“Get off that bloody Play Station and brush the dog, there’s
tumbleweeds of hair everywhere”
“Because I say so!”
”Why can’t Dad do it?”
“Dad is busy!”
“No he’s not. He’s
watching Star Trek and eating custard creams”
“Are you eating the last of the Biscuits?”
“We need to start packing soon Marcus, just in case we
complete on April fool’s day, can you get the stuff off the top of the wardrobe?”
“I will, after Spock saves the Enterprise from the Tribble”
“*sigh* …I’m cooking lunch in a minute, can you both set the
table? Hello, hello? Oh fu*k it, you can get your own bloody food,
I’m going back to bed!”
“That cloud looks like a sausage dog; look it’s got one leg
shorter than the other”
I am sat on the balcony with my husband. All attempts at personal grooming have vacated
the building and I’m slowly starting to resemble Waynetta’s uglier sibling. The bathroom, in desperate need of a damp
sponge and a vat of bleach, waits patiently while Facebook and WhatsApp take
precedence over household chores. Nobody
is coming to visit us any more so why bother?
“I think I’ll walk Brian over to the office, make sure
everything is ok, no leaks or power cuts” my husband mumbles to no one in
The “Office” is the term we use for our new business and is on the street behind us. We daren’t say the name of it just in case armageddon actually occurs and we never get to open. Weeks have been spent renovating the existing template but now it’s just sat there, waiting to be explored, lonely in its enforced isolation. When will it be full of curious customers? Only this virus knows the answer. We no longer get to dictate our lives, an invisible force is playing hide and seek with our waking days and time is the only master.
I look up the sky, the sausage dog has gone. It’s just a blanket of grey enveloping the
“Grab a bottle of Vodka on your way back,” I say to the departing figure, “I think we are going to need it.”
I’m having a lovely time with Hugh Jackman, sipping cocktails
in his Jacuzzi while he tenderly massages my…
“Can’t you hear the buzzer?
I’m in the loo! It’s the Amazon
delivery… Hurry up or he’ll go!”
I’m ripped out of my slumber by my husband yelling at me
from the throne in the bathroom and I stagger out of bed and into the lounge whilst
grasping my Dunelm dressing gown to my kebab friendly torso. I fling open the front door and I’m greeted by
Darth Vader’s older sibling who promptly thrusts out a brown box for me to take.
I barely have time to ask if the force
is with him before he disappears back down the communal stairs in a puff off sanitized
Gently I place the familiar brown package on the table and go
and unlock the balcony door. It’s
raining outside and the streets are eerily quiet. In the distance I can hear the inhabitants of
Biopark shouting for their breakfast and I look out onto the pavements for
signs of life. The Panaderia across the
road from us is open and a couple of people are stood outside it, keeping a
respectful meter distance apart while they wait in line for fresh bread.
My husband, fresh from his ablutions, saunters into the lounge
and stares at the box on the table and then at me.
“Have you washed your hands?”
I look at him enquiringly. I’ve not been anywhere to need to wash my
hands. Then it dawns on me. The parcel, it could be holding a virus party
all over its exterior, an invisible germ rave.
Shaking my head I head over to the sink and destroy yet
another layer of my skin with washing up liquid and boiling hot water then pat them
dry on my dressing gown.
“I’m going to walk Brian over to the office after breakfast, give the props another coat of paint, are you coming? You’ll have to walk behind me if you do, take a shopping bag so it looks like your off to get supplies” he enquires.
“Why don’t you just get me a red cape too and I can pretend I’m
an extra in The Handmaid’s Tale? I’ll
yell ‘Unclean Unclean’ just to make the
walk more interesting if you like?”
My husband, used to my frustrated outbursts, just ignores my
sarcastic comments and makes himself another coffee.
“What’s in the box anyway” I mumble, in way of an apology.
“It’s that projector we ordered for the office entrance hall. I’m going set it up tonight in the lounge and we use it like a cinema screen until the business opens…..”
Ah yes, the business. Have I told you about that? No? Well, here’s a funny story…
A New Strife in the Sun: Coronavirus, A brief interlude
LOCKDOWN… DAY 1!
