Travel Reports

USA 2004

For too long I have been in need of a good break. Life at home has become really stressful and my brain is in rebellion over it. Month after month, year after year I put off taking a real break but I am at that point where I cannot wait any longer.

I had a few choices open to me but eventually settled on three weeks in the States staying with friends in Georgia and having a week totally on my own in Florida.

It is difficult to convey how stressful my life is, there are so many factors that add up to one hugely overpowering situation and I am hoping this break will do me some good, not least, make others think about what life may be like without me around and hopefully, teach me that I get too involved, take too much control and maybe create much of my own stresses.

November 2004 was the date I chose for this break and managed to get it all arranged in a little over a week, I impressed even me. My friend Robin picked me up from home and drove me to the airport and an ungodly hour and from then on, I was on my own. Time to see how well I coped with just me to think about.

I am always organised and in control, in fact, it becomes so predictable that I worry in hope that maybe I could possibly make a mistake so, I was actually quite happy when upon my arrival at the south terminal I discovered I should have been at the north terminal ? I guess that is a lesson to me in reading documentation rather than making assumptions as to what I should be doing. On the plus side, I did get to have a go on the Gatwick transportation system and I am a sucker for a free ride.

I hate e-tickets, there is nothing in my hand, I am just turning up and hoping someone has a computer that knows who I am and allows me to have what I have paid for. This method has never been a problem for me but I am used to paper, it is real, it can be read over and over, details checked and double checked and it is difficult to argue with a document printed on that company’s letterhead paper that says they owe me something.

I digress, at the Delta Airlines check in I joined a huge queue, one of those queues that is bad to start off with and can only get worse because it no doubt contains someone that booked an economy class ticket but really wants to go business but they don’t want to pay for it. If they can’t go business, they want to have a spare seat next to them because they have a sick relative that needs space, true, that sick relative is currently in Bournemouth but they try it on anyway. Once their demands have been rejected in as polite a way as it is still possible to do when the check-in staff really wants to be resorting to violence at this point, our favourite customer produced carry on luggage that would suffice as checked luggage for most people. Somehow, the fact that this one item is not going to fit into an overhead locker or that the locker could carry the weight even assuming that anyone was foolish enough to lift it that high, this most valued of clients will insist that they have always carried this bag with them, it has never been a problem before. Meanwhile, I am stood, along with many fellow suffering passengers, waiting in that queue slowly crossing off what I will now no longer have time to do once I get flight side in the terminal. With my heart sinking with thoughts of my very unhealthy cooked breakfast going, my shopping trip, my chance to slip into something more comfortable ? my knight in shining armour appears in the form of a man from security wanting to take a look in my bag. This is not the bad thing that many travellers dread, no, this is salvation. After a short and not unpleasant chat about the various contents of my checked luggage, I was directed to the business class check in to have my bag checked immediately. As I was there being treated as a superior species the glares from those passengers, who only moments before had been sneering at me being picked out as a security risk, grew increasingly severe. I, of course, found it difficult to constrain a smug smile as I whisked past them on my way to my breakfast, a dream that they were quickly losing!

Whilst sitting there eating my breakfast, I noted that it was still only 08:20 which meant I had a good 1:30 before I need to head for gate 49 (apparently a 15 minute walk, these walks are clearly timed by senior citizens who have just missed the airport buggy service) Anyway, I looked at my mobile phone, I always use that as my time piece as I dislike wearing a watch, it dawned on me that I was about to come unstuck when I entered a zone where for some 11 hours I was not going to be able to have my cell phone turned on! My first major expense of the trip was to buy myself a new watch; I still don’t like wearing them.

I did some filming, all ready for the home movie I would make on my return. I filmed all the way up to the terminal where I had apparently become a security threat and was asked to stop filming. Now, it defies logic to me why it would be that a person could get this far filming all the way yet be stopped from filming just before entering an aircraft, surely by this time the damage would be done and all the footage required by a terrorist would already have been captured. What makes this even more ridiculous is that there is a regular programme on television which takes us behind the scenes of an airport, in fact, this airport so we get to see inside the terminal, right up to the gate and beyond. Clearly, I have missed the bit on the start of that show which tells all terrorists to switch off now in the interests of national security.

I filmed the aircraft expecting to see a Boeing triple 7 but this looked like, and, in fact, turned out to be a 767. Not a terrible bird but I was looking forward to the new experience of the larger aircraft. I soon found seat 41C and after a while, my seating companions, Mr & Mrs Rosen arrived. They were typically Jewish. Don’t get me wrong, I like Jewish people, they are full of drama, everything has to be a statement with them. The Jewish people are among the few in the world that can both create and solve a crisis in the same sentence. However, Mr & Mrs Rosen were Jewish with interest. They said they had flown a lot before yet somehow gave me the impression that they had never done this in an aircraft!

“Abe, where is row 41? Is this row 41? I can’t see it, is this the row? How is someone supposed to know these things already? Why do they make it so difficult, it is only a plane, why can’t they make it simple so anyone can see”

“Sadie, enough already, these are our seats, are these are our seats? Where does it say they are our seats, these are our seats.”

This continued throughout the flight ? “How are we supposed to hear the movie, do we use these headphones, yes, we use these, how do we know we are supposed to use these, ask someone Abe”

It was actually a fun distraction, anything that can make a 9 hour fight pass quickly, with a few exceptions, has to be good. A good example of an exception to a healthy distraction may be the captain saying something like ? “Ladies and Gentleman, we apologise for the slight turbulence you are experiencing, this is due to a wheel falling off on take off”.

There was a map on screen showing our current position in the world. At 11:40 I noted we were flying over our home town of Northampton. This brought a lump to my throat thinking of the people I loved down there doing their daily lives oblivious to the fact that, at that time, I was in that plane overhead.

Soon into the flight an attendant came round for drinks orders, Luckily, I only wanted a diet Coke, it appears that soft drinks were free and anything else had a price tag fitting of any city centre bar. To make matters worse, they used an exchange rate the likes of wish the USA could only dream of. Currently, according to Delta, it is around 1.33 Dollars to the UK Pound. Amazing considering the real rate is closer to 1.85 at the moment. They were not only making a huge profit by overpricing drinks but also on fleecing those travellers using sterling. This pricing policy may have improved had passengers been able to see the prices in the In-Flight magazine, sadly, this aircraft had been rapidly prepared after a late landing and they had not gotten around to replacing such things as the magazines. They also didn’t check things like the in-flight entertainment was working. Mine wasn’t. I had to hold the plug for the headphones the whole time to hear what was being shown on the screen. Strangely, I was able to clearly hear the totally awful music channels they had. To make matters worse, the headphones are not designed for those of us that wear top of the ear hearing aids. There is no way to position them right so that the audio can be received. The only alternative is to remove the aids and yank the volume up high or to bring my own headphones. Because of all the messing about with the headphone, I had to give up on the first movie which was ‘The Notebook’ though; it didn’t look like my kind of movie. I got to see ?Spiderman 2? which was my second time of viewing. It made me blubber a little (again) which I hid well and, on the plus side, it rehydrated my contact lenses for me!

I do wish they didn?t provide pretzels and peanuts on flights, this just means I need to drink more and need to use the loo more. Thankfully, both are free, but the least I have to think of filling up and emptying out on a long flight the better. One tip I now know is that drinking on an aircraft is very important. A person becomes dehydrated in all that artificial air for so long.

