When my parents suggested that I visit them on their recent trip to Spain I imagined reading a good book by the pool of a white washed finca set on a terrace of almond blossom and started looking at cheap flights. “Late February will be best,” mum suggested. “It’ll be warm and sunny then and we’ll be settled on site.”
Ah yes. On site. Of course. Forget the finca, mum and dad would be ‘on site’ in their motorhome. Essentially this means rows upon rows of couples in their sixties and seventies that have driven to southern Spain in motorhomes and caravans from England, Holland, France and Germany to enjoy warm climes and cheap brandy. That’ll still be lovely, I’m sure. As long as it’s nowhere near Benidorm.
“That sounds great mum,” I enthused. “I’d love some sunshine in February. Where will you be?”.
“Near Benidorm”, she answered.
As if to add insult to injury I watched a bit of late night telly after packing my suitcase, only to happen upon the sitcom ‘Benidorm’ for the first time. With my head in my hands I reminded myself that I hadn’t seen my parents since early December. None of us were getting any younger and it didn’t matter where they were. It would just be nice to spend some time with them. And anyway, they weren’t actually in Benidorm, just near it.
And so it was that following day that we found ourselves in the heart of central Benidorm. Admiring the imitation Hard Rock Cafe and the Guinness bar. Tempted by blackboards advertising coffee and brandy for €2 and shop fronts bursting with fridge magnets shaped like bulls and castanets.
As we strolled along I noticed a woman, about my age, sat on a bench with what I assumed to be her parents. Dressed in beige, badly styled hair, woollen socks - most likely to be English. “Poor cow”, I thought, seeing her shoulders slumped, her mouth downturned and her dead, grey eyes looking longingly out to sea in the hope that she might spot a passing ship that would carry her away from this godforsaken situation. Then I realised that I too was in that same godforsaken situation. A single, middle aged woman, on holiday with her parents. In Benidorm. Oh dear.
Then I looked at us. We weren’t like that were we? Mum had forbidden dad from wearing beige so he was instead wearing blue sweat pants and a sea green sweat shirt with a body warmer over the top and at least three other visible layers underneath. When I pointed out to him that he was dressing the way my grandad used to he complained that he felt the cold a lot more now that he was taking these tablets to thin his blood.
“Is that why you haven’t bothered shaving? To keep your chin warm?”. It’s typical in my family to employ the passive aggressive dig to deflect melancholy at such a poignant moment and in truth, dad did look a bit rough which made me sad. Mum, on the other hand was in an attractive shade of lilac but her appearance was somewhat aged by the introduction of her recently acquired mobility scooter which she had aptly nicknamed ‘Madge’.
“You know, like from the TV programme.” Yes mum. I know.
It seems a ‘Madge’ is the mode a la mode of transport in Benidorm. They’re everywhere. Whizzing up and down the promenades; bumping up the kerbs; parked outside shops, restaurants and bingo halls throughout the town. Some with baskets on the front carrying a small dog or a bag full of shopping, or prescription medication. The users all waving or giving each other the nod of recognition usually reserved for people who drive Beetles and VW Campers. Mum hasn’t quite got the hang of hers yet and keeps speeding up instead of slowing down and reversing into things so dad spends much of the walk apologising to the oncoming traffic.
I take my shoes off and wander down the beach to dip my toes into the sea; out of which the beach patrol are dragging a very drunk, very pink little man fighting for his right to swim naked. I take a few deep breaths and tell myself again that it doesn’t matter where we are. The important thing is that we are together. And how lovely to be able to spend a week with my parents at our age. Even my brother doesn’t understand it and he has the same mum and dad. Yes, we are in Benidorm and yes, I am wearing beige (I didn’t get the memo) but we were going to have a fine old time. No emphasis on the ‘old’.
I looked up towards the promenade, the cool February ocean lapping at my toes and I smiled. Then I stopped and watched as my mum trundled along on her scooter and my dad, looking more like his father than ever, tripped along beside her apologising to everyone and I waved up to them. Instinctively, like a ball player dodging a foul ball or like a ‘soccer mom’ throws her arm across a child’s chest when she brakes a little too hard or like...like...like a parent who knows their child is waving at them from the beach, they both lifted their arms and waved back.
I never knew I could feel at home in Benidorm. But right there, in that moment I felt safe, like a little girl again. My toes in the sand waving up the beach to my mum and dad I realised that it doesn’t matter where in the world we are, or how old we are I suddenly understood that wherever my mum and dad are is still somehow home. Even near Benidorm.
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