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thoughts & musings :: CCC

Saturday, 22 October 2005

Maspalomas diary 09 - Departure

The day to leave has arrived.

We have had a fantastic time, but we are ready to leave now. A decent cup of tea is calling us from afar.

A Union Jack Towel is hanging over the balcony opposite ours. A small piece of resistance to the German invasion. Though this flag also has been tainted with the word 'Arsenal' so I can only assume there are some Burberry items looming within the apartment. I am happy to stay incognito rather than align myself with the yob herd.

The Hotel manager still thinks I'm German and says Guten tag to me at breakfast.

We pay to extend our room. You're supposed to check out by 12:00 but our flight isn't until 2:30 am on Sunday.

We visit the local shopping arcade. Hayley falls in love with a whisk and egg timer with chickens feet and a beak so I buy them for her. We buy four other small gifts for people at home.

Hayley spots some large trampolines and fancies a go. I would, but my sunburn is advising against it, so I sit and watch.

We fly back into the UK at 6:30 am. It is very cold and dark. The biggest news seems to be a dead parrot that might have bird flu... (oh, and some riots in Birmingham.)

I check the phone messages. A strange woman's voice I do not recognise comes on.

"Hello, it's me, I won't be popping over just yet as I forgot about some stewing steak I had and I've only just got it out. See you soon, bye."

Yep, we're definitely home.

Friday, 21 October 2005

Maspalomas diary 08 - Wave goodbye

Today we are back in the waves again, jumping the breakers and larking around. A French couple are doing likewise some 20 metres to the side of us.

After a while, the French couple go back to sunbathe. Every now and then, a particularly large wave will beckon the French guy back into the water. He charges in trying to catch it as it breaks but never gets there in time.

Hayley and me are busy jumping breakers and splashing each other in waist high water. After one quite large wave breaks over us I start to walk back to shore but I can't. My feet are walking towards shore but I am moving backwards, moonwalking Michael Jackson style.

The pull from the undercurrent is nothing like I have ever felt. Suddenly the French guy is on his feet, whooping with joy and sprinting futilely towards the sea.

That's when I half turned and saw it.

Just 3 metres behind us I see the reason for the under current. Another wave is coming in.

The wave is massive.

The larger ones so far have been about 5 to 6 feet high, still powerful and large but nothing compared to this. It dwarfs them all so far. It still has no white foam on top -- it is a solid blue wall of water and is still building.

Finally an 8 to 10 foot high wave is standing behind us. I didn't have time to try and wade away or even shout a warning to Hayley - I just froze. It happened so quickly and I knew this wasn't going to be a nice jump in the breakers - it was massive.

It disregards us in silent nonchalance and then calmly crashes down on top of us. It feels like a library shelf of aquatic encyclopaedias has just collapsed onto me. the wave smashes me under water and pushes me to the sandy bed.

I cannot move, frozen by paralysing fear and the massively strong under current. Water is pouring into my nose and mouth. The bubbling deafness in roaring inside my ears and I find myself bobbing in the darkness... my mind is now the entire world... it is all that remains.

But my world now is bigger than that...

Where is Hayley?

This is the turning point. Hayley can swim so I think she'll be okay. Thinking and knowing are oceans apart. A ticker tape or paranoia starts flowing across my mind. What if she's not okay? What if she is okay but I don't make it? She'll be stuck in a foreign land with this to deal with. What if neither of us make it, ignorant of the others distress?

From the area of water around me where they have recently dissolved, a solidity pours into my limbs and the fight begins. Fortunately the wave has washed me a little more ashore than where it first collapsed onto us. I manage to turn over and force my head above water, struggling in the swirling sand to find a grip to steady myself.

I momentarily push up and my head feels air against it. I cough up a lot of the water in me and manage to drag in a spluttering breath. I go under again and the deaf blindness bubbles all around once more, but having tasted air, I thrash and punch at the floor and propel myself up.

I stand up and cough up more water. The first sound to greet my reborn ears is the whoop of the Frenchman, having arrived at the scene late but obviously having enjoyed the tail end of the sea monster that has just swallowed me and spat me onto the shore.

I spot Hayley, looking as bedraggled and washed up as I feel, her bikini half wrenched off by the force of the wave, coming towards me breathless but smiling. I'm still shaking but relieved and happy. I hug Hayley.

Suddenly my world feels brighter...

Hang on... my world actually IS brighter.

"Where are your sunglasses?" asks Hayley.

I have lost my rather pricey reaction lens glasses. We hunt for over an hour but they have vanished. The sea took a memento off me, but I am just happy to walk away from it otherwise intact.

