V6 038 Nothing much new

Volume 6 part 038 At a Loose end

We still owned the Bungalow. The bungalow was home to Helga the vintage Merc. I visited often. Having resigned from working for the “Americans”, I had already made a couple of trips to the Middle East seeking new adventures but avoiding mixing business and pleasure ruled out a vacation in the region.

I should have known better taking advice on a 2012 spring-break from the Chav family living next door in Brincliffe. Cape Verde was like the Canaries except for being two hours further south guaranteeing better weather in April. The brochures looked ok. The worst we risked was four-star. The distance and pronunciation would guarantee a selective, nice class of person.

How wrong was I?

More Liverpoodlians in track suits and socks with sandals who had escaped en-masse from enforced  deportation to the Costa Brava should have been the giveaway even before we had bee prized into the sardine can that moonlighted as a passenger plane courtesy of Thomas Cooke. I should have known better than break the rule of a lifetime set in 2004 and never travel with any airline starting with the letter “T”.

Travelling with Captain Cooke would have been preferable to “Thomas” and infinitely more comfortable. The abiding memory of this holiday was of a five-star fat-farm for crass castaways. Although we probably came into the same weight category, after the first morning we refused to repeat the twice daily, Feeding-Frenzy which passed for a buffet Breakfast. The Gran-Canaria Princess couldn’t hold a candle to this well-practised display of civil insurrection. It can be best described as resembling the consequence of multiple underwater menstruation at a convention for “Jaws” aficionados. The activity was frenetic. Line management boasted a total absence of self-discipline.

All-inclusive can be translated as all-exclusive of taste and style. Pigs in troughs outclassed an unruly mob totally devoid of any semblance of social etiquette.

The room with the wall mounted booze bar …
and the delightfull view from the balcony…

Expectations had not been high.  A holiday for the better-off-formerly-from-Benidorm more accurately served the better-off-formerly-from-a post war Butlin’s instead.  How incorrect can recommendations created by “trip advisor” be? There was no mention of the plastic cutlery and the self- service Red, white or Rose wine pumps where the pink appeared to be a combination of the run off from the red and the white. There was really no excuse to take a sneaky, slug standing at the tap so that you could fill up a pint pot before returning to the table. There was plenty for all, although admittedly the queue was a little daunting. A break with protocol allowed me to take a bee-line straight to the wine by bypassing hoards supersizing on Cola and Fanta. The wine was vaguely alcoholic and vaguely fruity which can’t be said for the fruit juice with doubtful industrial pedigree. The taste of chip-fat was the common ingredient throughout the menu yet for the most part it appeared well received, even in the elegantly presented tri-colour blanc-mange, topped with contrasting lime jelly.

“Five a day” was the measure of the helpings and not the definition of the diet. There were no “Five a day” fruit or vegetables, to speak of unless it was submerged in a liquid of dubious origin and impaled on the end of a cocktail umbrella.

The hotel building was in the style of a Saharan Fort displaying a predominance of sandy-beige with orange highlights precisely complimenting the colour of the inmates. Standing majestic in isolation on its own stretch of, admittedly stunning beach as remote and desolate as a pre-war Saudi Arabian oil well, the only characteristics distinguishing the resort from an outpost of the “Carry-on” film version of the French Foreign Legion was the total lack of a daily work-out routine and the absence of Germans.

Styled by M&S, evening wear was more practical than elegant with “Armani” reserved for the knock-off, TK Max vests worn by the “dad’s army” scrum at the buffet counter.

As for service, what service? Staff attendance was reserved for bar service supported by an army of lazy glass collectors and table wipers. Otherwise delightful people, the “help” unfortunately became unwitting extras in a remake of “Gone-with-the-Wind” at any and every occasion when anyone from Essex caught their eye. Being pretty far down the barrel, I supposed the Essex crowd needed someone to look down upon but they could have, at the very least picked on the Micks or the Scousers who, to me looked like much easier targets than the half black, half Portuguese locals.

For our part, we patronised the indigenous population with the dignity and politeness deserved by any hard working ex-colonial!

And Kids! What Kids?… Not quite suppressed savages, but holidaying at a rambling all-inclusive ASBO boot camp is not my idea of fun. The fortress design was clearly to contain the marauding hordes and thereby prevent them wreaking havoc by polluting the local populous. The remote location of the hotel, ensured that anyone who did escape faced a twenty mile desert yomp to reach the nearest safe house.

Upon arrival, my reiteration of an email request for a billet in the adult’s only section was met with something of a misunderstanding. Our allocated room, always numbered in 4 digits for block, floor and room number put Pete and I in the 6000’s, overlooking the children’s play area.

What in the “no children please” request translated into “two aging gays require to be located in the heart of kinder-garten-land with a balcony view of the play area where scantily clad children will cavort semi naked for our every delight”? It transpired that the mistake was a consequence of booking a suite as an upgrade. Far from offering additional amenity, the extra room available in “suites” was universally booked by cheapskates unfamiliar with the concept of “overcrowding”, and who preferred to let their children suffer on the pull out sofa to save a few pounds for their next trip to Butlin’s or Benidorm. The occupancy rate of the “6000’s matched the density of a Tokyo Sub-way during rush-hour. People who vote labour are so often ugly. Ugly people who boast being socialists and take holidays in term-time not only have ugly children but stupid, ugly children.

Much to my surprise, our protest was handled with incredible dexterity.  Within the day, we were whisked away into the exclusive adult’s only section of the compound numbered in the 1000’s and located just outside the castle walls. The exclusivity of the Adults-only compound with in-house min-bars and child free pool was more like being put into quarantined isolation compounded by the dubious privilege of being located furthest away from any central amenity. A ten-minute walk separated us from the hub-hub of the entertainment zone inhabited by the great unwashed guaranteeing us being last for Dinner and first for the scraps.

Although not actually a suite, the revised accommodation was a pretty decent sized room, with separate dressing room, bar and fine bathroom. A rather decorative wall cabinet which turned out to contain litre bottles of spirits mounted in dispensing optics faced Pete’s bed. All-inclusive truly meant all-inclusive but in this case probably not the last accessory a recovering alcoholic should see when trying to nod off for a good night’s sleep. For the first time in over a decade we had to swap sides in bed.

We enjoyed unique access to a silver service “gourmet restaurant”. Although normally only allowed to visit once during each seven days stay we were granted complimentary tickets for a second night to make up for the mix-up in the bedroom allocation. As there were only two items on the menu, the limited availability of tables was probably for the best.

Dinner in the gourmet restaurant was a relatively civilised affair with wine dispensed from real bottles by white gloved natives. Having the same guest two nights in a row was something of a rarity. On our second visit we attained celebrity status with priority service and free champagne. This exalted position made a big impact on the other twelve tables who fidgeted nervously in the total silence in the presence of such esteemed guests. The air conditioning was polar in revenge against any diners presenting in sleeveless vests and counterfeit designer denim shorts… and that, was just from the women! Making an effort to dress for dinner rightly differentiated the odd few couples in slacks, jackets, skirts and twin sets from the majority who were demonstrably within the comfort zone of this otherwise “Primark” paradise. Any attempt to raise the standards of the Primani set would have been wasted in the crush of the “eat-all-you-can and as-much-more-than-you should”. Any sensible dress code enforced in that environment would have been totally unrecognisable by the time the soiled and the inebriated hit the Karaoke.

For those wishing to avoid the pig-trough there were three other themed restaurants.

We didn’t manage to secure a table in the fish restaurant featuring local cuisine but apparently devoid of fish. This may have been a lucky escape as an island populated by crows, lizards and stray dogs might not be notable for its culinary skills. The barbecue restaurant proved the point, although choosing between Goat, Camel and chicken with the shared texture and consistency of a boiled crepe-soled shoe was irrelevant if you opted for the second sitting. The edible portions from the barbecue rarely lasted through the first sitting.  The secret was to serve yourself a main course from the buffet table before the starters arrived. That way you could not only watch the peasants swallowing sardine salads whole but be well out of elbow range once the starting gun had been fired to hit the carvery. Pete used toothpicks to maintain a social distance whilst I dissolved left overs trapped between my teeth with the acid dispensed from wine carafes commonly normally kept under the everyday Englishman’s kitchen sink.

Civilisation and decorum were abandoned for the beach or poolside.  Muffin “tops” and muffin “bottoms” were the order of the day allowing the Brits to present a homogeneous portrayal whilst giving the rarely spotted, unfamiliar lifeguards something to aim for should any of the inflatables get into trouble under water. The swim up bar was much more of a float up bloater-bar with those risking mounting the submerged padded barstools in danger of swallowing the contraption whole. The spectacle comprised a vista a three-inch diameter shiny stainless steel poles disappearing into the cheeks of amply proportioned clenched arses. There was no sign of upholstery once a stool had been occupied.

To evade tour reps intent on hijacking contestants for embarrassing afternoon, hi-jinks in the pool we spent most of the day on the wind-swept beach. Thatched umbrellas provided shade from the fierce sun whilst upturned sun loungers diverted the sand-blasting, hurricane winds. Stray mongrels took advantage of both the company and modified climate. A particularly affectionate female Labrador-look-alike with whom we became particular friends was sadly on her last season but we wouldn’t be returning to say a final good bye.

A few Slovenians and the odd Dutch boys bucked the trend, with tiny bodies giving them a significant advantage in getting through the perpetual crush of the free bar. They could regularly be seen emerging from the fleshy folds of the Brits hogging the service, surfacing with a plastic beaker in each hand still brimming with what appeared to be pink or florescent lime green liquid shaving foam. The shaving foam was a very popular beverage. A couple of gay boys were slim enough to get away with wearing budgie smugglers in stark contrast to the Matalan man-bloomers mandatory for the morbidly obese majority.

… and cap off the holiday with a private car tarnsfer to the airport…

The affliction of choice is “Hip Dysplasia” and the words of advice are not to get behind one of them if you are relying on public transport! As we chose to pay for a private transfer from, and to the airport Peter and I avoided the displeasure of queuing with the hoy-palloy. Having arrived first at the airport and then watched from the bar as the busses disgorged some 300 salmon pink scousers and Manc’s who dutifully waited in line for the best part of two hours to get through security we joined the rear of the queue once all the fuss had died down. We were last on to the aeroplane, just in time to have the doors slammed behind us and being regaled by a cheery air hostess spitting the phrase “Yher nearly got a free wheek!”. My response included something in the vein of – “what had we done in a former life to deserve that level of punishment”?

We had made a last goodbye to the Black Lab with a shipment of streaky bacon liberated from the breakfast buffet but gave a fond farewell to the reps a bit of a miss.

lady of the pack of wild strays who became our friends….

We won’t be repeating the April 2012 treat to Cape Verdi any time this century.

Summer of 2012 in Ibiza was a Finca away from Cape Verde. Laid back, private and personal but not the quality of guests as in 2007. In September 2012 we moved out of Chelsea court immediately upon our return from the island. So much furniture went as freebies. With the furniture went a life time of memories.

A fairly successful post retirement business with a few thousand air miles gave a renewed perspective. Christmas 2011 had been a re-run of 2010 without the funeral flowers. No one came and no one went. I had turkey, Pete had beef. I drank wine, Pete went to AA. For Christmas 2012 we chose Goa in India, as our third holiday of the year.

Paul and Steve, two gay friends of old, had found the perfect place to free-load. They had taken a holiday-let for three months over the winter in Goa having discovered its delights on a package deal the previous spring. After Cape Verde a package deal carried little appeal but for only one week all manner of “Five-Stars” were affordable. Cosmos don’t just do bus trips to the Christmas markets for Saga-louts, they also do package holidays to places far and wide.

We flew Monarch. Monarch offered a direct flight from Manchester to Goa in a premium cabin with extra wide seats and extra-long leg room for a surcharge of one thousand one hundred and ninety five pounds that you can buy for less than five hundred pounds at the airport, assuming that any such seats had been previously unsold.

Those flying “premium” got their own express check-in. The absence of signage saw us in the wrong aisle for the first fifteen minutes. On-board, a bag of salt and vinegar crisps can be had for one pound fifty pence. Alcohol was free. Pete’s tonic matched the price of the crisps. 

For an airport solely dependent upon tourism for survival, the service in Goa was appalling. Admittedly we landed behind a freighter full of Russians who couldn’t speak English with a stiff upper-lip causing many to be recycled back into the hundred-meter immigration queue for having filled in the incorrect landing cards. Taking hours to process a pre-issued tourist visa is simply revenge. Domestic sized electric fans, mounted infrequently on columns at ceiling height provided the non-existent climate control.  The hour and a half in immigration had guaranteed that the bags would beat us to the carrousel. We hadn’t counted on the less than helpful porters who off load the belts to increase capacity, dumping suitcases randomly around the entire reclaim area. After a further half hour’s search, having been reunited with the baggage and dragged it to a bus park part-way to Mumbai, we were shoe-horned into the back of a Suzuki Mini-Bus to wait yet another hour for the middle class family of Indian origin taking the same bus, to prove that it was a holiday and not a home coming.

Peter and I had found the bus against all the odds. The bus, in turn had great difficulty in finding the five-star hotel, “Citade Di Goa” selected because it looked modern and had featured in a film depicting a drug-mule starring Nicole Kidman.  As with Cape Verde, “Star” ratings can be most misleading. “Five star” means that the children screaming around the bar are theoretically under parental supervision. Parental supervision does not extend to preventing harassment of white people.  Where they couldn’t see us they managed to find us by screaming through the aerated concrete blocks forming a boundary wall supposed to provide the typhoon protection. Two of the noisiest children were shepherded by a suspiciously pale wife of an Omar Sherriffe lookalike.  Even more interesting than her appearance was her name and its instant reminder of the 1968 Olympics. “Tamara” not only stole the limelight from the other counterfeit Western-wives but also the whole bowl of complimentary French Fried chips and accompanying box of ketchup sachets served up to placate the agitated twelve-man mogul hoard congregating in the bar late one evening! She capped her conquest of the mid-night feast by persuading her consort through characteristically clenched teeth, into taking a “nice glass of Chardonnay” as night-cap. Chardonnay? Where did that come from? She belched her way through half a bottle.

Fellow guests were mostly rich Indian Nationals down from Mumbai for the festive season proving to be significantly more entertaining than a brood of post-surgical, septuagenarian leatherettes courtesy of Gatwick airport. At least from Luton, what you see is what you get!

As for the Russians? … nice people who really should stay at home, particularly if shacked up in a two-bit B&B next door and use the Five star hotel grounds as a shortcut between a hole in the hedge and a private beach to which there is no entitlement. An unexpected Russian peering into one’s morning cocktails can be most disconcerting!

Not forgetting those immortal words … You can pick your friends and you can pick your nose but you cant pick your friends nose…. rule no 1 – Do not buy your partner a camera for Christmas… It gets in the way of writing a journal…

First impressions count. The mural behind reception depicting the sixteenth century, Portuguese mastery of trade routes to the Far East would have impressively disguised the secret door into the back office had it not been for generations of dirty finger prints highlighting which Formica panel to push.

With the exception of one particularly incompetent female trainee, the staff were charming and almost entirely male. There were a number of cute “10’s”. Unfortunately, for the most-part the staff scored a zero both for looks and ability. Joel was certainly one of the cutest so far and followed closely by Sam who Pete argued was dead ringer for some pop singer, the name of which escapes me but had something to do with a dog’s name and possibly captain tom and space travel. Neither mastered the technique of bringing a G&T trimmed simultaneously with both ice and lemon.

The bedroom was less than splendid. Standard rooms were depicted on the internet as having splendid sea views although questionable balconies. We got a room with a splendid balcony but a questionable view of a Tuscan red, rendered, solid brick wall some three meters from the strikingly small vision slot called a window stained with the dirty run off from the terrace above. The “balcony” was accessed via a Juliette French window so perilously close to Pete’s side of the bed as to render it impassable. Room 413 definitely faced the sea but unfortunately 513 was immediately in the line of sight. Black-out blinds and unwashed glass failed to disguise our disappointment. For a surcharge of sixty-one US dollars we secured a sea view with an attempt at invoicing it twice upon departure.

Half board meant free breakfast. I dined alone. Lunch was served from a bar snack selection ordered by the pool and served wherever a sun lounger could avoid the shade of the Palms. A moon shaped private beach was patrolled by eagle eyed Tamil gardeners who intercepted the Russians with astonishing frequency. The mutual lack of English failed to gain the neighbours either amnesty or a place on the private beach. Christmas Day was a gala dinner-dance at fifty dollars a head. As attendance was optional the only “Gay’s in Village” decided to give it a miss until discovering that the Dinner-Dance was actually the only option. The rest of the Hotel was on shut down for Christmas day. The food was great. We provided endless gossip for the twelve seater tables of extended families circling our table-for-two.  Our insistence on not repeating the spectacle two days later was met with the offer of a restaurant.  The steak house opened especially for the Brits. Oddly, the steak house didn’t have cow on the menu.

Christmas Day Gala Dinner and Buffet where even the food “Dressed for Dinner”… The Indian guests were a very fine bunch, especially the one’s with Bentleys…
The bar on the beach at the end of the flea market was particularly laid back…

We took a taxi for the one hour ride north along the coast to a flea market recommended by Paul and Steve. An exhausting, wasted day with a kamikaze driver gave us a taste of what Goa had to offer. Pete got the “shits” and I suffered a nose bleed. We avoided meeting our two friends for fear of being invited to “Nick’s” place for an all-you-can-eat all-day, full English breakfast. Instead they visited us. Suitably impressed with what a “Five Star” had to offer the pair managed to find a complaint in everyone and everything. Steve’s sarcasm towards staff not being able to master combining a Gin, Tonic, ice and lemon in the same glass at the same time was enough to start an uprising. Thankfully, they left in a pre-booked taxi that had been waiting for them for most of the evening, back to their slum around midnight before rightfully being thrown into a snake-pit or at the very least, India breaking off diplomatic relations with the rest of the UK.

Nice to have been but too far to want to bother going back.

Since 2012 it’s been all about going west. 

May be for later publications

2016 – Canaries twice, New York and Fire Island for 9 days in June and nine days after our return from the USA off again for two weeks Key West (all after being banned from the USA by Donald Trump but then given a 10 year unsrestricted access VISA as an apology)

2017 – Canaries twice and two resorts for two weeks in Fort Lauderdale

2018 – Canaries twice, one resort for two weeks in Fort Lauderdale.

2019 – Canaries twice, New York for Gay Pride in June and one resort for two weeks in Fort Lauderdale in July

V6 037 don’t look back

Volume 6 part 037 Relearning

Spring 2010, was reserved for renovating Chelsea court. Peter was getting well again. The bungalow was a shit-hole when we bought it but by the time we returned grannies gear from storage in May of 2010 it was worthy of her christening it her “Beautiful bungalow”. Having little concept of space and already few memories of Cromford she had no recollection of the compromise on size we had made or, indeed that the new house had no upstairs. The profits were topping up the thirty thousand plus a year she was spending on the residential home and her upkeep. The running costs for the house came on top but she liked her things and needed to see them occasionally. The Bungalow provided a pad for Joe and the family to stay without the need for a daily twenty-five-mile commute between Cromford and Sheffield. Joe came to help with the unpacking and unveiling in May 2010. She returned with the Carla and her family later that summer although generally visits became increasingly infrequent. We sold the bungalow in September 2012 through general lack of interest.

To make up for the lack of an early season break in 2010, and much against my guilt at binging during a recession, we did New York for ten days in early September, taking the middle seven days for our first stay at the Belvedere in Cherry Grove. (refer previous Blogs)

We left Bubble in the residential home while we did the traditional autumn week in Italy in late October. I booked a long week-end in Rome. Neither Pete nor Joe had been to Rome. The only time I had been was with David in spring of ’72 when we did the tampon-run. In almost forty years of ripping-off countless millions of tourists, little had changed in the city. The pavements remained decrepit. Where the roads had been diverted away from the coliseum, concrete blocks delineated the new route. The original crumbling roadway and pavements, which should have become a grand piazza, remained visible.

We had hired a BMW. Driving on the wrong side of the road in the wrong side of the car is more precarious than being on the wrong side of the road in the right side of the car. The body doesn’t compensate for having the bulk of the vehicle on the right. A few Lambrettas went home without wing mirrors that week-end. Nadia loaned us her Sat Nev. The only pre-set alert was for restaurants. At first I thought the crunching noise was static on the radio but soon correlated the sound of someone eating a bag of walker’s crisps open mouthed, with the incidence of road side eateries. The car ate its way through a couple of boxes in the three hours’ drive from Pesaro to Rome.

I had reserved two rooms at the “Chambre d’Ore”, “The Rooms of Gold”, located only two short blocks from St Peter’s because it had both location and parking. We repeated the Italian version of an irate satnav berating us with “You are now at your destination” a couple of times, removing an equal number of wing mirrors in the process, before Pete Spotted an isolated doorway sandwiched between a Café and a Cake Shop. The hotel reception comprised a single room about four Meters Square decorated in Florentine Baroque and full height polished walnut wall panelling. The only furnishing was a small ornate desk set parallel with the rear wall. Strangely, there appeared to be no exits from the lobby and certainly no lifts on show.

Spanish steps from the top….