Moving ever closer, we are now at 35000 feet travelling at a speed of 520mph and now flying somewhere over Halifax or, more accurately, just past Goose Bay in the Gulf of St Lawrence. This, for those that do not know, is Canada ? I confess to being a little confused at seeing Sydney on the map but then remembered back to the couple that booked their honeymoon in Sydney amazed at the bargain price they got only to discover themselves in Canada and not Australia.

My head is staring to spin, not with the height or the speed but from the amount of caffeine I am drinking, perhaps time to get onto some serious water drinking. I am trying to work out the time difference and whether it is best to work on UK or US time on the flight. Logic says I have left the UK so that is in the past; I therefore need to switch to US time. Problem with that one is that it means I have not that long ago been fed lunch for breakfast and dear Mrs Rosen has had a glass of wine before noon which she tells me, she never does. I need to stay awake for some time so I need to make a decision and decide that US time it is. Besides, UK time would have now at 17:05 and I would need to be thinking of sleep some time in the next 5 hours. However, if I switch to US time, it is only 12:05 and I have plenty of time to do whatever I want to do. Time zones are wonderful things (except flying west to east where they are quite horrible)

Now, in-flight aerobics, I understand why but does it have to look so dumb? I am watching people all over the plane wiggling feet, standing and stretching, pulling weird faces ? I swear there was a man in row 12 doing some primal screams. Would any of these people do anything that made them look so stupid in any other circumstances? The guy outside the toilet right now is making the weirdest of faces and I am not entirely sure this is part of his exercise plan or whether he is desperate for the loo.

I just watch a programme on the flight screen. It was a documentary about the history of the United States. At first, I thought that was a joke because as anyone knows, they don’t have any not compared to those of us raised in the UK. However, it quickly transpired that it was about the original inhabitants of the land, the Native Americans. It got me to thinking, how do modern day Americans feel about such programmes showing them what they destroyed in order that they may have the lives they have now? The same would apply to Australia though, it is perhaps the British that should feel any guilt about that as we ignored the natives and exported our scum there.

The plane finally landed at 15:35 (EST) but not without incident. Our pilot clearly misjudged his approach and we came in too fast. We hit the runway and the air brakes were hit immediately. The plane lurched from left to right like a roller coaster ride whilst the pilot attempted to compensate. I recall thinking “Oh my, this is interesting” (or words to that effect). This was not my only experience of the nature of flight problems at Atlanta. A week or so later I watched as an aircraft on final approach had to abort his landing and go around again only feet from the runway, heaven knows how those passengers must have felt.

I was now into the wonders of the US immigration service. There was a guy in front of me; his intelligence has to be brought into question. After all, he had all he right paperwork, he was a European citizen and, as such, could enter the US without a visa but rather than just hand everything over to the immigration officer, no, he hands him his passport which he happens to have stored a large amount of Dollars in. He got the inevitable reaction and the immigration officer immediately stood up and insisted the money was removed right now and gestured over to additional security. This situation was saved by a fellow European; I won’t mention they were Italian so as not to accuse all Italians of being stupid like this, I am sure it was a one off. This other guy explained to him his ?error? and he was moved along. It came to my turn and, by now; I had already become aware that travelling alone brings instant suspicion. He wanted to know where I was born, when I was born, where I was going to stay in the US, who with, how long I had known them, where I met them, how much money I had on me, what credit cards I had, in fact, he asked about every dumb question he could think of asking, questions I am sure any illegal would have already got answers for, hardly fool proof. I was allowed in after having my picture taken and my prints too, I was expecting to get an orange boiler suit too and some shackles like I have seen on TV. From here, on to customs that didn’t seem to care a jot what I had in my bags just as long as I said there was nothing in there, they seemed happy to wave me through. That was when I lost my checked luggage again. It worries me that I have to get a train before I can be reunited with it again so I walked instead. Of course, I am not familiar with Atlanta airport and was unaware just how far it was from the gates to the south terminal. After so many hours sitting down my legs had some serious objections to suddenly having blood forced through them. I walked from concourse ?E? down to ?A? and then there were some escalators, I assumed, up to baggage reclaim. Apparently, not so, this actually brought me to the wrong side of security. I was going up, everyone else was going down, this should have told me something. A nice but confused security man told me “Sir, why did you get off the train here? You know, you really should have stayed on it until the last stop, baggage reclaim”. I decided to thank him for his words of wisdom whilst carefully avoiding saying “Thanks for stating the bloody obvious”.

Daniel was waiting for me at the top of the escalators which was a pleasant site, nothing worse that go through a long flight, rigorous testing by security and then find there is nowhere to go. No one waiting for me to whisk me off would have been most disheartening. Having someone to help with my ageing and falling apart luggage was certainly helpful too.

This is only my second trip to the US. The first being two years previously to Orlando where I have to say, I found it American but not how I expected. It was really way too similar to the UK for my liking. Atlanta was different. It was how I expected the US to be, the skyscrapers, the picket fences, the mail boxes, school buses, super size trucks, the sort of streets that Freddie Kruger would feel at home on, this was America. It has to be said though, Atlanta is one busy airport and the highway, for my liking, is way too close to the runway. I really don’t need to be able to wave to passengers of aircraft whilst I am a passenger in a car.

Staying here, in Atlanta and Augusta, I am also able to spend time with the locals, the folks that have lived out here for years, generations in fact. I class these people as my friends yet; somehow, it is still strange to me that they should all speak with this Southern American accent. It is nice yet weird. Me an east London boy born and bred having friends from other continents, something I would not have imagined in my wildest dreams when I was growing up. Of course, I was in town so it had to rain and boy, did it rain! True, it was warm rain but this was not forecast. I was promised unbroken sunshine, high temperatures and general wonderment in comparison to the cool, damp conditions I had left in the UK.

It was great to meet Dan again and also, Mary-Ann for the first time. This was somewhat unreal to be suddenly thrust into normal life again after so long alone travelling and slightly disorientating but a very warm, loving feel. My first meal in Georgia was at the Barbecue Kitchen. A basic diner dating back to the late 60?s serving lovely moist meat and side dishes in College Park near to where Mary-Ann lives. We passed one of the Steak and Ale restaurants too which try very hard to look Elizabethan yet fail miserably and manage, instead, to make themselves look like cheap theme park eateries. It has to be said though, the food at Steak and Ale is excellent and we had some toward the end of my stay.

After our sumptuous fare in Atlanta, we headed off to Augusta and the Summers? house. I may talk more about that later.

Today is Election Day USA. It is everywhere, I swear even Sesame Street had an election special. I was watching one programme that was interrupted to tell us that it is still too close to call in Ohio but that Kerry is unlikely to win even if he wins there, the best that could happen there is that Bush would be confirmed as the winner ? but it was too close to call at this time so back to our programming! I can’t say that any election ever really excited me. After all, once I have voted, I have done everything I can do to influence the outcome. A change in the leadership is not going to change anything overnight so I just as well get some sleep and wake up refreshed to the final outcome ? unless I live in the USA where final outcome to presidential elections these days seems to be decided by the lawyers and the judges and can take weeks.

