Volume 6 part 021 Singing like a Canary – end of the quiet life
In addition to the English hitting the Adriatic, Carla came to England in summer of ’98 accompanied by her boyfriend, soon to become husband, and of course, her mother Josephine. We did the sights and melted on a day trip to London. It was a record summer. Together, we picked out a new Disco to replace the green one. The silver one was a colour match for the Merc 320 of the time. Being the end of the line for the Mark 1, this new Disco carried more adornments than a gypsy caravan. I traded the offer of a roof ladder mounted on the rear door for real wood veneer inserts on the dash. A couple or more trips to Jordan involving a few days in Palestine and a couple of jaunts to Abu Dhabi rounded off autumn of ‘98.
I had met Pete during the same week in early September ‘98 that I took delivery of the silver Disco. The “silver” did the by-now traditional Christmas Trip to Italy that year getting a taste for some snow in the mountains. It was too soon to take Pete on a Christmas family outing. We phoned.
As compensation for being left home alone at Christmas, Pete was treated to a spring break in the Canaries. It was Pete’s idea, he had been before. Pete took care of all of the booking. I contributed the cash and the transport to Manchester airport. It snowed.
The February 1999 trip was the first of a succession of repeat visits to the Canaries which ultimately came to rival Italy for monotony. Most of what we did in Gran Canaria, we had done on the first trip.
The drinking started at Manchester airport with a couple pints of Stella each to dull the pain of queuing with a couple hundred track’y clad elbows. Once on board it was Brandy and cokes before lunch followed by brandy and champagne for desert. The scousers look on, beaten at their own game.
We took a bus!
Thomas Cooks provided the airport transfer from Las Palmas to Player Del Ingles, or more specifically “Maspalomas”. The peasants wore sandals with socks. Pete had already vetoed sandals with socks so I knew it must be wrong. Joe rang me on the mobile and concurred! The peasants were singularly unimpressed that someone could get calls direct to a breast pocket in foreign parts and totally oblivious to roaming charges. The transfer was long enough for us the check-into the very straight. resort-complex sober.
The bungalow complex for the first trip was new and within walking distance of the beach. Unfortunately once at the coast there was a hike of equal distance to the “gay” beach exaggerated by yomping through soft sand. Pete’s abhorrence of socks with sandals stretched to socks with shorts and socks with sports shoes. I grew blisters on both heels the size of golf balls propagated by new black Nike trainers given to me by Josephine as a Christmas present earlier that year. They were worn without socks! Taxis took the strain by the third day with replacement flip flops redirecting the blisters to each big toe.
The resort was all very family. We would regularly meet the Scandinavian contingent taking their dogs for their morning crap as we were getting in from the nightlife in the Yumbo centre.
For years I called it “Jumbo”!
We discovered Bei Leilo, a bijou German restaurant on the second level of the Yumbo with a great view of the carnival stage. Pete wasn’t into eating in those days, leaving me very much free to choose the venue. For the whole week I worked myself through the same menu. Why fix it when it “ain’t” broken? …although we did manage a sea front fish restaurant in Faro a couple of afternoons.
After-dinner drinks were usually taken in a disgusting dive called the “Saloon bar”. It had bugger-all to do with cowboys and Indians but featured a sling and a bath if you really felt the need to boff at the many and varied explicit scenes broadcast on the wide screen TV hung above the entrance doors away from the prying eyes of passing “straights” peering in from the shopping terrace no doubt curious as to the purpose of the bald pool table devoid of balls for a game apparently played with a paddle bat!.
Once more, enjoying very little sense of smell has its up-side. Pete thought it all hilarious.
The “Baren Hole”, (bear cave to the uninitiated) and the Hummel-Hummel when Hummel-Hummel was the original Hummel-Hummel spread over two sides of a corner café, kept our attention until around midnight or a little after before transferring to the seedy nightspots of “Cruise” or “Construction” until the early hours.
It was time to leave when deck shoes stuck to the floor or the lights came on at five in the morning for the hosing down. “Kings”… Next door, filled the hour between five and six. By Year three, an adjacent kebab stall was providing breakfast.
