“I took a holiday with my wife.”
“No, she came of her own accord…”
No. Hang on. That joke doesn’t work here.
Anyway, the time had arrived for our holiday sans children. It would be our first long holiday alone together for 20 years. We’d had a bit of a trial run in The Lake District, but this would be a full two weeks on the island of Madeira, in the middle of The Atlantic Ocean.
Hopefully, we would return from our holiday together, rather than just one of us to face trial.
“Do you think you’ll manage to get through 14 days on holiday?” enquired Lady Barton St Mary. She is acutely aware of my butterfly brain and how I tend to get restless when away from home for any long period of time. I considered her question. No children and no real responsibilities. A perfect climate, a swimming pool, some sun loungers, a buffet breakfast and cold lager (not at the buffet breakfast, you understand. Although when we went on an all inclusive holiday a few years back, there was a lager tap on the breakfast buffet bar). What’s not to like?
“Oh, I think I’ll manage,” I replied, as if I was committing to two weeks of hard work rather than malingering in a foreign land. Plus the fact that I could spend time with my lovely wife when she wasn’t being bombarded with e-mails from work, negotiating with Italian lawyers or sorting out Steve the sales rep’s demands for a Ferrari Daytona as his company car.
What follows is a short description of how our romantic adventure unfolded on a beautiful, semi-tropical island. Some sections of the blog have been categorised to stop me repeating myself.
Our flight passed without incident, with a smooth landing at Madeira Airport. As the pilot made his final approach, I helpfully explained to Lady BSM that Shakey, our former airline pilot friend, had told me that Madeira airport was one of the more challenging landing strips in the world which required a special licence. It would be very easy to land the plane in the sea, he’d said.
As the plane bumped on to the runway, Lady BSM smiled wryly.
“Thanks for that,” she breathed into my ear.
We’d made it to Madeira and a chance to practise our Portuguese. Except that neither of us knew a word of Portuguese. This didn’t change for most of the holiday, since most Madeirans speak perfect English. Some of them are so good, they have regional accents. So we just stuck to ‘Obrigado!’ which is thank you in Portuguese (Obrigada if you’re female).
I did attempt Bom Dia (good morning) with some success, but the cocktail waitress wearily explained that I can’t say ‘Bom Dia’ to her at 6pm. However many Snowballs I may have consumed.
We settled into our lovely room at the Porto Mare Hotel and gazed out from our balcony at the beautiful scene of deep blue skies and sea.
“You realise that we’re hundreds of miles from any other land,” Lady BSM commented, making me swallow something hard. I’m rather scared of the sea and she knows it. I think she was making up for my aircraft comments.
So, how did it go?
Here’s some highlights:
The capital city of Madeira, with its vibrant fish and fruit and vegetable market, where large numbers of international travellers spend their time pointing very expensive cameras with big lenses at boxes of persimmons in an attempt at art. We were naturally tempted by the friendly greengrocer who generously allowed us to sample his special passion fruits, all with various flavours, before flogging us four of them for seven quid.
Madeira also has a cable car that transports you to Monte, the mountain village above Madeira.
“You’re not allowed to swing the car, it says in the rules,” said Lady BSM as we started our journey to the top. It hadn’t crossed my mind, but did invoke the spirit of my father, who would have relished the opportunity to reach one thousand feet before proceeding to try and upend his capsule.
“I promise I won’t if you promise not to make me look around a tropical garden,” I said.
As it turned out, I was more scared than she was. The trip back was equally terrifying, having passed up the chance of being hurtled down the winding slope on a wicker toboggan by two swarthy, smoking Madeiran tobogganists in their traditional dress of straw hats, funny boots, a pack of cards in one hand and a fag in their mouth.
Blandy’s Wine Lodge offered us the opportunity to see lots of very large barrels of Madeiran wine, of which there are several varieties. However, we’d already taken the opportunity to have a free wine tasting with Blandy’s at the hotel, so it shouldn’t have been a surprise that the same woman gave the same talk at the Lodge. Also, we were given more wine at the hotel.
I always thought Madeiran wine was for Christmas or for adding to gravy, but apparently no. I still don’t think I could drink a pint of it, though.
Madeira grows lots of sugar and bananas, which cannot be exported due to EEC rules, stating the bananas are not straight enough. Go figure.
Authentic Madeira cake isn’t the same as it is at home. The Madeirans love their cakes – honey, banana, almond – hence Lady BSM loves Madeira.
She also likes to tell everybody that I spent the entire holiday smelling of fish, due to the fact that I ordered Scabbard fish with banana (a Madeiran speciality) nearly every day of our sojourn. Furthermore, she seems rather proud of my achievement the night that oysters were on the menu, one evening in the hotel dinner buffet; whereas most guests turned up their noses, I managed to consume 18 of the delicious creatures. She just stared on in disbelief, before a dark look of fear descended over her beautiful visage.
“Aren’t oysters supposed to be an aphrodisiac?” she whispered.
I raised my eyebrows and nodded, smiling wickedly.
Her eyes widened.
“I think you’ve had enough,” she stated.
I must admit, we never took up any of the tour operator’s offers for trips. One involved a minibus tour of tropical gardens followed by lunch at a golf club. The idea of being stuck on a bus with lots of hairy eared allotment owners followed by food sponsored by UKIP sent shivers down my spine.