As a break from the election, Daniel and I visited Wal-Mart. It was nice to see something different yet, somehow familiar as I had visited their stores on my last visit to the US. It was also weird to see just how big Halloween is here in the US. Back home they are all set for Christmas, this is November after all, but over here, barely a sign that Christmas is going to happen next month. I am told that this little oversight is always corrected immediately after Thanksgiving. It was obvious to me by now that I really ought to be in bed. It had been some 23 hours since I arose from my bed in the UK and my body was dropping not very subtle hints about how I needed this sleep. I really don’t recall much after arriving back at 512 Waterford Drive.

OK, it is really fair to say this as it was so relevant to my trip. The Summers have some problems with their house. It has a major infestation of fleas, I assume from previous and current pets. They are abundant indeed, and me wearing shorts is not a good idea so despite the temperature outside of over 26?C I am wearing my jeans. Speaking of the temperature outside, in here, it is so cold I may need to soon put something on; I guess this is the peril of air conditioning. I guess, after staying up real late to watch the election, it should not shock me that at 10:51 everyone appears to still be in bed. I, on the other hand, have been up since 7:40 this morning. Considering that would be 12:40 in the afternoon back home, I think I did quite well. Hopefully, I will settle to the new timings and sleep a little later tomorrow.

I still have to meet Don and Tacoma, his boyfriend. They were about last night but we kept passing each other all over. They were up and about this morning too, playing the guitar it seems, I have never been real good at meeting new people for the first time in their kitchen in the morning so I shall await further movement before venturing that way.

Today I met Don and Ty. Don is a little weird, not in a bad way, just in a ?different? way. Once I got over the shock of the three lower lip piercings and the blond hair, he was actually just a lot like most other younger guys back home in the UK. He offered me a iced tea drink he had just made and then added what sounded to me like… “Are you allergic to men?” What he actually said was: “Are you allergic to mint?” I still have some way to go in understanding the southern accent it seems. I was more surprised by Ty (Tacoma), no one had prepared me for the fact that he is an HIV positive victim and quite disabled by it. That was a real shame as he was a nice guy, I’d have liked to have spoken more but had to spend most my time concentrating on not letting my shock at him being in a wheelchair get to me. Hopefully I shall meet him again when I return to Augusta in just over a week. I never did meet him again.

With this house being such a mess, I have spent some time with Daniel clearing up, trying to sort out the place, clear some junk. It is a tough job as there is really, quite literally, so much shit everywhere. Not only am I getting bitten by fleas but I am also walking in cats, dogs and rodents faeces. I am just so thankful that this house is so full of love that these things don’t matter. Sometimes folk just fall on some rough times and I am not going to start bringing judgement upon them. Helping them is helping me too because I don’t have to do this, I can say no at any time and don’t have to feel guilty about it, for once in my life, I really have a choice in this. I find work is only work when we have to do it, when no one else is going to do it for us, as long as we have choice, no job we do is ever really ?work?.

I love the plans for the house. It will have wood flooring, be redecorated, have some new blinds and repairs done where needed and the garden will be landscaped. OK, they never said anything about the garden but hey, in for a penny, in for a pound. It will be great, if I can get back, to see it all changed and free from unwelcome visitors.

We stayed up late watching programmes such as ?drawn together? which is a cartoon taking characters from other formats including video games and placing them in a ?Big Brother? setting. It is actually very funny and I hope we get it soon in the UK. ?Family Guy? is also great. Now, normally, I don’t do cartoons, they are for little people, OK, they don’t get much smaller than me, I mean, young people of course. However, on this occasion, I must confess to enjoying this level of humour which will most likely go way over the head of anyone younger than around 14 I guess ? In my day, it would have gone way over my head in my mid twenties!

We went for a drive locally too. I wanted to get some items for the laptop such as a wireless network card to have me connected to the broadband here and a GPS receiver for use on the road with the laptop. I also needed a spare battery for the camcorder and a charger for my phone to use in the car. It amazed me how I could buy a phone that is to be used in every country of the world yet the power adapter did not work in the States! Computer peripherals are so much cheaper here. I had to ask just why it was that the network card for the laptop was so cheap; the guy just said that this was the price. To give an example, I would be expected to pay around ?20 in the UK yet only $10 here which is around ?7; it is daft how different the prices are. I should point out too ? rip off Britain is doing this price hike with just about everything in the PC catalogue. Print cartridges are at least half the price here, keyboards, mice, just about anything from the PC base unit down is cheaper here yet they are no more made here than they are in the UK, we just have to hike that price to make those profits, when will the UK wake up to this? To be fair to the UK, we do have fuel at 4 times the cost of the US and higher employer expenses than in the US, we also have higher taxation on goods.

Speaking of taxation, yes, they do that in the States too but not so clean cut as the UK’s VAT. We have a fixed 17.5% on just about everything with the exception of food (give it time) yet here their rates are variable and a combination of three taxes, the local, federal and the State. This would not be so bad and quite manageable if it was possible to know how much this was on each purchase but that is not how it works here. No, here they add tax on at the point of sale. In other words, just because something is priced at $10 that does not mean it costs that, in fact, it will probably cost closer to $11 once tax is added. This, on a $10 item is not so drastic ? spend a total of $400 and see what happens to the price! They don’t have a real equivalent of our Council Tax here, that tax that we pay for our everyday living expenses such as waste disposal, schools and the police. One thing they do have here is the ability to vote out a useless sheriff and get someone in that looks after the needs of the people and not just their budget. The UK has unelected judges, we can’t fire them. We have unelected police chiefs, they can only be fired by senior unelected police chiefs, in other words, if we are not happy with the way our police do their job, there is not one thing we can do about it. I would not want to have to pay any extra to dispose of my refuse than I already do in local tax but, at the same time, I would love to vote off our police chief for the totally crap job he does in keeping the people of my town safe.

I awoke late this morning; I am sure as a result of staying up so late yesterday. We had breakfast around midday, lunch at somewhere near 5pm and dinner at nearly 9pm; this appears not to be unusual here. Partly this was because at around 3pm jetlag hit me, I just felt so awful, my head was throbbing and I just wanted to sleep so that is what I did until around 5pm We got some more clearing done, the floor in the front room is now clearly visible though I am not sure how much of a good thing that is considering the amount of poop that is there. It looks quite horrendous if I am honest about it. I just keep thinking how sad it is that this place has such potential yet looks so bad at the moment. But, on the plus side, with the floors clear and vacuumed, the bug man can come in and do his stuff without hindrance and soon they will be on their way to clean living again.

For dinner we went out and met some of Daniels friends. I was clearly the oldest there by a long way but none of them seemed even a little fazed about that and I had a good laugh with them. We ate at a Logan’s Roadhouse which was just one of the most unhygienic places I think I have ever eaten at. Don’t get me wrong, this was not in a bad way, it was the image they were going for, that 1950?s Roadhouse look yet, this chain only dates from the early 90’s. Clearly they were going for the rustic look and they had succeeded as much as I could see. There was sawdust and peanuts all over the floor, it looked an awful mess, but fun. After this we went to one of the many cafe book stores they have here and had coffee with Kim, one of Daniel’s lesbian friends who was amazingly civil for a lesbian, not like many of the British lesbians at all. I would get to like Kim a great deal over the time I spent in the US, she is a really likeable person ? I am considering asking Kim to come to the UK and operate some lesbian behavioural classes for us.

It is now 1 in the morning, I am expecting to be doing quite a bit tomorrow, not least of which is returning to Atlanta ready to pick up my car on Saturday for the drive down to Orlando. Staying up late is one of those things I just know is going to keep happening despite all the logic behind the reasons for getting some sleep.