How does a Hotel obtain a four-star status when the bedrooms are single bed apartments in a residential building built by Mussolini between the wars located two blocks down the street from reception?

Correctly, the reception was two blocks from St Peter’s as advertised. The Bedrooms, however, were four blocks from the Basilica. The car park was an alley a further two blocks closer to the River Tiber and alongside a sister hotel which looked altogether more hospitable. If you don’t mind the walk you can breakfast with your car.

Tapestries adorned the bedrooms walls. The view across an enclosed light- well not unlike the one in Oslo, gave an aerial view from our room into Josephine’s. A tiny, totally internal hall-way leading off the main central terrazzo staircase constituted the sitting room. The bathroom completed the suite. The sliding doors to the shower cubicles were so narrow that Joe reported having to enter sideways, one tit at a time.

We did St Peter’s square but not the Cathedral or the Sistine Chapel. We did the Forum but couldn’t be bothered to venture inside or, indeed into the Coliseum despite pressure from touts to buy fast track tickets that simply exchanged one queue for another. On the walk along the Tiber we bought a shirt and Leather coat for twenty Euros from a man strapped for cash needing to buy petrol.  The shirt was backless. The leather melted in the autumn sunshine. We had walked from the hotel almost to the Forum before we found a bar for Pete to have a pee. It had not been a leisurely stroll, not least because we were now carrying crap contraband, knock-off, clothing. The Pantheon would have been nicer had the municipality spent some money fixing the pavement pot holes still there since my last stopover in ’72 when it was possible to park in the square. At the Fontana di Trevi, Joe narrowly missed taking out a China-man’s right eye throwing coins backwards into the fountain for good luck.

We dined twice in the Piazza del Poppollo served by a pig-ignorant Italian clearly in the wrong Job and in dire need of people skills. The food was good and the view spot-on. Giving him a tip and a second chance broke the ice. We got free bread on the second visit.

At the top of the Spanish steps Joe fell in love. Although denial developed into something of a protest she must have been staring at the waiter serving us drinks in a street café to a very smart Hotel. She had unwittingly attracted his attention whilst rebuffing his offer to refill half-full glasses by blurting out, In English, that she “was only looking at his name badge”. “What an interesting Name”! … to which the waiter replied in equally precise English, “I’ve always been named Emile”. Half way down the Spanish steps, kicking our way through the infestation of “crusties” from every part of the globe, Joe was still arguing that she had read “Emily” and not “Emile”. The waiter’s “package” had also not gone unnoticed by Peter or myself!

Peter snoozed in the evenings while Joe and I would promenade the streets at the back of St Peter’s taking in a glass of wine and reconnoitring restaurants …frequented by a largely local crowd… for dinner when joined later by Pete. We had done the designer restaurants down town, during the day. Peter had no interest in repeating the walk along the Via Veneto in the evening just to be seen eating with the very people who had pinned us against the shop fronts with their oversized soft top, super cars earlier in the day.

I was glad to leave Rome. Rome is a city that has little appeal. Joe will go anywhere whilst Pete hates to move everywhere. Travel for me is part of the holiday. Travel for Pete is an evil to be exorcized at every possible opportunity. Stopping for a spot of sightseeing in Assisi pushed all the buttons. Joe shopped, I snooped, and Peter scowled. We got the last table in an out-of-the-way side street restaurant carved out of the rock face, serving food to die for. Another meal on that trip and it probably, and literally would have been the meal to die for. It was an eating holiday… no doubt initiated by Nadia’s satnav.

Christmas was cancelled in 2010. We cremated Bubble on the twentieth of December. Joe only just managed to avoid the winter snow by getting home through Stansted early on the twenty second. Our dear friend Howard, “Mother” to Pete, died on the twenty-third. Three days earlier and we could have done a double burn… after all, Howard got on the Syb who was interned in a basket tied up with pink bows. Howard liked pink bows.

The snow started the evening Bubble was taken ill but thawed enough for the funeral a week before Christmas

Ma’s funeral flowers decorated the barbecue table visible from the dining room window. They added colour to an otherwise bleak winter.

Joe returned to England in spring of 2011. There was much to be agreed. Fragile reminders from Bubble’s lifetime of hoarding were shared out amongst the family. A good deal went to Italy by Landover that year. Some went to charity shops. Some stayed at home. Fur Coats went to Italy, boxed and by first class post. (see blog for Landrovers)

The Family dined in a very fine family run restaurant where we met Elena’s new boyfriend for the first time… 2011 was the last time we went to Italy (at the time of writing June 2020)

The April Trip was so much a final farewell.

It had been forty years since David and I braved Europe in an Austin Maxi. Nearly half a century later and we were still retracing the steps carrying a truck full of cargo half way across mainland Europe. We left Bubble alone by scattering her ashes under a bush in the Belvedere in Aachen. She was home but alone. All her life, Bubble hated to be alone. As we re-joined the ferry in Calais two weeks later I resolved never to return. Things change. People change. Memories are so often richer than reality. Ibiza was not alone on the list of places least likely-to-return-to.

Irony is an interesting concept. Was it ironic that we returned to the Belvedere on Fire Island that year? Was it ironic that the sleaze pit shared its name with Bubbles final resting place? Was it Ironic that an unexpected hurricane ruined the holiday that year and also put the Belvedere off-limits but onto the “Ibiza list of things best not repeated” for life?

V6 036 Nothing is for free

Volume 6 036 No Frills Flying

No one called for Christmas of 2008. Gays were becoming a rarity in our circle. I couldn’t drink between the short hops back and forth to Fulwood lodge each time Bubble needed a wee. Pete doesn’t do Turkey, baby Jesus, Christmas pud’, the Queens speech or wearing silly hats. All in all, I recall a very festive season replicated exactly in 2009 with the exception that the Fulwood Lodge “wee runs” had become increasingly frequent and that Pete had “jumped on the wagon”.

The burden of the recession and Pete’s bar bills were beginning to take their toll by 2009. For our first anniversary of our civil partnership on April 1st I bought two, one-pound ahead Ryan air tickets for a week in Barcelona. Since when has the Barcelona airport used by Ryanair been so far south you have to cross the equator?

Reus airport had retained its old-world charm of stained economy ceiling tiles and kids called Shane and Whitney. The train from Reus to Barcelona takes almost as long as the Flight from Birmingham to Reus. We passed Sitges paying homage in the tunnel that over the decade had scared the shit out of idle “queens” making their way for a dip on the Gay beach by taking a short cut under the cruising area on the hill. From Barcelona central station, a twenty-minute walk took us to a charming hotel in a tenement at the back of nowhere.

Pete got pissed. I had pictured our first anniversary to be romantic white table linen and candle light with a bottle of Faustino VII sharing a Fresh Fish Paella to the sound of Flamenco. Instead I got a Pizza slice after mid-night standing up in a fast food joint down a back-alley frequented by junkies suffering the munchies. On the single occasion we ate smart, the Tapas included elvers, baby eels, so young they slid down like worms. I have a worm phobia! I wretch to this day at the memory!

I really didn’t get Barcelona. Brighton was much more fun for the “lanes” or York for the “Shambles”. A reverence to Gaudi and particularly “That Church” simply represents self-indulgence. The map gave no sense of scale. Miles of uphill walking eventually got us to the tramway ride to an ancient amusement park that contradicts any amount of European health and safety regulations. Mediterranean’s aren’t terribly adept at applying rules.

Metal fish are greatly over-rated.

Three times we crossed town to do the “Berlin Bar”. Friday night was bear night with a dress code. An Alfred Dunhill checked shirt doesn’t count. To make the most of the taxi fare I sat at the bar topless. False modesty was unnecessary. During the entire evening, as with previous visits no one else joined us. A botched strip tease by an otherwise fairly handsome maître di sent us quickly back into town. We must have visited the odd normal Gay bar but I have absolutely no recollection of so doing.

We ate lunch mostly with the locals in spite of each of the multiple courses being punctuated by clouds of dense tobacco smoke omitted by the copious cigarette consumption.

Nothing worth losing your head over… Barcelona for beginners

Pete and I had stopped smoking well before moving into “123”. In the early days of abstinence we both thoroughly enjoyed the second hand carcinogenic pollution.

Stopping off at Sitges on the way back to the airport was a poor idea. Dragging a suitcase into a cocktail bar in the middle of the afternoon is largely uncool. We reminisced about seeing the “ginner” flaunting a pair of swim trunks in a boutique where Pete bought some smart black slacks and the style that exaggerated an arse resembling a sack of baking spuds in a bin liner colour clashing violently with his native New-Hebridian skin tone. Not since Carla’s wedding and the dress her cousin ran up on her foot pedalled Singer sewing machine had turquois looked less attractive. A suntanned six foot Spaniard strutting his stuff on the Corniche showed how turquoise speedos should be worn. It was nothing like what was on offer from a rusty nail with a minute package and a lumpy arse the shape of a giant cauliflower.

Receiving service so typically poor, we missed the express rail resulting in us having to change trains down the line. The connection didn’t come. Spanish speak exclusively Spanish when they sense a “buck” to be made. The upside of a fifty Euro cab ride is arriving so late at the airport that you don’t have to queue at check-in with anyone remotely called Whitney.

It was a quiet summer in 2009. I had lost the appetite for away-days. Brighton Pride was no exception. The Saturday event was a wash out. Taking refuge in the Pavilion we spotted a poster for “Pam-Ann” , securing the last two available seats for the early evening performance. Subsequent shows in Manchester and Buxton revealed an amazing lack of versatility. On the Sunday, we met a couple for lunch who had managed the Affinity Bar in Sheffield before returning to take over a similar business in Bournemouth. In the outside world we had absolutely nothing in common.

cant even remeber their names….

They thankfully, gave us the slip somewhere in the crowd just beyond a tea shop that boasted having on display an example every type of Royal ceramic memorabilia since the reign of Queen Victoria.  Attempts to dodge the “Affinity” pair by diving into a gay pub later in the afternoon resulted in us coming face to face with a “Jean-Paul”, a former aficionado of the Sheffield Gay scene now dressed in a very thick home spun knitted grey roll-neck sweater, and who alleged himself to be the head of housing for Brighton and Hove. The stench of bull-shit was over-whelming. The very thick home spun knitted grey roll-neck sweater worn in the Middle of August seasoned the aroma.

What was the point in spending thousands of pounds on intercontinental travel for the privilege of steering a comatose partner from one drinking hole to the next after wasting half the day sitting silently in a hotel bedroom in the dark waiting for him to sleep off the effects of the night before?

Ryan air offered one pound tickets to Oslo.  Norway is renowned for its liberalism, fresh air, wholesome lifestyle but primarily its expensive booze.

Ryan air flights to Oslo landed on a Norwegian peninsular just North of Barcelona, closer to Copenhagen than the Capital of Norway. Facing a minimum one-hour drive when arriving at eight in a dark September evening was not a pleasant proposition. After first buying half a dozen bottles of Pinot Grigio from the duty-free shop in arrivals, we collected an automatic Toyota hire car. Somewhere between the terminal building and the car park located in a remote corner of the airfield, the carry-on with all of the cash and travel papers disappeared from the luggage trolley. Pete had left me to deal with the defiant fully laden luggage cart, quickly disappearing into the gloom ahead. Abandoning the trolley I sprinted back to the terminal in the hope that Norway lived up to its humanitarian reputation. In the middle of a pedestrian crossing lay the bag silhouetted against the headlights of a fifty seater service bus. I got to the bag before the bus.

“Baggies” had rendered Pete oblivious. Brandy sold in plastic bags was Ryanair’s answer to the doubles sold in plastic bottles for tiny people by every other airline. You could buy baggies by the strip at three pounds fifty a bag. In flight, Pete consumed roughly thirty centimetres of Brandy bags an hour equating to roughly a gallon of Stella Artois per hour on the ground.

The sea-side town where we planned to stay the night was virtually deserted. Instructions with the booking said to head for the town square. A three-metre-deep trench excavated for a new sewerage system formed a moat around the entire centre of the village. Guests, leaving a wedding party practised their English by telling us to fuck-off when asked for directions. Two old ladies on a pedestrian crossing simply peered into the car, giggled and went on their way without responding, when asked how to cross the great divide.

If we turned around immediately we could have been back at the airport just in time for the return flight. We persevered, and as a last resort, shouted to an old man licking an assistant locking up a pizza parlour for the night. He gesticulated towards someone’s driveway. Venturing onto private property we discovered that a section of pale green lime wash picket fence at the bottom of the garden had been removed to allow access into a small car park at the rear of the very hotel we had booked. Very traditional, typically clean, Ikea modern, lots of pine and run by a family of South Koreans who didn’t speak English, the hotel was temperance.  The journey had been fraught! Fast approaching midnight on a Friday night, I was in serious need of a beer. Elbow pointing skyward with a right hand clutching a phantom glass sent the message loud and clear. The Koreans pointed us down-hill towards the fiord. A log cabin with open rafters and a tiny bar accommodated alcoves of couples sipping “white-beer” listening to continuous loop eight track John Lennon albums. Two pool tables filled the centre of the room. The “white-beer” was as equally grating as the John Lennon tapes. Short blasts of real music interrupted John each time the entry door opened.

Trailing the unmistakable sounds of revelry and the drift of freshly barbecued rain-deer we found our way to a dockside boardwalk terraced with party places, heaving with party people of an average age in the early twenties, the average height about six feet and the average colour, blond. A bouncer took pity on me by forcing passage through the dense throng to the bar, for quick service. A pretty blond boy and his girlfriend volunteered to relieve us of the seven pounds a pint, “white-beer” we had already purchased before we spotted the eight pounds a pint Stella, on tap, at the far end of the counter. The raucous activity explained why the town was so quiet. All life was sandwiched into this short stretch of manmade Sodom and Gomorra. At precisely midnight it was all over! Shutters down and customers banished into the, by now cool night air. This was early autumn yet the quilted bubble jackets were already out in force. There had been no time for a second top up.

We headed for bed.

The Koreans had locked up after us and couldn’t quite understand why we were knocking them up again less than an hour after “giving them the Elbow”. We skipped breakfast having only a rudimentary understanding of the workings of chop sticks. The road to Oslo began in reverse through the neighbour’s picket fence and throwing a “U” turn in a newly harvested cabbage patch.

Pines trees and more pine trees before we found ourselves, an hour or so up the motorway at Oslo’s main railway station. By astute deduction we surmised that the map faxed over by the hotel was upside down. Within fifty yards of the hotel another sewer pipe excavation flung us back onto the ring road. Unlike Barcelona, Oslo is much smaller than it appears on a map. With holes in the road to rival the Grand Canyon bounded by precipitous pavements and precariously balanced tram lines, cars can’t stop any longer than it takes to dump a suit case and seek directions to a thirty Euros a night twenty-four-hour public car park. The car was hired to bridge the gap between the airport and the hotel with little expectation of using it during the week. The thirty Euros a night on top of hiring a car hadn’t formed part of the ever escalating budget based on flying Birmingham to Oslo “Torp” for a pound plus taxes.

Six nights in a three-star hotel with a view across a three metre courtyard into the bedroom opposite on the sixth floor with a dodgy lift cost a little under a Thousand pounds. Each morning a plastic bag containing a shop-bought pre-packed sandwich, apple, orange and small carton of juice was left on the door knob in lieu of a buffet breakfast in a dining room. The Japanese visitors appeared to appreciate the sentiment of these nose bags but not as eagerly as the numerous drop-outs huddled into closed-down shop doorways receiving a daily food ration. Pete became quite pally with a number of the self-proclaimed drug addicts and socialist rebels with studs, pink hair and little respect for Norway’s Socialist principals or work ethic.

Oslo has only one attractive street with maybe a couple of interesting off shoots. The city is grey. The people are grey. As youngsters, they have relative fun and freedom through their University years before disappearing into obscurity to breed and become model citizens. By the time they are fifty the kids have gone through their college days and take their turn to hibernate in suburbia leaving the older generation time to re-join the living. This genuinely accounts for their being no one out in public between the age of twenty-four and at least forty-four. Restaurants are for tourist and the old. Bars are for the degenerates who lost the plot and occasionally the young who aren’t degenerates.

A half day cruise ship stop-over is enough to see all the city has to offer. A new shopping mall and apartment complex built over the old docks livens up the lunar landscape surrounding the Nobel Hall.

Trees brighten up the linear strip between the University and a Parliament building less impressive than a private house on Holland Park. Something new east of the university delivered less joy than it promised.  An old fort has a café and cannon overlooking the fiord. Nordics may like their saunas but the one we found on a side street, up-town was downright seedy, sandwiched between a Lebanese green grocers and Moroccan Coffee shop.

“Scream” being stolen from the National Museum a week before we arrived was the biggest thing to hit Oslo since the Nazi invasion.

To while away the day, we ate. A lively open air restaurant at the opposite end of the street from the hotel became a favourite. We soon got the hang of which of the many excavations it was necessary to pole fault actually carried the live cables. An Italian restaurant was the most posh. A hundred and thirty pounds for a two course meal for two was not the exception. I had no guilt in leaving without paying for the wine they had accidentally omitted from the bill on the last night. Unlike the USA, tipping is not mandatory. The absences of a tip dose not lead to public denunciation or a humiliating life time ban.

Guess which one is the tourist withe a bd hair day posing for a Photo and not wearing a wig????

A couple of metro-sexual bars showed promise however, we soon tired of watching the gentry nursing a single glass of house red for most of the millennia.

Liberal Oslo has a gay bar. The “London” bar, conveniently located within a hundred yards of the hotel, was the only place to be after dark. Submerged in a half- basement the entire complex is wall papered in London newsprint rendered sepia by years of cigarette smoke. We arrived in the city in time to sample Saturday night. Sunday night was equally busy. For the rest of the week we enjoyed almost sole occupancy sharing the bar with only a couple of regulars, a five piece barbershop “quartet” on karaoke night and an old man who looked suspiciously like Santa Clause enjoying his summer sabbatical complete with a full bush of snowy-white hair and beard.  It transpired that on the Friday night we had landed for the stopover in the sea-side village we had witnessed the worst excesses of pay-day. By Sunday all beer tokens had been expended. For the majority of locals, Monday to Friday was dry.

We met a set of seriously mad identical twins who were also both gay. One brother lived in Chicago and the other at home in the outskirts of Oslo with his parents and working as a mechanic. The one from Chicago was on summer vacation trying to persuade his brother to join him in the land of the free. Neither were “out” to their family. A picture rapidly emerged of a society where drink is expensive because the young grabbed as much as they could before reaching the age of being transformed into the responsible citizens who rather than embracing diversity made everything legal so that minorities would stay under the table with no excuse to complain, no justification to remonstrate and no reason to celebrate their differences since all “were equal” and therefore everyone should tow the party line.  Far from being tolerant, the grey people skilfully avoided grey areas in social dialogue.

Norway is awfully “Stepford”.

Lillehammer is a decent drive from Oslo. Heading inland to the site of a winter Olympics gave the opportunity to explore. Rigorously controlled speed limits enable full appreciation of the mile after mile of monotonous Pine forests. Thankfully, stopping on the highway is prohibited.

Lillehammer itself needs something of an update. Pretty enough, but reminiscent of a one street, gold rush town from a Hollywood “B” rate movie. Taking a beer during the day was much frowned upon.  With little else to do except explore the hand knitting and toy troll shops we drove back down the mountain to arrive in Oslo for the thrill of rush hour. 

A trip to the former Olypics ski jump would have given unrivalled view of the city had it not being under reconstruction.. but the apple cake taken in the log burning cafe was worth the drive.

Travelling South along the fiord to waste another day we discovered the Viking fort featured in guide books as a place of great historic interest. After a two-hour drive, a grass hump marks the spot surmounted by a couple of Dickensian cast iron cannons clearly much later than the Viking heritage. A single storey, Clapper Board Township laid out on a regular grid of wide cobbled streets resembling a rehabilitated concentration camp, carries the name of the former fort. Ours was the only car in a parking area the size of Hyde Park. A tiny pottery shop opened its doors to welcome our arrival. The local baker laid on a cold buffet recommended by the guy in the restaurant opposite. Cats predominated. Pete could hardly contain his excitement. We arrived back in Oslo just in time for the exhilaration of yet another Rush hour. Rush hours last about thirty-five minutes but due to the scale of the city are impossible to avoid.

Another day and another tour. Unprecedented blackmail coaxed Pete on board a ferry to visit the Viking Long-Ships museum located on an island some way down the fjord. The museum is housed in a large bungalow on a neatly manicured private housing estate surrounded by smaller private bungalows which one can only assume do not house Viking Boats. The walk from ferry to the long-ships is poorly signposted, taking about twenty saturated, “fun-filled” minutes. You’ve seen one long-ship, you have seen them all and with only three rowing boats to go at, the souvenir shop, back at the dock displayed greater appeal, not least due to offering shelter from the persistent, pouring rain and delayed return ferry. A slow moving, single line procession of saturated kagools mesmerised by the extortionate prices into a whispering, almost eerie silence usually reserved for places of worship flooded the floor as if overtly demonstrating their disdain.

