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oranges, lemons and bananagrams


Last time I went to spain with my mum and dad we stayed at Fuengirola in an apartment complex with a pool and a bar and restaurant. My brother, a couple of friends and I had a villa by the pool. Mum and Dad and some friends of theirs had an apartment above the bar which they moved from after the first night because it was full of noisy British slobs singing La Dolce Vita until 2am. (The bar, not their apartment.)

It was our last ever holiday together as a family. That sounds more dramatic than it should. That sentence doesn’t end with the phrase “we just didn’t know it at the time...” We very much knew it at the time; we had planned it that way. We had come to the end of that particular road.

And yet, here I am again. Holidaying with my parents in Spain. Not so much a holiday, more of a trip. But ‘tripping with my parents in Spain’ just sounds wrong. My brother isn’t with us, obviously. He’s busy doing things like having a proper job and bringing up two children. And he would rather be thrown into a bullring wearing a bright red tracksuit than spend an entire week in a restricted space with his own family. Back in the Fuengirola days we got a whole villa to ourselves. Now I was confined to a bunk in a six berth motorhome in Benidorm.

I remember the ‘last family holiday’ with affection. I remember the lush, springy grass around the poolside; I remember the sand on the beach being too hot to walk on barefoot; I remember I wore gypsy skirts, spent an awful lot of time applying gel to my hair and developed a fondness for Martini Rosso and a barman named Carlos.

I was fifteen. I no longer wear gel or gypsy skirts; my fondness is rather for the Senoritas than the Senors these days and I have developed a slightly more sophisticated taste in alcoholic beverages.

My dad was the same age then that I am now. He was quite a dude round the pool in his speedos and straw hat. Mum served gin and tonics in a bikini back then but she doesn’t like to get her hair wet since that recent bout of bronchitis.

On that trip dad drove us up and around the mountains to Granada in a 12 seater mini bus and I don’t remember feeling afraid at all (except when we were stopped by the Spanish police brandishing machine guns). Now I take the wheel on the twisty mountain roads because his attention isn’t quite the same since he had that fall. And mum, who once strode out taking what she called ‘yoga breaths’ - big lungfuls of fresh air until she was dizzy and had to ‘re centre’ herself; now trundles along on a mobility scooter she’s nicknamed ‘Madge” after the sitcom ‘Benidorm’.

What is the saying? "Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose." The more things change, the more they stay the same? Couldn’t be more true as I stand at the shoreline waving up to my mum and dad feeling like a child again (although I probably didn’t do that when I was fifteen...that would have been, like, well embarrasin’). Some things on this recent trip seemed just like the old days. Like the old days, but new.

We still go on a climb up into the mountains, but we take it easy. We find a stunning 5km path that leads to the lighthouse at Albir so we can all hike through the pines and marvel at the sea views. Wheelchair accessible. Mum and I still roll our eyes as Dad tries to order in Spanish, pronouncing paella, “payeiya” and insisting we go for “tapaschh”. In a gift shop he talks me out of buying a wind chime saying it’s overpriced then sneaks back to the shop and buys it for me when I’m not looking. He makes me feel safe as he forces open the rickety gate to the orange grove and grins mischievously as I climb through to collect the windfalls. Mum tells us off for scrumping then instructs us to pinch a lemon the size of a rugby ball that is hanging over the fence.

“It’s on common land,” she explains as she trundles by on Madge.

Dad and I still play boule and I sense his relief that he no longer has to let me win. He taught me well. He also teaches me Crib and I teach him a new dice game that I’ve learned called ‘Zilch’. He loves it. Then he thrashes me at it. I thrash him at Crib. Then mum thrashes us both at Gin Rummy. Then we all thrash the gin and play Bananagrams.

So, it’s not the most exciting time. Playing board games instead of watching flamenco dancers and drinking sangria in a taverna and making use of the disabled shower rather than relaxing in the jacuzzi. But thirty years later and we’re still here. Still having a laugh and arguing and competing and dithering and judging and sharing like a family on holiday.

As I climb up into my bunk over the driver’s cab and settle in for another night enjoying the comforting symphony created by the allegedly noiseless, odourless gas, air entering and exiting the various orifices of my parents’ bodies I reflect that the only thing missing is my brother. That would complete everything.

If he were here maybe I would have the guts to admit that it was us in that bar, thirty years ago, singing La Dolce Vita until 2am. Bloody noisy British slobs.


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