Holidays. I’m not really a fan. Shipping your life to a new location for two weeks seems like a massive ball-ache to me no matter where you go to ‘relax’. Whenever I’ve returned I’m generally skint and tired with few long term good memories. Football tours, stag weekends, family holidays, they all do the same for me….basically little.
This all started when I was a kid. Fueding parents begrudgingly taking us away to low level venues in Cornwall was the standard. There’s nothing wrong with Cornwall at all but some of the venues we stayed at were poor.
I remember a particularly bad one in the garden of a mechanics house in Hayle where we were surrounded by old tires and petrol tanks. My mum went mental but we remained there as we had made it all the way there by car and so were captives. The perils of Daltons Weekly where all you get is a well positioned photo and a weekly price prior to sending the deposit to show commitment.
These parental trips were of there time. They mostly involved sitting on luke warm, windswept beaches where pater would dump us prior to finding himself a pub to drink in alone or bully the locals.
Then there were the excursions.
A trip to a castle where we were once shepherded back to the car while being shouted at for standing to close to the edge of a battlement after we ‘were warned’. I recall sitting outside a British Legion in the rain in Falmouth with my Mum on one occasion while the old man drank within. No women allowed but his attendance was essential. I also recall an entire day spent in the holiday home looking out the window at the rain for no other apparent reason than that’s what the old man fancied doing or the full blown argument in a shop on a seafront after my Dad insisted on purchasing a portable hot plate so Mum could cook burgers in a beach shack. Rightly, she refused and all hell broke loose in a shop on holiday… glory days indeed.
I won’t slum it now and neither will my tribe. If you’re going on holiday go nuts and laugh a lot.
So here I am. Portugal. The Algarve. The only hoy plates will be my flip flops.
I wasn’t going to write a series of blogs about this trip as it’s a bit sensitive but then I thought fuck it, I’m on holiday….I can do what I want.
The sensitivity comes from the fact that the accommodation is owned by a colleague I’ve worked with for 14 years and I’m keen not to upset or embarrass him. Fear not sweet Northern Prince the apartment and complex is of high quality and meets the stringent standards that Jen demands. I have nothing but plaudits for this place, the facilities and the staff all of which are fantastic.
Let’s start from the beginning. We flew from Southend Airport a place so deserted and punter free that I suspected I was in some kind of Zombie apocalypse where I might be required to learn how to fly a plane. When we arrived we were the only people at the check-in desk, a far cry from our previous trip to Spain where I was one of thousands standing in line fighting for a boarding pass before the scrutiny of a surly check-in dolly looking for extra wedge due to s bag being a gram over weight.
We make it through swift enough and head for a prolonged stay in the departure lounge where like proper gypsies we eat pre made egg sarnies much to the embarrassment of the kids.
The airport is airport dull and bland with nothing of note to report. On the upside it is almost empty meaning that I can freely move through duty free ignoring everything and complaining to myself that the sunglasses are overpriced and toblerones used to be bigger.
I head to look at the runway and to a face to face with my nemesis, the plane. God I hate flying. I figure if I look at it long enough I will become one with it Like Cherokee Indian and eagle….
Much to my shock they are not refuelling a rickety beast with logs and I’m confronted by a shiny orange and white plane looking rather new and robust. I stare into its windscreen, we become one and it realises I am its King…
I return to the tribe and drag them Into the Bar To kill some time before the flight. Jen, who is not used to unscheduled pub visits nurses half a Strongbow for 2 hours while I sink G like a bloke about to die in a plane crash….
The flight itself is smooth and uneventful as usual although I did notice that the female staff we infinitely more masculine than the men playing completely into the hands of the comedy writers stereotype. As usual I had the traditional Bloody Mary and was asked if I wanted vodka in it… what kind of ship were these jokers running?
We land and get the hairdryer treatment before decamping to a bendy bus to the terminal. There must be a better word than ‘terminal’ when planes are involved surely? How about ‘safe zone’ or ‘happy place’ or simply ‘ground zero’? Ok maybe not ‘ground zero’ but something else.
We then hit the first problem on Portuguese soil. Passport Control or ‘Brexit revenge’ as it will now be known. It took an hour to get through with a few hard yet bored looking fuckers in uniforms slowly scanning shit while us, the pasty, queue like good Englanders… You fucker Farage.. . I hope you get your Cherman passport Obersturmbannfürher…. you deserve it.