The “Baren hole” is a bear cave! A small bar, open to the street and totally swathed in “bears”. Stuffed teddies of all shapes and sizes and of all manner of dress and origin. Thousands of the things and a positive fire and flee hazard. The customers, commonly labelled “bears” in the gay community were the more mature end of the party spectrum, mostly clad in checked shirts and hiding behind a variety of facial hair of dubious design and configuration and in some cases, origin. These guys didn’t mind conversation although there was a small dark room for those feeling a little tongue tied. Nobody can accuse Peter of being short of words yet he made use of the cubicle on more than one occasion although boasting to have never been a fan of “small talk”. Resorting to something bigger, in the more salubrious environment of the neon lit loo resulted in a management request not to monopolise the single facility for anything other than using the toilet. By the time he had finished with an American, Tom Selleck impersonator the queue for the Urinal was approaching triple figures. I had seen the pair disappear into the toilet “two by Two” but was tasked to keep the American’s boyfriend’s back facing the door way. There is only so much distraction a first time country boy can create with small talk to offset the concern of a jealous lover that his partner may be trapped in a festering foreign urinal by a faulty lock, potentially gripped by raging dysentery, or worse still have left his comb at home but discovered another grey hair. They surfaced red faced, though not through embarrassment.
What happens in the Yumbo has always stayed in the Yumbo!
Michael, a Freddie Mercury lookalike from Manheim owned and ran the Baren hole with his partner. Michael was a nice guy. He lasted, perhaps five years before prematurely bequeathing the bar to his partner. In turn his partner also lasted, maybe another five years before bequeathing it to Peter, the former German waiter with a Chinese pig-tail. Peter has lasted the longest. Peter doesn’t play around!
Hummel-Hummel was a bar of two halves. Manly-men one side and cutesy boys the other. Each side had its compatible porn screens discreetly mounted high enough above the bar as not to be visible from the street. The odd oldie took up residence on a bar stool in the Boy’s bar and vice versa the occasional twink would be glued to an old man’s lap. The staff were young, fun and mostly a mixture of German, Dutch or Spanish. For the Madonna festival, where the entire local male population mutate into transvestites, the boys in the bar proved no exception. Favourites were Tarts or Slappers with Nuns running a close second. One particularly pretty bar attendant came dressed in tweed in the semblance of a smartly dressed, Bavarian Lesbian. “Iche bin eine lesbiche frau” rings in my ear to this day. So tasteful!
Being introduced to the “Cruise” was a revelation. Dark corners, dark rooms, loud music, cheap drinks and the daft and the desperate from every part of the globe herded inside, shoulder to shoulder trying to make eye contact. Whilst the herd kept cruising, it wasn’t sticking to the floor. Commandeering a bar stool with a commanding view and in easy reach of Niko for a constant supply of knock off brandy and coke had me set for the night. Negotiating the urinals risked losing both the stool and what modicum virtue counted for virtue in the devil’s waiting room. Pete provided protection for the stool. Avoiding eye contact for a devout people-watcher can be quite exhausting. I never failed to make a friend or two, mostly amongst a similar contingent who were also more concerned with losing their perch than their privacy. Occasionally, persistent perverts failed to take the hint from a polite “no thank you”. I soon mastered the art of mouthing “Fuck-Off” is six languages. Niko would keep me company by letching over the bar when Pete was on walk-about. Although protesting to being Spanish by origin, his English accent came straight from a cross between Faulty towers and a 1958 Carry-On film. I remained convinced he was perpetrating a piss-take on his fellow ex-pats. The more we chatted, the thicker the Hispanic drawl lubricated by frequent illicit helpings of the counterfeit hooch became, eventually leading to his impromptu discharge in favour of a barman actually equipped to tend bar.
Over the next twenty years Niko, christened by us, Julio (pronounced hhhooollyo! …accompanied by the generation of copious quantities guttural phlegm) has popped up as manager of the “Kings” nightclub plying us with free drinks for a few seasons until it went bust, general manager of the “Villa Magnolias” gay men’s resort which went straight and more recently receptionist end general dogs body at the “Villa Blancas” Gay resort… There was a time that we very much liked Niko!
In the early days the lodgings were always straight. Without the benefit of daily eye candy around the swimming pools mostly filled with screaming kids wedged between inflatable toys marinating in a salty soup of slime, the only distraction during daylight was to head for the gay beach. Irrespective of the intensity of the hang-over we set off religiously at just past nine every morning arriving at “Bar 7” an hour or so later and in time for the first pint of the day.
“Bar 7” is the hub of the Gay beach but also the nudist beach due to its proximity. Germans had discovered the seclusion of the sand Dunes in the late ‘50s at a time when most of Europe was still recoiling from rationing and the Germans were recoiling from convention. The seclusion and uninhibited environment rapidly attracted a gay scene when Europe remained largely hostile but a few Pesetas bought a lot of blind eyes.
