables, stools and chairs. The carpet was an ancient red patterned job, the type found in old bars up and down the country. The decor on the walls was an eclectic mix of 1930s-style cruise liner posters and art-deco-style bas-reliefs, and vaguely Egyptian-style things, including a rather badly-designed and battered pharoah's head, none of which had seen an attempt to move them in at least 20 years.
Crammed into the place were the holidaymakers on the camp, and again it felt like little had changed; There were children running everywhere, a few old relatives being pushed around in wheelchairs, a man with a toothless grin, husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, seeking some opportunity to relax, people focused on having one drink too many or trying to enjoy the indifferent bar food, the noise level pitched at just under shouting. Oddly, I found it quite comforting, simply because it reminded me so much of the past - it was a mileau I understood.
And then the entertainment began.
To say it was cheesy would be an insult to the dairy produce industry.This wasn't your bog-standard block of supermarket own-brand cheddar: This was a magnificent chunk of Stinking Bishop, this was the Durian fruit in the friuit bowl of family entertainment, this was the Corpse flower in the botanical garden of holiday camp entertainment. It was an utterly, utterly magnificent thing. It had casual, unwitting racism. It had a 1970's style Gay Stereotype, so camp that you could have put Boy Scouts on it and called it a Jamboree. It had tatty sets. It had a surfeit of innuendo.
But what it had, most of all, was an incredible amount of hard work put into it. We only went two or three tiimes, and didn't stay to long, but what really impressed me was the sheer amount of sweat and labour that had been put into producing something so, well, average. The Bluecoats had clearly spent months planning, rehearsing and performing their routines, and clearly believed in what they were doing. None of them were outstanding performers, but they really sought to entertain. The compere knew how to work the room, the singers managed not to mangle any tunes too badly, the set changes and costume changes were rehearsed and seamless, the comic business and audience participation pretty much faultless. One of the bluecoats had been working there for twenty years.Clearly, he must have both enjoyed the work and got something out of it, otherwise why stay so long?
And this is the point of this entry. As I've got older, I have come to admire more those people who really work at what they do, who strive to be the absolute best they can be at their thing. These chaps were making the most of what they did, and around me in that club I knew there would be people who sweated their backsides off, day in, day out, striving to be the best they could possibly be at what they did. It doesn't mean that they are THE best, just they're filling their own niche. While there will always be the superstars, be it musicians or actors or chefs or top academics, the majority will never attain the peaks. It's the fate of most to be average, and in fact there's absolutely nothing wrong with this, despite the exhortations of lifestyle magazines. The important thing is to do one's best and be content with the knowledge of having done that.
To my undying shame, I have not done that. I have rarely striven to reach as high as I can, and as I get older, I realise that this is not only a disappointment to myself and others, it is a betrayal of myself. Now, I could just curl up in a guilty little ball and feel sorry about the past, but that won't do any good: Nor will beating myself up about the present and excoriate myself for torpor. Instead, it's much more important to try, and try well.