We get picked up by a bloke holding a sign with Jen’s name on and after 25 minutes I’m in my colleagues rather splendid apartment. All is good but there is no scoff….. to the facilities we head!!
I enter the pool bar area of this complex and have my first Interaction with the Portuguese. Lovely bloke. No food available but he keeps the kitchen open especially for us. This would never happen in England. We are a nation of shopkeepers but closed means closed…filth.
Years ago when I was a kid I came out of a chip shop after school with my bag of chips and saw the bus I needed. I ran with the chips and got to the doors of the bus as the driver closed them. I tapped politely on the doors and the driver, who from memory looked like the lead singer of 70’s novelty act ‘Mud’ resplendent in aviator shades, mullet and fringe, smiled, laughed shook his head and pulled away with me standing there. I was incandescent with 12 year old rage. I binned the chips without touching them and attempted to race the bus to the next stop, as I’m running I’m briefly parallel to the driver who is laughing likes a maniac and staring at me… he pulls away and goes straight past the next stop leaving me chipless and walking home. This is the kind of service I expect.
We have a reasonable snack and I ignore the €50 cost as I feel he did us a favour however this was merely a taste of the expense yet to come.
Next morning we head to the pool and have a fun day. I’ve never been a beach person, too messy, and so the pool suits me fine. At this point we have no car so decide to eat out in the early evening at a beach side eatery.
We arrive about 1830 hours to find enough empty seats to fill us with hope.
I’m then informed by a very serious fucker that I should have booked. This tends to be standard when a venue is attempting to create a mythical or legendary status even when my eyes see enough empty tables to accommodate my mob 4 times over. Unsurprisingly they find us a table within a minute under the threat that we need to be out in 2 hours before the beautiful people arrive as it is reserved. Presumably if I book a table on a Monday for the Friday night everyone inbetween gets the warning to leave by the time it is required… available is available…end of.
We sit and I survey the scene.
It’s villian heavy with lots of tattoos on show and plastic women with expensive racks, flowing white dresses and chunky gold bangles and necklaces. The walls are covered with photos of D list celebs and footballers enjoying a drink in the venue. I see two Arsenal footballers in one of the pictures…. these same two players opened the local Milkshake shop near my house in London so I ain’t feeling too special.
We are given menus and the prices are extortionate but we are hungry and now trapped unless I go catatonic and shuffle out in silence.
I order my first steak in 8 months which arrives too swiftly to be enjoyed. Nothing worse than being smashed through your dinner in record time in order for the owner to fill your seat with a more sparkly human who will bring him grovelling circa photo opportunity.
The plate before me is hardly inspiring. There are no Masterchef micro herbs to make gurning professional eater Greg Wallace lose his muck. It’s simply a slab of flesh with a wet sauce brushed with a hint of mushroom. Fries accompany it (although I’m sure I read ‘sauté’ potatoes) but not even a sniff of a cucumber or clump of cress keep it company in the side salad department. It is bereft of greenery. I finish the steak and feel as satisfied as Gillian Taylforth’s old man in a layby with a random stomach ache when the polis tap on the window. I might give up steak for good after this as I’ve realised it isn’t essential in my life.
We have a bottle of house Rosé with the meal, which was gone quick due to endless refilling to shuffle me out and I’m swiftly brought the bill with almost a finger pointing to the door and a stare that says ‘get out ugly!!’.
I’m in the building 45 minutes and I’m €150 lighter which within the current exchange rate is like for like with sterling. I had planned to deficate on the threshold in protest but upon seeing me into my belt Jen insisted we just left without leaving a tip.
This pattern continues over the next couple of days and with the inclusion of car hire, shopping a couple of lunches and one more meal out I find myself €1,000 worse off.
Don’t get me wrong, I expect to spend large on holiday but over a longer period of time. This opening salvo has sucked the joy out of me and I need to find the enthusiasm to continue. A small Pimms and a G &T by the pool for €15 doesn’t help but at least I had Gordon’s and not Hendricks at €11 alone.
We regroup. Tea and Ham flavoured Ruffles fix everything.
To escape this expense bubbke we take a day trip to Albufeira down the coast to gauge the opposition clans.
Albufeira has a lovely beach but the town centre reeks of wild west after dusk. The heavily tattooed are everywhere and I’m getting a whiff of England with every step. So much so in fact that an Irish theme pub appears. ‘O’Daleys bar’ stands before me in the form of a sign with full smiling leprechaun holding a Guinness. I’m a plastic paddy but I’m not certain I’ve heard the name O’Daley before so assume it’s a Portuguese bastardisation to suck in the Guinness lover.