Today is 5th November, normally the day in the UK when we let off fireworks, burn a guy on a fire and consider the possibilities for the country had parliament been blown up all those years ago. Not that we do much considering, it wasn’t and it’s not as though it was much of a parliament anyway.

I visited another State today, South Carolina. My State tally is up to three so still some way to go before I have done all of them. Whilst in SC we went to see a dam which was really quite amazing. It wasn’t the most awesome structure on the planet but the scenery around it was just so exactly what I would imagine for the States. Apart from the wonderful and stunning scenery, there was not much else to do there. A small information centre talking about snakes and why they are, how beneficial they are to the environment, how they keep the rodent population down and that old classic, they won’t hurt you if you don’t bother them. How on earth does a person know if they are bothering a snake apart from receiving a pair of fangs in the leg or worse? Of course I was also doomed to hear that recurring tale that tourists hear ? well, if you come back next week ? or, if you were here last week! Well, I’m not, I am here now, why do they even bother?

Went for an exploration of Augusta along the river Savannah which I should like to comment is amazingly clean. The amount of vegetation growing in it was testimony to that fact, a fisherman’s paradise I should imagine. We had coffee with Kim and Marty, I like them. We also met a young lady from North Carolina and it was just so amazing how folk just talk to each other here rather than sit there embarrassed to interact with someone else for fear they may talk back. The coffee shop itself was incredible, playing what I would call ?southern? music, a jazz and blues combination, very friendly and had it got any more laid back, would most likely have fallen over.

Augusta has had a few major floods over the years and one of the bridges marked the various water levels, amazing just how much water can rise and the devastation must be terrible.

Later in the evening we drove to Atlanta to see Mary-Ann. The journey was memorable only by the fact that I was testing out some new software and a GPS system which plotted where we were going along the road, suggested a route etc. One major glitch, the roads around Atlanta airport seem to have moved, for some time we were driving across wasteland according to the computer. We ate at Cracker Barrel I think and the meal involved dumplings, chicken, fried okra, meatloaf and some hash brown casserole.

We slept in Mary-Anne’s other house next door (The White House). It is comfortable enough, well; I guess it must be because I don’t recall waking up at all. In the morning Daniel and I went to have a waffle breakfast. It was a plate sized waffle, some hash brown with diced tomato and some bacon. The waffle also had butter and maple syrup on it which made it quite delicious. Our venue was one of the great multitudes of ?Waffle House? chain restaurants that exist all over and on just about every junction. I got to feel that in the morning it was an OK place to eat yet maybe, just possibly, in the evening this turned into a den of vice and intrigue. OK, it was boring and I want to make it interesting, so sue me.

Following this we travelled to the airport where a nice young lady that had forgotten her contact lenses, decided to give me an upgrade. Apparently, an economy car was not good enough for me, neither was the medium sized family car she first gave me, she decided, instead, that I should have a convertible and who was I to argue? She also said that a young guy like me needed something a bit special to get myself a girl, now, I can’t think of much I would want less than a girl but it was a nice thought. Remember here, she had forgotten her contact lenses, enough said.

The journey to Orlando took much longer than I would have liked. It took at least 8 hours. To say I was worn out when I got here is an understatement. This was partly as a result of traffic but mainly for two other reasons. The first being my insistence of driving around the airport perimeter twice just for the view you understand, the other was my playing with the electric soft top of the car. I couldn’t make my mind up whether up or down was better. You see, when the car was stopped it was warm and sunny and nothing nicer than an open top. At 70 miles per hour, it was a different story so I would need to stop again to put the top back on and so it continues around every 40 miles or so, on off, off on. It took me a few days to decide that it was off anything over 21 deg C and on below that. There was also another slight detour when I turned off from the airport (eventually) in that I then missed the turning for the Interstate. At this point, ?exit right only? didn’t sink in as meaning, that lane had to turn right. I took it as a statement of fact and thought it was actually rather dumb, of course traffic that drives on the right exits right only.  Oh, and the logic of my brain on this day ? stop at a service station, have a wee, the need for such brought on by the chill of the roof down. I would then get a drink which I would finish quickly along the journey and then need a wee again. I would stop, have a wee, get a drink ? and so it went on.

I am now experiencing the part of this break I was really looking forward to and, to be totally honest, it sucks in a glorious way. Certainly I can see why so many people eat out here, that is because all but the largest Wal-Mart has little choice of food to buy to cook. Sure, there are loads of aisles crammed packed with grocery items which all seem to be Mexican here in Florida. Sure, there are steaks, there are potatoes and all sorts of vegetables but as for the sort of food any British person may be used to, there will be a struggle to find it. More on this later I suspect.

Eating alone, boy, some places resent the hell out of that. I am at the point where I have taken to eating away from busy times so that I am allowed to finish my meal in peace. An empty restaurant also allows me to not feel quite so alone. Being alone in an otherwise empty establishment never seems quite as bad as eating alone in a place that is heaving with customers. When it is quiet I can think, take my time, read a book. With others around me I am aware constantly that their fun revolves around others. I also cannot say I have seen many other individual travellers either on this trip. All the people I have seen have been coupled or in family groups. Not that I am desperate to talk to anyone or anything but yesterday I was wandering down a street and obviously staring at someone a little too much, just trying to feel a part of someone’s happiness I guess. It came as a little shock when the guy said hello to me!

Eating at a place I really shouldn’t mention as I am sure the management of Planet Hollywood would not like it ? oops, seems I mentioned them anyway – eating there I got excellent service. I was rapidly shown to my table, I was served promptly, my meal rushed to my table and when I said I was ready for the bill, the nice waitress said “Sure honey, I’ll get you outta here right away”. Now, how can a person argue with such efficiency? Well, I can, I got the distinct impression I was in the way. One person taking a table for two halves profits that is pure economics. The table they gave me seemed to be on a thoroughfare, which was used most regularly. The chair opposite me just contained my rucksack, which is a little trick I have learned, take a rucksack and place it in the opposite chair, others may think I am holding that seat for someone or, at least, it looks like there is not an empty chair there. I digress, that chair was pushed right in to the table yet still it was pushed forward each time someone wanted to get passed.

In contrast to Planet Hollywood I went to a restaurant in the Disney Market Place called “Cap’n Jack’s” Restaurant for lunch earlier that day and they were wonderful. They were friendly and helpful; I thought it was quite possible there that Cathy really did want to look after me. I got the sort of service many visitors will comment upon after a visit to the US. They were busy yet they still had time to see to all my needs in a polite manner that made me feel welcome.

Driving here in the US is a lot different to the UK. For a start, most people have automatic cars which tend to speed up driving and acceleration some way. They also have more road works here than I have seen all year and this is November! Unlike the UK, road works do not normally carry any speed reductions as I have noticed which can be a little tricky to get used to with huge great trucks bearing down on my small convertible. There was one next to me earlier blocking my exit, it was so huge I had to decide to slow down and let him pass before turning or just drive under his trailer!

In a country where just about everything in the home is electric, it amazes me that there are no electric kettles here; they are mainly stove top which are the sort we used 30 years ago. Speaking of electrical appliances, the noise around the house from these things is amazing. Sitting here next to me now I have the noisiest fridge/freezer I have ever heard, add that to the noise of the pool filter and air conditioning, there is some noise here. Speaking of the pool filter, what sort of logic places such a noisy device directly under the window of the master bedroom?

