Sunday, 21 August 2011

Benidorm - The Journey

Well it must be at least two months since I went on some berserk travelling escapade, so thank God for the sake of this column that Emma and I spent a week in Benidorm recently.

The idea was to do nothing. As exciting and as much fun as it was the American trip was hectic and hard work at times. We needed to get away to somewhere where we could just lounge around a lot, where it would not be possible to run out of petrol on the freeway or get hopelessly lost on the local transportation. While this may not seem like fertile ground for what is fast claiming to be a travel journal, it is surprising how much can happen when you are doing nothing.

Our flight was Saturday morning, August 6, but the adventure begins a day earlier. For both Las Vegas and last year's Florida expedition we had used possibly the only wheelchair accessible mini-bus in the western world to get to the airport. Believing we were playing it safe we had booked it again this time, but receive a phone call late on Friday afternoon informing us that our booking is cancelled. The lift on the bus isn't working. Oh, and sorry, and all that.

All of which means that Emma will have to drive us to the airport. Now this is not a particularly great inconvenience to her as far as the outward journey is concerned, but it means that she will have to be a little careful about how much she drinks on the final evening. Our flight home is the following Saturday at 11.45am, meaning she will have to be fit to drive home from Manchester by about 3.00 in the afternoon. This may not seem like such a big ask, but she has previous in this field.

In 2004 we went to Alcudia in Majorca for a week. On the last night there we decided to go out with a bit of a bang. It was a place with several 'social attractions', and the long and the short of it is that we were still in one such establishment at gone 4.00 in the morning. We had to be up by 6.45 to get on the coach to the airport. At a certain point I decided that enough was enough but Emma steadfastly refused to come home. She was well past the point at which sensible communication was possible and so, in one of the less intelligent of my drunken moments (and there are MANY to choose from), I left her there.

When I woke up in the bed alone at 6.45am with the alarm blaring away you can imagine my anxiety. What I had forgotten was that our room was split into two separate parts, and to my relief I found her in the other side flat on her face, completely dead to the world. Thankfully, what with all the arsing around that surrounds air travel, she did not have to drive us home until much later in that day but nevertheless, that journey was 'interesting'. The memory is still clear enough that I'm quite certain she will never make that mistake again. She wouldn't have had to worry about it but for a broken lift, but then this is us and our travels so it was always going to happen.

So she drives. Thankfully you can arrange this sort of thing online these days so it is fairly simple, right up until the point when the machine fails to register my debit card. Thus the car park barrier is not inclined to raise at this point, and somewhere along the line Emma pushes the wrong button and ends up having a parking ticket spewed out at her. We might have ended up having to pay for the parking twice had we not spoken to another silly machine to explain the mix-up and quote our booking reference number. It would be fine, the voice said. Right.

An example of my infamy is waiting for me in the queue for checking-in. I bump into someone I used to go to college with about 15 years ago. He is with his wife, someone else I used to know because she worked in a pub I used to go in about eight years ago. I have a friend who relentlessly tried to get off with her every week for about two years. I don't think he ever achieved it, sadly. I never knew that she and my former college friend were together and I remember thinking that the world is smaller than I had imagined. They have one, maybe two little people in tow and a conversation about the last 15 years is crammed into about 20 seconds until it is our turn to check-in.

The flight is going to be delayed. We are hit with this bombshell even before we have a chance to lug the suitcases on to the conveyer belt. Instead of leaving at 7.00am we will be leaving at 9.00am. It is now around 4.20am and suddenly, Benidorm seems a long way away. We go through the usual charade of the check-in girl asking Emma stupid questions about whether I can walk (she never bothers to ask if I can speak for myself, they never do), and go off to find something to do for the next three and a half hours before the revised boarding time.

Having not had much sleep we decide to go for a much-needed brew first. Though the tea is expensive they try to sweeten you by offering you free refills so long as you keep your cup. That probably proves cost effective for them on the whole, but given the amount of time we spend sitting around in airports they might just have picked the wrong mark in the pair of us. Welcome though a very early morning brew is, it is not long before I declare the holiday officially open by going for a pint of lager. The thought crosses my mind that 5.50am (which it is by now) is a tad too early to be consuming alcohol but I've never been one for conformity. We find a seat in the obligatory overly expensive airport bar and go about the difficult business of passing the time.

Maybe it is something about drinking at that time of the morning that brings out the very strange in people but Emma has the misfortune of standing next to one of those people who talks to you as if he has known you all his life despite having never met you. He also assumes that you know all of his friends and family by name and can therefore put any rantings he might have to impart on you about them into perfect context;

"I was just saying to Carol!......" he begins

Who? Never mind.