“It’s my turn to walk Brian, you walked him last time! Where’s his pet passport, have you hidden it?” My husband stares accusingly at me while I fiddle with my Lidl bag.
“It’s where you left it, on top of the packing boxes, open your eyes!”, I yell back through the bubble wrap.
It’s March 15th and we have been ordered to stay indoors, which is a tad inconvenient seeing as though we are due to complete on our flat in 2 weeks time. We have already paid a deposit on rented accommodation and have committed to purchasing an ongoing business.
All of this on the
proviso that we complete on our flat on April the first. But there’s one more fly in this ludicrous
ointment, our buyers live in Denmark and unless they plan to swim over (which
is forbidden as all the beaches in Spain have been shut) I have no idea how any
of the above is going to be achievable.
Oh, and my son is due to start a new fee paying international
school, did I mention that?
“Mum, can I go on my Play Station seeing as there’s no school? It’s a war game so it’s kind of like studying History…”
I stare longingly at the bottle of Vodka nestled happily between the loaves of Bimbo bread. We have decided to give up alcohol until this whole pandemic is over but already I can feel my willpower slipping away, not unlike my good health if I decide to start licking external door handles.
“Do we need anything from the supermarket while I’m walking
the dog?” my spouse cheerily enquires.
“No! That’s another day out, we can’t combine the two! If you’re walking the dog then I get to go to Iceland to buy Vimto and chat to the lady who calls everyone Sweetie”, I reply… less cheerfully.
My husband frowns “are you allowed to go to Iceland? That’s over the bridge, we have El Jamon closer, won’t you get frog marched home by the lurgy police?”
I stare at the man I married. Does he not know me at all? How is a middle aged woman supposed to stay in enforced solitary confinement without a supply of Scotch eggs and a pack of frozen crumpets? If he thinks a man in uniform is going to come between me and my pack of overpriced Ginsters then he’s sadly mistaken.
Grabbing my moped keys I make a bid for freedom out the front door. I have my passport, I have my Nie, I have my scarf wrapped round my face and my latex gloves on. I have my hastily sanitized 50 euro note.
“Have I forgotten anything?” I wheeze through my wool enclave as I turn at
“Yes you have Paula, it’s Sunday, and the supermarkets are shut!”
‘Are you going to actually consume that final chipolata or
are you just setting it up on a blind date with your last remaining sprout?’
My son nods, crams the remnants of his lunch into his mouth
and then continues to sway to an unheard rhythm, Christmas Air-Pods stuck
firmly in his ears, tapping his legs in time to whatever society dictates is
music these days. I look over at my
husband to share a conspiratorial smile but his head is also down, tapping at
his phone screen whilst shaking his graying head in a Victor Meldrew fashion. An audible sigh escapes my lips and I reach
across the dinner table to clear the festive plates away from the unresponsive
pair. Another wishbone pulled, another
dream unanswered, another day in the sun.
Brian ‘the ever hopeful’ is sat by the kitchen door,
longingly staring up at the carcass of the ransacked turkey, tail wagging in
anticipation of his own festive meal. I
place the remnants of our plates into his bowl and he greedily devours the
contents with canine glee.
My husband’s voice breaks through the silence
“I’ve got a job on for tomorrow, a bloke in La Cala needs me to fix his Jacuzzi; he’s got friends over for New Year and they are refusing to get in until it’s got steam coming off it”
Once a lighting technician in the theatre, he had no choice but to return to being a jobbing electrician/handyman after redundancy stabbed him in the back. The manual labour he thought he had left behind was now part of his every waking day and each morning I listened to his bones creak like an old rocking chair left to the depredation of passing time.
My own adored job working for Tui as a resort rep was nothing but a distant seasonal memory. The powers that be decided to reward me for reaching (and exceeding) my monthly targets by removing me from the hotel I knew and loved and shoving me into an establishment that would give ‘The Outlook Hotel’ a run for its money. All that was required to complete this seafront vision was a frustrated writer with an axe and a pair of twins to haunt the corridors. The clientele, no longer tanned and affluent, had been replaced with elderly patrons insistent on having an ambulance on speed dial just in case the porridge wasn’t heated to the required nuclear temperature. I spent most of my mornings hiding under the stairs, avoiding wheelchairs and inebriated pensioners with burnt tongues.