Of wildlife in general, I seem to have seen very little. One large bird yesterday but that is all. I shall keep looking around and see if anything else pops up. That is nothing except racoons, armadillo and snakes. Speaking of snakes, there was a snake waiting for me when I arrived back at my garage. It was not huge but I am sure it could have made a fair attempt at attacking me had it so intended. As I was watching out for the cat that seems to have adopted the Florida home I was not looking for something closer to the ground so it was not until I was just inches away with my hand clutching the door handle that I noticed Mr Slither! A quick identity check showed it to be the Garter snake, a harmless variety I could have taken home and shown to mother had she not died nearly 20 years ago.

On my first full Florida day I just wanted to get myself used to the surroundings so headed for International Drive in Orlando. I parked the car up and went for a long walk. I am tempted to say I walked along the front but, of course, Orlando is inland and looking like a seafront resort is entirely coincidental. It was really hot, the sort of heat that makes me instantly relaxed, not a care in the world and it was great just wandering, taking in the atmosphere and smelling the smells of cooking everywhere from the plethora of  restaurants along the way. My evening was spent swimming in my pool listening to Queen on the stereo, sometimes, life cannot get more perfect.

The following day I set myself for going to Universal Islands of Adventure but instead of staying on the 192 until I got to Interstate 4 I turned off too early and found myself heading for Disney instead. Knowing there was a turn up ahead back onto i-4 I was not too worried and looked around me whilst driving along and took the occasional video clip. I glanced to my right just in time to see the i-4 exit which I had missed (again). Now I was committed to driving to the gates of Disney’s MGM Studios. I had two choices, try and turn around and look really stupid or accept that today I would be visiting MGM instead. No contest really, I planned to visit there at some point anyway so it was no great change of plan. I carefully noted the number of the lane I was parked in and headed for the train. I had not noticed that instead of walking straight I had cut across the lanes of parked cars to avoid the crowd. The result of this being, I now had no idea where I had parked my car. The train to the park pulled in, I got on and we were soon on our way. Upon arrival I realised my wallet was in the car so had to go back again, the only passenger on the return train. It was at this point I realised lane 44 did not contain my car and spend the next 20 minutes playing with the remote key fob of the car listening out for the horn to locate the car eventually in lane 47. Wallet in pocket I headed back to the park, up to the counter and bought my ticket for two days entry to Disney.

I had already made my mind up that the Tower of Terror ride was not going to be my first ride but went there anyway to get a fastpass ticket. From there I walked over the other side of the park and did Star Tours and took loads of pictures. I rode Tower of Terror after that, it was brilliant as always. Before getting on to it, I had gone around to Rock ?n Roller Coaster and got a fastpass for that so it was off Tower of Terror and onto the coaster, I was in heaven. From the coaster I picked up another fastpass for Tower of Terror and then went over to the Back Lot Tour which is always fun in a very corny sort of way. Many more pictures on the way and then a dash back to Tower of Terror for another ride. Now I had time for shopping, an expensive call home to remind me what was wanted and then the parade to watch. Knowing I was not doing any more rides here, I went along to the Tower of Terror and picked up another fastpass ticket, just as a memento.

Today has rained; it has not been cold, just really wet and windy. This has been fortunate in a way as it coincides with a day when I feel particularly tired, too much activity in too short a time frame. I had been visiting Islands of Adventure but after only a few rides I succumbed to the tiredness and weather and went home. With very little else to do, I think I shall settle in for the night with a good movie.

Wal-Mart has a lot to answer for. It is just a little compulsive, not least because it is the one place that always seems to be open. Fortunately, most of the things I really loved there simply will not fit into a suitcase ? except, a new suitcase which has been really tempting noting the condition of my current luggage. Somewhere over the years since the purchase of my suitcase things have fallen apart a little. This is only shocking when I consider it has probably been used no more than 5 or maybe 6 times since new. I have to remember to tell anyone that decides to security check my luggage that they may well slice their wrist open on it now and get them to sign a disclaimer.

The Magic Kingdom was wonderful. My other visits have been rained off so it was lovely to spend this one in glorious heat and sunshine. Space Mountain was first; I just fancied a coaster to start with. Queues were to a minimum so I didn’t have long to wait. My next ride had to be The Haunted Mansion. Last time I was not impressed because I had compared it to the Paris version. This visit was much better and I enjoyed it considerably more. The only new ride for me was the Winnie the Pooh experience, I hadn’t done that before and it was cute, not worth the wait some were doing (I had a fastpass) but a nice little ride. The Alien Encounter has been replaced with a similar attraction using Stitch instead of the Alien from the movie and it was a lot more family friendly though still too much for little kids. I possibly enjoyed that most of the 2004 Disney experiences as it got me through some emotions and I love an attraction that can do that. It was nice too to go on the Liberty Belle paddle steamer. It was fundamentally boring but the views were good and the rest was welcome. Before leaving the park, I did the Disney Railroad but, I have to say it was really boring and I could have done without it.

In the evening I drove back to I-drive to see FAO Schwartz, a store I loved from my last visit. I parked around a mile away and walked there in a relaxing warm evening. Imagine how grumpy I got when the main point of my visit was closed! FAO Schwartz has closed in Orlando now and only have two stores left in New York and Las Vegas.

I find that my food tastes place me in the ?ethnic? section where I will also find the Typhoo teabags which I can happily live without but many others from the UK seem incapable of doing judging by the short supply on the shelves. I mean, my choice of cuisine is hardly exotic but just seems to not coincide with that of the US. At times, I did wonder if I was in Spain by the amount of Spanish everywhere but no, this is still the land of the free ? OK, not free but many are cheap or at least reasonable. With the influx of Mexican or, more accurately, Cuban visitors one would have thought it not inconceivable that making a chilli-con-carne would be possible, apparently not so, not the way I would recognise it anyhow. Same goes for the English national dish of ?curry?, that really is ethnic. I could make it, I mean, the ingredients exist to make my own from scratch. The problem being, the US buys in bulk, I would need to buy the sort of amounts that would last me a year back home making my one curry meal cost an entire week’s food budget.

Next day and I am at another theme park. This time I am at Seaworld. I was looking forward to this because I had not been before. Sadly, I was not impressed with it. The main problem was with the annoying abundance of shops and other extra money making ventures making it difficult to find the attractions. Still, I did find some, the first being the dolphins. I didn’t expect to get quite so close, so close that I could have touched one had it not thought splashing me was more amusing. It was a wonderful experience to be so close to them but I still reserve judgement on the justification to keeping them in captivity at all. The same applies to the Killer Whales, not whales of course but the largest of the dolphin family. True, the show was excellent and amazingly clever but why have them living there at all except just to entertain us, there has to be a better life for such incredible creatures. I could understand it if they were endangered but they are not, they are not at risk at all so why? I rode Kraken, the Seaworld coaster and boy was that extreme, fun, but a little more than I was expecting. Whilst riding it I decided to not stay at Seaworld much longer but instead head off for Universal Studios and do some rides there. So set on that was I that I almost forgot to visit the manatees which were just about the only reason for visiting Seaworld at all! They are wonderful, so serene and so sad how their existence is threatened.

