Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Benidorm (No, Not The TV Show)

By the time we check in to Hotel Riviera we have missed lunch. We're full board, but lunch is only on till 3.00 and we're not going to make it. So the plan is to get in, get a quick change and freshen up, then go out and find somewhere to eat while sizing up some of the local entertainment.

Standing between us and our first proper meal of the last 20-odd hours is the fact that I am stuck in the bathroom. It has a sliding door which I am sure is supposed to make access easier, but I have pulled it too far over and it has become separated from it's runners at the bottom. I don't realise this until I am ready to come out, and so I at least have the consolation of being in a fit state of dress during my ordeal.

And ordeal it is. Emma's not Bob The Builder, so she can't fix it. She has to tell the staff at reception that I have managed to get myself stuck in the bathroom. It's like a scene from 'One Foot In The Grave' that doesn't make the editor's final cut. A few minutes of contemplating spending my week in a small but reasonably well adapted bathroom pass by before the hotel's handy-man is knocking on the front door;

'Hola.' I hear him say, gruffly as he enters the room.

He begins tugging at the top of the door in what passes as an attempt to assess the problem. Predictably it doesn't budge. He mumbles something in Spanish, probably aimed in the direction of Emma since there is a whacking great door between the two of us. His voice is raised at the end as if he is asking a question, and the fact that she has no clue what he has just asked or how to answer it does not deter him. He continues to chunner on in Spanish as if we understand him perfectly. Soon, he is answering his own questions, nodding and saying 'si' to himself after every misunderstood utterance.

Finally, after several minutes of pushing, shoving and banging he identifies the problem. Mercifully, he is able to re-attach the door to it's runners quite quickly after this, and it is not long before I am released from my temporary confinement. For the first time I lay eyes on him and I am quite taken aback by the sheer magnitude of his moustache. It hangs for miles either side of his face. It's like something from a cartoon;

'Hola.' he offers as I sheepishly roll out into the main bedroom. I nod a hopeful nod of grattitude, but any real expression of my thanks for his efforts is clearly going to be eaten alive by the language barrier. So that's it. He leaves, but just as we are about to leave the hotel and get a now rather delayed lunch, the receptionist calls the room to say that he will have to come back for something not quite specified. We wait a few more minutes but he does not return. A few more, still nothing. Perhaps he is tending to that enormous moustache. Or freeing some other idiot biff from his bathroom.

And so we walk for a few minutes, around the corner from our hotel. It is noticable that there are a number of bars closed. Some have signs outside proclaiming that Saturday is their day off and I remember thinking that, as close to British pub culture as this place so obviously is, closing bars on a Saturday would never work at home. Well I say culture. It's not really. Benidorm is a place so utterly devoid of it's own culture that it has to be seen to be believed. It's a slice of Britain, most likely Blackpool, picked up and plonked into a hot climate. Though they are closed on Saturdays, it is telling that some of these bars are actively advertising the fact that they show Eastenders and Coronation Street on their big screens through the week.

Lunch is a simple cheese and ham toastie affair in a place called 'Beefy's'. The girl serving there possibly knows no English. She's exceptionally quiet and seems utterly indifferent to our presence. There is one other couple in here. If Benidorm has a reputation for being rowdy and loud then they didn't mean this place. We tip her a Euro or two in the hope that she might smile.

Opposite Hotel Riviera is a place called Uncle Ped's. This dubiously named establishment really should attract more custom than it does, given that one can buy a bottle of Budweiser here for 1 Euro. That's less than 90p which, for those of you unfamiliar with the price of alcohol, is what is known as 'bloody cheap'. It is here that we start our first evening in Benidorm. The aim is exploration so we won't have to hang around here for long, despite the fabulously cheap beer. There's more evidence of Benidorm's Britishness, with screens lined along the walls showing pre-season football friendlies involving Liverpool and Arsenal. The other customers are mostly young families. Something to be avoided.

