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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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