I was at Universal by 3 that afternoon, I had been at Seaworld some 4 hours and that seemed like enough to me. I think Universal Studios is the more spectacularly visually impressive of the parks in Orlando. I also think it contains the best ride of the parks too, ?The Mummy? which was simply unexpectedly awesome. I just had to do that one twice. Annoying thing was, the first time I went straight on, the second I had to queue for 40 minutes. I did ?Earthquake? too whilst I was there and had some late lunch but didn’t find myself wanting to do anything else really, I had enjoyed the experience, watched the ?Blues Brothers?, done some shopping, I was content to leave.

As I was in the area I tried to visit some friends to the north of the City. I called first but got their answer phone as usual so decided to go over anyway just in case their mobile was in the car or something like that. Sadly, even though I found the house straight away, which looks lovely, they were not in so my last chance to visit had passed and it was such a shame as I really enjoy their company and it would have been good to catch up again and so annoying as this was the closest we had been in two years.

I found out something that now seems obvious ? pool lights attract bugs! Yes, whilst swimming in a pool at night anywhere near to the pool light, keeping a closed mouth is a really good idea. Also, beetles are remarkably good swimmers yet even they are incapable of swimming non stop for more than a day or two but are much easier to remove from a pool when deceased.

On my final full Florida day I took a drive to Clearwater on the Gulf of Mexico coastline. I was amazed at the whiteness of the sand on the beach and how lovely it looked. The journey there was for the most boring but became interesting from Tampa over to Clearwater across the causeway. I really don’t think that is the sort of place I would want to be in a hurricane, in fact, I am sure that would be one of the first things to be closed.

I ate at a beach cafe, a lovely jambalaya which I had never had before but it was wonderful. By now I was well and truly hooked on sweet tea and so had several glasses of that too before heading back off to my house.

The trip back up from Florida to Atlanta was much better though I was desperately trying not to put any more fuel in the car. Why I was worried about it I don’t know. US fuel is quarter the price of that in the UK yet, from overhearing some ?good ol? boys? it is possible to believe that they are being totally ripped off.

It was sad to leave my independence but good to be getting back to speaking again too. My timing was spot on and I had my planned lunch break in Georgia just off the Interstate. I decided to try KFC as I was really wanting something familiar rather than having to think about it, the drive was making me do quite enough thinking. I walked in with a smile and then saw the menu. Oh dear indeed, I hardly knew anything there. They had original recipe or new recipe, dark and light chicken, fries replaced with mashed potato and a side of coleslaw made with virtually raw cabbage and a biscuit, the mash had gravy, very odd indeed. I needed the toilet first anyway but had to content myself with the disabled toilet that had no lock on it with me practically facing the door to do a pee, I am so glad no one walked in.

Once outside again I was confronted with the thickest southern accent I have ever heard and couldn’t understand a word. Still, not defeated I relied on body language and she seemed to think we were communicating so maybe I did a good job, that or she has the same problem with all her customers and so has got used to them just asking for what they want and ignoring all her questions.

Radio and television in the US is much like the UK, too many channels, way too many adverts. In fact, some if not, many of the adverts are better than the TV or radio shows they interrupt. The news teams seem to have fixations, one story can dominate the news for weeks at a time yet, in fact, has little public interest beyond the soap opera appeal. The main stories here seem to be either the election or, more important yet, the murder trial of Scott Peterson. Crammed in here are the dead donkey stories that we in Britain don’t do anymore except on local TV. A programme was broken into to ask for the help of the public in capturing an alleged attacker, not a murderer or assassin but an ?alleged? attacker.

Not wanting 440 miles of adverts to listen to on the radio I decided to buy some CD’s which made the time pass much more enjoyably and more relaxing.

US humour, if I can call it that, is not as we have got used to it in the UK. We are, or were, more into the one line gag, the short comical story or the real life observations of the ridiculous. Here, they too do ?gags? but mainly it seem to be what I have come to term ?clever humour?. In other words “This is not funny but it is so clever an observation or just so darn right and you know I am a comedian so you are going to applaud me” An example ?. “Health care, what about health care here? Yea, those doctors, they don’t care anymore, they are so afraid of being sued they would rather let you die”. Now, I am not sure, did you laugh? I expect the audience to be thinking, yeah, we all know it, how clever of you to be able to put it into words. Anyway, in my limited opinion, American humour is most often, just not funny. Strangely though, individual people living here most often are very funny.

I did a Steve Williams first today, an American Football match. This has now equalled the amount of sports fixtures I have attended anywhere, a great sports fan I am not. Daniel’s nephew Kyle was playing in what I guess must be some sort of junior league. I had no idea what the rules are, apparently something like rugby only different. I would say ?different? is an understatement. There are touchdowns and probably goals though, in rugby terms, this may be a conversion. The quarterback in the big guy I think and they are all dressed for battle in a way we British would not dream of doing for risk of being seen as unmanly. From my perspective, if I am going to have several guys hurtling themselves on me at a great speed, I’d have all the protection I could find! The other team didn’t stand a chance mainly as they were playing rubbish but I reckon that has a lot to do with their coach who didn’t stop yelling at them in a very abusive way. Kyle’s coach was calmness itself, true; his side was winning, not much to get in a panic about. However, I get the impression he is most often like this with instruction and gentle encouragement, always a winning formula.

Kyle is one of Wendy’s four children, Wendy being Daniel’s sister. After a while I got used to calling her ?Windy? it is an accent thing. I was thinking how much Wendy’s eldest boy, Aaron, was like my Max, the same style completely from the hair to the shoes ? when I got home, I found Max has had a makeover, cropped hair, colours other than black, hell, just when I think I know them!

Daniel and I visited a gay bar; it was just like UK gay bars. Not in the best part of town and of questionable design quality. I enjoyed it all the same though the gin and tonic was awful but for the equivalent of ?3.50 for all I could drink for the evening, I shouldn’t complain. It was nice to meet some more people that Daniel knew and to also go back to one of their houses too. Chris is a lovely guy, he was way too pissed for his own good and heaven knows what he was doing driving. He managed to stay awake long enough for us to have a good few games of cards and we were also joined by two other guys. I enjoyed not being treated as the old guy, I was nearly twice their age but they treated me just as I am sure they would have any one of their other mates. True, the English accent got them a little and they smiled several times at it but I quite enjoy that. Someone has to be either comfortable with another person or stupid to be able to have a laugh with them about their accent and I didn’t think of any of them as stupid.

Our Savannah trip was good and well worth the long drive. I thought Fort Pulaski was thought provoking and an emotional experience, I also admired Dan for his persistence in walking around despite the obvious discomfort he was in and he doesn’t complain about it either, I have a lot of respect for people that are able to do that. US historical places being so much younger than most castles of the UK made understanding the history and emotion of the fort much easier. Seeing the battle scars still visible on the walls was dramatic, sadly, arrows fired at castles don’t leave many battle scars.

Savannah as a city is very historic as was reflected in many of the buildings. Sadly, it had been dumbed down and spruced up for the tourists but it is still possible to see the original architecture there. As with all tourist magnets, the prices were hyped so we opted to drive a little outside the city and ate at a Longhorn Steakhouse instead. My Sirloin was perfect and the sweet potato worked well with it. Much of the food I had in the US was good and far superior to similarly priced UK restaurants.

It was sad to leave Augusta for the last time but good too to be moving on to somewhere new.