“What’s for dessert mum? I’m still famished! Dad’s eaten all
the mince pies AGAIN and I’m not allowed any more After Eights”
I turn to look at my son and have to crane my neck upwards to speak him. Almost 6 foot now, all limbs and legs and attitude encased in teenage angst.
“I’ll make you a fruit salad; you’ve had enough sweets
today. Anyway, I thought you were
meeting up with your friends at the skate park today? Go and see if they’ve
messaged while I make dessert”
Turning to my husband I grab his glass of half finished wine
from the table and motion for him to join me on the balcony. Outside in the street one of the local
residents that we have fondly nicknamed ‘Crazy Jesus’ is waving his arms about
outside the Panaderia, shouting at invisible apostles whilst consuming a pastry
encased in what looks like melted chocolate, pausing only to swallow a mouthful
before his tirade of expletives continues.
I turn to look at my husband. He doesn’t laugh a lot nowadays and I wonder,
not for the first time if he is suffering from depression. Losing his job hit him hard, he loved lighting
the luvvies and watching each show evolve onstage. Now he was back to hauling tools around on his
back and fixing other peoples botched electrics. He had stepped back in time with no tardis at
hand to return to the future.
Taking a deep breath I voiced what had been on my mind for a
while, the only solution to our ailing financial situation, a chance to begin
“I think we should sell the flat and buy a business and work
for ourselves here on the coast…. and stop answering to fools”
I await his reply, it’s a risk, a big risk, but isn’t that
why we moved out here in the first place?
Wary green eyes meet optimistic brown and a long forgotten dream
suddenly resurfaces from behind a cloud of disappointment. A smile reaches his lips, the first genuine
one I’ve seen in a long time.
“F*ck it, let’s do it, what’s the worst that could possibly happen?”
To be continued…
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‘So, let me
get this right. You sauntered into work
without a care in the world and 10 minutes later you were back pounding the
pavements after being informed by Mary, Mongo and Midge from the board that you
were suddenly surplus to requirement and that technology is now keeping your
deflated form in front of me nodded and tried to rub the reality of the
situation out of his confused eyes
do that, can they? I mean you have a contract, doesn’t that count for
anything?’ desperation edged unannounced into my voice
apparently they can and they have. I’m
being made redundant, not sacked. They
won’t be allowed to employ anyone in my position though. Last in, first out. A computerised system is now sitting in my
chair and drinking my espresso’ he sighed with resignation.
sat facing uncertainty, both of us not daring to voice our true concerns. We had bought a flat because of this job, put
our son into a private school and made a life for ourselves, made friends; some
true, and now it appeared, some false.
don’t believe it. They can’t just let you go without prior warning, there must
be another reason. Is it because I wouldn’t move my play to accommodate ‘she
who must be obeyed’?’
wandered back to a couple of weeks earlier. I had been due to direct ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s
Nest’ at the theatre but my 2020 November slot was being called into question. I’d heard through the Luvvie grapevine that someone
higher up the theatrical food chain wanted to rearrange when their play was on so
they could appear in their partner’s production. Suddenly I was being ‘requested’ to
accommodate. I enquired as to why a
newcomer was being given such short shrift when surely new directing talent
should be encouraged but I already knew the answer, hence the title of this
echoed around the increasingly claustrophobic lounge. My Tui uniform clung to me like a second skin.
