« The Arrival Of Manhood - 4 | Main | Pocket Money »

As Time Goes By: Spanish Holiday

Eileen Perrin recalls in hilarious detail some of the folk she met on a holiday in Spain.

It was November 1997.

A clear blue Valencian sky shone through the hotel dining room windows.

The little man on wheels pushed his walking frame past, earnestly seeking his breakfast.

‘Fire! Fire!’ called several senior citizens in chorus to the head waiter who, looking fierce with a face like a prize-fighter, came across at the sight of flames shooting up from the toaster.

Could he have spoken English he would have asked in a peremptory manner ‘Which of you old codgers has been doing cheese on toast?’

The trick was to put your bread twice through the gargantuan and slow-toasting machine while warming your plate upside down on top.

A sturdy woman stood at the tea and coffee dispenser. She had sharper eyes than most of us who had strained to read the miniscule print on the teabag tags, to differentiate between camomile, mint and ordinary tea.

Waiting behind her I read the message across the back of her grey tracksuit. It bore the legend “Les Miserables - Manchester”
Being matey - “I like it! I like it!” I volunteered. “What a sense of humour! - ‘The miserable tones of Manchester.’ - I was met with a grim face the lips set in a thin line. “It doesn’t mean that,”she said.

“Oh of course not, it’s French for the poor sad ones in Manchester - where it’s always raining.” I murmured lamely.

“It’s the name of the show in London” she said tartly, “and that is where I saw it.” There was nothing else to say. It wasn’t funny to her.

For the rest of the fortnight I never saw her wear that top again.

For coffee, from the same dispenser as boiling water for tea, there was a choice of ‘coffee with milk’, ‘black coffee’ or ‘hot milk’. The secret of a decent full cup was to push the button for ‘coffee with milk’ and then push the one for ‘black’ then move the cup to one side while black stuff surplus to requirements went down the grating.

Usually joined at our table by a couple from Lancashire we had a standing joke about people from the north and us southerners. He was the biggest cynic of all time and this caused me great hilarity.

With never a pause for breath he would relate his experiences in the Far East in the war, frequently saying how the troops out there were forgotten men. “We had nothing,” and his arm would cut across the table as if trying to cut us up with a sabre. “You’ve no idea; we had nothing - no NAAFI; no ENSA; no duty-free; no proper medical supplies - the M.O. used Tiger Balm for everything - he had a socking big tin of the stuff.

When our R.S.M. told us that the war in Europe was over it was on the day we were cutting down trees for rafts to carry supplies over the river. So, he told us we could have a ten-minute break for a smoke.” We listeners raised questioning eyebrows.

“The C.O. said we should celebrate and gave orders for a pig to be killed. By nightfall, it had gone bad. The humidity out there was terrible; unbelievable. We had hands like Irish washerwomen all wrinkled and white as if they’d been in soak. If you cut yourself it wouldn’t heal and the open wound could go right down to the bone.”

Once we asked the couple if they had seen the previous night’s film ‘The Graduate’ with Dustin Hoffman -“Rubbish!” came the flat rejoinder.

“But it’s quite funny” I protested, “It starts where Dustin is standing on the bottom of the swimming pool. He had been given a set of diving gear by his proud parents as a graduation gift.”

The unconnected sharp-toned word ‘Sex’ dropped into his diatribe. ‘Well’, - I thought- ‘he said it’.

“You mean Mrs.Robinson when she took him up to the bedroom?”

He glared across the remains of our meal.

“Sex” - (there it was again!)- “I hate American films. I’ve recorded the old Hollywood musicals; that’s what I like. They don’t make films like that any more.”

“Did you see “Cabaret” - that was with Lisa Minelli.”

“Sex !” and there it was again. I dissolved into uncontrollable laughter as I was reminded of Father Ted’s red-faced old reprobate of an Irish priest sitting in his chair, calling out ‘Drink!’ at most unsuitable intervals, generally when other clergy were visiting. ‘Drink: drink!” thumping the arm of his chair for attention.

“Sex!” - He must be saying it to see how we would react and I told him what was making me laugh. Now, our protagonist with his straight face and usually sour expression had never come across anyone who had laughed at him like that; like me.
Not put out, he carried on by telling tales of Jap atrocities - “that’ll take the smile off her face” I could imagine him thinking.

The freeing of Singapore and the eventual homecoming when people were asking ‘what have you been doing, where have you been ?’ No! They had never been recognised for the part they had played.

“There was nothing !” and again he sliced the air with his arm across our table.

It was no wonder he was bitter. We later found that he was in constant pain and was waiting for an operation on his back.
We parted the best of friends. They waved us off when we left for Valencia Airport. They had two more weeks of holiday to come. We wished him well with his forthcoming operation to investigate the mystery disablement bequeathed him from the time he’d had malaria and Dengue fever in the foetid jungles of Burma.

He was solving the ordeal of the waiting-time which had to pass. He had it down to a fine art, spending it talking and trying to get some reaction to what he wanted to say.
He was a brave man and much to be admired.


Creative Commons License
This website is licensed under a Creative Commons License.