As we leave Uncle Ped's we notice that there is some live music on back at Hotel Riviera. Remembering our enjoyment of the wonderfully tacky live acts on show in Alcudia all those years ago, I suggest to Emma that we call back in for one drink and take in what Brian Potter might refer to as 'the turn'. We sit down at a table in the nice outdoor bar I noticed on the way in, and the waitress brings our drinks. She pours half a bottle of vodka into my glass and offers me a barely visible amount of orange juice with which to dilute my lethal tipple. The first three or four sips are barely palatable. They are pure vodka, strong enough to kill a herd of rhinos. It is only after that fourth or fifth go that I am able to squeeze enough of the orange juice into my glass to adequately take the sting out of the thing.

Two long-haired, probably local men are playing in a makeshift performance area. I would hesitate to call it a stage. In fact, I would hesitate, think about it twice more and finally decide that it is not a stage. Among the hits they belt out are The Police's infamous 'Every Breath You Take'. The singer is certainly taking the Sting out of this, but puts the top hat on it by playing the Black Eyed Peas' 'I Gotta Feeling' where the instrumental should be. Even P-Diddy didn't screw this song up this badly, and yet it is greatly entertaining. We love this sort of crap.

A man sitting opposite catches my eye. Not like that. But I can't help but notice him. He must be in his 70's, and he has a mop of bright white hair shaped into the most outrageous mullet. It's the kind of hairstyle that only the Gerry Francises of this world truly believe they can get away with. Emma calls it wretched, and it really is. His skin, wrinkled to within an inch of it's life, is dark purple, possibly as a result of too much sunshine. He looks like a black grape, and for some reason I can't stop looking at him. Like he's a car accident.

The 'turn' plays on, but when the vodka is gone we walk on in the general direction of all the noise. We end up in a bar called 'Morgan's', in which there is another 'turn' in full swing. This lot are a Queen tribute band, and they are quite a draw. There are no seats in the house, so we order our rhino-strength vodkas and find a seat outside. Helpfully, there is a screen above the outdoor bar showing the entertainment. They call themselves One Vision after the old Queen number, and consist of three men and a woman. I'm being picky when I point out that I can't ever remember a woman being in Queen, but 'Emma-Louise' certainly adds something. She's dressed more like a vampire than a member of Queen, but she can certainly belt out a tune. Though 'We Are The Champions' is cut criminally short to my mind.

Soon they are replaced by a trio calling themselves Joyful Joyful, and their 'thing' is to rattle of numbers from the Sister Act soundtracks. This really isn't my 'thing', and I'm distracted by a man trying to sell flowers. One man has already bought flowers somewhere else, and tries to sell them back to the flower salesman here. His female companion just laughs, and I'm blown away by such romanticism. Nevertheless I decline the offer when he gets to our table. If I know Emma she can think of nothing less romantic than me buying her flowers from a pushy chancer in a tacky European bar.

And so to our last stop, The Last Stop. This is the sort of bar that I was promised I would see so much of and enjoy so much. More vodka kicks off the Karaoke Tourettes and before you can say 'Uncle Kracker is a one-hit wonder but doesn't half go down well when people realise they remember it' I'm up there, belting out my country/pop party piece. Emma makes a remark about how I always sing the same songs and I make a drunken promise never to sing the same song twice while we're here.

When I am not on stage there is much else to baulk at. A 10-year-old girl belts out a torrid version of Lady Gaga's 'Poker Face'. Now call me old fashioned but I think there is something inherently wrong with a girl that age singing about getting people hard and showing what they've got but it doesn't seem to bother the adults responsible for her. They're egging her on and taking photographs despite the risque lyricism. I start hoping that they haven't noticed how inappropriate this song really is because I dread to think that they know and have just let her get on with it regardless.

A man called Paul sings with an older lady called Norma. They offer us the most tuneless version of 'I Got You Babe' I have ever heard, and to make matters worse he adjusts something on the inside of his shorts in the middle of his performance. I'm assuming that Norma is his mum. She pretends she hasn't noticed which is probably best for everyone. Other 'highlights' include Scouting For Girls' 'She's So Lovely' performed in the style of Joe Pasquale, and a Scottish folk version of Status Quo's 'The Wanderer'.

And this is it. This really is Benidorm.

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