Looking down at my name badge I let out
an audible sigh and tried to remain positive. At least I had my part time job to keep us
afloat, seasonal as it was. I’d just
have to make sure that my sales targets remained high so I would be brought
back to work next summer. I loved
working in the hotel I had been allocated for the season. We had a wonderful and energetic
entertainments team that the guests adored and even my reticent team leader had
accepted that I was a good addition to the ensemble.
are you going to do now?’ I enquired to my weary spouse ‘Do you have to go back
in to the theatre to complete any unfinished jobs or is that it, Hasta Luego
that’s it. They don’t need me anymore, I’m officially unemployed. Anyway, it’s been a hell of a morning, I’m
going to take a shower then have a lie down, I’ve got a banging headache’ and
off he trudged, a shadow of his former optimistic self, confidence annihilated
by a group of volunteers playing god.
raged through my vodka enhanced veins and I slumped down in front of my trusty laptop,
exhausted by the change of events in our already uncertain expat lives. Only this time it wasn’t the local authorities
making our new life in the sun hard, it was the decisions of people we thought
we knew and more importantly, trusted. The other Brits abroad.
the myriad of untapped letters hovering beneath my fingertips I paused for a
moment, tilting my head to make sure that the noisy shower was indeed running. Thoughts cascaded around my brain like the
water droplets no doubt drumming over my confused husbands shoulders. Moving to Spain didn’t automatically entitle
us all to a Happily Ever After…or did it?
Reaching for the keys without forethought, my impatient fingers took flight, replacing reality with fantasy while allowing creativity to override negativity
‘So in total that will be 418 Euros for the three excursions,
are you paying cash or card?’
I never thought as myself as much of a sales person before
starting our Andalucían adventure but it appears I’m really rather good at
making money for TUI. Swiping the
MasterCard through the wireless machine with a flourish, the transaction is
instantly confirmed and I hand the coach tickets over to the sun kissed tourists
and watch as the more elderly of the two adventurers carefully places the receipts underneath her
bikini top for ‘safe keeping’.
Stretching, I look up at the hotel reception clock and
realize I should have finished work over half an hour ago. Reaching over to my flipchart, I carefully
write what daylight hours I will be working the following day and make my way
out the front door, bidding farewell to the doe eyed Spanish cleaners as I
‘Be Careful’ is sat waiting patiently in the MOTO bay
alongside several other battered steeds and I hastily fire her ancient engine up. Gingerly I place my continuously ample
buttocks upon the scorching black leather seat and roar off down the seafront,
trying to avoid the impromptu stag party which has taken up residence in the
middle of the carriageway alongside their inflatable sheep and half consumed
bottles of Jagermeister.
The beach is awash with sun seekers, greedily soaking up the
heat and applying factor 50 to already pre baked skin. Children and pensioners
sit side by side on pedalo’s, trying to avoid teenagers on Jet Ski’s who appear
intent on never reaching their 21st birthdays.
Within minutes I’m parked outside my home and I happily make
my way up the communal spiral stairs. The thermometer on the balcony has
reached its peak and I let myself in the sweltering flat and drop my ruck sack
on the floor while calling out a greeting to whichever inhabitants are still encased
My son, now age 13,
has morphed from an outgoing young lad into a gangly monosyllabic teen who
appears to have his phone surgically attached to his hand. Stumbling from the bedroom into the lounge he
falls onto the sofa and without any acknowledgement of my previous absence,
asks what’s for lunch.
Sighing with parental resignation, I make my way into the
circa 1973 kitchen and throw a few ingredients into the last two remaining
slices of bread and add a couple of carrot sticks in way of compensation for my
lack of culinary imagination. Grunting in my general direction, the ‘Kevin’
(minus Perry) incarnate staggers back into his bedroom clutching the food and
slams the door without a backward glance, no doubt to resume destroying all of
the undead on his Xbox1.
Slipping out of my 100% polyester ensemble I lazily head
into the shower and let the cool water cascade down my rubenesque torso. Lathering my hair up into vosene frenzy I vow to
start on my low carb diet once the weekend is over and after I’ve polished off
the 2 scotch eggs hidden carefully at the back of the fridge.
Rubbing the soap along my unshaved Velcro legs I half
heartedly hunt around for a razor then remember I used it to defluff the wayward
bobbles on the sofa blanket the previous week. Closing my eyes under the spray
I allow my mind to wander back over the past 16 months of our life in Spain and
all the hurdles we’ve encountered and overcome, none of which was ever
mentioned by the shiny eyed presenters on all of the relocation programmes back
in the UK.
