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.
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.