For Thursday, Pete got to legitimately sleep-in while I sought medical assistance for the severe swelling that followed a night of midge bites. My protestations regarding sleeping with the window open, not least due to the proximity of the room opposite went unheard. After finishing off the last of the duty free, Peter declared open-season on a juicy bed partner by unlatching the three two-metre-high windows. I awoke resembling a remake of the elephant man, unable to verbally respond to the tourists mouthing good-morning in Japanese from the room opposite, not ten feet away! Ohayu gozaimasu

Industrial strength anti-histamines dispensed by a local pharmacist soon had me swallowing. Regaining the power of vaguely intelligible speech took a little longer. In the meantime, although having contained the drooling my speech impediment became less like a Klingon translation of a Norwegian folk song and more of a Geordie piss-take of an inebriated troll on Halloween.

I bought Pete a model troll because it reminded him of Gayle Okes-Voysey. The dogs got their very own troll bowls. Apart from warm, grey coats, slabs of smoked salmon and heavy knit, Christmas “Santa” jumpers, there is little else worth buying.

I explored the University, investigating a strange sculpture depicting a gigantic vagina from which emerged a children’s play slide, got caught up in a classic car parade, visited the Parliament and Nobel Hall and reconnoitred the bay side shopping mall where, when extracted from his bed, Peter and I later enjoyed a late lunch.

It was a late flight home. To save another thirty Euros we un-parked the Toyota and set off mid-morning planning to take a leisurely drive along the mountain road arriving back in that village by the sea for  a late lunch.  Contrary to the drabness of the street that passed the Lebanese grocers and its seedy next door neighbour, the plaza at the top of the hill was surprisingly cosmopolitan. It was only brunch, yet the cafés were buzzing. Young professionals sipped espressos. There were news-papers. On the very same day that we were leaving town we appeared to have found the place that we should have been visiting all along. Had the Oslo we uncovered been the preserve of the cruise ships, grey Lithuanians, Latvians and Poles and the deadbeats and drop outs and not the real Oslo?

Back at the “village”, the sea-side board-walk that sold pints of Stella on draft was as deserted as the town square had been the night we arrived. All was closed and barred. The “Stepford” wives were all at home. But it was only Friday afternoon.  By Dusk the refuelled party people would no doubt be out to repeat their weekly ”lash”.

We were early at the airport for a flight that was delayed. We sat apart. Like bad wine Peter doesn’t travel well. After 11 years I am still awaiting compensation for the non-existent priority boarding that added five hundred percent to the price of a one-pound ticket. Half a meter of “baggies” later we rounded off a disturbing week by landing at Birmingham Airport in the early hours and being entertained by a family of unruly Somalian asylum seekers playing football with a teddy bear on the baggage carrousel during an interminable wait for our further delayed luggage.

My enduring memory of Norway is unfortunately of Somalians who, unlike the majority of Norwegians, didn’t give a shit.

Peter didn’t return to work after Norway. “Flue” worsened. A spell of Detox and Christmas of 2009 was not only boring but dry-and-boring. Un-be-known to granny we had sold the house in Cromford leaving me to house-hunt for a local replacement over the Christmas break. We bought a bungalow in the Sheffield suburb of Brincliffe. The recession was in full swing.

V6 035 Partnership to Paris

Volume 6 part 035 till death us do part

As a surprise I had bought Pete his first Amuletti ring during the solo trip to deposit Bubble in Italy in December 2006. We had returned to Italy the spring of 2007 with Howard when deporting Ma’s Yorkshire terrier, followed by the summer trip to Brighton and the August holiday in Ibiza.

September 2nd 2007 was Stella Stacey’s sixtieth birthday. She had treated herself to a week in Venice staying at the Danielle overlooking the Grand Canal. Pete and I flew to Rimini as a surprise. On Sunday morning we collected Joe and by 11.00am were sitting on the third row in, and the third row across taking cappuccinos with brandy chasers outside Harry’s bar. We had told Stella that this was the place to be seen at that time on a Sunday morning and an absolute must do. This particular table is sheltered from winds on two sides by the colonnade that links the canal to St Mark’s Square. It would give her a vantage point for all that happens in Venice on a Sunday Morning. Dead on time she strolled within sight. We phoned her to inquire how the trip was going commenting that she must be a little chilly if she needed to wear a white cardigan with knitted flower blossoms. The penny dropped. We were in range.

This would be my fourth trip to Venice.

The first time in Venice was over twenty years earlier to meet up with David and Sue who were holidaying in the dolomites. On that occasion we weren’t bold enough for either the Florentine or Harry’s. The second visit was a time filler in 1995, a year after Nadia’s wedding. The whole family came along for the ride. Pa was dead leaving Ma to pick up the tab for the two of us, Carla and Alessandro, Nadia and Andreas with Elena bringing up the rear. We started at “Harry’s”. There were too many for a gondola on that occasion so we settled for a walk from St Mark’s to the Rialto and back. Lunch was served at the “Europa” by the canal side adjacent to the Rialto. Ma bought Coral earrings. This time we took “Tea” in the Florentine.

For Grannies Eightieth in 2005, Joe and I took her and Pete on a day trip. Bubble almost made it into the Grand Canal as we hadn’t realised how steep the ladder would be from the River Taxi up to the quay at St Marks. It was a total rerun of ’95 except for the absence of the full family and the Coral. Pete bought a family of miniature ceramic mannequins for Bubble’s eightieth birthday present which he rightfully reclaimed when she died five years later. I managed to break two of the six pieces in the house move of 2017.

A lot had changed by the time we made the 2007 trip. We had the house, Bubble was in a residential home and travelling abroad was in danger of getting out of hand. Our friend Stella already qualified for non-dom residency status. Pete and I were fast going the same way. We squeezed Venice in between Ibiza and an office outing to Paris.

After spotting us at Harry’s, winning an Oscar nomination for her surprise in the process, it was only natural that we took a gondola. The gondolier flattered the ladies whilst the men made a pass. A rendition of “Walls Cornetto” as we passed under the Rialto delighted a seething crowd lining the canal. Restaurants were packed to capacity and not until grudgingly accepting the last in-board table at the Europa did we realise that the draped banners signalling the annual regatta were advertising action for the same day. A procession of barges led by the Doge arrived before the cork had popped on the champagne followed by an hour long procession of historic barges. The skate was miserable. We bought Coral for Stella on the Rialto, expanded the National debt at the Florentine and ate Stella’s complimentary chocolates washed down by complimentary Champagne in her room at The Danielle before heading back in the hired Mercedes back to Pesaro. The regatta explained why there were no rooms “in the Inn” when I had tried the week previous to book rooms as a surprise for Joe. We flew home Tuesday Morning having spent only three working days away from the office. Bubble had remained in her nursing home.

Monday Evening – Dinner with Joe, Elena and her toy boy on the quayside in Pesaro

Within two weeks, we were back in Italy for a Funeral. The Merc for the Venice trip was replaced by a hired Peugeot 405 with French number plates. It was all very, very sad. Bubble came with us that time having been extricated from the Old folks home, but really didn’t know what was happening. Carla missed the burial of her still-born, second child named Christian, having to be returned to hospital after the church service. A tiny white coffin was buried under lumps of cold clay. Bubble stayed in the car for the internment.

We stayed home alone for Christmas of 2007. Just me and Pete and Bubble back and forth from the “Home”.

The house had done little to fortify our relationship. Some snide comments from Pete’s nieces regarding who-gets-what, cemented a resolve to disassociate his family from the arena. I arranged a civil partnership for the morning of April 1st 2008, figuring that if either of us failed to show the whole event could be put down to an “April Fool’s” day joke. Nin, my PA and Pete’s mate Karen served as witnesses. There was no ceremony, no music and no onlookers. Joe was over from Italy with a friend called Shirley as company. We still had the Cromford house. Friend Carol from Italy and who had been visiting family in the UK joined Joe and Shirley for the following week-end. The office had caught a sniff that something was afoot but an offer of free champagne before lunch as long as they arrived before noon was worth risking being the victims of a “joke” if only to get out of the office for an hour. Joe was under orders to collect Ma and Howard and meet us at the bar for a champagne lunch. Specific instructions to dress Bubble in her finest were totally ignored on the assumption that it was only a cheap mid-week lunch and she looked clean enough anyway. Joe always knows best!

Peter and the two witnesses … and nothing more

With an assembled crowd of forty or more I made the official announcement that Pete and I had entered into a Civil Partnership. The covert homophobes faked congratulatory smiles before taking their free fill and leaving sixteen of us to lunch at Piccolinno’s. On the walk over, skirting the Peace Gardens, Bubble enquired as to which one of us was the bride. That is the only discussion we had on the subject. Joe was upset that we hadn’t given her notice. It was a private matter between Pete and I and one that had been arranged well before she decided to honour us with her presence. We did dinner at the “Café Rouge” on Eccelsall road once Howard had been joined by his Partner John who had chosen not to take the day off work to attend the luncheon. Vanessa and Martin, notable swingers who lived opposite on Newbould lane also joined us. I was fond of both Vanessa and Martin. The “Meet-Shirley” party the following Saturday was a disguise for getting friends to the house without seeming to be begging for wedding presents. Disappointingly, the deception worked! We consoled ourselves by taking Joe and bubble on a lunch trip to the Wig and Mitre in Lincoln where we raided a cookery shop. At a corner shop just off the municipal car park we bought a two feet high ceramic haughty hare! Bubble stayed in her wheel chair on the pavement throughout the whole spree whilst we paid with her debit card. She got a peck on each cheek for her well thought out and sincere gift. Shirley had taken a break from us by heading for a few days in Wales, I believe.

Post Partnership day trip to Lincoln … Wig and Mitre steaks wereat one time the best…

The partnership replaced the spring vacation. The May 2008 trip to the Canaries “Gay Pride” replaced the honeymoon, supposedly making up for giving the island a miss since the debateable Christmas of 2005. Peter doesn’t do families well. I don’t do herds of Gays well. Screaming queens ruined an otherwise entertaining carnival.

all about meeting new friends… maybe?

A follow-up honeymoon to New York in August 2008 with four days at the Madison on Fire Island was supposed to make up for the short-comings of the May event. Within three hours of arriving on the Island we had been caught out in a torrential thunderstorm, I had been dipped up to my nuts into a swamp and Pete had accidentally hurled his Amuletti into oblivion. That was the year we spent little time together with Pete favouring brandy binges with which to frighten the locals enjoying Hi or Low “Tea” at sun down.

Sharing make-up tips with Divine….

Pete’s Fortieth came between the May-Gay-day and the end of August Fire Island “Tea Dance”. For the Eighties themed fancy dress party he came as Annie Lennox and I, for some inexplicable reason, as an over-ripe naked Geisha wearing a skin coloured padded body suit adorned with nipple tassels and a skimpy lace G-string. White make-up, black torn fishnet tights and a black geisha wig completed the ensemble. It had been the first, and only time I dressed in drag since Pete and I won the first prize at an annual fancy dress competition held at the “Greens’” sports club in 2004. On that occasion we went as Marie Quant look-alikes dressed in sequined mini dresses, obligatory fishnets and platform heeled, thigh-length silver boots. White wigs styled in a fetching sixties “bob” complimented the full length white, fake fur coats. Stella Stacey, not to be confused with Stella the dog, had loaned me a selection of provocative underwear with insufficient resilience to prevent the weight of my bollocks pulling a little white lace number below the hem line.

The party season concluded with a Birthday treat to Amsterdam. Unlike the previous weekend in 2002 when we had spent a couple of days in Amsterdam after travelling on the overnight Ferry from Hull with the team from Greens Health Club, we chose to fly. Peter subsidised the air fares and the Red Tulip hotel on Dam Square, for me, Joe, Stella, Steve and Paul and John and Howard. We stole Syb’s wheel chair for the week-end to ensure that Howard, increasingly infirm from a degenerative lung condition, could keep up the pace. Additionally, the wheelchair guaranteed “Priority” boarding.

Six of us travelled over to Manchester T2 in the Landrover. Paul and Steve came from their place in Salford and were late. Of the eight, Pete and I got the worst room with no view. Paul and Steve overlooked the square. Joe shared with Stella. I pushed Howard who lacked confidence in John’s ability to navigate the tram lines with a wheelchair. The Saturday evening meal was on me. Paul and Steve missed out preferring to seek out the cheapest duty free tobacco outlets rather than risking going “Dutch” on a meal. They later admitted they would have been there had they known the meal was a freebie. During the evenings Joe and Stella did coffee and cake at the Krasnapolski while Pete, John, Howard and I hit the cellar bars. Curiously, Paul and Steve largely did their own thing. We lost Howard in the Eagle. He had spent the best part of an hour exploring the not so dark room in the basement and ducking into the gloom every time he saw one of us coming to retrieve him. John was not best pleased. A binge drinking Canadian insisted on giving good night kisses to each and every customer in turn whilst being bounced himself into the street. We saw him carrying out the same manoeuvre in a number of bars, all with the same result. Sad-John professed to having pulled the Canadian that night. Everyone and everything including the stone cobbles and three scoops of spaniel shit had pulled the Canadian that night!

We turned in after three in the morning. Peter escaped about half an hour later to be returned by the police after finding him wandering lost, not a hundred meters from the Hotel. They had not relieved him of the reefer he had scored outside a local “Dive Bar”. 

Joe and Stella did the “Anne Frank” while we did the Red Light district. Together six of us did the flower market buying bulbs with a guarantee but that never flowered. I can’t recall how many of us made it to the “Bull-dog”. I Suspect it was the six of us from dinner the night previous. I do remember that the “Hash” coffee and “Hash” cookies facilitated a very pleasantly sedate two hours staring at “Madagascar” being screened on a high level, wide angle, plasma TV. We dined in a “pub” to escape a late afternoon shower. The table offered ring side seats to watch a local lady on a bicycle skid under the front of a tram on the wet rails. The tram stopped within inches of amputating both her legs. We dined heartily. Moral of the story is watch out for wet rails and don’t eat on a full stomach!

In October we didn’t enjoy a long week-end in Paris and the less said about that trip the better. Suffice it to say that Pete got pissed and recalls nothing of the event and Mandy Collins took her own breakfast to the airport! Oblivious to advice that a financial bubble was about to haemorrhage, the Company organised an outing for both the London and Sheffield offices to have lunch in Paris. Ever mindful of the North/South divide the Principals chose Eurostar leaving London at six-thirty am with no regard to the time that we would have to be leaving Sheffield. The Sheffield office voted to fly via Leeds Bradford with four of us checking into a hotel at the airport for an early start. By midnight the phones were hot with the news that Eurotunnel had suffered a catastrophic fire and the trip was in Jeopardy. By the time we received confirmation to stand down for a normal Friday at the office we were all checked-in and ready to fly. Thirteen of us shared a meal in Paris booked for over a hundred. All but the four of us who had stayed at the airport hotel, took the tour as a day trip. Pete and I were amongst the four to make a week-end of it despite missing VIP seats for a Joan Rivers Concert at the London Palladium arranged weeks in advanced for the Saturday night. We gifted the tickets to a couple from the London Office.

Vieux La Marais is now the Gay quarter. We booked into a tiny boutique hotel opposite the “Red Corner Cafe” and took to the streets, first stopping off at the nearby Pompidou centre and taking a beer with Hans Peter, “ Ze very quietly shpoken Gurman wiz an lithp”, in a bar overlooking the square. Opposite the Opera House we met up, by accident with more from the office and took wine. With an evening to ourselves, a back street exploration uncovered all kinds of hidden gems and hot spots involving cellars, back bars objectionable foreigners and even more objectionable security staff.

Saturday was spent tramping the obligatory Place Du Concorde, Champs Elyse, cut across to the Eiffel tower mixing with a holy crowd waiting to greet the Pope and back to the hotel in time for dinner and a rerun of the bars from the night before. Pete was singularly unimpressed. Even the top of the Eiffel tower failed to excite. After nearly ten years together why should I have expected any attempt to share with me?

On Sunday morning we had a planned rendezvous in Monte Martre with the other couple from the office. Inevitably, rather than a spin around the cathedral we finished up in a bar. Skateboarders use the steep pavements to harass tourists. One group practised emergency stops by latching onto cast iron bollards placed to stop cars parking on the narrow pavements. One especially acrobatic group gained tumultuous applause when their bollard shattered hurling two of them into the path of a passing dilapidated Renault rust bucket. Fortunately, it was going uphill requiring less reliance on the almost redundant breaking system.

How we laughed!

The moral of trip was not to force culture onto a forty year old who thinks culture is not having sleeves on his Tee shirt. Pete and I never spoke of Paris again.

Been there, done that and got the “T” Shirt…. Peter Paris October 2008

October the tenth was Bubble’s birthday. Why we were taking Granny to Italy at the age of eighty three is anyone’s guess. Presumable it was her idea. She still got ideas albeit infrequently. The weather was unexpectedly warm for the time of year. Andreas did a barbecue. Pete mooned Bubble. She had seen it all before! Only two years before her passing and living full time in  a care home yet capable of wiping her own bottom, albeit slowly..

Andreas Cooked Sunday Lunch and Nadia ate the house….
before we all settled down fo an afternoon nap……

2008 had been a busy year;- Civil partnership, day trips an partying in April,- The Canaries in May, Pete’s 40th and Amsterdam in June, New York and Fire Island in August, Paris in October followed closely by a long week end in Italy…. In all, we did better than “air-miles Andy”

V6 034 Ibiza boy

Volume 6 part 034 2007 could be heaven

We exiled Mitzi to Italy Easter of 2007. Having suffered a minor “event” earlier that year gave us the perfect excuse to invite Howard along as a contingency driver, the real reason being that he was company for Pete as assurance that he might not snap during the car journey he so detests. Howard was an old friend going back years with Pete. Betty and Stella went into kennels. We had ten days of perfect sunshine where I delighted in showing Howard the merits, or otherwise of the Old Country. He smiled and nodded in the back seat the whole way. Pete slept in the front.

After a night in Aachen and a night in Farchant, this was the year we did the “Wank Bahn” despite, unbeknown to Pete and I that Howard suffered from vertigo. Cable cars coming down are apparently scarier than going up! Despite April being too cold for sun bathing Howard took on a great “shiner” over lunch on the terrace of a favourite restaurant in Fiorenzuola overlooking the Adriatic. Pete and I had previously done Christmas Eve there with the family concluding with Brandy outside a Café from where we could watch the village nativity play. The whole village took part including the old ladies who retracted washing lines hung from their bedroom windows each side of the square onto which dangled sequin studded cardboard stars. “Kings” on donkeys followed the principle star as it tracked across the roof of the village square until they reached the manger where the donkeys proceeded to eat the straw. Baby Jesus very nearly lost a leg. It was a different Baby Jesus to the one that Pete nearly incinerated in Rimini the day after Boxing Day.

In addition to slumming it with the rich boat brigade in Porto Verde, Howard saw all the regular sites ranging from Gradara to the dizzy heights of San Marino. The weather for the return through Germany was unseasonably hotter than Italy. By the time we returned to Aachen Pete was in full grouch. A stroll down the Theatre Strasse into town for dinner turned into two beers and a taxi ride back for an early night whilst Howard and I topped up the bar bill at the Ibis, located opposite the church that married Rita some ten years earlier. Howard said it was the best time of his life. John, his partner, took the rejection badly. Mitzi settled in to life in Italy very quickly despite Joe taking in a cat the same week.  The Yorkie’s hair grew back within months. Already Granny was going sufficiently gaga to show little concern for the loss of her dog. Betty had replaced the Yorkie in her affections.

2007 and a great English summer
almost found a country pub… in the middle of the day

Joe came to England for a summer break in late June 2007. She was accompanied by Carla and little Alex. Carla was heavily pregnant with the baby due in Late September. For the most part it was a visit to check-up on Granny in her first year in the old folk’s home. We left Bubble alone whilst the five of us week-ended in Brighton. The weather was pretty foul, even for England. Waves battered the shore line. Beechy Head was shrouded in Fog. We took refuge in a country pub by a log fire lit by Yankee Candles. Pete visited a friend whilst the rest of us toured the cliffs. He joined us in the “Lanes” for dinner in a French restaurant arriving soaked to the skin. The previous night had been Italian. From a chance conversation with a friendly waiter we discovered that he had worked with an Italian for some time. They had stayed in touch after his friend had done time for drugs but now ran a restaurant he owned in Blackpool. All very interesting we thought until it dawned on us that he was talking about one of Josephine’s nephew’s. Small world! We made the trip to Blackpool to eat at the nephew’s expense the following year. His “Italian” was about the only place in Blackpool you can eat without the food coming direct from “Iceland”. We did a detour to Stone-Henge and Warwick on the way home.

Salisbury before the Stones

Diagnosed with a ”Left Branch Bundle Blockage” and the Consultant’s advice that I needed a proper holiday Pete booked two weeks in a gay Finca on the Island of Ibiza. Ibiza was not really what the doctor had in-mind but it ensured good weather and according to a Skopos Rep. fabulous mushroom cappuccinos. Barely wide enough for the hired Nissan Micra, a dry-stone-wall lined track accessed a tiny courtyard car park off which an enclosed garden housed a series of bungalows surrounding three sides of a pool. The German owners lived in a converted farmhouse that took up one side of the pool along with a restored windmill without sails that served no purpose at all. There were two executive suites on the first floor of the main house. Breakfast was served under the veranda by a Spaniard called “Sybille”. “Throb” had booked the cheap-seats securing us the only bungalow without a pool view or front door that would latch without being locked. A very affectionate black Labrador took advantage of the open door policy by helping himself to drinks most nights before settling down on the bed to enjoy our air-conditioning. Being woken by a French kiss from a slobbering black lab having just extricated its head from a toilet is wrong on so many levels. Our friendship was sealed by the doggy bags Pete brought back from restaurants nightly until reprimanded by the peg-legged manager tired of cleaning up the sloppy consequences. 