With resignation I turn the cold tap off and step out back
into the humidity, patting myself dry and trying to avoid my middle aged naked
reflection en route. Grabbing a sarong
from behind the bathroom door I stroll into the lounge and immediately see my
husband emptying his work bag on the table, shoulders hunched and lips devoid
‘You ok?’ I ask without real concern, mind already
subconsciously devouring the eggs of Scotchness.
‘They’ve let me go’ he mumbles into the silent air
‘Whose let you go where?’ I reply, confused, all thoughts of
savoury products forgotten.
‘The Theatre, they’ve let me go’ he finally looks up, green
eyes searching mine for an answer to his own question.
putting on that sky coloured outfit again, the one that smells of sausages and
old people. It must be her favourite
thing ever as she wears it most days now, although it does get taken off each
night and hurled into that big white noisy thing which spins crazily around the
kitchen until it exhausts itself. She
opens it’s mouth and the dress comes out smelling of flowers! I like flowers. I like to wee on flowers but I don’t wee on
her dress because I know when she comes back from that place she calls her
‘work’ the outfit will smell like it did before she put it in the hungry thing;
like pensioners, pancakes and Paula.
I’m watching her from my chair. She looks smiley and is humming as she puts some bright red stuff on her mouth and brushes her hair. I love my mum. She lets me have bits of food when she is cooking and takes me for a swim in the sea when everyone else is still asleep. When we come back dad stands with his hands on his hips and says ‘Has he been on that beach again? You know you’ll get fined if they catch him on there’ but mum just shrugs and helps herself to a biscuit from a big jar. She sometimes talks to the biscuits saying they are naughty just before she eats them. I like naughty biscuits.
and put my legs in the air. I have my
own armchair. It’s very comfortable. I sometimes try and sit on other peoples big
chairs but I’m not allowed because apparently I shed which confuses me as I’m a
Brian, not a shed. No one sits on my
chair but me and occasionally silly strangers who walk in and plonk themselves
down on it. When they get up they look annoyed as there’s a lot of me on them
apparently. I don’t mind, they can share
me and my shed.
My mum pats
me on the head and then goes out the door and gets on that shiny blue thing
with 2 wheels that I think is called ‘Be careful!’ Dad shouts that whenever mum
is on it but she just waves and overtakes cars. Dad shakes his head. Dad does that a lot when mum is on ‘Be
careful’. My brother asked if he could
have a ‘be careful’ when he’s older and mum said something about it being over
her dead body. My brother then slammed
the door and my mum ate another biscuit.
in the bedroom. I get down off my comfy
chair and wander in to see him. He pats me on the head and says ‘Do you want to
come with me to work today?’ and I wag my bottom. We both have breakfast. Dad never has any of mine but I sometimes get
some of his as he drops crumbs when talking to mum on his little black box. She makes dad laugh. He calls her a pain in the arse but is smiling
when he says this.
“Go and get
your lead then” dad says putting the talky machine down but I’m already at the
front door, waiting and wagging. I like
the park, it has a lot of smells and I like to potter about but Dad walks
around behind me sighing and telling me to hurry up, holding a sandwich bag as
we’ve run out of MY bags apparently. Once
I’ve recycled my breakfast on the grass we head towards the big noisy building with
lots of chairs and a stage where everyone’s name is ‘Darling’. I quite like it here. Lots of people pat me on the head when I walk
through and sometimes I find a misplaced crisp on the floor. My dad works here
in the night making everyone look shiny. Mum says he pushes buttons for a living but
dad just gives her ‘the look’ and says
if she wants to look shiny next time she’s on stage then she better stop
pushing his buttons. Mum just laughs,
she likes pushing his buttons herself sometimes. I like chocolate buttons but I’m not allowed
Me and my man pet go outside and sit with some smiley people with skin resembling my chew bone. They pat dad on the back and ask him to make sure that they look FABULOUS on stage. I tilt my head; I didn’t know dad was a magician too. Good job my mum wasn’t here, she would snort into her drink and dad would have to kick her under the table.
