I am completely intrigued and bemused by the phenomenon that is Barry Island. I grew up in Barry and Barry Island has always conjured up a Morrissey lyric
This is the coastal town that they forgot to close down.
So when my friend’s 13 year old niece greeted me with great excitement and a multitude of questions after telling her that I grew up in Barry, I was a little taken aback. Of course it is all fueled by Gavin and Stacey, a programme that I absolutely love and somehow Barry has been given a chance to redeem itself.
Barry used to be a thriving resort full of day visitors and holiday makers at the Butlins Camp. As a child we didn’t visit Barry Island much because my dad hated sandy beaches, bemoaning how he got sand in his sandwiches. We spent most of our time at the other pebbly beach in Barry scrabbling for the tiny piece of sand that emerged when the tide went out. Going to Barry Island as a child was a huge treat – oodles of sand, arcades, funfair, tacky shops – a child’s dream. We had a children’s party once on the penny machines and the arcade with the historic slot machines displaying 1940’s film stars was a huge hit for those on a small budget.
As teenagers we used to meet at the amusement park for a night out, go for day trips to Butlins and trawl the arcades in search of ‘foreign’ boys. As 6th formers we loved the Warehouse nightclub and Pebbles but by the late 80’s early 90’s the holiday camp had closed the nightclubs were mostly boarded up and anything that was still open was forced to close at midnight.
During the 90’s I worked at Barry Island and often went for walks to the sea front on a Sunday afternoon. It was still busy but not quite what it had been in its heyday. We took my daughter to Barry Island funfair as a toddler – I was amazed at how little it had changed from when I was a teenager, it certainly hadn’t moved with the times.
I still think I was extremely lucky to grow up by the sea, to be able to make going to the seaside a regular occurrence and to be able to sit and look out over the sea when I needed thinking space. We took it very much for granted as children. Now I live by the sea again but we don’t have any particularly nice beaches so I do appreciate more the ability to walk to the beach on a regular basis.
I think it’s great that there is a new sense of excitement about Barry. It’s become a popular location for many television programmes including Being Human (filmed in my cousin’s street), Dr Who (our Wedding Venue featured in an episode) and of course Gavin and Stacey. I just hope that it lives up to the hype.
So for me, a small town Welsh girl, the idea that my home town has become a phenomenon is very strange, but I’m getting used to it.
photographs courtesy of Augusta Trussell