When we look back now we jokingly refer to the place we met as a ‘concentration camp’, but it wasn’t that funny at the time. The owners’ attitudes really influenced the tone of the place and the happiness of the workers. I got on okay with the husband (Michael*), but the wife (Sharon*) was another story.
At first, Sharon was lovely. She piled on the compliments and the platitudes, because having happy entertainment staff has got to be one of the main concerns for a holiday park located in the middle of nowhere. She would always say “Oh, you’re such a great singer. You should be on X Factor… We’re so lucky to have you here.”
When I started, there were also no rules – for me, at least. I was paid a minimal wage and received a cabin onsite. When the other staff started they were given a long list of rules and told “If you break them, we’ll have you deported.” See, I have an EU Passport – but they were mostly from countries outside the EU, working in the UK on an English programme. They had lunch included in their wage package, and were given stale and mouldy food more than once.
My future husband, Andrés (read more about him in my earlier blog), generally worked from 7am until 5pm, six days a week, cleaning the filthy guest cabins, and then after a 1 hour dinner break, worked in the bar from 6pm until midnight. He received no overtime, and was paid just over GBP5 per hour. It was pretty much illegal – but when he tried to complain about that, the food, or the conditions, he was always threatened with “Do what you’re told or we’ll have you deported.” Very scary situation for a young man who is out of his home country for the first time. Obviously the owners knew that, and took advantage of it.
When Andrés and I met, we had a slightly up-and-down start, but our feelings grew quickly. We were teaching basic salsa lessons to the guests, and one day, when we were practising the merengue (it’s not an egg-based dessert, it’s a fun latin dance), we were very close and swirling around the room. I could feel someone watching us, and later, a colleague confirmed that Sharon was watching us, hiding in the corner of the room, saying “There’s something going on between those two.”
We knew she wouldn’t have been happy. After all, rule number 19 on Andrés’s rule sheet said “No fraternisation between staff members allowed”. A bit hypocritical for a woman rumoured to have made some questionable ethical decisions in the past… but that’s only hearsay.
Anyway, we think she even got her son to follow us at night to see if we went to the same cabin. So we had to do lots of sneaking around, pretending we weren’t together. We were grown adults, so I thought it was ridiculous, but Andrés was scared of deportation and had spent his life savings as well as taken out a loan to have this UK experience…
Over time, Sharon became increasingly rude and sarcastic to both of us. She had an acid tongue and a very nasty streak. Over a period of a few weeks, it became obvious we couldn’t stay there. Sneaking around, and putting up with nasty comments was not what I signed up for – so I quit. I gave two weeks’ notice. She wasn’t happy and wanted me to stay, but I knew I couldn’t.
The agency who placed Andrés was aware of the situation, and a few days later they contacted him with a job offer up in Scotland. “I’m afraid if I resign, she’ll do something bad,” he warned them.
“Don’t worry,” said his agent. “You just leave without saying anything, and I’ll sort it out later.” Unfortunately, she was sacked a few days later, and didn’t sort out anything, but that’s another story…
So Andrés said to me “Let’s run away!”
Ever the rule follower, I said, “No, don’t be silly, I have just given two weeks’ notice.”
“Ah, what’s happened to you? You used to be cool,” he said. (That’s always his favourite saying when he wants me to do something. haha) Even my Mum encouraged me to run away. “Just do it,” she said. “You’ll be much happier away from that place.” She’s such a rebel, my Mum…
So of course, I agreed. I mean, who wants to be accused of being uncool when they’re entering the mid-30’s boring danger zone?
But leaving wasn’t going to be easy.
I had a car, which helps in a place with no public transport and where the single local taxi has to be ordered the day before you need it. Work necessitated us being apart temporarily, so I arranged somewhere to stay in London and Andrés had a flight booked to go to his job in Scotland. Everything was planned. I called in sick on the night we were leaving. Andrés went to work as usual.
While he was working and the evening show was on, it was ‘action stations’ in the staff cabins. We had both already packed during the day and hidden our bags. So as soon as I knew everyone was busy up in the main house, I shoved all my things in the car. Andrés’s two colleagues, who weren’t working that night, helped me load the car with his things… and then, just like in the movies, we pushed the car out onto the road.
As I started the engine, I panicked, just waiting for the owners to come running out and catch us. They didn’t.
I drove around for hours, waiting for midnight, when I returned to pick up Andres from the street in front of the gates. There were no streetlights, and it was pitch black in the midnight darkness. I sat with the engine and lights off, stiff scared and worried I would be caught.
Finally, at 12.05pm, I saw a flashlight. “Oh no!” I thought to myself, “Michael* is walking the dogs, and he’s going to catch me!” The light came closer, and closer, and then a hand hit the bonnet of the car. “Aaahhh!” I jumped out of my skin. But it was Andrés. Funny thing was, Andrés told me later that he had been walking with the light of his mobile phone to guide the way, and when he saw the outline of the car, he thought, “Oh no! Michael is waiting in a car outside, and he’s going to discover me!”
He jumped in the car shaking with adrenaline, kissed me on the cheek and said, “Isn’t this exciting?!”
We drove through the night and I stressed the whole way about having broken the rules and done the wrong thing. Andrés wasn’t bothered. He said she was a nasty woman who deserved the karma coming her way. I knew it was true, but it was still darn scary!
While we were waiting for Andrés’s flight at Gatwick Airport, I got a text from Sharon. “Cat, please come up to see me in the office.” it said. Oops, I guess she hadn’t yet read the five page departure letter I’d left. I turned off my phone and took out the SIM and the battery, so she couldn’t trace me. I’ve watched The Bourne Identity; I’m no fool.
And after a few months apart, with several trips to see each other (Thanks, EasyJet), we moved to Ecuador and got married!
All that, from a girl who just wanted a good time over the summer.
* Names have been changed