Naturists had gradually migrated to the fringes of the nudist beach being largely squeezed out by a Gay crowd of whom only a small percentage were baring all. Regrettably, those prepared to let it all hang loose were generally of an age when they should have known better and kept it wrapped in their pants. The younger and altogether more appealing set mostly had the self-confidence not to have to flaunt it. Never the less, this was all something new for me and other than checking the bar stools for sweat stains before taking a seat, rather enjoyed the liberation of it all.
This was an era of novelty, striking contrasts and vibrant characters with something to say and do, all fuelled by a tiny cabin bar dispensing raucous music and gallons of San Miguel. This little fly trap was the centre of the universe for otherwise ordinary people for one week of their otherwise ordinary lives.
The flight home was fairly sedate.
Only the weather on the July trip to Italy for Carla’s wedding matched the Canaries. I believe Peter found Italy to be very disappointing although not compounded by the bad weather for the repeat trip in Christmas of that year to celebrate the ”Millennium”.
We did Gran Canaria all over again in February 2000 but I have absolutely no recollection of where we stayed!
For the third attempt at surviving the Yumbo, the holiday hotel for February 2001 was a mixture of cheap and cheerful, self-catering apartments and bungalows discovered by Pete on an earlier trip with a former partner. All very family friendly and no doubt we provided the curiosity factor. There was nothing regal about the “Royal Suites” other than the towel Pete used for a turban to staunch the blood flow from a gash in the back of his head sustained whilst tight rope walking a ten-inch high curb at three in the morning on the way back from our first night at the Yumbo. We were having an early night due to being accompanied by Pete’s best friend, Dave, more commonly labelled “Wendy the Witch” and subsidised by my air miles.
Dave turned out to be a bit of light-weight. He had no recollection of the out-bound flight after the second Brandy and Coke used to top up the two pints of Stella guzzled in the airport lounge. The in-flight champagne, the Limo’ transfer to replace the bus, a meal with wine at Bei Leilo’s and a blow job in the Cruise bar all washed down with half a dozen cola mixers were all wasted on him.
Wendy wasn’t really there for the beer. By the end of a week he had spent so much time cruising the less salubrious bars he could see in the dark. Being strapped into a sling and left for bait was insufficient to tame the boy insisting that a day time raid on a seedy sauna in the “Nilo” centre the following day. He had been given the recommendation along with a few other sordid suggestions from a Norwegian whilst on his knees in the dark room of the Cruise bar. David was fairly put-out when a little old man who only spoke Spanish answered the door-bell but refused him entry causing David to barge his way into the old man’s, back- kitchen before realising that we were at the wrong address.
For the 2002 retreat, we rose to the level of a 3 star, complete with an escort of soldier ants in the bathroom. The weather was equally as rough. We had delayed the annual spring break from February to April to ensure that the sale of the company to an American was secure before we partied. Prying eyes and the noticeably indiscrete “nudge and a wink” from the Rotherham revellers put the family pool out of bounds. The wind and rain rendered the beach a no man’s land. The Whitney Houston impersonations from a waitress using a bent straw as a digital mic’ was welcome compensation for the trudge to Beach Bar 7 but she closed on windy days when the supercilious gym bunnies took refuge in the dunes. Men of character were in decline. We had not encountered the style-queens from Milan dancing on the dustbins since our first season in the Canaries. The one that cracked his ankle and had to be carried off the beach still managed the Saturday night carnival dinner fully decked in a Black Versace three piece suit and tie. One of his friends looked equally dashing in a complementary Armani box suit whilst the other sported a shimmering gold, close-fit, full length Nino Ricci ball gown. The blond wig to the waist was a questionable accessory to a shimmering gold, slim-fit, full length gown in a packed Yumbo sleaze bar but no more so than at the urinal. How often does one get invited to hold up the hem line of a shimmering gold, close-fit, full length Nino Ricci ball gown when the recipient just has to go!
Italians really know how to go for it all the way in a gay resort. Unlike most of the folks back home they are only too willing to strike up a conversation even if they don’t speak a word of English. The younger ones took care of the older guys including one who had recently suffered a heart attack. He watched the beach bags while the younger ones went to play in the sand and surf. “La Regina di Dunas” disappeared for days on end.