"No, I mean, I was just saying to Carol about them two women behind us, if I ever get like them you can shoot me."

Turns out that the two in question had been bitching about something or other and Man At Bar had obviously found them a little too intolerant for his tastes. He goes on to order Carol a glass of wine and when asked what size glass he might require, replies;

"Ooh, large one I think. Doesn't matter, Carol's paying!"

Good old Carol. Finally Emma manages to escape Man At Bar but it doesn't help that when she attempts to pay for the drinks (no, it's my money I'm just lazy and have trouble seeing over bars from this height) she is met with a classic 'computer says no' moment. The girl has to swipe a card and type a pin number or some such arsewash just to get the till working, but when she does so it refuses to co-operate. 'Till Closed', it tells her. Computer says no. Man At Bar talks more about Carol.

Emma leaves me to pay a visit and then an even more terrifying demonstration of my infamy ensues. Emma hates this about me (among other things, probably) but it is fair to say that we can't go anywhere without someone knowing me or at least thinking they know me. I'm expected to remember them all and to my shame I hardly ever do. But they have an unfair advantage in that I have a distinctive feature, shall we say. Quite often, however, I am not the man they think I am and it turns out that in fact that they have just seen some random bloke in a wheelchair and decided that I am him. Either way, we spent an inordinate amount of time on nights out and such like being delayed because I am having pointless conversations with people I may or may not know.

As I said she is elsewhere so she misses this one, and we're not really going anywhere anyway. The terrifying thing is that the person approaching me is carrying an enormous machine gun. Two armed police officers are patrolling the area and as they walk towards me one of them approaches me, quite matter of factly, and asks me if I live in St.Helens. I look at the size of his gun (stop it) and decide that I don't really feel I can say no. I would have agreed to almost anything. I feel like Lieutenant George when he was asked for his hand in marriage by General Melchet.

He tells me that he has seen me 'in town'. I find this worrying because anyone who has only ever seen me 'in town' will no doubt be convinced that I am an alcoholic manic depressive prone to sporadic outbursts of unnecessary aggression. This is not the sort of impression one would wish to give to a police officer carrying an offensive weapon. There isn't time to explain, however, that I am not like that all the time (shut up, I'm not) and so instead we just discuss the fact that he lives in Wigan now, but is also from St.Helens. I decide against offering him my sympathies for his current choice of residence.

Emma returns from the ladies and conveys an amusing tale about how she has to wee standing up. My view is that she should be grateful for the ability to do so, but she's not happy because not only is the toilet seat noticably absent, but the door won't lock either. A few pints later we are on the plane. It doesn't seem all that long since we arrived, because beer will do that for you. It makes time go quicker. Another pint and it might very well have been time to come home.

The flight itself is uneventful until we land. At which point we notice that water is dripping from the ceiling above our seats. Forced so sit there and wait until they have retrieved my chair from the hold there is very little we can do about it except vigilantly avoid the occasional heavy drops. Laughably, we are 'assisted' by an announcement advising us that 'passengers requiring wheelchair assistance should remain seated'. Really? What else are we likely to do? I'm so glad you told me that because now I won't have to go crawling down the aisle like some demented Orang-Utan!

Much fannying about on the internet had led us to a company who had the decency to offer accessible airport transfers. Unlike the mini-bus company on this side, they are true to their word. A short, middle-aged man holds a sign with Emma's name on it. As we pass through Arrivals, past the crowd of people waiting to pick up passengers, I notice a woman holding a sign that simply says 'BALD MAN'. There's a moment when I think she might be referring to me but there's no time to consider it any further. Our driver is lugging our suitcases through the crowds and he is not stopping for anyone. He leads us past a huge queue of people waiting for the lift and we are left with no choice but to follow. He's single-minded. He's got his passengers and he's buggered if he is going to let anyone get in the way of him finishing the job off.

Close to Benidorm, he drives us through a very narrow road which looks like it belongs in the middle of nowhere. I am thinking there can't possibly be anything even resembling a holiday resort anywhere near this shady, dusty road. Later, Emma tells me that she thought he might be taking us somewhere quiet so he could murder us without fear of being seen. However, we reach the other end of the road and suddenly there are bars and hotels and holiday-type things to be seen. Given the bad press Benidorm gets I am pleasantly surprised. This is exactly the sort of place that one could spend a week in doing absolutely nothing.

He drops us off at Hotel Riviera, newly refurbished and looking rather nice actually. Nothing flash, but certainly acceptable in comparison to some of the places we have stayed in on our relentless journey around the world. It's unbelievably, searingly hot as we move up the driveway to the main entrance to check-in. There's a nice outdoor bar area that I make a note to make excessive use of during our stay. It's about 3.00pm local time. Must be time for a pint.

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