Back in Atlanta and Daniel and I went to the city with our first port of call being Outwrite Bookstore & Coffeehouse. Daniel and I were chatting so much I doubt either of us paid any real attention to who else was in there less yet made any effort to talk to anyone. It is good to use American book stores with coffee shops; they are so much more civil than those here in the UK and people can walk around browsing whilst drinking a coffee. The rest of the evening was spent finding vantage points to take pictures of the skyscrapers.

Almost three weeks have passed since my arrival here and I have come to love much about this country. The service I receive, I really don’t care if they wish I have a nice day or not, hearing them say it makes me feel good and that is why it is said. Being with the Summers family, in many ways, dysfunctional but full of love and admiration for each other, most importantly, not afraid to show it either. Sure, all the normal family issues are there, the back biting, the arguments, (the law suits), but on the whole, these people are part of each other and it is this that I believe keeps this country great. Even neighbours that don’t like each other manage to utter a civil word on meeting, in the UK; we just don’t or won’t do that. It is telling our kids we love them, telling them they have done well, telling them that they are important that gives them the confidence to make their lives worthwhile. Sure, some, even with the best family upbringings will fail, will fall down because they are just not strong enough but with this sort of family backbone, there is always hope for them. All any parent could ask for is the love and respect of their children and that those children do all that they can to make happiness for themselves. What else do I like about the US? The architecture is something special, whole buildings built Art deco style, bold and brassy, up there pronouncing to the world that it doesn’t matter that they may not be to the taste of many; they are there, statements of their age and something to be proud of. Train whistles, I love them, I lay in bed listening and smiling. I have no idea why that is, for some reason they make me smile and feel warm inside. What do I not like? Politicians here seem so darned dishonest and so open about it I have to feel it is distasteful. It is one thing to be dishonest but these people seem almost proud of it, they don’t care that they are duping millions of people into thoughts that are simply inaccurate. This most recent election campaign was just scary with the methods used to win over the votes. Somehow, a book written over 2000 years ago and known for a fact to be flawed and the most contested book in history is setting the agenda for the political face of this country. Immigrants, Muslim’s, homosexuals and those not wishing to follow religion are now to blame for the wrongs of this country. I get scared as hell when a political party cannot win elections based on the real issues of peace and well being across their country, the good health of their nation, and equality of all the citizens of that country, the right to live safely and away from fear. Those guys fighting for a place in the most influential building on this planet should be ashamed of themselves. I don’t like the way this country pollutes the planet with so little regard for the consequences. The arrogance of a country that believes, genuinely believes it has the right to police the rest of the planet. The US is not superior to the rest of us, it is just bigger and has more money then most, at school we used to call guys that abused that situation bullies. The US needs to learn to work with as many countries as possible to attain world peace and stability not dictating some western ideal to others. Britain is little better in this but then we, as a nation, would not be doing what is currently happening on our own/ With great power comes even great responsibility. Oh, I don’t like grits but I guess I can let them off that!

Daniel and Dan cooked me a wonderful meal to end my stay, hardly anything I had tried it before and it was simply delicious. It was a shame the bean casserole was attacked by the cat so I couldn’t have any more but there was plenty to eat anyway. The visit to Wal-Mart the previous day had been really boring and I was annoyed that I left my wallet behind so could not buy a few last minute items that I wanted to get.

The drive to the airport with Danny was quite sad, I was really going to miss him, I think we get along really well. I was going to miss this country too. Thankfully, the journey through the airport and home was trouble free. I arrived back just slightly early and Robin was there to greet me. Our drive back to Northampton was slow but nothing unusual for this country.

Jet lag was in full swing when I got home but I managed to stay awake, it was great to see the kids again. Jermaine arrived home last and within minutes had a seizure splitting his lip open so we spent the remainder of the evening in casualty with him, I was home again, back to normal.

Port Eynon, Wales 2004

Our plan was to get going at around 12:30 arriving, with at least a lunch break, in Port Eynon at around 5:30 on the Friday evening. Plans being what plans are, this was destined to go wrong.

We actually left home at 1pm but decided a meal first would be an excellent idea. It was this same excellent idea that may have been our mistake, for when we finally set off at 2pm we were in for a radical rethink of our route because when we hit the M1 at junction 16, it had become Britain’s seconds largest car park after the M25.

You see, like it or not we always tend to stick to Motorways when we can finding that the extra distance is soon counteracted by the increased speed achieved thus making this journey one of those where we would be on Motorway for much of the journey. With the M1 at a stand still we were screwed with the motorway theory and had to plot our course on the ?A? roads and byways of the Midlands.

It is always customary to complain about the ?man? in front and his stupid driving slowing us down and I am pleased to say that on our entire 186 mile journey, there was indeed one such man, the rest were not men but I cannot say more than through fear of alienating myself from a percentage of the population. One truck driver very nearly got me reaching for the telephone to call that number on the back asking if he was driving well. I didn’t because he turned off, clearly having sensed he was pushing his luck insisting on doing 30mph in a 60mph zone. The man I spoke of earlier was Micra Man, a guy in his mid fifties I would say. His main concern with driving was to maintain a steady speed never more than 10mph under the speed limit and doing a near emergency stop with each speed camera. This was made all the worse by the fact that he seemed to feel his 5 feet of car required the space of the Wallace Arnold coach he normally travels in and it was near impossible to overtake. Once clear of the Evesham ring road I found a fair amount of dual carriageway and, though I do normally remain somewhere near the speed limit, my frustrations led me to be dead wicked and experiment on the abilities of my vehicle on an open road. One very interesting fact I discovered. Once I had got to the maximum speed, I was able to gain an extra 10mph by switching to cruise control.

We did hit the M5 at just around 20 minutes behind our original schedule, this surprised us no end and we felt compelled to stop at the next services to recover from the shock, now we were even further behind schedule!

British service stations ? we need them, couldn’t do without them but, ?1.80 for a mug of tea? Not even good tea mind, just bog standard sweep it off the floor tea bags I cheap cups that cost around 20p a unit if that. I could have taken the mug, the pot and a spoon away with me and they would still have been in profit! What is it about our service stations that they are allowed to get away with just making prices up? Having driven in Europe quite a bit, I have to say that though the prices increase just a little bit, they really are quite comparable to high street prices. To make matter worse, were we to decide to pay by cash, all automatic teller machines charge around 75p to make a withdrawal! Should we be unlucky enough to need to use the toilets excessively and have a mean, the amount of time spent inside will probably also incur us an extra fee for parking!

Back on the motorway and our journey further onto Wales was quite uneventful. That was, uneventful until we got to the bridge, ?4.60! They are surely having a laugh. That sort of money would get me half way to Paris in France on a toll road with bridges thrown in to keep me awake ? who thinks of these prices? Worse yet, charging to get into Wales and free to get out, surely that has to be the wrong way round?

Once clear of the bridge, we then had almost 30 miles of hardly moving traffic and delays before we again discovered the nearly open road. By now, I was also finding this duel signage was getting very annoying! I cannot see any justification is showing signs in Welsh when statistically, only around 2.6% of the population speak the language and, at best, only an average of 19.9% across the country as a whole. Surely, if we follow this logic, then if 19.9% of the country are able to speak another language, the same other language, we should then have road signs across the country in that language too? Oh dear, I remember visiting Ilford a few years ago where many of the signs were in squiggles that I didn’t understand, enough said!