We did book one trip with an independent travel company to the North West of the island. This meant being driven in a minibus up and down the winding mountainous roads, something Lady BSM finds extremely stressful. I have a perforated eardrum from similar mountainous excursions with her. However, she was very well behaved, deciding to squeeze my thigh if things got a bit too much. As we got higher, however, her grip on my thigh grew stronger. When we reached the highest point of the journey, we stopped and admired the view, giving me the chance to stem the flow of blood from my fingernail pierced leg.
Porto Moniz had some lovely natural swimming pools formed by the volcanic rock, so we both took advantage and swam in the warm sea water, taking in the sights, such as the young lady with unfeasibly large breasts I noticed whilst floating around in the pool. I mentioned her to Lady BSM, who didn’t seem to find it as interesting as me, but to be fair she did seem to be fairly impressed when I pointed her out. In fact, one of our pastimes on holiday was playing the ‘Are they falsies?’ game. Which leads me neatly on to:
Breakfast time was my favourite. It was a time to observe holidaymakers of all nationalities. It didn’t take long before we started to name certain individuals and make up stories about them. Let me list a few.
Herr Flick, who wore a permanent scowl, accentuated by his dark rimmed glasses.
Grumpy, who never smiled once during breakfast time or during the hotel tour.
Queen Victoria Beckham, a lady in her sixties who insisted on dressing like a 20 year old in tight fitting dresses and inappropriate heels. For breakfast.
We invented back stories for other guests; the former Scandanavian model and professional footballer husband, the tank commander, the cage fighter, the mafia hit man…
During our visit to Reid’s Palace for afternoon tea, we speculated about a middle aged lady who was taking tea alone; had she been jilted? Was she a golf widow? Was she looking for love? Was it appropriate to be bare shouldered at tea time in Reid’s Palace? Bearing a tweety pie tattoo?
Swimming Pool Myths
Let me just assure you about the myth about peeing in a swimming pool. The water doesn’t contain a special ingredient that turns the water blue and highlights your emissions. However, do not attempt to poo in the pool, since this will be noticed. Similarly vomit. Nobody wants redesigned scabbard fish and banana when doing the breast stroke.
O.K. Let’s get this over with. Reserving sun loungers in a 4* hotel should not be allowed. I feel even stronger about this than I do about men over 40 in football shirts, three quarter length trousers and sporting ear rings.
A large number of guests would rise at 7.00am or earlier to place their towels on sun loungers adjacent to the pool. Preparing for a run one morning, I watched from our balcony, fascinated, as Herr Flick’s son carefully prepared 5 sunloungers, altering their positions slightly, acquiring extra tables, smoothing out the towels. It took him more than 20 minutes to be satisfied before leaving the beds unattended until 10am.
Worse were those guests who reserved sun loungers and never used them. It would be very frustrating, not being able to find a lounger without a towel on it to sit on, even though 75% were unoccupied 80% of the time.
On one occasion, Lady BSM and I were delighted to find two free sun loungers next to the pool after returning from our trip to Funchal. We didn’t have a sun shade, but fortunately there was one nearby, unused.
“NO!” shouted a bikini clad lady lying four loungers down from us on her own.
“That’s my family’s!!”
She held her hand out pleadingly, palm out, fingers splayed.
I frowned, confused, staring at the empty loungers and then back at her.
“They’re coming back!”
“But … you have 3 sun brollies. And they’re all unused.”
She sat up straight on her lounger and raised her chin.
“But we might need them.”
I shook my head.
“I’ve been here all the time!” she spluttered.
I looked at Lady BSM, I sensed her unease. 20 years ago I would have told this particularly selfless individual to fuck off before jettisoning her into the pool.
But I’ve mellowed and without another word wandered off with Lady BSM, who at this juncture usually says ‘Why didn’t you tell her to fuck off and chuck her in the pool?’ But she didn’t.
Hence, as inactivity led to restlessness, one of my favourite hobbies was sitting on our hotel balcony, early in the morning, observing lounger hogs through my binoculars.
Contrary to popular belief, the British are by far the best at lounger reserving, beating the Germans hands down.
“I think you’re getting obsessed,” Lady BSM used to say, tousling my hair.
“Don’t you need to go for a run?”
Which was always a good way of:
Dealing With Inactivity
By day 5 Lady BSM was trying to convince me that wicker making was far more interesting than it sounds.
By day 8 I was considering how long it would take me to run from one side of the island to the other.
By day 12, I was seriously wondering whether the hotel would allow me to serve drinks or if I could fix anything for them.
Rather disappointingly, sitting about on a sunbed in paradise doesn’t keep my attention for very long.
Lady BSM dealt with this restlessness very well.
On day 13, Lady BSM turned to me and linked her arm through mine.
“I’m glad we’re not getting divorced,” she smiled.
“Really?” I said, “ Has it been O.K. with me?”
She considered this for a moment, staring up at the blue sky.
“I would say that the whole experience has been at the upper end of my expectations,” she said thoughtfully.
Yes, we’d had our moments. When I mistakenly took the Dutch man’s daughter to be his wife; the T Mobile call I took and ignored when it could have been important; fingering the pinny of the rather macho waiter as he served me my Snowball.
All of these actions received a gentle squeeze on my arm or a reproachful look. But most of the time we were laughing, smiling and generally being grateful for our lovely life together.
I still love being with her ladyship.
10 days should be long enough next year.