Friday, July 09, 2004

Time for me to put on my Judith Chalmers wig - usually a pleasurable experience of course. I recently visited the colourful Balearic island of Majorca. Blimey! The senses are assaulted by a variety of smells - spices in the marketplace, a delicious stew wafting from the window of a simple but charming peasant cottage, fragrant orange groves, the pungent stench of a mad old woman etc.

Truth be told, there were three days of rain right in the middle of our week long stay. Fortunately for everyone who arrived after, there has been continuous sunshine ever since. Still, I consoled myself with the thought that it was only the beginning of summer and we might have some nice days out here in Britain. Of course, the rainclouds have followed us home and taken up residence over our house until, oh, probably next May at the earliest. Then things took an even worse turn with the news that gruesome 1980's
blue eyed soul types Wet Wet Wet have reformed. We're in for a bumpy ride this summer.

Look, I'm making an effort to snap out of the epic sulk brought on by all this. "Remember what people had to put up with during the war!" I think to myself, unconvincingly. Actually, things were pretty grim, even in my own lifetime. It's just that personal expectations of what's to be gained from going on holiday have changed over time. You didn't take it for granted that a break would offer sun, relaxation, overindulgence or even enjoyment in those days.

As a child from a relatively poor family, there was an unwritten rule regarding holidays. Your parents chose a destination and that was it: you went to the same place, for one week only, year in, year out, regardless of whether you wanted to go there or not. It was part of the working class creed of loyalty which meant you held down the same job, supported the same football team or stayed with the same husband/wife for ever and ever, for better or worse (usually worse and worse, I would imagine.)

What seemed at the time so futuristic about the early 1970's can now be revealed to have really been the dark ages. In Ian Hunter's circa 1973 "Diary Of A Rock 'n' Roll Star" he charmingly enthuses about travelling to the U.S.A.! On a plane! Staying in American hotels! All for the benefit of us jealous plebs who would never travel further over the sea than Barry Island in our lifetimes. Leaving his house to tour abroad means leaving nothing to chance - he even switched off the fridge, which I think may have been a mistake. Did he have to wade through a foot of water in the kitchen when he got back?

That's just the way things were in those days. On the day of our imminent departure, my parents would run down the checklist. Was the electricity switched off? The gas? The water? Had the door been locked? This was even before the wait for the coach. If it was five minutes late, my parents' carefully arranged plans would start to spiral out of control. As for the time when THE COACH NEVER TURNED UP AND WE HAD TO WAIT A WHOLE HOUR FOR ONE WHICH HAD TO THEN DE-TOUR FROM RHYL BECAUSE OF US ... well, that doesn't bear thinking about.

The week in Colwyn Bay was nearly always a joyless business by today's standards. A lot of time would be spent looking out to a drear sea and overcast sky from one of the numerous shelters on the front, clad in a Pack-a-mac (the 1970's kagoule). Despite this, as a young kid I used to love it - a chance to eat ice-cream, coax my parents to buy me useless rubbish from souvenir shops, go on various rudimentary fairground rides, or even, if I was really lucky and the rain stopped, go on the beach. The guest house, with its stained glass door and grandfather clock in the hall was probably what I thought of as "very posh". And all that food! Delicious soups, crusty homebaked pies, gooseberry tart, Welsh rarebit - surely an indication of a dream lifestyle to which I could never aspire (as I probably didn't think at the time).

As for this year's visit to Palma, by comparison, it was beyond paradise. Nice architecture! Good museums and art galleries! Stopped at a few nice ports (and all that middle class stuff). Plus, we had a couple of days of sun to balance out the rain. Even the hotel was okay, with its bizarre garden whose centrepiece was a pond full of frogs which you couldn't see but which you could hear croaking all night long. Hatchet faced dowagers in garish skirt suits sat in the shade reading whatever was recommended by Richard and Judy's Book Club and I got to have a go in the swimming pool once. Demis Roussos could have written a song even better about it than that one where he's "sitting in the sun, waiting for a senorita to show", if he had been there. A chance to escape from the normal run of life should never be underestimated.

Meanwhile, Wet Wet Wet are reforming. Now is the time for the British to rediscover the Dunkirk spirit, the stiff upper lip. Jolly good.

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