When we get back to the apartments I check my email and discover that my brother, in my absence, has got himself on the BBC caption competition... sneaky git.

Thursday, 20 October 2005

Maspalomas diary 07 - Snap decisions

 I have now filled up all my memory sticks so I bite the bullet and buy an extra Gigabyte memory stick. That will be full before the end.

I walk towards the toilets near the beach and am about to enter where I see a man washing his hands. Spotting the 'female' symbol over the door I swerve at the last minute and enter the gents.

Someone behind me begins laughing and suddenly shouts "Bob! Bob! You're in the ladies!" "Oh," shouts bob from within. "I did wonder why those women came in."

Sometimes when photographing spiders, I have a split personality issue. My arachnophobia is screaming "kill the evil git! Stamp on it." My photographer side is seeing the possibility of getting a great photo and demanding I move in and find the shot.

Standing on the beach, some huge Atlantic breakers are rolling in and smashing onto the beach. The waves are lovely huge rolling breakers with white frothy tops that would make an amazing photo.

I can zoom in from the beach but that will get me a mediocre shot at best. I know that I need to get at eye-level with the wave. And so I move in.

I position myself at the point where the last wave broke and sit down in a foot of water, my rather expensive camera now poised in the path of a something that could write it off in an instant.

The wave approaches.

An explosion of water comes roaring in at me like an unleashed animal. Just as the wave is about to overwhelm the camera I hoist the camera up at arm's length -- I am drenched by the wave and engulfed momentarily, the camera is held above the water high up in my hand like a submarine's periscope.

Like a wildlife documantary maker, I am enjoying watching the waves and have a kind of respect for them, watching them form far out at see, rolling bigger and bigger and then curling into crashing white crests upon the shore.

Wednesday, 19 October 2005

Maspalomas diary 06 - Steps in the right direction

Another day on the beach soaking up the sun and wandering across the endless dunes. Not trying to rub it in, it's just what happened.

Speaking of rubbing it in... spray on sun cream, best invention mankind has ever come up with. I can't stand that whole greasy self-basting ritual applying the sand-glue.

The courtesy bus did us the discourtesy of not showing up so we had to walk back. My legs didn't go a bundle on that.

When we get back we bump into a new German family that have just arrived. Out of all the 95% of Germans patrolling the camp, they bump into one of the few Brits.

"Sprechen Sie Deutchse?" he asks.
"Nein, English," I reply.
He hesitates but I beckon them to follow me to the pool. I look at his room number and then tell them "Gehen sie Uber (pointing to the pool) and gehen sie um die ecke, links."

It is basically the directions they need, but he is still looking hesitant. A fellow German walks past and he seeks the help of his countryman. Fair enough. I chuckle and walk off.

Back in our bedroom I am walking around and hobbling around like an old man. My legs are aching and the sunburn leaves me feeling stiff.

As I hobble around I notice that the gap from right step to left is longer and more awkward than from left to right. It's almost as if my left foot is learning to walk from the right and so taking slightly longer as it learns.

I discover that my sandals have bitten a chunk out of my ankle and the beach has kindly filled it with sand.

Tuesday, 18 October 2005

Maspalomas diary 05 - Having a Burberry good time

The tide can come in pretty fast on the beach.

I looked up from the book I was reading and judged we had about 15minutes before we need to move. A few moments later and the waves lapped up at the edge of my towel. The bloke behind me chuckled and I looked up and smiled, seeing the funny side.

We had a close escape.

Moments later, the couple along from us had a wave sweep right over their legs to their waists. They both squealed and leapt up. the bloke behind us collapsed in hysterics.

With all the walking and hiking around the dunes and back and forth from the beach to the apartments my legs are beginning to ache and hurt a lot. The sunburn does not help. Despite all the sun cream and after sun I use, I have to go through the patchy red lobster stage before any chance of anything remotely brown will appear.

There's nothing we can do about the sun and nothing we can do about the long walking. The scenery in the dunes is stunning, but, at the end of the day, like an overthrown veal farmer, my calves are killing me.

Back at the bar, I line up behind two of the other Brits. A Burberry cap on one of their heads. They talk to the bar tender loudly and slowly in English and say "Two Beers please mate."

The bar tender, a very friendly chap, replies mockingly, " I am sorry but I do not understand as I speak no English."

They laugh and awkwardly repeat the order.

Up I come next. "Hola. Uno agua y uno zumo de naranja, per favore." What I'm doing is not remotely clever. I'm just learning key sentences and repeating them parrot fashion. But I feel a gulf open up between me and the guys before me.

Seeing that rowdy tribe of typical Brit yob tourist makes me want to go even further in the opposite direction. I try and become Archetypal English Gent abroad. I try and learn some of the language and conduct myself with as much politeness and dignity as I can.