From the pool-side, the vista spanned a radius stretching from the old town of Ibiza topped by the castle and walls, to The Gay beach just beyond the airport. Despite having the car we used Taxis for the two kilometre drive to the Old town each evening allowing me to match Pete, drink for drink. Beyond the harbour where upmarket tourists thronged the port side restaurants, a spaghetti of narrow lanes behind the city walls hid a plethora of splendid eateries. Trekking up the ramp to the old Market was well worth the climb. We found the mushroom cappuccino on the very first night.

The Amphora Night club was the only Gay venue inside the walls. A compact, dingy place with multiple small rooms over two levels, inhabited sufficiently to appear full and yet empty enough to allow striking up conversations with the likes of bull-shitting Russians professing to be IT specialists on leave from Malaga. Nevertheless, with the exception of the Londoner’s, they were a relatively friendly bunch. The remainder of the Gay scene was concentrated on a single charming alley running parallel to the quayside, outside the walls. The four bars of choice all offered table service and were rarely so full that we couldn’t be seated. Bar stools pressed against tiny high tables hugged the sides of the alley providing excellent vantage points for people watching. Internationally renowned nightclubs vied for trade by sending tribes of scantily clad “beautiful people” through the old town carrying placards advertising the latest offers. The more the competition the less the clothing. “Passion” was carnival scene straight from Rio. “Heaven” were androgynous angels dressed exclusively in pale blue Speedos with “Heaven 2007” stamped across their tiny but perfectly formed bottoms. Each tribe outdid the previous with whistles and horns so loud they could outclass the loudest South African vuvuzela frenzied football crowd. The best and busiest bar was the “Terrace” located in an elevated position pressed up against the citadel. Cascading terraces lead to two other bars and then down into the square at the bottom of the ramp leading to the old city gates. The prominence of the flood lit bars made them the ideal place for the gays to parade. A young crowd of mixed nationalities worked hard at out-dressing each other. Although not twins, two Swedish boys with a remarkable resemblance to the Bee-gees, right down to a set of unfortunate “Mullets” and dressed like extras from an Abba reunion were regular features. Pete christened them Bjorn and Benny. It was not the name but his nightly rendition of “Staying alive… Staying alive” within earshot of their spangled tank-tops that drove them underground.

Throughout the day few residents stayed by the pool. The poolside honour bar and pet Labradors were no match for the allure of the gay beach. Sandwiched between grassy dunes and the sandy beach was the bar- restaurant. Lots of pine and bamboo created a hospitable environment for a more than half decent meal and bucket of overpriced booze. Sangria and ice-cold beers could be bought from a greasy waiter who patrolled the beach beds plying his trade. Those who didn’t fancy a drink could settle for a blow job in his hut for the price of a pint. I suspect that he was the one usually paying. We speculated that the boy’s from “Heaven” got serviced for free. Beach-side-service came-in particularly handy when the bed had sunk so low into the sand that a dismount to walk to the bar became totally unrealistic. I explained the plastic bed legs splaying out at an angle of forty-five degrees like an overburdened giraffe, being down to the heat. Pete put it down to a failed diet. The diet had been responsible for the fainting spell during a viewing of “Blood Diamond” that led to the “left branch bundle blockage” diagnosis in the first place. Sadly for the polypropylene chaise-long I had abandoned the diet some months previous.

On the dot of five-pm the disco exploded into life. The frenetic reeling and writhing by every shape and texture of sun tanned post-pubescent offered the perfect distraction for me to roll off the bed to make a snail’s pace escape back to the car. The sand was very soft. The sea was very wet. The toilets behind the beach bar were exceptionally clean. It was clear why the Cardiac consultant thought a beach Holiday in Ibiza for someone approaching retirement might be ill advised.

Two weeks became a little monotonous but nevertheless I enjoyed Ibiza. Peter and I resolved to return one day…

Following the 2011 Hurricane on Long Island, patience with New York had been tested. Two years into a new life darting almost weekly around the Middle East left little appetite for extensive travel. We settled on Ibiza for a second time. Cheap flights on Jet2.com subsidised the 2012, first floor executive suite for a return to the Finca in style. Floor to ceiling arched windows covered three of the four elevations of the open plan bedroom and interconnected sitting room giving a view centred on the Old town but stretching South all the way to the gay beach and beyond. The lounge overlooked the Pool. The bathroom gave access to a private sun terrace overlooking the local jail to the rear of the property.

We found Volker by the pool. Each day this “thirty something” German from Heidelberg would position himself in exactly the same spot with the same orientation. At precisely the same time of day he would partake in a Bacardi and coke from the same honour bar Pete and I had emptied five years previous. Pete didn’t consume alcohol at all by now, giving ample opportunity between volumes of “Tales of The city” to conduct self-righteous pronouncements on the evils of “Drink”. The sale of Grannies bungalow in Chelsea Court was reaching its conclusion, requiring communications with the UK to be kept open. Volker came to the rescue by showing me how to stop Estate Agents and Solicitors going into junk mail. I was more surprised at the intuition of the lap top than the impeccable English of a computer programmer from “Heidelberg”. His “Little boy lost” appearance appealed to most of the guests. He became particularly well acquainted with a Parisian restaurateur who had been taking summer breaks at the Finca for years. He recognised us from our previous stay, remained polite but like most tourists who had previously met Pete in his inebriation phase, kept his distance.

The single most important advantage of Pete’s abstinence is that he can drive. The single most important advantage of hardly being able to stand after a few Gin and Tonics and full bottle of wine over dinner is that Pete’s driving, in the dark and on the wrong side of the road, ceases to scare the shit of me. Upon landing in Ibiza we waited over half an hour for a shuttle bus to drive us to a remote car-hire depot that after a further thirty minutes of dodgy paper work failed to deliver the pre-ordered automatic gear box. Peter doesn’t do manual… at all! By the time the manager relented and called us a taxi it was well past sun-down. In day-light I doubt I would have known the route to the Finca but in darkness a total impossibility yet, as if by magic I spotted a break in the lime stone walls bordering a dual carriageway to nowhere, recognising the short cut used by taxis bringing us back from the old town in the early hours of the morning, five years previous.

The original peg-legged German resort manager with the incontinent Labrador found us an automatic, Peugeot 306 on the first day arranging for it to be delivered to our door. With less than a hundred millimetres to spare either side between the wing mirrors and the dry stone walls flanking the access lane, the test drive was something else.  First we had to negotiate a right angle turn through the archway from the car park onto a narrow private drive, both about as wide as the car. The art was to clear the gate post with the driver’s door and at least one mirror still intact. Suicidal, one-eyed cats and a blind, ninety degree cross roads fringed on all elevations by single storey high boundary walls, added to the excitement.

Each morning I would drive to the beach. An early start meant getting a parking place. A late start resulted in having to park on the road-side so narrow, we risked ending up in the salt marshes that isolate the Dunes from the mainland. The walk from the car to the gay beach with the bar is about a mile. A track borders the salt marshes side of the dunes giving a firm footing. Taking the beach is much more of a slog in the soft sand.

As the residual roadway left over between an endless line of parked cars and a ditch is barely the width of a car the homeward journey is something of a game of “Chicken”.

With the front window fully open, a passenger screaming “too close” as we edged between the dry stone walls, announced our return to the digs each evening. A snooze, a full scrub and dressing before heading off to dinner before sun set was Pete’s opportunity to hone his driving skills.

Sitting on a wall, legs swinging, Volker witnessed, first-hand the entire exit strategy. An erratic forward manoeuvre caused him to retract his under-carriage with astonishing dexterity, only inches away from losing both legs to the flying, front bumper of an out of control bright red Peugeot. The Frenchman had invited the German to see the sun set over San Antonio bay from the terrace of a renowned restaurant owned by a French ex-pat friend. Over Bacardi the following day it transpired that the Frenchman had left Volker stranded, legs akimbo. It was well after dark before he gave up on the dry stone wall. His tale of abandonment was delivered with such tragedy I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry with him.

The following evening was a repeat performance but on this occasion, rather than risking the loss of his limbs and with much trepidation, he accepted a lift into town. The running commentary from the pilot in the passenger seat regarding the proximity to inanimate objects followed by instructions on how to navigate a blind cross roads left Volker rightly un-phased. Narrowly avoiding wearing a motor scooter as a bonnet badge was met with equal Teutonic stoicism from the middle of the back seat. Hurtling out onto the main highway, but on the left hand side of the road provoked the most noticeable reaction. Volker’s mild amusement at my mobile tutorial dissipated into outright panic. Despite Peter continuously rebuking me each and every evening for volunteering instructions regarding directions, lane discipline and prohibited access roads he never mastered an unsupported journey between the Finca and Quayside car park. By midnight, the darkness and a bottle of Rioja left the wing mirrors flying blind.

Volker accepted our invitation to stick with us for dinner, and thereafter dinner every night for the rest of his week’s holiday that overlapped with our two. He insisted on paying his way proving to be a good drinking companion. Dinner at a different place each evening including one night at a Tapas bar, so popular we had previously been unable to grab a table and twice to a market restaurant where Volker fancied the waiter made up the set. At one place, this mild mannered Germanic gentleman had the balls to send his inadequate Tuna back to the kitchen three times.

As a treat, we drove to the North of the island to visit a coastal Village recommended by Sybille the breakfast lady. Ibiza is a very small island. Including the scramble over a cliff side track, taking a can of iced coke and re-parking the car on our return, the day trip took all of three hours. We waited for Volker to head off back to Germany before venturing as far as San Antonio, and what a waste of time that 30 minute sprint across the mountain was… very ugly hangovers eating very ugly British Breakfast is not my idea of sightseeing.

We shared the same taste in eye candy leaving Pete to forlornly seek out a non-existent bear. For me it was look, don’t touch. For Volker it was look, fall in love and hope one day to touch. The era of the late night bar crawl was a distant memory for Pete and I. After-dinner entertainment was now a leisurely walk with maybe a spot of shopping, rounded off with a couple of drinks for me and a couple of tonic waters for Pete, maximum. Volker had given up on the Amphora Nightclub having spent a couple of fruitless nights with the place all to himself.  Gay bars in the old town were not fairing any better. The terrace bar remained “the place” yet it would only be restricted to standing room only at week-ends. Muscle-Marys swished through the crowd levitating trays like gyroscopes full of cocktails above the heads of the fashionistas. Ordering a drink degenerated into a meticulously planned military exercise. Volker had fallen for a cute young thing called Henrique. Reordering had to be timed exactly to the precise moment that the Muscle Marys were engaged but when Henrique was free. Tired of the subterfuge I called Henrique over for an introduction. It transpired that Volker had spent the previous week admiring from afar the tall, slim, athletic, handsome twenty-one year old and had not actually spoken to him other than to order his favoured Caihapriano which he insisted had to be prepared with fresh mint. Henrique had taken a summer vacation job to supplement his fees at University in Madrid. He was charming, articulate and very, very straight. Poor Volker was devastated. The surprise news allowed Pete to concentrate our attentions on the much more obliging gym bunnies

The “Finca” had evolved from a men only resort in 2007 to a “Gay Friendly” resort by 2012. The arrival of a late middle-aged Lesbian couple who insisted on sun bathing in the buff renewed the otherwise waning appeal of the crowded beach. Such close proximity to fun and revelry fuelled by gallons of free flowing Sangria was considered inappropriate for Pete’s sobriety. The sight of un-plucked mangy minge sliding into the pool was enough to re-evaluate the risks associated with the beach. Disapproving straight couples on short stay stop-overs ahead for early flights, reinforced the appeal of the beach.

A Pretty Frenchman in his early twenties who looked remarkably like a Jesus-poster with long black hair and close cropped beard, stood his ground by repeatedly swan-diving naked into the shallow end of the pool ensuring maximum effect and distraction.

After the disappointment of Henrique, the mission was to get Volker laid. Without duress and contrary to his protestations that he enjoyed neither sand nor sea, he accompanied us daily to the beach. Within minutes of pitching camp alongside my hired sun-lounger he was off into the dunes like a Jack-Russell chasing a ferret, following anything with a pulse as long as it was only just shaving. The lecherous waiter from five years previous was still on the prowl. His desperation had descended to a level where he even made me the offer of seeing the inside his little red hut. Circumcised or not there was nothing little or red of his I was interested in seeing. Despite Volker spending most of the day wrapped up in a towel, after encountering a naked nineteen-year-old at the urinals with dramatic effect, he also declined the offer of a little red, light-relief. We ordered more sangria to mitigate the waiter’s disappointment.

2012 was fairly pleasant but proved you can’t relive a memory. We should have left history undefiled.

V6 033 …arm and a leg

Volume 6 part 033 armless enough and enough is enough

2006 was as greater turning point for me as 2003 had been for Joe.

No doubt the Canaries had taken its toll on Granny. Following the scare when arriving in Vegas I should have realised that an eighty-year-old is better left to her terminal snooze. The week-end after we returned from Berlin was intended to be routine. Friday was a commute for Pete and I to Cromford. Saturday morning was for car cleaning and Saturday afternoon for the office followed by late lunch or early dinner on the way back to Cromford after shopping at Tesco. Sybille was particularly mute over lunch at the Fulwood Inn. Enquiring as to why she looked flushed she admitted feeling odd since the previous Thursday. A range of walk-in in clinics and A&E’s failed to diagnose a problem. By Sunday Morning the pink was decidedly red. She was admitted to Chesterfield Royal the same day. It took four days to determine the obvious. A nasty bout of Shingles kept her in Hospital for the best part of the month with Joe in attendance from Italy for moral support. Poor old Syb suffered serious scarring whilst at the same time giving up on life. Her robust character simply fell apart.

The newly expanded paternal role took its toll on the relationship between me and Pete. Pete likes attention. An old-timer with whom we had become acquainted with in the Fleur De Lyse in Totley observed that whilst we lived apart and could always “go home” we were never going to grow closer or, indeed ever resolve any differences.

Two weeks later while bubble was still in hospital, we bought a house!

Having arranged home help and a string of social support Joe disappeared back to Italy in Late February. For the rest of Spring I was back and forth to Abu Dhabi and Paris sorting out a project as a client’s advisor for a Women’s’ Hospital proposed for the UAE. Pete collected the keys to the new house by himself on June 9th 2006. We had become the proud owners of 123, Newbould Lane. With Granny becoming increasingly and rapidly dependent, buying the house looked like being a very rash decision. Joe returned in late June to take Ma back to Italy for the summer whilst we raided Ikea to furnish the new pad. 

While Sybille was slipping not so graciously into a very old age her elder sister was literally losing an arm and a leg. Always trimmer than Bubble, her only sister, Finney was the “lady” of the family back in Germany. In her mid-eighties, she more than ably looked after husband Peter, by now in his early nineties. Stepping out to buy some paprika to flavour a homemade goulash she forgot to halt at the traffic lights causing grid-lock throughout Aachen whilst surgeons cut her free from the wheel-arch of a forty-foot Hungarian articulated truck. She lost most of the limbs on the right side at the road side and the rest, up to shoulder and hip joints in the local “Klinikum”. Sybille and Finney had always enjoyed a strained relationship. With Joe over to assist Ma for the summer it was only fair that we took Syb to Aachen to see her sister in ICU for one very last time. Ironically, Finney outlived Sybilla by almost three years dying a couple of years after her husband, Peter in the flat at the nursing home they shared until the end. On the one occasion that they spoke on the telephone after Finney had been discharged from hospital she sounded much more upbeat than Syb had done for many years despite being armless and complaining that having only one leg had seriously affected her balance. Finney’s English was remarkably good considering her lack of practice which is just as well as by this time Bubble was forgetting most of her German.

The three of us travelled to Germany in the Pale Blue Disco MkII. It was early July. Peter stayed at home to watch the dogs. The ten year old S class had been swapped for a new tiny A Class. Bubble preferred the high-ride of the Disco and the A-Class would halve the cost of commuting and depreciation.

Aachen was just a long week-end. We did our duty at the hospital, put flowers on Graves, shopped on Adelbert Strasse and ate Snitzel. All part of a well tried routine albeit at a snail’s pace with granny becoming increasingly slow and dependent upon support just like her mother had done when I was eleven. Upon our return, Joe obliged by taking Ma to Italy for the summer whilst Pete and I adjusted to living together.

Money set aside for holidays was commandeered for the house. A share pay-out was invested in a new Silver Discovery… now a Mk4 generation. We took delivery the week-end in September when Joe brought Granny back from her summer break. After collecting the new car we bought Bubble a wheel chair. The only protest at being officially designated infirm was her insistence that she got the “Blue” One. For four hundred pounds, the time taken to complete a circuit of Meadow Hall was slashed to less than a quarter. Along with hydraulic suspension to aid access, the wheel chair took up residence in the back of the new Land-rover officially christening the new car as the “Spas-wagon”. Joe disappeared home while I took to commuting from Cromford to Sheffield in the A-Class leaving Pete to rattle around “123” alone on Monday’s and Wednesdays. I stayed in Sheffield on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays and both of us stayed over in Cromford Friday’s and Saturday’s.

The money for new cast iron railings was spent on the cost of my business class ticket and bed and board to accompany Pete to New York in October 2006 after he won the first prize at the office outing to celebrate one hundred years of Swanke Haden Connell. The first prize turned out to be a very expensive free gift. I had won second prize of a combi-TV and DVD.

The trip to New York came only one week after an extended weekend in Italy to attend the Holy Communion service for Nadia’s eldest daughter, Sophia. After Church, we did lunch and obtained some obscure unicorn present…

October in New York was a first. Slightly drizzly but jacket weather at worst. We did the Office Centenary celebration albeit marginalised to stand with the peasants on the ballroom floor where we were introduced to the obligatory office gays. Being Gay doesn’t equate to having anything and everything in common with other Gays. “Straights” fail to see how patronising these introductions can be.

Peter countered with pleasantries including “Nice to meet you, can I introduce you to my fat friend and … Nice to meet you, do you have any Blacks I could meet? Etc. etc.” Being in America, this method of communication was, of course orbital. Pete’s responses went so far over their heads to the point where they invited themselves along for the post-party entertainment. Not until they heard directions to the Taxi driver did they have second thoughts about joining us. A three piece Versace suit in the Phoenix Bar intermingling amongst the chinos and cashmere is a curiosity but just about credible. A Versace suit in the Eagle sandwiched between studded leather harnesses and backless denim jock straps is something altogether different to behold. Being English gets you anywhere. Being English you are expected to be mildly eccentric. I was indebted to the Eagle for temporarily suspending its strict leather or denim dress code.

Using the executive lift in the office building was clearly an affront to the “Mr Haden” who exhibited remarkable diplomatic skills in totally ignoring us the day after the party. Why Pete felt it necessary to accept an invitation to see the Interior design studio when we were in NY for only two days is beyond me. Julian attempted to make amends for Haden’s pig-ignorance by inviting us to lunch. His astonishment at being rejected in favour of a pre-arranged appointment at MOMA to see the Campbell’s soup cans was more to do with him considering northerners cultural Philistines as it was having to dine alone when presumably, he couldn’t screw the company expense account. We arrived home via JFK and Stansted just after twelve noon on Saturday October the 26th. Floral displays had been unceremoniously dumped in the front garden, the caterers arrived a four pm and Howard and Johns “civil-partnership” party went into full swing at seven. We threw the party as part “wedding present” and part consolation for accepting a trip to New York and missing their big day.

It was foggy and cold for most of December. For our first Christmas at “123” I deported Bubble back to Italy. After a short week-end in Italy I returned alone via Ancona only to be marooned at Stansted for twenty-four hours due to thick fog, the likes of which hadn’t been seen since the London smog days of the late 50’s.

This was to be a traditional festive season at the new house with eight friend’s around an eight-man oak table tucking into Turkey and all the trimmings. The party extended through Boxing Day climaxing with a drive to Bakewell to get pissed in the “Peacock” with a bunch of Rugby Players. Steve and Paul totally missed the carved cold meats laid out for snacking on upon on our return but polished off the remainder of the beef and pork marinating in cold gravy reserved to be reheated for our lunch the following day. There was a lot of belching on Boxing Day that year!

Two weeks into 2007 Joe brought Ma back to Stansted. We ate at the Devonshire in Baslow. It was Saturday evening, cold and wet. Pete and I had words. Something to do with being back to “normal” and Bubble being more dependent than ever. In response I left Ma to find her way unescorted to the car where she missed a two inch step and was face down a puddle before Sir Walter could have filled it with a cloak. Not until the Monday did Joe realise that there was something amiss. A small fracture north of the thumb put her in Whitworth Cottage Hospital with a pot on her arm. The lady in the next bed was called Betty.

In Hartington a farmer was advertising Jack Russell puppies for sale. At the age of six Stella needed a play-mate. With the likelihood of diminished stop-overs with Pete in Sheffield he also was in need of a new play-mate. We picked a tri-colour and named it “Betty”.