Noticeably beer is cheap and class is secondary. A pint is exactly half the price from where I’m staying so I’m certain the night descends into chaos and blood at some point followed by a deep wash down and burying of the bodies before the next busload of toothless appear to drink the place dry. Everything I touch seems wipable as speed is essential when fleecing the masses and no one is prepared to pay for a ‘caution: cleaning in process’ sign.
Perhaps I’m too harsh. The old town part is cute and cobbled with shops and Russians smoking heavily while carrying crates of Super Bock… standard Margate/Southend/Hastings fair where no one stays for long do you can just treat it like a prison riot.
We return to our ranch for an entertainment evening which means a curry buffet and music from a band called the ‘Daddy Jack Band’.
The food is a standard buffet curry catering for the non spice lover. In reality you can’t make a super hot curry for the ‘all you can eat’ crowd as you might br left with a bucket of Lamb Karahi with a shelf life of 24 hours so everything is moderate at best.
‘Moderate’ would be a good word to describe the band. They can clearly all play but it’s the set list that needs smothering.
When you’re a kid who likes music like I did you dream of walking out to the massive crowd like a Rock God. It’s a goosebumps enducing image. The adoration, the worship, the power…. sadly I can neither sing not play a note and so all this crud is merely in my head where it will stay until the inevitable mid life crisis where I buy a guitar and just look at it until I die insisting on burial with ‘Joylene’ described in the eulogy as my ‘favourite guitar…
I look at the band. They are all broken. The guitarist looks like a bloke who wants to left rip large but is hampered by the need to earn coins and needs to play ‘this shit’ for ‘them fuckers’. The singer is the real cracker here though. He’s wearing a hat, a white trilby which is too small. He’s also sporting a wispy Jay Kay from Jamiroquai beard in a fruitless attempt to add personality to his spindly body. Best of all is the Portoguese/ Americanized accent where we, the people, are ‘guys’ and they, the band are ‘the fellas’.
Then they start to play.
Do you remember that scene in the ‘Blues Brothers’ where Jake and Elwood track down their band and find them as lounge act ‘Murph and the Magictones’ playing ‘quando quando’ in a soul destroying dump all dressed in pink velour lounge suits? This is similar. Decent musicians smashed to bits by the circuit, knocking out American rock/pop for a ‘no reaction’ crowd full of average curry. You can almost see the life falling out of the bass player, he is being drained of essence with every chord he plays.
The opening track is that fuckin Santana song with that warbling ponce from Maroon 5 a band who need immediate destruction. It’s the kind of music toothless Americans drive across the states listening to under the banner of ‘Road music’. It’s Tesco checkout music, the last minute purchase by demented mothers thinking it will help them get through another day of screaming kids before it’s Pinot Grigio o’clock and the lighting of the tea lights while rocking out to their perception of Rock. Shit..
My ears are being assaulted by whoops and cries of ‘..C’mon!!…’ and singing in the form of some kind of pig latin / Porto-Yank hybrid that spews up the odd recognisable syllabul…. truly horrendous. All the while the band play on with as much vigour as Stephen Hawking attempting to juggle cats.
We, the assembled mob, are then asked to lamely clap alone like old people in a care home sun room as they reach a keyboard led extended outro. The ‘singer’ tells us to get to out feet…. he’ll need a gun and a dog to get me up but he knows that after our eyes briefly meet….
I look at the kids. They are chewing their knuckles in cringe. As the singer launches into some Ed Sheeran based car crash I rise to my feet and without looking around know that my tribe is with me.
The band are full Sheeran as we walk through the gate leading to the apartment. The band all watch us leave like we have escaped from Colditz in broad daylight… we are gone but they do not have ‘zee necessary paperz’ and so will continue with the tunnel at a series of venues in the Algarve area for the remainder of the ‘war’. The bassist almost holds his hand up in recognition of our bravery to do what he cannot, simply walk out without looking back in the name of human decency. I feel for him but he chose this shit and so deserves a slow death in a Chris Evans Radio 2 playlist.
Week one ends with me downing Rosé like R Whites…..things are looking up.
Next time I’ll be tackling beaches, Portuguese cuisine, the witch of Loulé and an afternoon where drunk strangers would not leave me alone… all this if I can have a kidney removed to fund the final week..