Margo’s was a welcome retreat at the end of a hard day’s people watching on the beach and incentive to complete the two mile yomp back along the water’s edge carrying Pete’s rucksack with Pete’s tee shirt, Pete’s towels, Pete’s three different grades of Piz Buin and Pete’s two variants of after-sun moisturiser. The tiny bar, located on the beach front in Faro, was a proverbial carrot-magnet. It was close to the taxi rank for a quick getaway, served German beer and German Frikadellen and German Bockwurst to German Tourists singing along to “humpa’” music accompanied by free shots of something called “orgasmus”. Margo ran the bar. Her husband, Fritz looked after the “frits”. He served a pretty mean homemade one Euro Frikadellen garnished with imported German “zenph”. The imported bock-wurst with traditional home made potato salad or “frits”, from Fritz, also got the “Zenph” treatment. An oblong servery counter filled the centre of the bar leaving just enough space between the bar and external walls either side for a single row of bar stools, always occupied to capacity and a single row for standing room only. The bar was gay friendly and needed to be as squeezing through the crowd to the loo was a highly intimate experience. The busy time was five-till-seven. The bar closed at 7.00pm. Margo and Fritz had a good life.
Unlike the Italians, the “Scandinavians” all spoke impeccable English. Unlike the Americans they didn’t need to speak even with “their mouth full”. The Scandinavians were especially obliging and for the most part good company with the exception of the one that kept unexpectedly popping up in the most bizarre situations and would insist on announcing his presence with “Hallo’”, pronounced “aarrrllllohhhh”. He appeared from behind the bar, from under bar stools, from the inside of toilet lock-ups and the front of any half open pair of stone washed Levis. I had reached the point where just one more “Hallllo” and I would have taken refuge in a dark room long enough to bludgeon him into the two inch deep slime topping the terrazzo tiling. He wouldn’t have been found until the hosing down at dawn. A Belgian “Bear” rescued the boy from Oslo before any fatal wounds could be inflicted.
We met a Bulgarian. The half of the Bulgarian that was German was called Herman. His dual nationality allowed him to travel. A pretty little thing, but although perfectly formed and wearing an authentic knock-off of a Bayern-Munchen football kit, so tiny he couldn’t get to the bar. One swoop of the right arm and he was on my lap and being served by Niko with a San Miguel. Pete taught him the art of “pulling”. On a week’s holiday there is no time to lose. We announced to the bar that he actually played for the German football team emblazoned all over his shirt instantaneously increasing his popularity by a magnitude of ten. He became a very popular boy wearing only the same red satin shorts and matching trimmed white football shirt for the whole week. When he wasn’t wearing the football kit he wasn’t wearing anything! He fell in love with a Swedish boy who could speak neither German nor Bulgarian but trusted me enough to translate his impeccable English.
Then there was a Dutch man who wore a velvet cloak and multiple rings adorned with razor blades, a man who ran the “Prison bar” and liked to paddle bat the customers, Collin from Leeds who ran Diamonds and sold Walkers crisps, Suhail the drag queen who lived with a Welsh man and who owned the “Centre Stage” cabaret bar, a Belgian barman with ringlets we nicknamed Trevor, Cristopher from Austria who waited at Bei Leilo’s but hated the Spanish, the incredible hulk waiter from Holland and William from Hungary. William was also a waiter at Bei Leilo’s and so exceptionally handsome he didn’t know it, unsurprisingly straight and in Gran Canary with his wife to learn Spanish as part of a University degree in business studies… all characters! .. and all larger than life. I miss most of them dearly.
There seem to be few characters in the World any more world or maybe Pete and I have become too conventional to attract the unconventional.
When the beach couldn’t be relied upon to provide sanctuary from being exhibits at the straight zoo, the only alternative was to find a gay resort.
I spotted an ad’ in a free-flyer being handed out on Canal Street during Manchester’s 2002 Gay pride. There was no internet but in those days telephones worked both ways. One call and a credit card later and we had a “Throb” week in the Villa Magnolia for February 2003 complete with airport transfers and long stay parking. They couldn’t do anything with the flights, condemning us to a choice of Thomson’s or Thomas Cooks. Either way the staff were as large as the seats were small. The service remained entirely discretionary. A five-pound coupon that could only be used on Thomson’s flight in the same year and to the same destination was their idea of compensation for a shortfall in the number of in-flight meals loaded for take-off. Twenty-five pounds for additional leg-room bought a confrontation with somebody already occupying the exit row, as well as an address for the letter required to claim a refund for the cash you had parted with only thirty thousand feet and twenty minutes below and the bar closed for the rest of the journey in case you became increasingly aggressive. Neither the twenty-five pounds nor the apology ever arrived.