The Brit yobs make me cringe and it pushes me to try and become a dying breed, the myth of the Englishman abroad -- I don't quite wear a white suit, Panama hat and walk with a cane, but maybe one day.

The bar tender tells me he has had just about as much as he can take of German singing and asks if we haven't thought about putting up a Union Jack flag. I tell him it isn't worth it and he agrees.

We do have one Union Jack on us but Hayley probably won't let me hang her underwear from the balcony and they're so tiny they probably won't be spotted.

Monday, 17 October 2005

Maspalomas diary 04 - Water, water everywhere...

On this morning we had the only bit of really bad weather all week. It poured with rain for the morning and this caused all the water to get switched off across the whole site.

At the beach we wandered off towards the old lighthouse and visited the avenue of restaurants and the commercial shopping centre. A line of waiters/touts outside each place tried to entice us in.

The great thing is that most of them assume tourists are German (90% here are) and so they all call out "Deutsche? Deutsche?"

This gives a great opportunity to have some fun with them.

"Deutsche? Deutsche?"
"Non, Je ne Deutchse pas."
"Ah, Bonjour Monsieur."
"Mais, Je ne Francais pas aussi."
"Je suis Anglais."
"English?... Oh... Hello."

We ventured into the shopping centre and I managed to talk Hayley into letting me buy her another bikini. We already had a lot of them with us and had done quite a few photoshoots in the dunes and in the sea. But the more the merrier is always my motto in that sort of thing :)

We picked out a nice one and the woman in the shop asked if Hayley wanted to try it on. Hayley said yes and this led to another badly translated bit of English.

Pointing to the bikini bottoms, the woman said "You must wear the string over your sleeve."

Maybe she meant the top. I don't know, but it painted some weird images in my head.

This is the day we bought some postcards and started writing them while drinking some cocktail called a Gran Canaria, which looks like red diesel, tastes okay, but feels like you've drunk red diesel afterwards.

Our balcony is right near to the poolside stage where they hold the evening events. Mainly it is a disco for the Deutschelets (As I have christened the small army of German kids that invade the pool on a daily basis).

I thought the twee syrupy Deutschelet music was bad enough, but nothing could prepare me for German karaoke. All of the songs were well known English songs but with drunken Germans singing them.

Then one of them started on The Beatles and I thought I might throw myself off the balcony.

Sunday, 16 October 2005

Maspalomas diary 03 - Miscommunications

I report our toilet to the reception in the morning. The job has shifted to the day staff and the TV is showing daytime TV that is as inane as it is in the UK so someone might actually be tempted to do something. It is fixed by mid morning.

Upon arrival we were issued with a meal card, one of four colours, that states when we can enter the dining area for breakfast/lunch/tea. We also have permanent tags round our wrists that are a colour. There are four colour tags we see throughout the week and we will never work out what the different colours mean, if anything.

Reading through the welcome pack, it states that we must 'always wear the brestless.' (we're assuming this is supposed to be bracelets -- the wrist tags.) This is something we will come to learn very quickly -- The Spanish really have trouble translating into English.

Not that they need to do that much here. Most of the guests appear to be German and many of the signs are written in Spanish and then German.

After a greasy lukewarm breakfast we quickly learn that the cheese and rolls in the mornings are the safest option. Over the week we slowly learn what to eat and what to avoid in the dining area.

I decide to fetch two teas. I place a 'tea' bag in a cup of hot water and it gets wet. It might also have slightly stained the water around it, but that could just be a trick of the light. I see a button marked 'Milch' which I thought was German for Milk. Milch is Spanish for 'dump a load of sour curdled lumpy yoghurt into my drink' because that's what happened.

We then had a welcome meeting with someone I would have come to know as 'Camp David' but he only features in this one tiny scene of our story so he can quickly and easily be forgotten. He made a lot of awful jokes and, as Hayley summed it up perfectly, basically demonstrated that he had been out of Britain for a long time.

From this meeting, we could see there were only about 8 other Brits in the entire complex.

The advert on stated that the Dunalor Apartments were right next to the sand dunes, between the dunes and the golf course... this must be another of Spanish translation gone awry. The golf course is between Dunaflor and the dunes... and it's a big golf course.

Never mind, there's a free bus to the dunes and it is walkable anyway. We decide to walk to the beach and dunes.

Getting closer to the dunes we see what we think is an entrance onto the dunes themselves. However, there is a sign at this gate that reads 'ENTRANCE ONLY UNTIL THE CAMELS.' Until the camels what?

