I have just returned from a holiday in Spain. Am I calmer after the break, more relaxed, less wound like a coiled spring? Probably not. For the truth is that the moment you are home, yes, literally that moment, it becomes clear how much you have to do just to get back on track with everyday life. All the lounging about and dipping into sun-dappled pools is nothing more than a memory and even that seems distant.
Add to this the fact that there were elements of pure fiasco during the holiday and I have to wonder if all the frantic organising was even worth it.
It certainly started with an adventure. I had pre-booked [and pre-paid] airport parking as that seemed like a sensible thing to do. But as I approached Birmingham Airport it became clear that Car Park 7 had no road signs leading to it, unlike numbers 1-6.
Not owning a sat. nav. anymore, [if you want the ludicrous story of how that was lost, you will have to go back to a blog post from about a year ago] I resorted to reading the directions I had printed out. Let’s just say I drove around the same island five times, each time taking a different exit, only to return defeated.
By this time my blood pressure was up, the kids in the back were starting to ask when the plane took off and would we be on it, and I was still none the wiser.
The time was fast approaching 5am when we were due to check in for our flight, and everywhere seemed deserted. There was no one around to even ask where I should have been heading.
In desperation, I pulled in to Car Park 1 and pressed the button on the intercom for assistance. I explained that I was lost and needed help to find Car Park 7. Unfortunately the disembodied voice didn’t seem to know where that was either! There followed an interminably long wait whilst he consulted a map and finally delivered the sage advice that I should, “Go back to the roundabout and pick up the signs for number 7.”
Defeated, I had to reverse the car out of the one-way system, invoking incredulous stares from the other motorists and head back to the same island I had already been around five times!
Since most of them led to other car parks, I chose the one route which didn’t and followed it for some time in the hope that it would be right. Guess what? I still didn’t find the car park I needed. I returned to the original roundabout. The time was 5:30am and I was in a cold sweat.
This time I pulled into car Park 5 and up to the intercom barrier. I pressed the button and waited. “Look I’m lost. I have paid for Car Park 7 but I can’t find it. I have been around and around… and if you don’t help me I am going to miss my flight and …”
I was cut off by a bored voice. “Oh, it’s you again. Didn’t you find it then?” Now don’t ask me why it never occurred to me that it would be the same man from Car Park 1, but it didn’t. Then to have him state the blatantly obvious was almost too much for me. I felt steam coming out of my ears. Very slowly, one vertebrae at a time, I felt myself turn towards the little camera that regarded me so intrusively. Behind my eyes I saw an image of how I must appear to him and I sharpened my gaze.
Before I could say anything I heard him clear his throat and say anxiously, “Wait there. I will get a supervisor to direct you.”
Wait there? Where did he think I was going to go? Round and round the roundabout on a pleasure jaunt, whirling suitcases and children from the car window in wild abandonment, in the hope that some of them would land close to the terminal and might actually make it to the plane?
Finally a supervisor arrived. It took only a short conversation for him to see that by now directions were going to be lost on me. He opened up the barrier and let me park, for which I will be eternally grateful.
By the time we got to the duty free shops, all my previous cares had been forgotten. Almost. Gleefully, my ten year old daughter and I sampled the perfumes and the make-up, drawing on our hands thick lines of every colour available.
Now lots of cosmetics claim to be waterproof… but few actually are. In the toilets, I lathered up my hands and worked at the smears of green and blue and red, rubbing and scraping at my skin. The make-up refused to dissolve and wash away but it did move, smearing itself over both hands, so that it looked like I had been bare-knuckle boxing with Mike Tyson. Again and again I washed my hands, each time more frantically than before, cursing under my breath so that I must have looked more than a little like a modern-day Lady Macbeth. All that was needed was for me to shriek, “Out, damned spot!” and I might even have got an Oscar.
So as usual we ended up making a frenzied dash for the plane, with me trying in vain to hide my monstrous looking hands from everyone. I took solace in the family pack of chocolate raisins I had bought for the journey, doling them out for myself and the children.
