Wish we weren’t here


IN our children’s younger days we soon concluded that family holidays were a waste of time. Our son Jim was constantly car-sick (he still becomes queasy on a bendy country road even when he’s at the wheel) and if we went abroad the heat was too much for him, while our daughter Elizabeth was involved in tennis tournaments for most of the summer.

When they became old enough to leave at home, however, we hit the tourism trail big-time. My cousin introduced us to the joys of Tenerife (shorts and T-shirts in January!) and we were hooked.

In 2012 we semi-retired from the Daily Mail and proceeded to spend two weeks a month abroad, with a few sub-editing shifts while at home paying for each holiday. The following year, with the editor sick of our turning in smiling, relaxed and suntanned, we received an ultimatum to go back full-time or bugger off.

Off, of course, we buggered.

Over the next few years we enjoyed countless holidays in the Canaries, not to mention Mallorca, Madeira and the fascinating Azores. The breaks became less essential when we moved from Bromley to the beautiful Ribble Valley, but it was still great to escape to winter sunshine.

Too good to last? You betcha!

In November 2019 we returned for the sixth time to Corralejo, on the island of Fuerteventura, where we rented a large seafront villa. It had always suited us perfectly – handy for shops, supermarkets, bars and restaurants, and with wi-fi connection so we could fulfil our writing duties.

Having flown from Manchester at 6am we arrived in time for lunch and stocked up the larder in the afternoon before adjourning to a bar for a couple of large and well-deserved G & Ts.

Returning slightly the worse for wear (we had been up since 3am), we slowly realised something was wrong. Margaret’s bag, containing cash, credit cards and phone charger, was gone. So was our laptop.

A swift check revealed that a set of French doors had been forced. And the spare key was not in its usual place. Who was to say that the burglars would not come back for more, and probably carrying weapons? We decided to find a hotel for the night, a job easier said than done. The first two were full but a third was able to put us up. With the last bit of juice in her mobile phone (I hadn’t brought mine), Margaret managed to ring our son in England and ask him to cancel the credit cards.

Early next morning we discovered Corralejo at its worst. There were derelicts everywhere sleeping in doorways or staggering around like zombies. The first task was to find a shop selling iPhone chargers. An elderly Indian guy charged us a ridiculous £50 for one then had the cheek to give us a magnanimous 10 per cent discount.

As Margaret returned to the villa to plug it in, I repaired to the police station where a sleepy officer eventually answered the door and claimed he spoke no English. He recognised the word I used to describe him, however, and eventually told me I needed to visit the Guardia Civil at the other end of town. After a wait of an hour, I was seen by an English-speaking officer who took down the details of the burglary and assured me it happened all the time, blaming North Africans.

Back at the villa Margaret had found the spare key and managed to barricade the jemmied door so at least we were safe. But now, with work piling up, we had to find another laptop. This involved a bus and taxi journey to an industrial estate in the centre of the island, where we shelled out £800 for a new one. Which, as we soon learned, had a Spanish keyboard which gave you a cedilla when you needed a semi-colon. Jim, bless him, was able to sort it out remotely from Britain.

This incident, we thought, was already enough to blight our holiday but there was more. With a couple of days to go, I was in the garden admiring some cacti we had bought at a market stall when Margaret came out and the door swung shut behind her, with keys and mobile locked inside. After the extra security precautions we had taken, there was no way in. At this point we succumbed to despair, feeling old, lost and lonely in a foreign land.

After a while I went through my wallet and discovered a business card for the villa owner, a woman named Maria, with her address and phone number. At the nearest restaurant, the boss agreed to call her and explain our predicament. By the time we got back to the house, a cleaner was there to let us in.

Phew! We each carried a key at all times before the flight back. On luxurious Ryanair.

Never have I been so relieved to be home. We started to claim for our losses on the travel insurance but it was so (deliberately) complicated and the excess was so high that we deemed it not worth the trouble.

In the light of our experience I vowed never to go south of Preston again and, apart from a family emergency last year, have kept to my pledge. Travel certainly narrows the mind.

Nannas at work

ONE of my favourite TV adverts was for Shreddies, bite-sized lattices of shredded wheat. The inspired selling point was that the product was ‘knitted by nannas’, and we were shown a factory full of old dears in armchairs hard at work with their needles.

This reminded me of Turtle’s, a wonderful hardware store in Croydon which seemed to be staffed almost entirely by nannas with an average age of about 75. Their wealth of experience meant they could answer any question – or if they couldn’t, they knew someone who could.

In this piece for a local paper in 2005 (sorry about the dreadful headline), owner Jeremy Turtle vowed to keep the 111-year-old family business going for as long as possible despite the threat of redevelopment. Sadly, it closed on Christmas Eve, 2008. Let’s hope some of the nannas found work at the Shreddies factory.

Old jokes’ home

I’ll never forget my grandfather’s last words to me just before he died. ‘Are you still holding the ladder?’

A PS from PG

‘Jeeves, I’m engaged.’

‘I hope you will be very happy, sir.’

‘Don’t be an ass. I’m engaged to Miss Bassett.’

(This being Madeleine Bassett, who holds the view that the stars are God’s daisy chain, that rabbits are gnomes in attendance on the Fairy Queen, and that every time a fairy blows its wee nose a baby is born.)

PG Wodehouse: Right Ho, Jeeves

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