We decide not to sit around and wait to see what the camels might do and find another way onto the beach. The dunes are a protected nature reserve and a huge sign lists all the things you cannot do there (pitching tents, making fires etc.) One of the symbols looks to be 'Do not throw birds at the flowers.' I later realised this was do not interfere with the plants and animals.

A sign on the beach reads 'MUSIC ARE NOT ALLOWED,' but does not state which particular sorts are not allowed.

Part of the beach is a naturist beach and ze naked Germans here are very vibbly and vobbly upon ze beach. Most of them don't need trunks or shorts anyway as there is little to cover up and their huge bloated stomachs mean you probably couldn't see any shorts they put on anyway.

The dunes look endless. Huge rolling and sweeping contours of Sahara like sand stretches off in all directions. Littered throughout these dunes are many and various naked sunbathers or naked hikers trekking across the dunes with only a backpack on their back.

We sit on the beach and read a while. After a while a man walks up to us in T-shirt and trunks with a bag in his hand.

"Sprechen sie Deutsch?" he asks.
"English," I reply.
"Vould you mind vatching my clothes vhile I go into ze sea. Five minutes."
"Yep, no problem."

He then proceeds to strip naked in front of us and wander down into the sea like Reginald Perring.

I was quite glad he asked us to watch his clothes as that was far more preferable to watching his lack of them wobbling away from us.

Saturday, 15 October 2005

Maspalomas diary 02 - Preparations & Departure

Phrase books have come on a long way since I last bought one, which wasn't all that long ago. But I seem to remember they were always full of phrases like "How much is that cactus?" and "My donkey will not fit through the hotel doors."

Now they seem to be actually geared towards the society we live in and so there is a 2 page section on useful phrases during sex, assuming that a lot of people want to leap off the plane and leap upon as many locals as their legs will fit around.

The sex section in our phrase book covers useful conversations pieces such as "faster" "harder" "slower" "I can't get it up, sorry" "Don't worry, I'll do it myself" "Touch me here" "Do you like this?" "I don't like that" and "I think we should stop now."

The guidebook also talks at length about the large area of sand dunes near the beach and lets anyone interested know that camel rides are available from one side to the other.

It also points out that the dunes are a haven for gay men. This makes it sound like there's a permanent herd of gay men that live wildly in the dunes and get regularly rounded up by wardens on camels.

What do gay men eat in the wild?... no, don't answer that.

I am concerned about getting to Gatwick in time. Several accidents have already come and gone on Junction 7 of the M25 and have caused delays. Our flight leaves at 20:15 and so we backtrack all the necessary check-ins and putting the car into long stay parking and work out we should have left Friday.

We then have a recount and I settle on a time that allows just over an hour to get there. All it takes is for the radio to suddenly announce that the entire motorway has turned over and all the cars are now upside down under the tarmac and you know you're in for a long wait.

We get into the car.

25 minutes later we get out of the car at the long stay car park outside Gatwick. Hayley didn't enjoy the journey at all.

I did.

I walk into the reception at and approach the desk. The first thing the girl behind the desk says to me is "bar ear tear cut." Her accent is mostly Scots (very comic Scots at that) although it almost seems to wander off into Newcastle and occasionally dabble in a bit of Irish.

Whatever her accent, I have no idea what she is talking about. We have not even got anywhere near an airplane and already I'm having difficulty understanding the locals. I give her a blank bemused look.

"Bar ear tear cut," she barks again.

Is this a word association game? Bar and Ear both end in 'ar' as does Tear although it's one letter longer. Though Cut throws any pattern out completely. I stick to the blank bemused look.

She sighs. It's a sigh that tells me that she's had a bad day and that no one has understood her since she started work earlier that morning. "Win ya keer pool tup it tha bar-ear, ya got a tear-cut oot oh tha mushin."

So I did. I give her my barrier ticket.

"Whoos are ya fleeing wid?"

Good question. We booked through, got our accommodation through, transfer through wait a minute, weren't First Choice mentioned somewhere in the mix? Are they an Airline? I have no idea. I give her another blank look and then turn to consult Hayley.

"Hayley, do you know who..."
"Nooth ar sooth toominal?" she interrupts, not wanting to entertain me for any longer than necessary.
"North" I answer.

She prepares the documents and hands them to me. I walk away, already chuckling.

Everything proceeds through with uncharacteristic ease. One of the First Choice guys, seeing there's just the two of us, opens up check in desk just for us and then shuts it again as soon as he's finished. The flight and transfer all go without a hitch.

We wander into the reception at the Dunaflor Apartments in Maspalomas and collect our key for number 2082.