Quiet whispers concluded that Bubble could not stay in Whitworth indefinitely. Joe wasn’t up to washing Bubbles arse having done her bit through Enzo’s last months. Bubble needed a nurse or a “Home”. The nurse was ruled out by Syb refusing to share her house with a complete stranger. A boy serving tables at the “Grouse and Claret” was up for the Job but ruled out as being unreliable. To get someone to bring the bill at the end of a very slow feeding session, we had the use the mobile phone to ring the restaurant to get his attention when the booking hot line answered.

Joe used her acute sense of smell to settle on Fulwood lodge as a suitable stable. Within a week of Grannies incarceration Joe high-tailed it back to Italy. Grannies stay was intended to be temporary until the plaster was removed and she could manage her own arse. Six weeks later and with two weeks rent still to expire she had the offer of staying-on while she acclimatised to her new hand or going home immediately. Her choice was emphatic. She would stay. She “liked having servants” and with me just a mile down the road could call me whenever she needed something. Peter and I gained Mitzi, the Yorkshire terrier as a full time border. Betty entertained herself by slowly stripping Mitzi Bald. Pete entertained himself by terrorising an unwelcome guest into regularly crapping itself on the conservatory floor. Mitzi was not a happy bunny! Joe volunteered a home.

V6 032 …or better kept apart

Volume 6 part 032 …and a step too far.

Not long after the Las Vegas Autumn and as a follow up to a few days in Italy by air for Bubbles Birthday in the October, the Christmas of 2004, was again spent in Italy, but driving down in the Pale Blue Discovery. Peter had said “never again” in 2002. I should have known better and gone along with him.

October 2004 – Italy by air … and guess who isnt enjoying himself?

2005 was a fairly busy year with the Canaries in March and NY in September. The whole family were reunited in Italy for Sybil’s eightieth Birthday in October 2005.  We invited in-laws, and about twenty of us did lunch. The parents of Andreas invited us back to the Farm house for wine and nibbles which characteristically turned into a family hog-roast.  Pete was still in the bubble hair phase he had cultivated earlier in the year for the March trip to the Canaries where the Belgian bar keep at the Villa Blancas had sympathised assuming that Pete’s hair-dresser must be dead. When we returned to England, a public shearing in the Place Pub raised well over two thousand pounds for testicular cancer. A business trip to the Yemen caused me to miss the event, however the P.A., Nin saved me a lock of hair which I kept for possible future cloning. The days of driving to Italy looked long gone. We had perfected Ryanair for “a pound” and Hertz for the executive hire cars.

Before we knew it, and to avoid the Alpine haul, Joe had been invited to join us in England for a second Christmas. One thing leads to another and before we sobered had agreed to two weeks at the Grand Canary Princess. The hotel had been recommended by two “mature” Gay friends as being quality at a fair price. That should have said it all! Gays can be very adept at scrounging a bargain.

Mirrors, white mock marble, of the kind you see in a Victorian fishmongers, and beds too small for a boy scout, boot-camp summed up the four-star experience. The majority of holiday makers were Brits doing “all inclusive” and flying TUI on a budget. Getting service at the bar before happy hour was unheard of. Why would anyone expect a waiter service at five-thirty in the afternoon when the booze would be half price at “six” or free to the all-inclusive punters! The staff soon got the hang of us not being your average “grab-all-you-can” tourists. An unsolicited ten euro tip guaranteed a front seat in the lounge whatever the time of evening. An unsuccessful attempt to get us transferred to a five-star within three hours of arrival had earned us social exclusion by the Tour Reps for the rest of the holiday.

The weather was fairly bearable out of the wind. Sun-bathe by the pool and the multi-storey monolith would eclipse the sun before noon. Using Bubble as a wind break avoided being sand blasted on the beach. Lunches at Margo’s became the norm with Frikadellen, Knackwurst, potato-salad and French fries forming the staple diet. Evening sessions as the sun-set were the best. At times when Margo’s was full we would take a high table immediately outside the back door. Across the alley, a tiny bar was hosted by Gunter, a retired drag artist from Stuttgart married to a retired surgeon from England and living most of the year in Eastbourne. Gunter’s partner had allowed him to open the bar to ward off retirement boredom whilst wintering in the Canaries. Gunter was a very well-known attraction and at aged seventy-two remained very agile. He fussed Bubble, always making sure she had a seat rewarding her for becoming a regular with a personal rendition of “Money-Money” taken from the musical “Cabaret” and dressed as Lisa Minnelli complete with top hat, fishnet tights and bentwood chair. The fishnets had seen better days. If you want to hear how Bubble laughed, just check out the video.

On the first evening at the Yumbo, Bubble was introduced to the “Bei Leilo” restaurant. In those days good service was matched by good food and the waiters mostly German. The following thirteen dinners, including Christmas day and New year’s eve were spent at the same table. By the final evening when the table was conspicuously dressed with a lace canopy and sparklers the after dinner brandies were being served by the half pint in brandy glasses the size of goldfish bowls. A waiter called Christian from Vienna and his arch- nemesis in the shape of a Spaniard from Saville vied for grannies attention. Christian helped granny choose a stuffed bear from a selection presented in a bread basket insisting that her first choice had a spastic face. The tiny toy monkey climbing a tiny green palm tree decorating her ice cream was allegedly, according to Christian one of the Spaniard’s relatives he was now bringing to work. It was sweet how the gays were so impressed by the apparent normalcy of a family comprising a Mother, sister, and long-time boyfriend who could all holiday in such harmony. The fact that the women spoke a mix of German and Italian added to the cosmopolitan mystique. They may have been surprised if they took a peek behind closed doors.

Joe largely avoided conflict by turning a blind eye to Pete’s tantrums, Bubble giggled at the go-go boy waiters  dressed only in a fig leaf not really having a clue as to  what was going on even when they managed to drop their dangly bits into her Baileys and ice.

For the very first time whilst holidaying in the Canaries we hired a car. In the seven years I had been coming to Gran Canaria with Pete I had never seen the Island. The Thompson’s rep lived up to expectation in recommending a Car Hire company who sent an old banger incapable of climbing hills with gradient greater than one in fifteen. With the first day ruined, the replacement to the battered Renault was an equally battered Opel Astra. Three of us did all of the photo-opportunities. The fourth slept for the day. The top of the mountains was so cold we were forced to buy ponchos but not before Joe had bartered a fifty-five euro price tag down to two ponchos for fifteen Euro’s. Pete’s lined the dog’s bed for years afterwards. The views are quite spectacular although an otherwise enjoyable drive was ruined by a combination of the sound of snoring or sucked in breath every time I got too close to the perilous edge of the mountain roads. Peter had to wait until 2016 to see for himself. Port Morgan was nice. We did lunch by the marina. A pre-booked excursion to visit a camel farm was not nice. WE ate something unmemorable but concluded in a shared-ride on a camel through the dunes back in Maspalomas where the chavs filling the camel train saw fit to mock the naked gays and Germans who had thought they were sun bathing in private. .

The daily routine usually comprised meeting up with Joe and Ma about ten in the morning after they had raided the self-service-eat-all-you-can breakfast buffet. I joined them on only one occasion but the prospect of being trampled in a stampede was too high risk just to get a coffee weak enough to emulsion a wall in magnolia. We all adjourned to the pool until Pete could muster the energy to join us. Rarely did we group while the sun was still over the pool. A short taxi ride from Player del Ingles to Faro saw us on the beach by late noon. When the wind was particularly fierce we went straight into Margo’s for brunch until three. A walk through the shops as far as the new five star hotels at Maleneras got us back to Margo’s for the five o’clock hum-pah session.

Germans love to sing. Granny was no exception albeit that nearly fifty years in England had robbed her of most of the words. She mimed along extraordinarily well.

In the event that we arrived back at “The Princess” before six we would take a drink before retiring to change for dinner. At the Yumbo I would gingerly take the service ramp to the lower deck steadying Bubbles decent, whilst the able bodied Joe and Pete claimed a table in one of the café bars that surround the square at ground level. These were pre-wheel chair days, albeit post Vegas wheelie days. There had been no apparent recurrence of Bubble’s 2004 Vegas event. We assumed that it was simply age and weight that made her wobbly. One drink and it was off to Bei Leilo. After dinner would be another drink or two at the “Baren hole” before Ma and Joe being slammed into taxi with a five euro note and directions to the Princess. Pete and I continued the evening session in “Cruise” and “Construction” arriving back at the hotel in the very early hours. Security staff on the gate were less than politically- correct assuming that the old English man was picking up cheap rent. How wrong they were. Pete is many things, to many people but cheap is not one of them. Setting about us with “night-sticks” was inexcusable even if Pete had mooned them for being so hostile. The rep took no action. The management offered little sympathy.

New Year’s Eve bucked the trend. The same person who recommended the “Princess” also advised that there was no need to pre-book cars, even on New Year’s Eve. After two hours waiting for a non-existent taxi in a queue of about three hundred people we hijacked some juniors with a fifty euro note. They got more lost than we would have had we walked from the Yumbo to the Princess. Player del Ingles is something of a concrete jungle. At night time and fully tanked it all looks the same. Dropped off on a familiar road with maybe only fifteen minutes’ walk looked promising. At one recognisable junction I cut loose to head back to the Yumbo. It transpired that the road wasn’t as familiar as I’d anticipated leaving the Girls with another forty-minute walk in the middle of the night.

A disaster that rates high in my most regrettable top ten.

Re-joining Pete in the “Cruise Bar” at well past three in the morning went down like the proverbial lead balloon. We sat in silence until dawn when he took to his bed refusing to join us for our last day. Christian had gone to such trouble with the table decorations I summoned Pete by telephone to join us at “Bei Leilo” for our “last-supper”. It was the polite thing to do.  Dutifully he arrived only a few minutes later, ate little, drank half a bottle of Rey Carlos Brandy exchanging no conservation or pleasantries through the whole meal. Peter rarely does “Polite”. Predictably, the card machine wasn’t working when it came to pay. No doubt Christian had conjectured that only by paying in cash was he going to get the fat wad he deserved. Joe paid the three hundred and seven Euros. As pay back, Christian received no tip. We all went home together that night.

Unsurprisingly, the Rep’s missed us out of the farewell handshakes as we boarded the bus back to Las Palmas Airport. It had been seven years since my first encounter with a bus full of Brits abroad. They were still wearing socks with sandals. I vowed it would be my very last.

All-in-all, 2005 had been a very busy year eking out twenty-nine days of annual leave excluding bank holidays and trips to the Yemen.

Less than two weeks after returning from the Canaries  Pete and I were enjoying minus fourteen degrees centigrade for a long week-end Bear-Fest in Berlin arriving at nine in the morning for a pound each on the Ryanair shuttle from Stansted. The previous trip in ’91 was almost exactly the same time of the year. It had been cold the first time also. The Five star “President” made up for the one star flight. By coincidence, the hotel overlooked a park which formed the boundary of the old West German Gay quarter. A German who took a fancy to Pete in the “Cruise” bar had recommended the place inviting us to meet him when “next in Berlin”.

The week-end was really all of a blur. Unsurprisingly, the later in the evening we visited the bars the vaguer is the memory. I recall a corner bar with lots of noise and a cellar and another comer bar with even more noise and a cellar with chains. All of the bars were well equipped to cope with the climate, having massive cloak rooms to accommodate the several layers of scarves, gloves and anoraks necessary to survive the curb crawl. In the corner bars a number of the boys deposited all of their clothes which, however inappropriate for the climate was reminiscent of Folsom Street in San Francisco. I had come a long way since last time in Berlin.

Like San Fran’ the hotel reception proved invaluable tour guides producing marked-up maps indicating the latest places of interest. A cosy bar overlooking the park was favourite for pre-cruise drinks. A raised dais at one end of the bar gave an aerial view of the pimps collecting takings from a string of rent boys tipping out their pockets for all to see. Curiously, the pimps appeared to be all brown faced Muslim types mostly crowned with a variety of Skullcaps and head scarves. Friday was a particularly busy collection day with one of Moroccan origin taking up residence on the adjoining table, tightly crammed with young men shamelessly giving the come-on whilst taking their turn to divvy up their share of the evening spoils.

We sat at the bar in the go-go lounge. In exchange for admission charges of twenty Euros each we received vouchers to be spent on drinks or pushed down the pants of very awkward bar-prancing juveniles exhibiting the appeal of a lumpy custard.  The “twenty-something” ring-master turned out to be an Australian by birth who was shacked-up with the boss. Sensing our detachment from a show, made the more irritating by having to snatch for your glass before seeing it kicked into oblivion by a knock-kneed reject from the Bolshoi-ballet-try-outs attempting a routine on the bar, the boy-boss took over and showed them how it was done. A poised performance taking up the full length of the bar as his stage, topped off by a full-frontal was worthy of our Ten-Euro change although not enough to keep us in the place for a top-up.

Sun-down spelled curfew. By the time we had done the Potsdammer Platz again, slid around on the ice and snow in the Jewish memorial and bought some amazingly subtle souvenirs, the sun was low behind the Brandenburg gate. With plummeting temperatures, we sought refuge in the “Dressler” on the Unter-Den-Linden. Fifteen years of freedom had brought street lighting to East Berlin. This time around I discovered the world renowned restaurant. We dined in style with wine to die for. When it was time to return to the “President” the taxi drove directly onto the pavement to reduce the walk in the freezing air to less than a single step. 

“Take me to the “President”…” has rather a nice ring to it when fuelled by a couple of gin and tonics and a full bottle of vintage Barolo. It was probably the Barolo that resulted in such vague memories of the cellar bars later that evening

To avoid early onset, alcoholic poisoning we took to avoiding bars during the day, instead taking refuge in one of the local Saunas. In one four-storey venue the more intrepid clients were encouraged to cool down on the roof with a roll in the snow. Multiple stairways guaranteed getting lost. I found a bar in the basement.

Other than the spooky central tower, the Jewish museum was filled with lost opportunities. After losing the map we took sanctuary in the church on the Ku-dam whilst folks back at the office googled the location of the nearest gay bar. Tired of waiting and in need of a pee I showed Peter the very same Bar stool in the Irish bar that had induced the vomiting during the previous trip. By spring of 2006 my consumption capacity had expanded to be almost equal to Pete’s.

V6 031 … stays in Vegas

Volume 6 part 031 All Hail Ceaser

Insurance companies didn’t pay-out for late departures unless in excess of twenty four hours. Arriving in Honolulu only twenty three hours and twenty minutes behind our original schedule disqualified our claim. American Airlines took a different position by awarding six hundred dollar holiday vouchers per person. The vouchers were conditional on being spent exclusively on AA tours, in the U.S and within the calendar Year.

Las Vegas replaced New York for the September break of 2004.

The “Griswold’s” as we had affectionately come to call ourselves were doing Caesars Palace for a week requiring a cash top-up to only eight-hundred and six pounds per person. Joe flew from Italy with Elena in plenty of time for leaving for Heathrow the following Friday Morning. Over tea on the preceding Tuesday she remarked that it must have been her excitement that caused her to put the flight in her diary for the Thursday and not the Friday. The chilling realisation that I had the wrong date required a swift reorganisation of work, packing, kennels and car parking for an early departure from Matlock to Heathrow on the Thursday.

We missed a long planned leisurely breakfast at T3 when security discovered Grannies twelve piece, leather bound manicure set which had somehow mysteriously slipped into her carry-on luggage by mistake from her double king sized bed when she had everything laid out to pack. Security sympathised with Bubble when I ordered the set to be destroyed. Instead, arrangements were made for me to take the offending item back to Check-in where AA would take it to Las Vegas as hold luggage. I made it back through security just in time for boarding having been fast tracked through first class by a sympathetic flight attendant. As to be expected, the whole saga was all someone else’s fault despite a twenty-minute lecture the previous night that no sharp objects were now allowed in hand baggage. The 120ml “eau de Cologne” went down the toilet.

Heathrow T3 to Las Vegas was entirely uneventful. Despite the promise in small print, there was no car to collect us upon landing. In the ensuing mayhem from multiple circuits of the airport looking for a ride Bubble suffered an event. I should have known that nausea and paralysis of the legs spelled “Stroke” but what the hell we could have done had we have been aware of the diagnosis anyway. Propped on both sides, we bundled her into a hi-jacked taxi. Getting her out required assistance from the driver. Fortunately the vast lobby at Caesars was well equipped with easy chairs. Whilst waiting to register I spotted a notice offering wheel chairs on free-loan and secured the last one. It was either get into a wheelchair or its going to be a ride on a luggage cart. Bubble begrudgingly took the wheelchair.

Rooms at Caesars palace feature lots of marble and mirrors. Pete and I shared a room with beige marble, gilt columns and mirrored ceiling. The two man Jacuzzi sat inside a colonnade within the bed room. The bathroom was equipped with a two person vanity unity. A shower room and separate, enclosed toilet cubicle led off the “bathroom”.  Bubbles room was similar but without the mirrored ceiling. The bedroom colonnade and bathroom were black marble with gold embellishment. Their bath was inside the bathroom protected from the bedroom by a semi-transparent etched glass mural. Bubble was singularly unimpressed, complaining that the “black” could be a disguise for poor house-keeping. The place was spotless.

Snuggly tucked into a queen size bed for the night with an ice bucket to catch any residual puke we left Elena in charge of the invalid with the express instruction to stay away from the porn channels and that if the old thing died, we could probably be contacted in the Cleopatra Lounge. The Cleopatra lounge was a floating bar in the shape of Cleopatra’s barge. No call came but tired after a very long day, we turned in before ten that evening. Charging to the rooms required presentation of a Hotel ID card. Despite reporting the loss within two hours of arriving at Caesar’s, whoever found my lost card, ate very big breakfasts between bouts of downloading the same heavy porn I had instructed Elena to stay clear of. Needless to say I refused to pay the bill at the end of the week for anything charged after the first two hours.

By breakfast on the first full day Bubble was fully recovered. She kept the wheelchair as a holiday bonus to increase milking the sympathy vote. For the most part it worked, getting us to the front of most of the restaurant queues. I got well acquainted with the back of granny’s head that trip. Days were spent by the pool, doing brunch, the pool, doing shopping, the pool, and doing dinner after which we toured the strip to sample the wonders of neighbouring hotels. Gambling extended to a one time flutter on the “slots” when we accepted more in complimentary drinks than we spent on casino chips.

Jewellery shops can administer miracle cures. The first sight of an enamelled broach depicting a Yorkshire terrier and Bubble was on her feet strutting her stuff around cabinets of bling long enough to outshine Dubai. Meanwhile, back in the mall Pete had taken up the post of the wheelchair bound invalid. First, right to left and then, left to right and back and forth, a high speed blur of orange designer pants flashed by the entrance into the shop in a “now you see him , now you don’t” … sort of pantomime manoeuvre. The orange cargo pants were acquired during our first trip to New York when Greenwich Village was authentic gay and had the shops to match. Las Vegas was altogether more conservative.

Alighting from the wheelchair booming “Alleluia” and declaring the second miracle of the day simply to indulge in a little window shopping, so impressed the Bible bashing saleswomen of oriental decent that she gave us a further ten percent discount. He chose diamond studded earrings in the shape of a distorted crucifix. We left with only the enamelled Yorkshire terrier broach. Bubble won the battle of the wheel-chair by pulling the sympathy card on a passing family from Georgia. Apparently they don’t eat Black people in Georgia anymore which corroborated the indignation displayed by the man from South Carolina of whom we had asked the same question in a souvenir shop in Castro in 2000.  I went back for the diamond crucifixes on the last day as a surprise for Pete. Not to be outdone, Bubble bagged a set of Ruby Pendant earrings at the same time.

We did the top of the half-scale Eifel tower above “Paris” and shopped along the canal in the “Venetian”. A half kilometre mock canal complete with gondolas lined by designer outlets the full length on both sides is something to behold. Being constructed indoors, fully air conditioned and on the first floor over a gaming area the size of Wembley stadium is an engineering marvel. From the “Rialto Bridge” we watched a volcano erupt across the street on the half-hour in the forecourt to the “Mirage” Hotel.  The pirate fight involving two full size galleons at “Treasure Island” was a bit of a drag played out by bored wannabees exiled from Hollywood. “Bellagio’s” musical fountains were interesting. Consuming half the water in The Hoover Dam every half hour and dancing to Frank Sinatra, the fountains appeared rather pointless unless seen from the top of the half-size “Eiffel Tower”, at night and where the full effects of the colour changes could be enjoyed without the interference of “doing it my way”.

A Monorail links Caesar’s to the South end of the strip. “Luxor” was novel. We took drinks in a bar area inside the base of a Pyramid whilst Elena sat twenty feet away in the lobby separated only by a row of sixty centimetre high Sphinx. Under 21’s aren’t allowed in bars in the “States” but they are allowed to witness alcohol abuse first hand, drive at 14 and shoot each other by the dozen.  Joe and Bubble bottled out of a ride on the great “New York- New York” roller coaster. I got front seat with a black boy whose finger nails scarred the back of my left hand as we topped the first peak, so high you could see almost as far as the real Empire State building. Never again!

