THERE was a gun metal grey monorail. That’s the only memory I have of Butlins, Skegness, which I lasted visited 25 years ago.
That’s gone. I can’t even recall where it was, such is the change to Billy’s place. No longer is it a tired throwback to the holiday camps of the fifties, the Hi-de-Hi-style rows of chalets and knobbly knees contests, Miss Wet T-shirt competitions and yawping Red Coats.
Well, the Red Coats are still heading up the entertainment, in red blazers but they’re now called Reds.
The chalets are still there but have been vastly improved. In addition there are two-storey, wooden apartments, given that Floridian-twang with names like The Keys.
We were in the Gold apartment, a bright and modern three-bed apartment with a kitchenette off the lounge, leather sofas, flat-screen telly and complimentary bottle of Asti.
Some things haven’t changed.
For the two hour drive east it rained.
And downtown Skegness -- “probably named after a Viking commander... Skeggi meaning the bearded one” -- is pretty much as I remember: Vulgar lollies on sticks, sticks of rock and bags of fudge, fruit machines, a bracing wind carries a whiff of candy and fish and chips....
Past the clock tower there are tired looking pedalos, two remarkably un-crazy golf courses, donkey rides, mini-raft ride, ghost train, pirate ship, dodgems and the like.
But what’s with the yellow footprints all over the pavement? And the wind turbines out at sea that dominate the horizon?
The pier is remarkably short these days. Did it collapse? Nice to see the 2p slot machines in the arcade on the pier still going strong a quarter of a century on.
No-one was swimming. Well, it is April, it’s raining and Skegness is bracing even during the height of summer. Just ask the iconic Jolly Fisherman.
That said, there was some beach activity: A teenager flying a kite -- near a grumpy sign that insisted that not only did we not feed the donkeys but “In the Interests of Safety Please refrain from Flying Kites and Playing Ball Games on the Designated Routes”.
A nod to the Jolly Fisherman statue and that was enough of that. Back to the relative luxury of Butlins for an evening of reality TV stars, including Chico and Britain’s Got Talent’s George Sampson and Stavros Flatley.
Although the queues were ridiculous.
There are four venues for live entertainment.
The Red Bar is a huge room where tribute bands and the Reds entertain. Even by 9pm there are little people racing around, hyped on the freedom to play after bedtime. It’s not for grown-ups. Not without earplugs and a sedative anyway.
There is a new spa designed to give parents somewhere to escape from the madness but it seemed to be closed during our visit.
Old school seaside entertainment includes a large room of slot machines, bowling alley, a cinema, pool room, camel racing and food outlets which dish up some surprisingly decent nosh, particularly The Yacht Inn.
To remind you of the history of the place there’s a Grade II listed chalet on site, an example of the 600 identical chalets designed by Billy Butlin on a cigarette packet and opened here in 1936.
Skegness is one of just three Butlins in the UK these days and since 2003 more than £110m has been invested to bring them in to this century.
Obviously they can’t survive year round on holidaymakers so a lot of the weekends are targeted at adults to relive the sixties, seventies or eighties, with original bands performing.
But some things never change. As we walked in for another night of shouting in Reds, one of the crimson creatures greeting at the door nodded to the missus: “All right love”. It amused her greatly. Particularly as she was convinced it was that geordie Ant’nee off Big Brother.
Prices at Butlins Skegness start from around £47 per person per break based on a family of four sharing a Silver self-catering apartment on a four night break in May. To book a Butlins break call 0845 070 4730 or visit www.butlins.com (The maximum call charge is 2p per minute from a BT landline. Calls from other networks may vary)