It's 2:00 am and it's hot. Stifling hot. Time to open the windows and balcony door. Hayley opens the door and the right window but the left window is very stiff. I take over. I yank the window hard and there is a clunk followed by the tinkling sound of metal components giving way.

Problem one solved -- the window is open. problem two -- the window will now not shut or lock. The runner mechanisms have run into the wrong parts of the frame and it's all gone a bit pear-shaped.

I try to fix it with a spoon.

The knife didn't work either.

Time to try out my ability to memorise phrases from a phrasebook. I look up 'the window is broken,' and then pay a visit to reception.

"Perdon. No funciona la ventana."

The night porter is watching a very bad and cheap Spanish cop film. Two of the actors are currently over hamming a tense scene in an alleyway. The night porter manages to break away from his viewing to say "Tomorrow morning," and then resumes watching.

"Tomorrow morning?' I repeat, as if it was unintelligible Spanish.
"Tomorrow morning," he restates, confirming my own grasp of my mother tongue.

I can see I'm not going to get anywhere and so leave.

The window will push to and it can wait till the morning. I return to find an update from Hayley on our home to be for the next week. The toilet does not flush. There's a tap thing on the side that turns and makes a sounding of rushing water somewhere inside the wall and causes drips to fall into the bowl, but the cistern will not fill up and the flush pushes limply and does nothing. I consult the phrase book and revisit the night porter.

"Hola. No funciona la retrete."
"La retrete?"
"Yes. The toilet will not flush."
He turns to see a particularly dull car chase is ensuing on the TV set and then turns back to me. "Tomorrow morning."
"Tomorrow morning? La retrete?"
"Tomorrow morning."

The car chase has upped a gear to new heights of tacky dullness. Like the film's director, I am going to get nowhere. I leave.

Fortunately a coffee percolator full of water does the same job as a flush. It's a little mediaeval but it works.

In frustration at the night porter I bend the window mechanism with my bare hands and fix it.

Friday, 14 October 2005

Maspalomas diary 01 - The Prologue (Many years ago)

I am not even going to attempt to recall how old I was when it happened. I was somewhere between 10 and 15 I think. But my age doesn't matter really, as it didn't start there. It has always been there, a form of aquaphobia - fear of water.

As a baby I hated the baths and I've never liked swimming pools or the sea. It's not that bad now. I love going in the sea now, Hayley in the sea in a bikini helped overcome that one, but I'm still a non-swimmer.

I enjoy deep baths to relax in. But still, even when in the shower, when I rinse off my face and feel my whole face engulfed by the flow of water then a tiny tingle of panic goes through me for a split second.

I sometimes stand on the edge of piers at the beach and stare down at the vast blue below, imagining with trepidation dropping into it.

So it didn't start here, walking back from Tor fair in Glastonbury one night, but this was a significant milestone, this was certainly one of the pins in the map of my life rather than just a section of the red string that joins them.

The family car was parked in the rugby club car park near to the field where the fair was. Glastonbury used to be (a 1000 or so years ago) an 'island' surrounded by swampy marshland. The marshes are drained now by long ditches and rhines that criss-cross the moors.

The road back to the rugby club is dark as there are no lights. In the corner of the car park a plank crosses the ditch to the road. Rather than walk round to the main entrance, for some reason (Some prankish boyish reason I guess) I decide to take a short cut across the plank.

I thought I knew where the plank was.

I thought I could see it.


I step onto the plank but my foot sails through the apparition and I tumble down the bank. I roll through countless nettles that sting every available patch of skin and then the panic sets in. The fall is nothing, the endless lashes from the nettles I can live with, but I know what looms in the darkness below.

I hear the splash and feel the cold water envelop me. My limbs just freeze and I slide under water. Not being a swimmer and never voluntarily ducking my head under water (well, I do occasionally in the sea and in the bath but not often) I have no idea what it feels like for other people, if it's similar or not.

When the water closes in, I cannot breathe (obviously), my eyes shut tight, water pours into my nose and throat. That gurgling stifling deafness fills my ears and only the rumble of my mind remains. My limbs go numb. All sense of up or down slowly dissolves.

In truth, what it really feels like is that the entire world is washed away and my body dissolves, leaving just my mind floating in the water, thinking deep and panicked thoughts that basically 'This is it.' whatever your mind thinks next could be the last thought you have.

Somehow something automatic kicks in and I find myself upright and standing, coughing up hideous black ditch water. Shivering more through the trauma than the biting winter air.

I struggle up the bank. My family don't know I went under and just throw questions at me.

"What you up to now?"
"What have you done?"

Drowning in water. It is a situation I have always feared. It is a situation that terrified me then and it is a situation I had always hoped I would never have to face again...