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After a longish period, with not much happening at all, the last week has been a particularly good time for reviews of my 'nostalgedy&#...

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Forty Years On: A Spanish Bee in your Bonnet

The penultimate chapter in the Forty Years On saga and following on from "No, Luton Airport"

Our residence for our week in Spain in August, 1971 was Arenal, Majorca and the Hotel Arenal Gardens (the name has been changed to protect the guilty).  I was immediately impressed to find that the room had a balcony with commanding views over a large concrete area containing neatly stacked tables and chairs.  I couldn’t begin to think what this might be, for but soon found out at midnight when it converted into an open-air nightclub, keeping a boisterous crowd amused until dawn.

Checking out the balcony was my first job.  My second was to ring a family friend of ours back in the UK (who was working a night shift) to ask him to pass a message to my Mum and Dad that I had arrived safely.  It’s difficult to remember these days just how completely out of touch you could be just by popping over to mainland Europe.  I’m sure it was easier for the astronauts to report back from the Moon than it was to make a call to the UK from Spain.  Firstly, you could not dial direct, you had to battle the mutual incomprehensibility resulting from the Hotel Receptionist’s tentative grasp of English and my non-existent command of Spanish, mixed with my Burtonian mangling of my mother tongue.  Having made it to the International Operator and a series of bewildering tones, beeps and ominous silences, I finally contacted our friend.  By this time, I was so worried that I might be racking up a bill that would cancel out my holiday spending money at a stroke, all I managed to burble was that I had arrived safely and it was hot. 

I have limited memories of that holiday (you’ll be no doubt pleased to hear), just a few particular points stand out.  I remember going out on the first night to hit the bars on the main street.  The resort was crowded and the main street was a throng of people shuffling from bar to bar.  I was sporting my ‘bought for the holiday’ cream crimplene trousers and this was their first venture out in public.  I don’t know if you remember an old pub game that used to involve spreading the tissue paper backing from the silver foil of a cigarette packet over a wine glass?  Having done this, a sixpence was placed in the centre of the paper and people took it in turns to burn a hole in the tissue paper with the end of their cigarette (it seems like another world now, doesn’t it?).  The object of the game was to avoid your burnt hole joining with any of the others, thus dumping the sixpence into the glass.  Well, the action of a cigarette on tissue paper was as nothing compared to the action of a burning cigarette on crimplene.  After an evening squeezing through a crowd of holidaymakers, all smokers to a man (and woman) my brand new trousers had been ‘branded’ many times over and made the tissue paper look positively intact.

The other event that was seared into my memory began, quite unexpectedly, as we were sitting sunbathing on the beach in Arenal.  Kev was determined to get a suntan, which was a laudable aim but doomed to failure given that he was blond with a very fair complexion and simply tended to turn bright red and blister.  Nevertheless, he was sure that things would be different this time.  I wasn’t too bothered about sunbathing and regarded it as a profligate waste of good drinking time, but I’d agreed to keep him company on this occasion.   Suddenly, he turned to me and said “Is there something crawling in my hair?”  I looked down on his sunburnt scalp and spotted a bee plodding methodically through his hair.  “It’s a bee.”  I informed him.  “What?  Get it out!”  I understood his anxiety but felt that a calmer approach might be advisable and was proved correct when, after some flapping and flailing about, there was an anguished cry of “Oh, my God, it’s stung me!”  Given that Kev was a hypochondriac’s hypochondriac and had once had a Doctor’s Certificate for catarrh, this was not good news, as I’ll explain in the final instalment Night Boat to Palma

You can find more stories from The Slightly Odd World of Phil Whiteland in e-book format - Steady Past Your Granny's - Kindle Edition (UK) or Steady Past Your Granny's - Kindle Edition (USA)