“New York- New York” is one of the tacky resorts on par with “Camelot”, “Circus-Circus “and “Bally’s”. The only redeeming feature of the “Stratosphere” is the tower from which it gained its name, and particularly the revolving restaurant at over a thousand feet above the desert floor. Twenty five dollars gets you a ride on the fun-fare that tops the tower. Pete took front seat in a chariot that delighted in flinging itself so far over the edge of the parapet that spectators in the observation deck below were treated to a close up of the state of the rider’s underwear as they flashed across the window. Elena retained her ticket unused. I retained my dignity intact without even considering what would have undoubtedly amounted to an act of suicide.

Dinner in the Stratosphere was pre-booked. We arrived early and suitably attired. Pre-drinks in the lobby bar were marred by, once again having one of the party quarantined in the cloak room. Dinner was okay. The view was spectacular even on the second time round. Anxious dowagers provided sporadic entertainment by spontaneously leaping from their chair to do an impromptu circuit of the restaurant.  Bubble found this all very amusing until she realised that she, too had place her hand-bag on the floor level window sill. The floor revolved while the sill and external wall remained stationary. Waiting to be reunited with your bag could take the best part of an hour. The wine waiter obliged!

Generally, Las Vegas is not a gastronomic success although the “Bellini” starters are worth a wait. Equally you can give the Gay scene a miss. Leaving Joe, Bubble and Elena to do the late window-shop while Pete and I went further afield wasn’t a problem as they preferred to retire to the hotel TV channels by ten. Elena rarely made it passed dinner before reaching for the remote! Two blocks away, on the airport side of the strip was the largest and busiest of the “gay” bars located opposite a Swiss chalet housing the Wienerwald restaurant. The chalet was as fake as the Vegas, gays but altogether more easy-on-the-eye. We thought better of taking Bubble to the Wienerwald for fear of getting a window table. A view of all those clones would seriously detract from the knackwurst.

For twenty-two dollars a cab took us to an empty bar in a retail park somewhere far enough to leave the glamour of the strip a dusky glow on the distant horizon. The two of us entertained the sole barman over a beer before taking a forty-four dollar cab ride back to the Strip. In the forty minutes it took for the taxi to arrive not one other person entered the bar although the blacked out lorry park opposite appeared to be doing roaring trade.  A regular procession of artic’s drove into the gloom seemingly, never to return. We spent the rest of that evening fending off high-class hookers in the Caesars Palace casino bar. They convinced themselves that Peter and I were not gay but simply to “cheap” to indulge in whatever they were selling.

We received intelligence that there was a “Bar” tucked away on the edge of a residential development in the no- man’s land, half way between “The Venetian” and “Circus-Circus”. Tuesday night was go-go-night featuring male strippers. Worth an eye-ball we thought if only for a laugh. We cruised a shanty town in a taxi for an eternity. The cab driver was so keen to give satisfaction he turned off the meter, taking CB directions. He became a man on a mission. Stopping outside a shabby pine boarded double garage the driver reconnoitred whilst Pete and I obediently stayed put in the back seat of a black and white cab, closely resembling a cop-car. It wasn’t the sort of neighbourhood in which you wanted to be seen left unprotected in the back seat of a cop-car! A hand beckoned from the pass gate in the unmarked garage door. Inside was dark and cosy. Air Conditioning would have been helpful. The drinks were already on the bar ordered and paid for by the cabby already half way down a pitcher of piss Americans call beer. Flashing lights from the stage periodically picked out the odd punter lurking around the perimeter of the shed. We remained firmly glued to our bar stools observing the golden rule in gay bars of not making eye contact.  Free pizza, still in the box was on offer to keep us in place until show-time. As the intermittent flashing lights rarely made it through the grime in the beer glass I was in no mood to trust the safety of the congealed pizza bread.

It transpired that the cabby was also gay. This explained his fastidious interest in finding a previously undiscovered gay venue. He being totally enamoured with the place confirmed that not only was the driver from “out-of-town” but that Kentucky has few gay bars worthy of note to boys with fewer than three thumbs. Before he could down a second pint we took advantage of his generosity by asking for a ride home. Our insistence on paying the return fare was more about rebuffing his advances than people-pleasing by accepting a free ride. The cabby had already volunteered his shift pattern and would be “available” after midnight!

For the rest of the week, Cleopatra’s with Josephine in tow, and the happy hookers received our undivided attention.

Afternoons were too hot for anything but the pool, shaded only by the construction of a new thirty-two storey bedroom extension. The management kept the noise and nuisance to a minimum.  The sun striking the top of the Eiffel tower glinted through a convenient gap in the scaffolding. An elegant stage set of white marble columns topped with Corinthian capitals, carved pediments and white linen sun shades surrounded a deep blue pool cooled by its own refrigerator. Shallow steps aided access for the drunks and disadvantaged. A perimeter shelf just below water line gave sufficient purchase to avoid too many being drowned. Bubble took a daily dip perched on the shelf. Pete and I supervised from the bar. Tiny, minimally clad white female slaves had mastered the art of simultaneously delivering multiple ice buckets filled with chilled bottles of “Bud” on one arm whilst balancing a cocktail topped, twenty-four inch serving tray on the other. In the event that the waitress lost her load the drinks would be free!  Americans have perfected defying logic and gravity in so many ways.

The Grand Canyon is obligatory. A short walk down the strip to evaluate the competition settled us on a tour-group offering a personal plane for five, coach connections to the Canyon and a Barbecue with the Indians on the cliff top. Right on schedule, a dilapidated people-carrier banged its way under the Port-Cachere to the main entrance of Caesar’s Palace, vying for attention in the midst of a sea of shiny long wheel base limousines. Had we not already paid we would, and should have done a runner right there and then. A pretty boy dressed in shrink-wrap short-shorts and with hairy legs escorted us from the portable cabin that served as an airport terminal building to a “private plane” about the size of a VW Beetle but with wings. Although certainly not old enough to drink, the hairy legs offered a modicum of reassurance that the pilot was old enough to fly. With Pete and Elena in the bogy seat, Joe and Ma squeezed into the middle row and I up front with my nose pressed up against the window screen it was clear to see why the Pilots were limited to the size of school-boy anorexics. A single engine dragged us spluttering along a runway capable of taking a 747 which was just as well as the combined weight of the Griswold’s needed every metre for take-off. With tail down and the morning sun diffused by a front window with more cracks than a Kurdish Taxi cab the forward view was non-existent. The hairy legs provided the only worthwhile view.

We touched down like a homing pigeon in the middle of nowhere. about forty-five minutes later With Joe pushing and me pulling we succeeded in extricating Granny from the bucket seat into which she had melted through lack of fresh air or air conditioning. An equally dilapidated, former Greyhound Coach took us on a half hour ride to the rim of the Canyon. We eagerly anticipated the promise of a barbecue speculating on what kind of meats and “vitals” would be served at a Native American camp fire.

The Indians were, in fact, Pakistanis!

Nike baseball caps replaced eagle feathered head gear. Instead of being skimpily clad in Chamois-leather loin cloths they wore shiny bri-nylon Walmart “trackies” direct from a sweat shop in Bangladesh creating enough static to replace the anticipated camp-fire. A Mobile food truck with a fold down front under a hydraulically propped striped awning provided the platform for the “eat-all-you-can” self-service bain-marie. A choice of baked beans or sweet corn complimented cremated sausage or four-legged chicken portions topped off with generous helpings of rehydrated powdered mashed potatoes. The pudding course would have been a second’s of the main course.

Home-Brand “Cola-coke” was served in wax impregnated paper cups the size of a waste paper basket. Wooden picnic tables sited on a promontory overlooking the Canyon would have provided an idyllic look-out post had it not been for the roar of the diesel generator powering the twenty-first century chuck wagon and the fragrant aroma of the nearby three seater chemical toilet.

On the way back up a half-mile trail that had led to nowhere Pete and I met Joe and Elena, undecided as to whether to make the perilous descent. Ever gullible, they scurried off down the steep and rugged path in search of the Indian market selling an abundance of blankets and rugs at ridiculously low prices. We were on our second bucket of “Cola-coke” before they caught up with us and none too happy at being so easily duped. What had they proposed to do with all those carpets and rugs? Their luggage was already at bursting point.

With the wheelchair back at Caesar’s we weren’t going to be trekking far. Granny hadn’t ventured to the Cliff edge for fear of a premature reunion with Walter. Elena wanted to shop and Pete needed a pint. We’d been and we’d seen so nothing more to be done.

Back at the airport the very considerate pilot shouldered Bubbles arse into the front seat while I pulled from the middle row in the rear. We had concluded that because the gaps around the door accessing the front seat were the only source of ventilation she might moan less if sat with the pilot. We hadn’t counted on the seat belt being so short that it constricted the blood flow so efficiently we had to carry her to the terminal upon landing.

American’s can be notorious for their over-attentiveness. In the case of the Pilot it was not that he was gay or anticipating a fat tip but because he was studying somewhere close to Palm Beach. The prospect of a local sponsor was too good an opportunity for the boy to miss. His interest waned rapidly after explaining that I had never been to Palm Beach, wherever that was. The bright yellow tee shirt bearing the “Palm Beach” logo had been a two-for-one bargain in the end of summer sale at the Sheffield C&A.

I was one of the few people in England who liked C&A and there’s me thinking I had acquired an admirer, half my age with hairy legs! All-in-all a very disappointing day.

The “Griswold’s” did the desert. The car-hire company insisted we take a Toyota. We insisted we did American and preferably something with tail fins. We settled for a Chrysler C300 with a V8 engine and eleven miles on the clock. It was the biggest they had…

There is an awful lot of sand in the desert. A tourist information centre was infested with little creatures resembling tiny kangaroos the size of a large mouse with the tail of a rat. Quite cute but hand feeding is hardly to be recommended in a State where rabies is endemic. Some former hiding place for some non-descript native American involved a twenty minute trek down a sand filled whadi to reach a steeply sided rock pool so deep that the itinerant Indian would have needed to travel with a thirty meter rope ladder in case he fell in.

Boulder Dam was hot. One hundred and thirty degrees hot. Misting sprayed the crowds. Free bottled water was available. Anyone not fully covered risked assault by the sun-block gestapo carrying barrels of lotion on their backs. Fast-food outlets fed fat families. We straddled the Arizona- Nevada state line just like on the TV. The visit to the turbine hall was just like a visit to a turbine hall.

Been there, done that, got loads of Tee shirts to avoid the necessity for a return trip.

On the way back to “Vegas”, I never tire of saying ”Vegas”, a traffic pile up brought the highway to a crawl enabling the peasant classes to salivate over our recently released, brand new, top of the range C300. Pity we hadn’t taken a “GB” sticker.  It put me in mind of the story Walter told about going to a union meeting with his boss in a Rolls. When overtaken by a Mercedes, some achievement back in the 50’s and being cajoled into racing the transgressor the boss responded with a … “ in a car like this, we are here to  be seen and not to race!…”

We dropped the car off in a multi-storey car park above Bally’s casino across the road from Caesars, leaving just enough time to change before catching the Celine Dion show. In the foyer of the Arena, a much admired C300 was up for raffle blocking the way of bubbles chariot. Almost a week into the holiday she maintained her cripple status with commensurate style.  Unfortunately, wheel chairs can’t negotiate the ski slope stairs on the balcony of the upper circle where fifty-five-dollar tickets get you almost the back row.

For someone in a wheel chair and their accompanying slave it’s a platform located way behind the back row. Peter, Joe and Elena were centre stage although only about ten rows below us taking great delight in waiving into our “eagles nest” each time they headed for the bar. Rotund pink and pasty solitary spinsters squashed into a variety of mobility contraptions surrounded us.  Curiosity is a strong point for spinsters with no business of their own to mind. Pointing over balcony enquiring “is that the family” in a particularly grating southern drawl progressed into “this must be your Mother?” expanding into “is that your wife and brother?” was firmly rebuffed with a … “yes this is my mother, the big one is my sister and the little one is her daughter. My “brother” is my Lover!” I enjoyed the rest of the show in stunned silence. For the very first time, I think Bubble too, realised this was more than just a special friendship and that she would need to raise her game. Nothing was said on the subject. In true confederate style the spinsters left without so much as a “Goodnight”!  At the very least I had expected a visit from man or two in a self-igniting burning bed-sheet carrying a crucifix the size of barn door.

Revenge is sweet.

If you want to make a dramatic exit make sure that your mobility scooter has enough charge in the battery. We later discovered two of the old dears marooned next to the roulette wheel as we glided by to take front row in the queue for the Italian restaurant specialising in the Bellini’s. A push start got them to a baguette takeaway across the mall.

In so many ways, “Vegas” was also very trying.

V6 030 Magnum PI – homecoming

Volume 6 part 030 Hula Hula

Josephine came to the UK for her summer holidays accompanied by Carle, Allesandro and baby Alex. I still drove the drab dark Blue Disco II and with the aid of a hired roof rack gave enough seats for the six of us to do the pick-up from Stansted and a spot of UK touring during their stay. We chose the Lake District for a long weekend stopping off in Ambleside for the night at a curious hotel which frowned upon babies in the Restaurant. The Italians ate in shifts while one of the party paraded around a courtyard pushing a pram. Peter came along for the ride making up the 7th passenger along with baby JR, Stella. An overlong trip on a ferry around Windermere wasted most of a day made memorable only for a deranged sprog out with his grandparents who developed a need to follow us around the boat, discovering us hidden in a bar area shrugging off being told to piss-off with the immortal words “that don’t work with me!” clinging onto out table like a limpet. The grandparents came to our rescue hauling him off to plague another couple with a dog.

Stella … not one to be left at home

We nearly lost a suitcase on the way back to Stansted stopping in a lay-by to re-strap the roof rack. A planned sight-seeing stop-over in Cambridge nearly came a cropper when we realised that it might not be a good idea to leave the Landrover unattended when topped off with enough luggage to fill a camel train. Bubble volunteered to stand watch falling asleep before the rest of us had crossed the road heading for the town centre. We walked and lunched returning some 3 hours later to find the car and night-watchman intact.

The cycle of spring in the Canaries and somewhere else in autumn followed by Christmas in a van driving over the Alps to Italy had been severed with the death of Enzo in Spring of 2003. Joe thought it best not to be in England for that first Christmas without her husband.

Following the funeral Bubble and I agreed that if Joe came to England for Christmas 2003 we would do something a little special. I envisaged a surprise week-end in Paris or maybe Edinburgh for the New Year. Bubble took a taxi into Matlock and at the local travel agency she had used over some twenty years, booked a weeks’ vacation for five in Hawaii!

Having done the “LA-San Fran’-Hawaii” triangle with Walter whilst still living at the Crown Hotel she held onto an ambition to return to the Island someday. Joe and Elena needed a surprise. Syb now had Walter’s cash. I collected a brand new pale blue Discovery Mark III the day before Joe and Elena arrived by air from Italy. Two days later the five of us, Bubble, Pete, Joe, Elena and me were off to Heathrow. We stayed the night at the Ramada where the porter, recognising the very newness of the Landrover, parked it prominently, under the main entrance canopy for the duration of our week in Hawaii.

Checked-in bright and early, all went to plan for a 10.00am flight to Honolulu via Los Angles. Two hours after boarding the aeroplane awaiting a departure notice, the flight was cancelled due to a security threat to a BA flight to Bahrain parked on the adjacent stand. Baggage reclaim was the start of a five hour queue for rearranging flights and a further overnight stay in London courtesy of American Airlines.  The replacement flight was via San Francisco due to a shortage of seats between Honolulu and LA over the holiday period.

A coach took us to a hotel immediately opposite the Ramada where a Pale Blue Metallic Disco still adorned their main entrance canopy separated from us by a dual carriageway. The valet parking had been true to their word.

We had arrived at the new hotel too late for complimentary packed lunches and too early for complimentary dinner. We dined a’la’carte, slept well and at five in the morning joined a two-hundred-meter queue snaking around the hotel lobby for coaches back to Terminal three.

Thank-you Mr Shepherd!

Mr Shepherd had the forethought to book a private mini-bus. Unfortunately Mr Shepherd didn’t leap forward when his name was called and, by coincidence, being within ear shot I took up the offer. With the total abandonment of social protocol, the five of us plus full luggage allowance stormed the Renault people-carrier and before Mr Shepherd could throw himself under the front wheels to reclaim his taxi we were off into the night. Reassuring the driver with a five pound note he accepted that his office must have misheard the booking and dutifully diverted to T3. Apparently Mr Shepherd, accompanied by his wife and three children were leaving from T2 and judging by the static being spat from the CB radio was quite pissed off that his car had been hijacked.

Departure went without a hitch. After an eleven-hour flight we begrudgingly enjoyed a four-hour stop-over in San-Francisco during which Elena almost managed to lose her lunch by taking an uninvited side swipe at Pete’s margarita. Her tongue had hit the glass with the agility of a tree lizard swatting flies! The irresistible, beautifully presented glass, glistening with a rim of sugar crystals was, in fact – salt. Maybe next time she’ll ask. We arrived in Honolulu exhausted, in no mood to be kept waiting for the transfer bus wrapped in garlands of wilting flowers, OR NOT! Elena’s face was still sucking lemons induced from attacking the Margarita.

No one at the Hotel appeared to know that we were coming and no one had acknowledged the telephone messages left to confirm our delayed departure. After a twenty nine hour journey over a forty eight hour period none of us, and me least of all, were in the frame of mind for a debate!

Garlands at Honolulu \international when we would have preferred a transfer car which eventually arrived disguised as a beaten up mini-bus

The unexpected “benefit” of arriving on holiday, almost exactly a day late is that the Hawaiian Hilton Village reallocate your room! Fortunately, after acknowledging their mistake, having been telephoned twice from Heathrow once from the travel agents in Matlock and three times by American Airlines, we were awarded complimentary upgrades. Being located in separate towers was an added bonus. Ma, Joe and Elena were given a suite on the 29th floor of the Tapa tower whilst Pete and I were on the 23rd floor of the executive, Kahlia Tower complete with complimentary, lounges and a free bar. Regrettably, neither of the two suites featured sea views but the ocean vista from our breakfast room would more than have compensated had we actually taken breakfast.

The penguin pond was larger than the hotel swimming pool. Why they keep penguins, in a pool in the middle of a Hawaiian Hilton Hotel defies all reason. 

We found a restaurant by the beach that became our base for daily brunch after pegging out a stake of sand equidistant between the “lagoon bar” and the brunch house. Pete, goading Elena that she must be on her period as sharks were circling for the kill put the sea out of bounds. Pedal boats may have a shallow draft but with Pete and Elena up font and Joe and I depressing the rear of the catamaran below the water line we successfully succeeded in grounding the vessel on a bank of dead coral. Although being the only one of the four of us to be wearing sandals, Elena flatly refused to get into the water to give us a shove. Pete must have hit the nail on the head. His sense of smell is one of his greatest assets.

At sun-down, each evening we did the local markets whilst, invariably, Pete took his afternoon nap. Elena got her first trip in a stretch “Limo” and acted the part. We invested heavily in Hawaiian shirts and Hawaiian skirts and Hawaiian baggy dresses.

Elena bought a black dress with violent red poppies for an elegant, family, Christmas Eve meal. The restaurant with our table located in an open semi-circular balcony, over sailing an artificial tropical stream was fairly sophisticated but other than for the vaguely German puddings, the food didn’t match up to the surroundings.

An Italian restaurant received a double visit for its good food and air conditioning. The Chinese was a fantastic setting overlooking the ocean with unremarkable food served in remarkable portions. In the French restaurant we couldn’t get served until Pete returned wearing a formal shirt. In his absence our drinks were temporarily confiscated as we were an adult short for the number of alcoholic drinks served. The waiter was clearly concerned that there might be a repetition of the San Francisco Margarita nightmare. Elena was, indeed, on the edge of her seat hovering like a praying Mantis about to pounce.  Although the food was noteworthy it was served by overfamiliar staff patently fresh off the boat from the San Francisco “Castro Fish-bar” Peter and I had visited in 2000.

Bubble in the lobby before sun-set and dressed for dinner – In a gold spanish shawl I bought in Sitges 2001

The Indonesian food was something else, and well worth the risk of waiters being so close to your face that you could pick their black-heads. Being close enough to accurately count a server’s nasal hair is truly off putting.

Surf-and-Turf at an “all American” diner delivered all it boasted. Plates the size of dust-bin lids were totally eclipsed by steaks big enough to resurface a bowling green topped with giant mutations disguised as Cray fish smothered in waves of pinkie-cream-sauce deep enough for a foot bath and all sufficient to satisfy the most ravenous appetite. A week of playing referee to the diametrically opposed interests of a disparate family of five is enough to make anyone snap. I snapped. I left the table without any attempt to excavate my glutinous mound of in-edibles.

When we weren’t on tour, Pete and I could be found during the day in the lagoon bar overlooking the beach. Blue Hawaiian’s topped with never ending rings of pineapple, served by a singing waitress reminiscent of something from the “Sound of Music” turn your poo and pee lime green. After confiding with Pete I was relieved to discover that this was a common side-effect of too much pineapple and not a consequence of America’s indiscriminate irradiation of fresh fruit.

Heading out on a boat to transfer to a sub marine – Christmas day 2003… Elena, Pete, Joe and Michael with Bubble by the pool holding back the Korean Bed snatchers….