I can feel
my eyes growing heavy, the air is getting really warm now and I close my eyes
and lie down under the table. When I was very small mum got very sad as I have
something called Hip Dysplasia. She says we moved to Spain for me as it would
make me feel better as being cold made my legs hurt a lot.
As I drift off to sleep, surrounded by the laughter of strangers I sigh and remember how very lucky I am to be a New Bri in the Sun.
“Good morning, welcome to the Hotel Blah-de-blah, I’m your
TUI team leader and my job here is to make sure you all have a fantastic holiday
here in Fuengirola”
And so the welcome speech begins, again. I’m sat watching from the sidelines, smiling
like a Madame Tussaud’s waxwork and trying not to spill the complimentary Orange
Juice down my blouse. There are six of us
clad in Blue, awaiting our introduction alongside the Blanket Trip representative
sporting a canary yellow ensemble whom I fear may be nodding off before our
team leader even reaches the merits as to why you need to book your trips with
us as opposed to the half price bucket shop down the road.
I look around the room. The average age of the clientele is
around 93 and there’s no guarantee all of them will make it to the end of the
50 minute speech. The air conditioning
unit wheezes into life and jolts awake several elderly patrons, reminding them
that they are on holiday and need to stay conscious for at least some of their pensioner’s
I catch the eye of one of the entertainments team and we
wink at each other in unison. These youngsters are the glue that holds the
hotel together, performing west end worthy shows in the evening after a day of
interacting with the guests in various activities around the pool. They know the score; all of them have been
hired following extensive auditions in the UK to ensure everyone has a great
time onsite. Scores for the hotel must remain high because if
they chose to do another season with Tui, their next curtain call could be in
Florida as opposed to Fuengirola. Point’s
makes prizes; the constant carrot dangled in front the TUI employee’s nose.
I’m sure when they applied for the roles; wide eyed and
fresh out of drama school they didn’t envisage a day of shuffleboard and French
boules adorning their crispy white untarnished CV but this is the reality of
most actors worlds and like all professionals, they rise to the occasion with a
smile and a caffeine laden drink.
I look up towards the ceiling and wipe sweat off my
menopausal brow. The meeting is well
into its stride. Pickpockets and prickly
heat have been touched upon, train timetables are being hastily noted down on
welcome packs and we are rapidly heading towards the bread and butter of the
I think back to the past month and try and remember which inland
adventures I have attended, each one morphing into the next. Museums, mosques, mountains, information
overload. Sitting on a coach at 8am each morning,
watching the younger reps vomit into their rucksacks after an alcohol fuelled outing
the night before. Patting their inexperienced
backs and trying to keep them away from the incredibly young area manager who
joined us each day on the tours. Fighting
the desire to yell ‘I’ve got cheese in my fridge older than you’ whenever he pointed
out an obvious fact regarding how we were expected to behave in front of the
paying guests also on the tour.
“And now Paula is going to come up and tell you about
Romantic Ronda! Gentleman, you can go to sleep now”.
My name breaks through the deluge of memories and drags me
back into reality. I stand up and brush
invisible crumbs of my skirt and head over to the rostrum and smile encouragingly
towards my ever deflating audience. All
these people who sit before me have come for a nice holiday and not to listen
to middle aged reps wax lyrical on how they should spend their money. With this in mind I take a deep breath and
perform a short comedy monologue on Riotous Ronda and then return to my seat, applause
rings around the room as the team leader brings the meeting to a close.
Dragging my Tablet out of the bag I fire it up and stand at
the table nearest to exit awaiting the arrival of any guests that fancy
spending their hard earned cash on a trip to Morocco or Marbella.
An elderly lady pushes her way through the ever decreasing
crowd and waves a shaky finger in my direction
“Jane Macdonald, that’s who you remind me off, I bloody love
her on that cruise programme”
Smiling I lean down and whisper conspiratorially “It’s a shame I haven’t got her money. Now, can I interest you in a nice day trip to see the apes in Gibralter?”