It was a turbulent flight, particularly noticeable when on one jolt, I dropped several of the sweets and they clattered softly to the floor. Embarrassed, I tried to pick them up and dispose of them – no mean feat when the seating space seems to have been modelled on the dimensions of mankind from the 1950s, when men were trim and women had waists, but I got most of them up.
It was only when I uncontorted myself that I discovered the people across the aisle were watching me in fascination. It seemed they thought I was so panicked about the turbulence that I had adopted the safety ‘brace’ position.
Safely ensconced in my seat once more, I hoped that I had finished providing them with free entertainment. But I’m afraid the show was not yet over. It was only when I stood up to go to the toilet that I realised not all of the chocolate treats had fallen to the floor. Some had slipped onto my seat, becoming effectively squashed and melted under me.
Do you have any idea what a few squashed chocolate buttons and raisins look like when congealed to the seat of your jeans? Mortified, I blazed a trail to the toilets, cheeks crimson and with the sound of my children’s guffaws still ringing in my ears. I may never live that memory down.
I had booked a hotel in Benidorm because of the dates we needed to have and the price I was happy to pay, added to the fact that I wanted a hotel which was close to the beach and which offered nightly entertainment. Now at this point are you all shaking your heads? I thought so.
And to be honest Benidorm was everything people say it is. But it is also beautiful, with long sandy beaches where the sea is both warm and crystal clear and fish swim unafraid around your toes.
Cloistered within the walls of our hotel by night, there was none of the anti-social behaviour that might have been acted out on the streets and many clubs and bars of the town, but there was still that flavoursome sense of excitement, that in the warm air, scented with exotic flowers and coconut suntan lotion, anything might happen…
I even managed to convince myself that I could look as enticing as Halle Berry famously coming out of the sea in one of the James Bond movies, so I tried it. Hair slicked back by the tide, bikini rucked up to cover my most wobbliest of bits, I emerged, white and short limbed from the foamy waves.
The film score which was playing in my head, stuttered and died as I caught my big toe on a rock concealed under the water. Pain shot up my foot and I stumbled, feet flailing under the water, trying to find purchase and finding only the rock. Again. I went down like a lead balloon, hair straggling over my face and inhaling a great lungful of salt water.
But this holiday also provided a number of firsts for me. I had never taken the children abroad on my own before and it was a bitter-sweet experience. I sat alone watching the nightly entertainment, my teenage son off messaging his friends on Facebook and my daughter playing with new friends, and although the shows were on the whole very good, I felt I cut a rather pathetic figure, there on my own. This was highlighted during one of the acts, when a comedian picked on me as being clearly alone in a swarm of huge family groups and asked what my name was, where I was from and whether I was married or not.
Reluctantly giving the answers, I was dismayed to be asked more; how old was I and did I have children? Giving the answers as I did, starkly and without embellishment, I almost felt like I was on a game show dating site:- ‘And now here’s Carmen, all the way from the Midlands, give her a cheer! Carmen is single, 48 and has three children!’
So when the Adele tribute singer came on, perhaps you will forgive me for shedding a quiet, surreptitious tear at my aloneness.
In general though, the entertainment was really good and my thanks go out to JJ Jones who was the Neil Diamond Tribute and to Andy, the Rod Stewart tribute, who were both photographed with my newest novel, Split Decision. [See earlier posts]
In particular I must mention the fact that JJ Jones donates all proceeds from the sale of his CDs to a charity in remembrance of his daughter.
But my most enduring memories of this holiday? Well apart from the looks of purest joy on the faces of my children, it would have to be sitting on the balcony with the strains of Spanish music played on an acoustic guitar, filtering up from below. The music seemed to play with the noise of the passing traffic like a cat with a mouse, sometimes feigning passivity, at other times being assertive, taking control and bending the other noise to its will.
Spain is the land of my grandfather, the origin of my name and so perhaps it is a part of me in a way that I almost can’t define. Looking at my children, I now think it may well be a part of them too.