We spent Christmas day in a Submarine. Bubble chose not to be press-ganged into the trip due to having to change boats in mid ocean. Before heading for brunch we did the characteristically German thing of reserving sun beds. Towels, books, Tee shirts and flip-flops laid claim to five strategically placed recliners with an all-day exposure to the sun. We had studied precedent from the previous day having not managed to secure a congenial spot when we arrived and necessitating us to stake out the beach instead. Upon returning from breakfast and much to our annoyance, our beds had been over-ran by a South Korean invasion force comprising a mixed family of six. Our personal possessions had been unceremoniously dumped in a random pile on the tarmac. An old-money, American in the adjacent de-militarised zone offered moral support in our territorial claims. Taking advantage of them jumping to their feet, bobbing about like Zebedee on speed with arms and legs flailing in all directions and all the while screeching at us in an incomprehensible dialect we casually reclaimed the beds and refused to move. The crescendo of “Yu wascist” bellowed at an ear piercing high pitched scream elicited the attention of pool security. The assertion that you could not reserve beds by the pool was undermined by half the loungers surrounding the pool being occupied only by beech towels or Jackie Collins novels. Pete put to bed the accusation of being racists by pointing out that a German Grandma had paid for her Italian daughter and niece to holiday with their Gay English Uncle and his boy-friend. How bigoted is that? The six-foot butch lesbian security guard with an overactive trigger finger immediately swung around to our defence without us having to resort to any mention that Pete came from Wathe-on-Dearne or that I had been born in Belper! Our conciliatory offer to let the Koreans use four of the beds whilst we went in a submarine was perfunctorily rejected leaving them to regroup behind a low rockery presumably to plot their counter attack. Perhaps however, the mention of having a submarine for Christmas day had shifted the balance of power in our favour irrevocably. The “old money” American expressed her relief that the invasion of noisy riff-raff had been defeated, promising to keep an eye on Grandma until we returned. No doubt, she had not bargained on Bubbles snoring!

The submarine was a resounding anti-climax. At depth, the otherwise aquamarine sea is very grey. The coral is largely dead. Man-made reefs constructed from scrap metal are little compensation for the absence of sea life. Through tiny port holes, we saw a turtle, a small shark on the sniff for Elena, and on the inside, half a dozen Orientals sat on the next bench face-down in giant boff bags. The Orientals saw nothing except the bottom of the giant boff bags.

Pearl harbour is “a must”. Walter and Syb had done the guided tour in back whenever, and now it was our turn. Pete reluctantly agreed to the Boxing-day afternoon excursion which included a stop-off at the only Royal Palace on United States Territory and a drive through China town.  Doing the rounds of hotels to fill a full coach load took longer than the actual tour of the harbour. During one particularly extended wait outside the Sheraton, Pete was persuaded to phone home on the “mobile” to wish his mother a belated “Merry Christmas”. Given the extensive time zone variation they were already half a day closer to New Year in the UK. For the remainder of the passengers on the bus the telephone call was something of a one sided conservation. “It’s Pete…Merry Christmas…no… we are going to see Pearl Harbour… what do you mean you’ve already seen it?…. when did you go with my dad? … Not the film, stupid! I’m in Hawaii, we are going to see the real Pearl Harbour!… Yes the real Hawaii and no!… it wasn’t my idea…”  A momentary silence was broken by a bus full of raucous laughter.

A motor launch ferries tourists to the “Arizona”. What everyone needs on Boxing Day is a fun trip to a war grave. All very boring. China town looked interesting at thirty miles an hour. The palace was smaller than the Brighton Pavilion but without the spikey ornamentation. A Giant inflatable Santa seated on an inflatable Polynesian long boat flanked by a tribe of inflatable Polynesian elves provided both interest and sanctuary in the event of a flash flood. The flash flood on the last day of our stay in Honolulu prevented the shopping blitz planned for the repeat trip to China Town.

“Mele kalikimaka” in bright red neonadorned with lime green neon holly leaves spelled out Merry Christmas in Hawaiian. Elena was the only one of us capable of pronouncing the greeting but even more annoyingly, repeat the phrase incessantly for the next five days…

The prospect of a full day’s coach tour around the “big” Island was too much for Pete who bottled out before breakfast. We left him in bed, heading for the north of the island to see the tunnel surf via Magnum PI’s house. There were no Doberman’s or red Ferraris and when we eventually reached the beach the sea was so far away we could only watch the waves from the cliff top. It was chilly, windy and fairly grey, all as Pete had predicted. Forty years of the same trail made the driver a consummate commentator. After enduring a noticeable silence, extending over half an hour the tannoy burst into life by lambasting the entire twelve seater coach party for talking over him whilst he had been in full rant. With the exception of the four fatties from Philadelphia sat immediately behind the driver and droning on with riveting topics as varied as whether you need ketchup on a big Mac, to whether the toiletries in the bathroom were free, the remaining eight of us had been gripped by every tedious utterance in the running commentary from the driver. The four fatties hadn’t listened to a word. We lunched at a sumptuous golf Club somewhere in the mountains giving the “Fatties“  little excuse for raiding a Burger joint whilst the rest of us bought samples of every concoction of Kukui from the native cosmetics outlet. The sales pitch for the lotions and potions, soaps and spreads insinuates that Kukui is nothing less than plastic surgery in a jar. It cures everything from Acne to psoriasis and premature aging to the wrong skin colour!

By the time we arrived at the pineapple farm the driver finally snapped, ordering the fat family to grab a cab for the rest of the journey. Fearing similar exorcism, Joe attempted to politely point out that she, too had been mumbling for the whole day, but as a consequence of having to translate his running commentary into Italian for the benefit of Elena. The fact that Elena was conversing perfectly well with me and Ma in English was not lost on the old Polynesian bus driver who dismissed her protestations with a fixed death stare. At his age, he was unappreciative of unsolicited lessons in Italian! A Buddhist shrine donated by rich Japanese families along with lots of gold-fish ponds rounded off a perfectly drab tour. For the rest of the holiday Pete used his day in solitary as moral blackmail, matched by Bubble slipping a gear into full martyrdom culminating in my explosion at the “Surf and Turf “event at the American Diner.

Still loving all things Japanese… except maybe the cars

Lights-out at the “Hilton Village” was about eleven PM. The first sitting for dinner was preferred to give us some time for drinks afterwards on the terrace. Most hotel bars emptied before ten. Safely sent on their way to bed on the twenty-ninth floor it was time for Pete to get his share of the action. Armed with the “Gay Rough Guide to the World” we easily found the gay bar of repute. The “Angel” was reported to be the only gay bar worth visiting. Spread over two floors and two buildings it turned out to be about as exciting as the trip to the “Arizona” and with almost as many corpses to choose from. Sailors lurked in every corner. In this generally, conservative and politely homophobic city the uniforms were a significant clue that these men were not real sailors. The alternative to posing as a “sailor” was to dress straight out of the Boston Branch of Alfred Dunhill. Deck shoes, chino slacks and various pastel shades of cashmere sweaters draped casually over the shoulders of crisp button-down collared cotton shirts without a hint of Hawaiian Tropicana were the order of the day. The ambiance was as dire as the conversation. The company sipped local beer straight from the bottle.

A desk clerk doubling as security at the Tapa Tower advised of a little known gay bar quite close to the hotel. After a number of abortive attempts to give us directions he produced a black long-wheel-base “Lincoln” town car courtesy of the house and a telephone number if we needed a lift home. After a journey that took ages but probably only twenty minutes in heavy, one-way traffic we arrived at a tiny two storey shopping complex surrounding a courtyard centred on a lifeless fountain. The whole thing was a typical Hispanic style stage set designed to attract tourists complete with fake hibiscus and cream stuccoed walls, topped with mock pan-tile roofs. Terracotta stairs, open to the sky took us to a bar located on the first floor gallery. A congenial barman dispensed a couple of large Gin and Tonics. In the gloom there appeared to be a few other customers although as they kept moving it was difficult to carry out a head count. An estimate of four to six would have been a fair guess which explained the barman’s enthusiastic welcome. A creaking door in the side wall flapped open and shut from time to time indicating an interconnection to a place with music. Since San Francisco, dark places held no fear. We ventured out. A narrow bridge link, about 2 meters in length and clad in tennis netting under a corrugated tin roof linked an adjoining building to the bar. Equally dark and equally empty the boom-box disco was as boring as the sleepy bar. Strobe lights picked out the urinals. A beer or two later I was making the return journey through the net clad corridor when it became apparent that the heavens had opened. The sound of torrential rain slapping the courtyard terracotta tiles could be heard above the muffled disco dance music. Pete ventured to the loo to corroborate the downpour. Three double G & T’s later matched by a similar number of trips to the bog and we were still perched on the same stools in the now empty bar. Time to call it a “night”. The fifteen to twenty minutes’ drive to get to the bar would be plenty of time to get soaked if we walked back to the Hilton as planned. Somewhat bemused the barman politely took the Tapa Tower executive card and called for the “car”.

The driver arrived quickly announcing his arrival over the telephone. The barman had no difficulty finding us in a crowd of three. We downed the last G&T in one pulling open the heavy door onto the high level walkway with trepidation before making a dash across the covered terrace in the direction of the open stairs. Contrary to expectation from the sound of the torrential downpour the terracotta steps were perfectly dry. There wasn’t a drop of water to be seen.

Someone had switched on the fountain!

We had spent two hours in a dusky dive waiting for the rain to stop and it wasn’t raining. No wonder the barman looked bemused. On the pavement the chauffeur stood by the rear passenger door obediently waiting for us to alight. Once settled into a soggy excuse for Connelly Hide the Lincoln gracefully pulled into the traffic, crossed the road and came to a graceful halt under the canopy to the Tapa Tower. The driver jumped clear, reopening the rear door beckoning us to disembark. The five dollar tip for the fifteen meter ride undoubtedly reinforced his opinion that some folk must have more cash than sense. The elevator ride to the 23rd floor was sufficient for us to realise that between a one-way system and heavy traffic it takes fifteen to twenty minutes to drive across the dual carriageway between the Hilton and the shopping centre. It takes thirty seconds to do the “U-turn” on the return… but maybe we would truly have lost our way walking back using the underpass… I suppose?

I left the lift pink from embarrassment and not the Gin!

The same driver took us to the airport the following day. I could see him smirking through the rear view mirror. He didn’t get a second tip. We did Champagne at thirty five thousand feet, somewhere over the Pacific Ocean to celebrate the New Year.

V6 029 A star is born – Hollywood beckons

Volume 6 part 029 Ignore holiday advice from Gays

We decided to return to the Villa Blancas resort which had replaced the “Magnolia” for the stay in 2005. Nothing stays the same but generally the changes were for the better. Blancas now featured a refurbished bar area not unlike that at “Island House”. Taking over the adjoining complex gives access to two pools as well as a newly installed giant hot tub and four man sauna.

Our chalet was in the original complex but convenient for the bar. We monopolised the two sun beds guaranteed to get sun all day for the whole week. Out of the sun, the island was uncharacteristically chilly. At night, downright freezing! Extra blankets, light sweaters and Rioja helped. Peter became an expert on Chateau Briand. We dodged the pygmy who pimped tables and the Centro Steak House only twice to access Bei Leilo further down the terrace. The head waiter at Centro was originally Bolivian but spoke English with a Derbyshire accent he learned working in a friends restaurant in my home town of Ripley of all places. Bei Leilo now used bought-in sauces and had expanded too far to be comfortable. Considering that we had bought both front seats of her “S” class Merc complete with computer memory and massage capability over more than a dozen years Leilo chose not to remember us.  We satisfied ourselves with the Chateau Briand at the Centro for the rest of the week. Hummel-Hummel is literally, now only half the bar its once was. Only the aging half is left. I felt quite young! The fluorescent green strobe lights that once illuminated the streams of piss hitting the back of a three metre long urinal are a distant memory. Piss now rarely hits the back of the urinal. The Bear cave had new Bears on the walls and ceiling. It was only half the fire trap of its glory years. Peter, the barman with the Pony tail inherited when Michael’s boyfriend followed him to hell. Years of cigarette smoke and dirty gays had taken their toll on both the original bears and the bar staff. Peter “the bar-keep” looked surprisingly well considering trade was insufficient to employ more than one additional waiter per shift. Since Michael, smoking had been banned inside. Peter “the Pony tail” was likely to last longer than his predecessors as he rarely played around.

Comparing notes with a couple of free loaders from Rotherham who now lived near Brighton and had an angle on all the best spots in the world to visit on a budget with the assistance of coupons and an OAP discount we discovered that Mykonos was the place to be seen. Regular budget flights from Gatwick have made it popular with the London set.  In the face of this overwhelming recommendation we resolved to give Mykonos a miss for my Sixty Fifth Celebrations.

Palm Springs was said to be the most up-and-coming gay resort. Its proximity to Los Angles made it a sporting ground for the rich and famous. Icons in the gay community have long been associated with Palm Springs albeit under the cloak of heterosexual hedonism.

All quite mad – maybe its the medicinal cannabis widley available without prescription?

I fixed on Los Angles for my birthday-bash followed by a ten day stay in Palm Springs. BA won the prize. For a little over five thousand pounds, fully reclining business class beds from Manchester via Chicago would return us overnight on an uninterrupted eleven hour A380 airbus flight to Heathrow. Pot luck got us a deluxe suite overlooking the waterfall and plunge pool at “Vista Grande” following the four nights booked with ocean views at the Erwin on Venice Beach.

A remarkably uneventful BA flight to Chicago on an American Airlines code share offered typically mediocre BA food and entertainment. Headsets were collected before I could catch the end of a film called “Serena” featuring some crazed pyromaniac. Across the snaking lanes of the fast track immigration queue a Mancunian enquired from an acquaintance the fate of “Serena”. Pete had seen the film previously and without invitation or hesitation launched in with the punch line that she had committed suicide by setting fire to the place!  Perplexed but strangely calm the recipient responded with a …” Rather extreme behaviour just for losing a tennis match!…”  It was ladies day at Wimbledon. Contrary to Pete’s untimely interjection, Serena Williams had won Wimbledon without striking a match. The man in front had NOT been watching a movie starring Jennifer Lawrence as Serena Pendleton.

How we laughed!

The connection from Chicago to LA was devoid of bed or entertainment. Wider seats and free booze didn’t make up for the noisy, fat guy across the aisle who downed eight double whiskeys in the three and half hour flight or the five kids he was travelling with sitting behind us and who had an unhealthy relationship with the public toilets. A fat child monopolised the starboard cubical whilst his siblings paraded back and forth like models auditioning for a bit part in a remake of “The devil wears Prada”. Never once did any of them actually close the toilet door. I can only assume they were using the mirror but to little effect. The baggage-reclaim at LAX terminal 3 is amongst the worst imaginable, by far exceeding the incompetence of the Old Queen Alia and comparable with the chaos in Goa. A provincial airport in the Yemen could beat LAX, hands down. At least, in Yemen you would have known from which carousel the bag was being stolen. The lack of signage reinforces a general absence of civility. As arrivals go, LAX outclasses the Heathrow experience where staff are formally trained to frighten off foreigners. In LAX indifference is inherent.

We eventually discovered the bags and after another twenty minutes oscillating back and forth along a clammy sidewalk, found the shuttle bus for the car hire depot. Despite having pre-registered we still had to go through the whole re-registration process to claim a car. The car hire crew were as helpful as the LAX land-side team. A piece of paper covered in microscopic print, a pointing finger and incoherent instructions which approximated how to pick your own car from a selection strewn across a twenty acre car park was the nearest you get to a human contact. Tourists instruct each other with quick-start self-help lessons in how to open “trunks”, lower seats and packing suitcases into multiple-option key controlled undersized luggage compartments. Those full of fold down roofs present particular problem solving challenges. An armed security guard on the exit gate checks you’ve collected the right make and model before dispensing the take-away, pre bagged, satellite navigation systems and opening the riot proof crash barrier to launch you fresh from a thirteen hour flight immediately onto the open highway on the wrong side of the street.  A private car park, next door offers the opportunity to safely set the sat- nav’ and take a driving lesson.

LAX to Venice beach is a mere seven miles. Long enough to switch lanes several times guided by a GPS that operates considerably slower than the Chevrolet Camaro that was hired as a Ford Mustang. I’d invariably passed the junction by the time the system ordered a right turn. A short-cut across oncoming traffic propelled us directly under the canopy protecting the main entrance to the Erwin. Horns blaring from irate locals displaying little appreciation for my unorthodox driving skill, announced our arrival. Valet parking did the rest.

The Erwin is to be recommended. It costs more than its corporate competitors despite them being able to prove that they are four star but has the location. The ocean view was just that. Our room was on the top, fifth floor with glass fronted balcony located centrally in the elevation that fronted Venice beach. Muscle beach was only a hundred yards or so to the left. It was Saturday evening and busy. The roof top bar did a roaring trade with the younger well-to-do’s congregating in time to see the spectacular sun-set over the ocean in the direction Malibu. The beach side park teamed with buskers and skateboarders. Joggers and Gymnasts dodged bikes and scooters. Dog walkers scooped poop.

The sun set on Venice beach as I raided the contents of the mini bar. Eight hours’ time lag was beyond trying to outwit the body clock. An early night would give us an early start. There was much to be seen.

By two in the morning even the jet lag failed to combat the boom-banger bang-ghetto blasting from the floor above. A polite call to reception seeking advice on when the night club closes, revealed that they didn’t run a disco in the world renowned rooftop bar which closed at midnight. It transpired that we were not actually on the top floor. Between us and the bar was a penthouse rented for the night by a gang of Bling-boys entertaining a herd of female groupies. The music revealed their ethnicity. After a couple of attempts at being courteous, “Security” did their duty and shut the party down by serving an eviction notice at three in the morning. The floors are as thin as the walls!

As an apology, the manager supplied complimentary red wine for me and tonic water for Pete. The final bill also deducted the costs from the mini bar.

They like to paint things in LA

After taking instruction from the valet parking on how to unhook and motor down the roof the rest of our first morning in LA was largely wasted. Malibu is a disappointing string of rear-ends to beach houses monopolising the ocean frontage. Grey scrubland tumbles down grey hills onto the coastal Highway, useful for a driving lesson before heading into the LA heartland. Canyon Drive isn’t actually a canyon. As a drive it is also fairly pointless. The roadway ends in a dead-end, merging into the start of a walking trail. The views are less than impressive. A back-track to find the cross town highway using “Hollywood boulevard” as a direction marker punched into the Sat Nav’ somehow dumped us in Pasadena. People in Pasadena must be zombies. I could not believe that anyone actually chose to live in Pasadena.

Downtown from Griffiths park and a world away

For the most part, Los Angeles is a sprawling morass of low rise inconsequential thinly built boxes huddled in clumps, interconnected by clogged tracts of concrete disguised as highways. This is a city with no heart. A city with no heart cannot fail. However sick this organism, it will never die. A self-perpetuating vacuous hinterland of excess and division with no apparent purpose other than to fuel the over-indulgence of those lacking intellect or self-control.  However disappointing, LA is one of those places that has to be seen to be believed. This logic does not extend to Pasadena.

Seeking solace in Griffiths Park is not to be recommended on a Sunday when a further twenty million people have similar motivation. A traffic jam mostly made up of tourists gingerly steering hire cars, snakes its way along a hill top road where parking restrictions are strictly enforced. The car park is logically located in the valley. An uphill walk to the Griffith Observatory gives a photo opportunity of down town and also the Hollywood sign to the rear.

 It’s all so much better on the TV.

Gripping a steering wheel, observing the convention not to change lane and trying to take in the sites through the spokes of forty ton eight wheelers is barely fun. The response from the Sat-Nav remained woefully inadequate lagging well behind the speed imposed by the accompanying traffic. One incorrect exit ramp and it takes four more to get back on track. Only tourists could choose to endure the “The Hood” down in skin-peeling temperatures well in excess of ninety Fahrenheit, whilst risking permanent hearing loss by driving at fifty miles an hour at the same level as the exhaust of an American articulated truck.

LA drivers offer no concessions.

I don’t recall where we ended-up after Griffiths Park. Venice beach was a welcome destination although dark by the time we arrived and the sand, off-limits. The “boardwalk” was deserted except for the occasional drunk enjoying a night cap of medicinal cannabis. A half mile walk south along the promenade finished at a side street boasting three restaurants marginally more “linen” than “plastic”. None displayed food photos. We chose the Mediterranean. The complimentary garlic pizza bread dough balls were plentiful. The wine list pitiful. The menu, a strange mix of Mediterranean meets Middle East was switched to a Mediterranean meets Central America alternative for the second evening. The food was dismal, the service non-existent, the bill extortionate and the Maître Di, an actress in waiting with an Apple “I phone” implant, came from Ipswich… which said it all.

Reverting to a planned approach to pre-determining destinations with a pre-mapped itinerary would hopefully reduce the amount of time spent on freeways. Ten miles of traffic between each city district is a modest estimate. With satnav primed and roof lowered, Disney Hall in Down-town LA was first on the list. Frank Gehry at his best! Spectacular, literally blinding contortions clad in stainless steel are complemented by the typically poor stateside lack of attention to detail. The bits of cladding and trim that are missing allows an unexpected insight into how the building is constructed although this is a misplaced benefit for a primary elevation. The interior design is lumpy and discordant. Apparently the acoustics are to be applauded. The whole creation is something of a Schonberg but crude and with less finesse.