Whilst the capacity crowd of semi-paralytic passengers scanned the “meeters and greeters” for hand scrawled placards bearing the logo of the TUI, Thomas Cooks or “everyone-who-does-it-on-the-cheap” we got a full “Hi-max”, wall to wall, two meter arched rainbow banner embroidered with “foot” high black capital letters spelling out the name “THROB”. Hardly an exercise in discretion! Any question that Pete and I might be just “good friends” was answered without reservation. Firmly out-and-proud we allowed the rep’ to carry our cases to the awaiting car. A stretched, black Mercedes with six doors wiped the smirk from the Boots-own-brand “London Look” fellow commuters in curlers, socks and sandals squeezed into a twenty-year-old Scania school bus for the ninety-five minute journey to Player Del Ingles.! The Merc’ did it in thirty-five minutes.
Villa Magnolias was a small resort of ten single-bed bungalows arranged around a rectangular pool in the Campo Di Golf area of Maspalomas. The electrically controlled entry gate was the only way in and out and monitored from a tiny bar that also served as reception. We were allotted a bungalow overlooking the exclusively male guests romping in and around the pool by a Belgian barman we christened Trevor, having established during check-in that his English was incomprehensible. Within minutes we were unpacked and at the bar behind a couple of pints of draft lager. Trevor did everything from reception to gardening and cleaning to cooking. Nothing was too much effort but to the point of him being pushy warranting the door to be locked when taking a shower and sun tan oil being kept out of reach. Enjoying the discretion of a sympathetic surroundings removed the motivation to take the arduous daily hike to the beach. We met some nice people and polite conversation within twenty meters of a well-stocked bar free from unremitting sand storms. Pete learned he could lie-in until noon. The sister resort of Villa Blancas, only two doors away offered a change of scenery and extended menu. Villa Blancas was a larger resort of some twenty or so bungalows and altogether, less exclusive. We largely gave it a miss. Socialising with the neighbours was a step too far!
Night life and eating out followed the pattern set since the first trip in 1999.
We followed up 2003 with the same thing in 2004. A young man called Wayne sponged off us for most of the week having fallen out with his own sugar daddy couple called Barry and Gary, on their first day in the Canaries. We knew Wayne from the Norfolk Arms in Attercliffe. He amused us. Barry and Gary new how to live it up! Their idea of a good time was an “all-you-can-eat” for five euros, buffet bar pushing out the boat in a restaurant on their final night boasting croutons in the soup and ”everything” said with a sweeping flourish of the right arm. Pete and I left a few days before the odd trio. Having deserted his sponsors on their first night, Wayne found himself without friends or finance. I loaned him a hundred US dollars and a few pounds to tide him over until repaid by his army officer boyfriend upon our return to the UK.
Peter had firmly established the February break in the Canaries as Pete’s destination of choice. I, personally, could have given the place a miss…
Villa Magnolias was missing from the “Throb” brochure for spring of 2005. We made do with an alternative booking to the Villa Blancas with which we had become familiar the previous year when attending a dismal pre-carnival barbecue, rescued only by the joint antics of Wayne and Pete to wind up the “London” queens.
The ear splitting doorbell on the main gate announced the arrival of new guests and day pass visitors. There was no respite for those attempting to sleep off an early morning hangover. A garden shed at the opposite end of the pool from the entrance gate served as reception and bar. Newcomers were obliged to parade pool side with bags in tow while freshly aroused, reclining, onlookers, took first pick of the new meat.
In his newly relegated role of doing-everything-demeaning since being demoted from the “Magnolias” now run as a straight swinger’s club, Trevor had failed to recognise us pacing towards him unsteady from our post flight cramps, mainly due to Pete’s characteristically close cropped blond hair having exploded into a mass of curls, resembling Sean the Sheep.
Greetings were always familiar.
Grasping Peter’s face between a pair of beer stained, beef-burger scented paws followed by a simulated, if somewhat moist “Moi, Moi” to each cheek, he greeted us with the enthusiasm afforded to all guests having only paid the deposit and having yet to settle their bill. As Peter’s hair parted under the squeegee effect of Trevor’s hands to reveal his tiny face beaming back with its cheeky familiarity he was met with the startled, wholly uncompassionate response of “Mon Dieu! “’as your ‘airdresser dyed?” wailed across the pool in the shrill, yet luxuriant French, Flemish accent we had come to associate with the complementary hospitality at the Magnolias.
In his mid-fifties Trevor was no oil painting but at best, could be described as unkempt yet managed to hold onto an almost cute young Brazilian, half his age and which we were to believe had little to do with being sponsored for a European visa or being extended the same complimentary services enjoyed by a select few of Trevor’s loyal followers.
This was the last season for Trevor. Some said he had happily retired. Others reported that he had gone home to Belgium.