Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Butlin's By The Sea...

I have always loved magic shows. One of my as-yet unachieved ambitions in life is to have a coin magically "found" behind my ear.  I know; I should probably reassess my life goals.  But I digress...  So when my friend Lizzie discovered that Stephen Mulhern was appearing at Butlin's every weekend over the Summer, it was a question of when we went, not if.

Where was never in doubt.  We live in the South West; Minehead seemed our best option.  And so, on Saturday the 10th August, we found ourselves setting off up the M5 for an entirely new experience.  I'll be honest:  I somehow spent an entire childhood never having been to Butlin's.  Ever.  In fact, I was a Pontins child, but shhhh, don't tell them that.  My point is, I had very little to go on.  I know what holiday camps are like and I'd seen pictures, but basically, I was a blank page, in terms of Butlin's expectations.  So it's quite an achievement for them to have impressed me enormously before we even got there.

Basically, Lizzie and I were troublesome and couldn't get there on a Friday; we could only manage Saturday and Sunday that particular weekend.  Butlin's breaks tend to be for 3, 5 or 7 nights at Minehead, but we were allowed to book for just 2, which made us feel thought of and as though our individual needs were being met right from the start. Not an easy task for a big company!

We were staying in the most basic accommodation, but everything was so clean and comfy that we didn't have reason to envy the guests in the bigger apartments.  We had a welcome pack that let us know everything that would be going on during our stay and gave us helpful numbers to call if we needed anything extra.  We had a wander around some of the other accommodation blocks and were incredibly impressed with the huge variety on offer.  There seemed to be something to suit every budget and every possible other requirement, from traditional chalets and deluxe lodges, to the stunning Blueskies apartments.  You really are spoilt for choice at Minehead!

Given that we arrived with plenty of time to spare before the show we'd actually gone there for, Lizzie and I decided to do the obvious thing - explore!  Well, what can I say?!  I don't think I've ever been anywhere where there has been so much to do, all of the time!  In the space of barely a couple of hours, we went on fairground rides, played on arcade games in the Skyline Pavilion (which has to be seen to be believed), posed for pictures on "the big deckchair," hired a fun bike and actually ended up completely lost, until a very lovely redcoat (whose name I never got, sorry!) pointed us in the right direction...  Thank you!

We even managed to watch a couple of children's shows in the Skyline Pavilion, prior to heading up to Centre Stage.  Even though we were *cough* a few *cough* years older than the little audience members, we were caught up in all the fun and ended up dancing and laughing, having an absolutely brilliant time.  We both agreed that for a family with children, this place would be Heaven for the kids and an ideal break for mum and dad, too!

We ate at one of the many food outlets dotted around the campus.  You can add food to your stay so that everything is paid for up front and I've heard many good things about the delicious meals on offer if you choose to do things that way, but to be honest, there's so much to choose from, you're bound to get something tasty however you go about it.

Having arrived a little early for Stephen's show, we managed to take in some of the Centre Stage atmosphere before it began.  There were games being played, lots of children of all ages on the dance floor and a real buzz about the place.  Credit has to go to redcoat Matt, along with Kyle and Bethan, for ensuring that everyone was kept thoroughly entertained right up until showtime.  In fact,we were enjoying ourselves so much, we almost forgot that there was a showtime.  Put it this way: I lost count of the number of dance routines I learnt and Lizzie and I didn't stop smiling all night long!  The redcoats do a genuinely fantastic job and every one we met was lovely, too.

Stephen's show was just as brilliant as we predicted it would be and we were fortunate enough to meet the man himself afterwards - what a lovely guy!  

We hung around until closing time after the show, enjoying more games, dances and entertainment. There really is something for everyone to enjoy and we both agreed that we were looking forward to our second night, even though we hadn't even finished the first! We checked out the on-site nightclub afterwards - there's definitely plenty of fun on offer for grown-ups as well as kids at Butlin's.  By the time we crawled into bed, we were tired but extremely happy and thoroughly won over!  In fact, we were already planning our return visit...  

On Sunday, we headed to Splash Waterworld, to check out the fun pool and all the slides.  We had a fantastic time, riding the water coaster and being carried along by the river rapids.  The weather stayed sunny for us, so we had a chance to dry off on some more fairground rides, before checking out a few more shows.  I swear, something happens to you at Butlin's and you just forget the real world - before I knew it, I was dancing along with Angelina Ballerina...

By the time we left on Monday, both of us had a serious case of the post-Butlin's blues.  Look at Lizzie; that's a girl who doesn't want to go home!

I think the best way to sum up that first ever experience of Butlin's is to say that it took me completely by surprise.  I expected to like it, but I suppose, if I'm honest, I didn't think I'd love it as much as I did.  Everyone we met was friendly, nothing was too much trouble for anyone; even when Lizzie unfortunately lost her phone, the staff at reception were incredibly sympathetic and helpful.  There's always something to do; a show or a sports event, or a new activity to try.  The scenery is stunning, with the beach literally just across the road...  I'm really trying to pick a fault with Minehead Butlin's and it's just not happening!!  Which is the best indicator of it being a fantastic holiday destination.

In fact, no... The best indicator is the fact that we've already been back again since and had yet another fantastic weekend (three nights this time!) and yet again couldn't fault anything about the trip.  From the friendly (and very talented!) redcoats, to the cleanliness of the complex...  From the helpful staff, to the incredible array of entertainment..I can't think of a bad word to say about the place.  I guess all that remains to be said is.. See you very soon for our next weekend! 

Mirror, Mirror, On The Wall...

That's me, that is.  No, I'm not pointing to my boob.  