Using the address for the “Capital Records” Building the satnav actually got us to the “stars”. Head-butting lampposts and fellow tourist all intent on reading as many brass stars as possible set into the mile long side-walk in an afternoon stroll is a fair trade for warning against pre-emptive strikes by piles of celebrity dog-shit.  There are 3 “Lucille Boyles” and a couple of “Desi Arnez”. Our target was “Judy Garland” but she too, came in multiples, as did Michael Jackson. A piss in a “pub” requiring the purchase of two sparking waters was served with a complimentary fifty-five-year-old Essex boy with sunken eyes and skin resembling a much used antique leather, chesterfield two seat sofa.  The bar was his local and had been for the best part of twenty five years. Two sips into the mineral water and we already knew he was semi-retired but on his second wife making it impossible to repatriate.

This one individual personified for me all that was LA. A post–surgical con-artist with no friends craving the attention of strangers with larger than reality bull-shit stories of a life that never was.

All very sad and he smelled.

Rodeo Drive is supposedly part of a golden triangle. The only thing triangular is that Rodeo Drive is a very short, one-way street to nowhere special and to take a second look necessitates going around the block onto “Wiltshire” to turn left, back on yourself. Top down in a silver Camaro is no competition for top down in a Bentley or Ferrari. Being at the bottom of the food chain we had little to lose parading the Rayban’s unlike the man in the red Ferrari who looked well pissed-off that he’d arrived on Rodeo Drive just ahead of a bright yellow Lamborghini making twice the noise and securing all the attention. Being cut-up driving a soft-top Bentley by the bimbo in a white two door Rolls-Royce must be the ultimate put-down.

We didn’t stop to shop and before we knew it we were hurtling through the lower part of Beverley hills being swept along by local traffic in a great hurry going nowhere, hitting a curb or two at high speed due to the steering wheel being on the wrong side of the car, before dropping down through what is euphemistically labelled “the Pacific Cascades” and back into Malibu, arriving at Venice Beach in mid-afternoon.

my very own Baywatch babe…….

Not a pop star or celebrity in sight! Peter was left numb by the whole experience.

Day light on Venice beach was worth a walk. We did the skate boarders and the market stalls the buskers and the bars. One bar to be specific, with beer served in bottles and a customer on the next table doing a runner without paying for his burger and beer. A Hostel located on the opposite corner provided a steady stream of replacement clientele of highly dubious intent. Walking back to the hotel via the main road showed even less promise for entertainment or a place to eat later on.

The restaurant at our hotel displayed the most interesting menu for the whole beach front yet Pete had made his mind up on the first morning that we hadn’t come all the way to LA to eat in the “Hotel”! We bought souvenirs, he snoozed till late into the evening, we ate half a mile down the beach at the quasi Mexican. The maître-de hailed from Milton Keynes. She operated her I-phone with astonishing dexterity. The service was shite! We had been there and done that at the “Mediterranean-meets-Central-America” the night previous… Maybe she was acquainted with the girl from Ipswich?

Jumping into the car for dinner and drinks was not an option. We didn’t know where we were going, where we could securely park or what time it all got going for a gay couple, one of whom wouldn’t drive and yet didn’t drink!

What do you do with only a morning to while away in LA? We weren’t checking into Palm Springs until three pm so no need to head for highway 101 early. I re-packed. Pete did the beach then repeating the Beach with me in tow. There were life guards in red shorts, a party of Chinese School children dressed as if off for a day trip to a catholic shrine and a group with learning disabilities who had given their carer the slip. The courtyard around the public conveniences was being fumigated with high pressure hoses blasting drums of disinfectant in all directions without any attempt to first move on the squatting hobo’s.

I didn’t like LA but “I’m glad I went”. I’m not so glad I saved it for my “sixty fifth”. I would have probably had more in common with the place for my Twenty Fifth. I should have undertaken exhaustive research and prepared a characteristically precision itinerary instead of experimenting with relaxing by relying on going with the flow. Spontaneity has never been my strong point. The only thing flowing was the traffic. I never saw the sun set from the roof top bar. Altogether a much wasted sampler to a much wasted city.

LA is not so much tiring as “Tiresome”, unfortunate rather than regrettable, disappointing as opposed to being boring. Boring is not an appropriate description for this innocuous part of California unless you were stupid enough to visit twice, in which case it would be truly, down-right boring.

The “natives” appeared to share similar characteristics.

Hire an open top car to admire the view…..

If you’ve paid for a sun roof, it makes sense to make the most of it. It is one hundred and twenty miles of highway 101 all the way direct to Palms Springs. Anticipating images of tumble weed and cacti, desert sands and deserted Diners I was seriously disappointed that it’s actually semi’s all the way. “Semi” is slang for sixteen wheel articulated trucks belching out half the world’s carbon emissions at an ear splitting volume. There are no diners. There is no desert until about ten miles from Palms Springs, half of which is a giant wind farm. The nearest thing to a secluded service station are the multitude of shopping malls and casino enclaves that line both sides the inter-state. With the hood down it was a gamble as to whether heat stroke or irreparable hearing loss would strike first. A Starbucks franchise inside an enormous supermarket provided respite. Sitting in the shade of a logia we struck up a conversation with an elderly black lady also resting from the by-now hundred-and-four-degree summer sun. She just loved the English… so polite, so articulate, so well-spoken and ever so pink! The suitcase on the back seat was the perfect excuse to close the roof whilst away from the car. In the searing heat and following the black woman’s advice that “Yo;s berrnin”,  there was little incentive to lower the roof again as we set off after coffee.

Uneventful would be exaggerating the exhilaration of the riveting road trip along highway 101. Palm Springs, similarly does not live up to its reputation.  One-time remote ranches owned by the LA elite have been overlain by a two storey, grid-iron settlement of retro 60’s chic measuring, possibly five miles square. For so many reasons this is not a place to walk. Regrettably when accepting the advice that Palm Springs was the up and coming place for Gays to be, I had omitted to enquire of the Canaria’n octogenarians on what constituted the “Season”. It transpired that no one visits Palm Springs between mid-June and early October. Selecting Mid July is not the optimum period if you want to meet people. July is Hot!

Welcome to Palm Springs

In direct contradiction to Fire Island and Key West, Palms Springs virtually closes for the summer. A few die-hards who enjoy evening meals on the terrace in temperatures in excess of thirty degrees “C” brave the forty degrees and above, day time temperatures. Of the four highly recommended restaurants listed on our itinerary, three were closed for “The Season”.

Despite the aid of satellite navigation, we missed the “Vista Grande” three times. Constructed around three interconnected pool areas the main entrance to the resort carries the name of each of the former courtyard developments it replaced but not the name of the whole complex. Unhelpful signage was complimented by unhelpful staff. Check-in left me feeling apologetic for ruining their day. I destroyed my own flip flop by trapping it under a 26Kilo suitcase while negotiating the lobby unaided causing me to slap rubber all the way to our deluxe bungalow.

In selecting a vacation destination, expectation, dependent upon your motives will vary tremendously.

It is easy to see how Palm Springs offers a legitimate Oasis from the interminable monotony of LA. Where New York buzzes, LA drones. For the most part the only perceptible difference between Palm Springs and vast swathes of LA is the density of the traffic but then again, we were off season. Featuring its own brand of single syllable architecture on a grid iron of four-lane, one way streets the “City“ of Palm springs represents a laid-back refuge for anyone residing within a two hour drive or preferably a one hour flight. Although a week-end sanctuary for the local gay population, for European visitors Palms Springs is hardly worthy of the inter-continental hike. My Optician and his wife rave about Palm Springs as their favourite world destination. Maybe selecting the right season would change my perception however, the east coast provides a great balance between the quasi civilisation of the New England Colonies to the North and the sleaze available for the less discerning in Fort Lauderdale or Key West in the South.

refrigerated waterfalls ????

If its concrete you want, stick with the Canaries and that’s only four hours away.

Maybe the answer to surviving Palm Springs is being straight?

The “Vista Grande” epitomises the American Malaise. For all its resource and ingenuity, the USA lacks the patience and diligence to provide finesse and attention to detail. I have no reason to believe that all of the other resorts in Palm Springs, and particularly the “Gay” ones do not share these attributes. The web site suggests that the “Vista Grande” excels in the standards of its gardens and accommodation. It is true that this resort is altogether less “bunker” like than many of its prefabricated competitors.

Reception services were simply a first impression. The majority of the staff try to be friendly and accommodating and even the ones that can only muster a morning grunt somehow manage to be more gracious than the surroundings would be expected to deliver. The ground workers deliver the most determined grunts maybe because they expect late night revellers to stay in bed while they get on with cleaning up the debris from the previous night’s home spun festivities unhindered by spectators prematurely occupying sun beds that have not yet been rearranged into their formal ranks. The hole in this logic is that there was rarely late night revelry. The daily round by the under-manager dispensing complimentary ice lollipops was a very unsubtle way of conducting a head count, checking-up on whether there had been any losses or illicit gains in the night. Escorted tours by prospective residents’ eager to check out what was on offer were regular intrusions in an otherwise monotonous day. They were more intent on investigating the talent rather than the bed linen.

I managed two books, one of which was a “History of Journalism” for some inexplicable reason other than it had been a gift from Pete. The other book was about a dysfunctional adolescent who lived with an extended family and until the age of fourteen delighted in the habit of taking a dump in hiding places such as behind the living room cabinet or under the dining room table and left in a pile wrapped in the offending underpants. The book was on loan from one of Pete’s mates which says a lot about Pete’s mates I thought.

Unlike LA and Palm springs, “Vista Grande” is not tiresome. It is simply tired. Ok for a drop in on the way somewhere else but a stay of more than twenty-four hours allows for a level of scrutiny that exposes a relatively grubby environment. This may be in keeping with a national indifference but could take a few lessons from the incomparable Island House, with the exception of its questionable network of external cabling tying the whole place together. Gay resorts spawn as many retrofit power cables as Gay bars. It’s all part of the Gay scene.

Pleasantly laid out, exotically planted tropical gardens are marred by cracked paving, scrubby undergrowth, rotting leaves and a total absence of dead heading.

The Humming birds are a delight.

Anti-slip mats served little purpose, in being so caked in decades of dried mud no one would possibly be possessed to walk on them. Instructing the hired help how and where to clean offered an element of distraction when any other forms of entertainment was sadly lacking. A Jacuzzi so hot you could boil eggs was complimented by a water fall so cold it could cool the ardour of the horniest Mexican degenerate on a day pass from “Down Town” LA. Boasting two pools was a bonus despite the one described as “the fun pool” being decommissioned on the day of our arrival and taking five days to refill. Equally unfortunate was the stripping of the lawns around the same pool as an alleged water saving device. The dust bowl it created was the source of the contamination that had closed the pool. The water used to refill the pool could have irrigated the lawn for a year. Blue painted hoarding encasing three bungalows, closed for renovations failed to give a lift to the stark expanse of grit. Gossip alleged that the middle one of the three decommissioned cabins had exploded one night incinerating the occupant who had been found dead in the shower where, in vain he had attempted to douse the flames. Apparently, the guy had developed the munchies after boiling up some crystal but failed to light the stove when he turned on the gas. Signs of scorching were certainly evident on the bungalow soffits and would also go some way to explain the loss of the grass patio. The week degenerated into a plant-your-own-palm-tree-festival where skulking Latino gardeners, patently from across the border appeared daily with a new specimen or two to re-landscape the black ash dust bowl.

Given the choice, take a suite. There are only four of the deluxe models. They are spacious, individually decorated and well-presented although I remain unsure exactly what look there were going for. Modern-Retro meets baronial-colonial, best describes number 42. A door into the bedroom would have been appreciated.  An open-plan, “L” shaped lounge-dining room wrapped around a well-equipped open-plan kitchen. The bath room was modest but adequate. An unfortunate incident when all four deluxe suites were disabled by a blocked main sewer was resolved within half a day. Standing in the bath to take a shower lost its appeal after witnessing it welling up half full of well ripened bodily waste. Peeing in the waterfall offered a back stop until the drains were unblocked, I was glad not to need a poo. Shabby-chic may excuse the exterior featuring mildly corroded sixties period-style steel windows, seriously dodgy homemade metal artwork, and liberally applied multi coloured wall wash where the poor cutting-in reveals four generations of exterior fashion. The distressed look is big on the Gay scene adding character to an otherwise tropical version of a 1957 Butlin’s holiday camp.

The principle attraction of a deluxe suite is that they are located in the courtyard where the boys come out to play. The four suites exclusively take up two sides of the tropical garden housing the hot tub, cold waterfall and a smart steam room curving with glass-brick walls. Our private patio gave a great view of the mating rituals of the common, Southern Californian sleaze bag, and their attempts at interbreeding with the odd European or out of town domestic sex tourist. The “ornamentals” added their own dash of spice! One junior slave model, in particular resembled a disrobed Buddhist monk. In his early twenties, wearing nothing but a leather bike jacket and a cock ring to compensate for his wholly unremarkable male member he was on “rent” to a Tattooed Muscle-Mary from San Francisco who used a dog collar and lead to keep his boy in check. Being bought and paid for didn’t stop the young man from playing the field on any and every occasion the minute that his sugar daddy was out of sight. The San Franciscan regularly snoozed in the afternoon.

Being hit-on by a twenty-nine-year-old Mexican Manager of a budget furniture outlet within eight hours of arrival, strangely did little for my ego.  A Texan with an older boyfriend proved less of a challenge but more of a conquest if only as a mutual tease. For teachers, the Texans turned out be air-heads who, according the Pete after they left, found me to be “self-opinionated” for condemning their politics and slamming a no-hoper purportedly running for the White house called “Donald Trump”. Regrettably, I believe that they didn’t understand the definition of self-opinionated. Neither did they understand the potential lunacy of endorsing Donal Trump. I convinced myself that the Donal Trump Thing was a Fox News publicity stunt and that if the two Texans were his typical supporters… it would all have gone away by autumn … How wrong was I? There are an awful lots of air-heads in the mighty US of A

There is nowhere to venture during the day but just in case anyone of the twenty percent capacity crowd considered leaving the complex, breakfast and lunch was laid on courtesy of someone called “Alehandro” and the local Sub-Way franchise. We took a tray for breakfast whilst politely declining the Sub-way. For somewhere located in the middle of a desert there are an annoying number of flies. Eating al-fresco wasn’t an option. The two days of unseasonal tropical storms accompanied by almost continuous torrential rain so severe that they managed to wipe out a bridge on highway 101, replaced one biblical plague for another.

Suite forty-three, almost next door, was occupied for a short while by yet another elderly Mexican, this one shared with his bloated boyfriend and two quite obnoxious raucous twinks along for the ride as “wishful thinking”. It transpired, as expected, that the two mouldy oldies had given the youths a freebie holiday. The older one of the boys boasted being a senior executive in an underwear internet outlet he had founded to offset a shrinking modelling career. He was depressed, poor thing. The second twink was more innocuous than obnoxious keeping himself largely to himself and a select group of gropers in the hot tub. The free loaders lasted a long weekend annoying most of their fellow inmates in turn.

Following the departure of the boy-toys, the older couple moved into a cheaper bungalow, sized for two after first complaining they smelled gas. I didn’t suppose for one minute that this was a sick joke. How could they possibly know that someone had blown themselves into oblivion satisfying his midnight munchies only the month before? The management took the threat quite seriously immediately shutting off the supply, denying us hot showers in the process. I suspect the odour which passed for a gas leak was the residue from the blocked sewer. The inspection, engaging a swarm of hunky engineers was completed just in time for the arrival of a group of four spritely young men fresh from work and doing a stop-over on their way to the San-Diego Sunday Gay Pride. Their ring-leader looked like a plumber, wearing overalls straight off the shop-floor. He needed a wash. They weren’t fond of closing their floor to ceiling venetian blinds. Lots of mutual masturbation and heavy-rock sessions occupied their evening. By midnight three of the boys had headed for the bars whilst the plumber preferred being pleasured on a sun lounger next to the Jacuzzi by a string of eager abusers in town for a “Piss-fest week-end” convention at another resort close by. His propensity towards public adulation explained why the four had dispensed with the venetian blinds. They left the resort before day-break taking with them a quilt cover, a metal wall decoration and an assortment of towels. Apparently they had paid cash and done a runner! Who takes cash in this day and age in the great old US of A?

Forty-one was occupied on the Friday night by a similarly eager young man, also on his way to the San Diego Gay Pride but for the week-end. An all over tan corroborated my suspicion that he was no novice at a full frontal display. One of a married couple from Idaho took full advantage of the man’s generosity, taking satisfaction by pouncing on him the very same bed the plumber was too delight in on the following evening. Number 41 too, departed before day-break but took with him only his red Ferrari.

Idaho is not just famous for growing potatoes but also onions. They grow nearly all the onions consumed or exported by Americans! Amazing what you find out when, as a distraction engaging in conversation a man whose husband is giving a blow job to a sun tanned Adonis with a Ferrari on the adjacent sun lounger. The couple from Idaho moved into number forty-one for the rest of their week’s stay as compensation for the leaking roof in their budget Chalet which had become self-evident as a consequence of the once in ten-year deluge. The roof had probably been defective for the whole of the last decade. They had hired a nasty Japanese budget car and went on day trips to San Diego, the Joshua Trees, Frank Sinatra’s house and grave and up a cable car to a mountain top viewing-platform where they got stuck for six hours after a power cut.

We didn’t!

Why did we need to get dressed to venture out into the forty-plus heat of the day when we had perfectly adequate running commentaries over evening cocktails on the terrace detailing what we hadn’t missed?

A white forty-something professional type with a younger, long-time and highly educated Vietnamese partner enjoyed number forty-four for five days. Rarely seen during the day and never by the pool during the evening they were never-the-less a charming couple, always immaculately dressed when on their way to nowhere down town to indulge in some overpriced sustenance. They smiled and waved with the occasional “How-do”! Unlike most Americans, they were otherwise silent.

Eleven days is an awfully long time to be unaccompanied in purgatory.

Empty or full, Pete spent most of his time basking by the “Fun Pool”. He collected the odd “friend”, often nice enough but with limited appeal.

Given the demographics, “people of colour” appeared a rarity in Palm Springs. “Mexican” was the principle alternative diet to cow by the kilo. Avoiding the delights of a diner like “Lulu’s”, typified by photographs of the food they served is relatively difficult off-season. If they are not at Lulu’s the majority of white Americans are not eating, guaranteeing that any restaurant of repute is available without a reservation. The “Chop house” served Chops and Steak. The “Kaisers Steak house” served Steak and chops. “Johannes” recommended by Alehandro who moonlighted as a waiter for a rival restaurant “in-season”, served all things European. I had Viener Snitzel and a very fine pig it was. Wines started at about $35 for a bottle of “Dynamite”, a challenging little Red from Sonoma, to fifteen hundred dollar bottles of obscure French Vintages with the odd “Rothschild” label thrown in for good measure. How on earth can any red wine worth drinking be worth drinking when stored in-perpetuity in a five-meter square glass walled fridge in the middle of an urban desert? It would have had to travel as well as Cleopatra!

We didn’t do many restaurants. It was too hot to bother. Each evening Pete made use of the gym belonging to an affiliated company with a free pass handed out by the reception at check-in. Although listed as one of the facilities that placed our resort above the rest, the sales pitch failed to advise that the Gym is some five miles away, at the opposite end of town. Without a car you would be screwed! While he pumped iron with a variety of closet queens I shopped.

“Ralph’s” supermarket served everything from imported pates and cold meats to Barbecued lemon Chicken and homemade pasta. Wine didn’t cost a small mortgage. Jack Daniels was plentiful. Vodka could be purchased in two litre flagons for around twenty-two dollars a jug. There was a good supply of bottled Stella. I treated the twenty nine year old Mexican stalker to a drink on our patio who misunderstood the gesture trying to repay me with a blow-job before the Texan teacher got in first by pouncing on the boy in the steam room. How cheap are some people?

Lessons not learned we drove back to LAX in the Camaro with the convertible roof open to squeeze every last cent of value from the hire car.

Drop off went remarkably smoothly, a frequent shuttle service dropped us off precisely where we needed to be and British Airways lived up to their reputation of treating passengers like an unnecessary inconvenience. The upstairs bed on an A380 was my birthday present to myself. I hadn’t expected to have to share it with a complete stranger in the next booth having to scramble over my protruding legs just as they do on every other overpriced BA business class seat which is why we prefer American or at a push Virgin.

BA at its very best. So much grey… and plastic seats and plastic food served by plastic crew who sincerely believe they are doing their passengers a favour letting them on-board. The favour didn’t extend to seconds, not even from the bar trolley. A disappointing flight after a disappointing holiday was compounded by a packed executive lounge on the stop-over at Heathrow serving disappointing snacks to very disappointed customers. Labelling the whole experience tacky would be being just too polite. Etihad and Emirates really don’t have to try as hard as they do!

Been there, done that, didn’t bother with the tee-shirt and won’t be going back.

Sunset over Malibu July 2015