When you look in the mirror, what do you see?  Without a mirror, can you accurately describe yourself?  It sounds like a really silly question, but here's the thing:  I bet your description of yourself would differ wildly from what someone else might say about you.  Because when we look at ourselves, we have a tendency to see the things we don't like.  The things we wish we could change.  So, in the spirit of honesty, I'm going to be brave and tell you what I see, when I look in a mirror:

  • A nose too big for my face.
  • Hair that only behaves sometimes.
  • Too many wobbly bits (my tummy, especially)
  • Skin that behaves very rarely
  • Teeth that will never be perfect
  • Too many lines.

Pictured: Me in the mornings...

In a world of airbrushed images of perfect, white, shiny teeth, peaches and cream skin and glossy hair, we've become used to being frequently reminded that we just don't match up.  Faced with magazines filled with perfectly toned, size zero models, we're used to glancing down at our cellulite and sighing sadly into our morning cuppa.  By the way, did you know that the oh-so-slender size zero bodyshape is actually only achievable by less than 5% of women, whereas up to 95% of women have some degree of cellulite?!  And it's not just women, either.  Statistics and surveys are beginning to show that more and more men are unhappy enough in their bodies to actively consider some form of cosmetic surgery.  In fact, last year, a study by the University of West England revealed that a shocking four out of five men would describe themselves as "unhappy" with their bodies/general looks.

I've been thinking about this a lot in the last week or so.  I'll be honest, it was something as simple as a tweet that set me off.  I noticed that even people I consider to be ridiculously attractive have hang-ups about some aspect of their physical appearance.  And I won't lie; when I read the tweet that got me thinking about this subject, I wanted to yell: "NO!  YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL!" like some demented version of Christina Aguilera.  Instead, I dug a bit deeper and realised just how often we put ourselves down.

Don't get me wrong, I am the Queen of the self-put-down.  I like to think of myself as being humourous about it, rather than maudlin, but I definitely do it.  Someone complimented my dancing the weekend before last and I responded by replying: "But I have all the rhythm of a three-legged tortoise!"

But you should see me rock the Choco Latte. ;-)

The thing is, we just don't always listen.  And it's understandable.  I mean, come on!  These images are everywhere.  "Perfect" bodies in TV adverts.  Ridiculously muscular men in magazines.  Check your junk emails, or spam tweets and I guarantee you that there'll be messages telling you how to "lose weight - fast!"  We're living in a world where we're bombarded with pictures of what we're supposed to look like.  We see these pictures every day.  Women have it hardwired into their heads - if you want a man, then damnit, you better be skinny and beautiful.  Men are confronted with pictures of six packs and start thinking that's what they all need to look like.  It's entirely understandable and it's okay to have the odd hang up.

BUT...  Let's go back to the thing that started me pondering this whole issue.  You see, the way we look at each other differs enormously from the way we look at ourselves.  Just days after reading the tweet that made me go all Christina Aguilera, my friends Kirstie and Lizzie had a conversation.  Now, if you're unfamiliar with Kirstie and Lizzie, they're sisters and they look like this:

I like that Lizzie looks as though she's holding in the giggles, here.

Hopefully, neither sister will kill me for mentioning them in this blog (seeing as I'm going to Bristol with one on Monday and Butlin's with the other next month), but I think both of them are stunning.  Like, not just "oh, she's my friend, so I'm going to say how pretty she is, cos that's what girls do."  I mean, literally I would cut an arm off to look like either one of them.  Okay, maybe not an arm.  Maybe a nail.  But you get my point...

And the conversation they were having?  Yes, it was about their body hang ups.  And I love both girls (and relish being alive) too much to repeat it in a public space, but I sat, as a passive observer, thinking: "DO I NEED TO BREAK OUT THE AGUILERA AGAIN?!"  And I told them.  Because they're two of my very best friends in the world, I felt able to say "oi you, shut up, you're gorgeous," or words to that effect.  And Kirstie responded by saying something that blew my mind.  I mean, honestly, I'm still picking out bits of mind out of my laptop keyboard.  She said that she envied me.

I was, of course, wearing a suit at the time.  

And that's where I come full circle in this blog, to be honest.  I haven't told you all that Kirstie complimented me in order to brag or big myself up.  I'm telling you, because it finally made me realise that yes, it's okay to have hang ups, but we have to realise that the way we see ourselves doesn't necessarily match up to the way other people see us.  When she looks at me, Kirstie doesn't see those things I mentioned that I see when I look in the mirror.  Just like I don't see the things that she dislikes about herself, or that Lizzie dislikes about herself.  

And yes, I 100% believe that personality is worth so much more than looks.  Beauty fades with time, but what makes you you will never change.  I'll always appreciate a sense of humour and a sensitive nature over a six pack any day of the week.  But when we're talking about physical appearances, maybe, just maybe, we should stop comparing ourselves to unattainable perfection and start trying to see ourselves through the eyes of those who love us, or fancy us from afar, or who just think we're a little bit awesome, instead.

So tomorrow morning, when I look in the mirror, I'm going to try going through that checklist of things I dislike about myself again.  And I'm going to remind myself that the people who matter don't see those things and that maybe, I should try looking differently:

  • My nose is Greek.  And I'm proud to be part Greek Cypriot.
  • My hair frames my face and behaves a whole lot better now than it did when it was a crazy mass of curls.
  • My wobbly bits are actually just feminine curves.  And they're not even that wobbly.
  • My skin is Greek, too.  So it's olive-y.  And that's okay.
  • My teeth don't need to be perfect.  I can still smile.
  • Every line I get on my face is a memory of something that made me laugh, or a hard time I've survived.

What do you see when you look in the mirror?  Try looking for the person others see and you might be pleasantly surprised.