By now the sun was getting low through the trees along the country lanes beyond Swansea. The roads were getting narrower and the low walls leaned ever more toward those roads. There is something very worrying about driving along a road with the sun in my eyes and knowing there is a small wall alongside me that I can no longer see and a coach driving toward me! Thankfully, my judgement on such things was sound and the paintwork of my car and the integrity of the walls are intact.

Upon arrival in Port Eynon at around 7pm, yes, it took 5 hours to get there; we were greeted by Martyn, a good friend of ours at the gates to the public car park that required a combination code to access. Doesn’t seem very public if members of the public need to know a private code but hey ho, this is Wales and I am English, who said I am meant to understand it? I have to say, it was most welcome to be greeted by a friendly face when we arrived, no made any more or less so by the fact that Martyn knew the gate combination code. We were soon inside this now long past lifeboat house that is now a Youth Hostel and selecting our bunks from those available in there. It has to be said how wonderful it is to have a youth hostel that believes all their guests will be 5 years old and very short. Now, it does so happen that I am very short but even I struggled with the getting into the top bunk routine. I can climb a ladder OK but some clever person had decided to add an extra twist and put the ladder directly under the apex of the roof so that not only did I have to crawl to get in the bed but I also had to lean to one side! Apologies, I digress ? It seemed to soon be decided that a while spent in the local hostelry would be conducive to getting to know each other.

The Ship in of Port Eynon is one of those weird pubs that really looks like it should be something else but I don’t know what ? closed comes to mind. To the right in the very scary public bar so thick with smoke that I was unable to see the far side of it, one of those places that become quieter the further in a stranger walks. On the other side is the lounge bar. This was much friendlier and already contained within its walls some fellows from our group.

Allow me to deviate from this for a moment, I shall return. When in Rome a couple of weeks ago I was sitting at a pavement caf?having just had a meal and consuming copious amounts of cheap beer when I could not help to notice the distinct tones of Kermit the Frog from behind me. Unaware of the volume of my voice I asked those there with me if they too could hear Kermit the Frog. What I had not realised was just how close one of ‘Kermit’s friends was sitting behind me. Shall we say, there will always be a little part of the United States of America that dislikes English people intensely? So, what is the connection I hear you ask, OK, I don’t but flow with me here ? The Ship Inn had a rather attractive bar person by the name of Chris, I mean, it was just me that noticed. So, we were chatting amongst ourselves and I just happened to mention how much I wished that the really cute barman was on the menu because I would very much like to suck on his sausage or something similar. I could tell by the look on the faces of those around me that I was going to regret saying that. This was confirmed when the hand of a female member of staff reached over to remove my now empty plate from in front of me! One of these days I shall learn to check behind me before I open my mouth, I blame my parents for not taking me to a pantomime when I was younger, this is where British children learn the art of looking behind them. I managed to leave the pub in one piece so either the waitress never heard my comment or Chris the Barman was very pleased to hear it, I shall never know.

We took our first walk across the beach. It has sand and pebbles and rocks and just about any manner of things that I could trip or slide on, in short, looked good from a distance but close up ? well, it will not get a blue flag of excellence from me.

For the remainder of the evening we played games and chatted and consumed even more booze before retiring for the night to our little nurseries and private rabbit hutches. To say I slept badly was riding dangerously close to understatement. I tossed much of the night, and not in a fun way either. I needed the loo but navigating my way out of the top bunk in the dark did not provoke images I would care to be photographed. Someone in the room was snoring, not a terrible snore just a low nasal murmur. I have had worse nights sleep but normally they are a lot more fun than this!

Totally non refreshed I emerged the following morning to a gathering of fellow Hostellers. It seemed that the best laid plans of what to do that day were quickly being rewritten and replaced with new ones. A group headed off for a distant castle or two, another for a walk and our group for a following the leader amble around the point. We discovered a 16th century salt house, (it was actually made of brick but salt was extracted there), which had been somewhat spoilt by some stainless steel railing no doubt put in place to protect the local authority from being sued by anyone stupid enough to accidentally fall over the edge of a very obvious wall. Of course, if the water in the reservoirs were still rich in salt, in theory they would have floated so no problem. After deciding this place was really rather dull we headed off to take a look at a nearby cave at Culver Hole which had been thoughtfully bricked up some years ago to provide a home for pigeons. Of course, that may just be a myth; the official story is that it was a man-made cave, possibly associated with the long-vanished Port Eynon castle, it appears to have served as a smugglers? den, armoury and dovecot, and there is supposed to be a lost secret passage under the headland to the Salt House. I think I prefer the pigeon theory. We risked life and limb to see this wonder so I feel entitled to believe whatever I want.

Suitably proud of ourselves for doing such a daring deed, we returned to the accommodation and pondered the rest of our day.

Two of our number had decided to traverse the walk from Port Eynon to Rhossilli some nine miles away. It felt wrong to leave them to do it alone but that feeling soon passed and we decided to drive to Rhossilli instead and walk to Worm’s Head. Now, Worm’s Head is just where this part of Wales runs out of Land and for 5 hours a day it regains a little more because a causeway appears to some nearby islands. There is no better reason to walk this particular bit of the country than that, just because for much of the time it is impossible! Well, it has to be said; even at low tide it is not a million miles off impossible, stupid, foolhardy, rash, mistaken, daft and down right idiotic all come to mind as reasonable descriptions for the journey. All in all though, it was really quite fun and very rewarding. I am aching like hell now with the strain of it all but I think, as a one off, never to be repeated excursion, it was fun.

The evening saw us return to the Ship Inn, yes, it was that good. Well, no, it wasn’t but it was the only place that seemed to stay open so late and everyone with us could have a drink as they were not driving!

We retired to the Lifeboat hut again, drank some more then I had an early night which proved to be a waste of time seeing as I had an even worse night of not sleeping. I was so awake I actually did get up and use the toilet and without falling or hitting my head. Despite lack of sleep, I was still up at 7:30am!

Suitably fed and watered, washed and smelling fresh we packed our things and bid a fond farewell to those friends that were anywhere to be seen and headed off easterly to England and Home.

Almendros Apartments May-June 2005

Nick myself and Martyn drove down to Horley, just outside Gatwick on the Sunday. Our flight was Monday morning but we really didn’t want to get up early so decided to book into a guest house for the night. Typically, the journey was not without delay, British roads being what they are. The M25 had the speed restrictions in places way too early which caused traffic problems itself then the M23 had problems so a further delay, we were so glad we didn’t have to face all that on a deadline!

We have stayed at the guest house several times before. It is typically British in that I felt as though I was visiting a long last aunt and uncle that barely knew me, yet, out of some sort of family obligation, were obliged to accommodate me. The couple were reasonable, as long lost and not very interesting relatives go. He kept himself to himself, probably keen to watch the cricket, she was friendly but with a smile the sort I would expect to see on the face of an air steward when greeting passengers. Genuine in that, you’ve paid your money and this is what I have to do kind of a way. The room itself was reminiscent of my grans. I was half expecting to see a clean pair of flannelette sheets in the cupboard and a pair of huge knickers in the drawers. As with many UK guest houses, this one showed the signs of many years of modifications to comply with new regulation so nothing really matched anymore. The door was nigh covered with warnings, regulations and a map guiding us to the compost heap in the event of a fire. I am not sure but there may have been a warning on the bathroom door ?Water may be Hot? or ‘Do not Place false teeth in the lavatory?. Suitably refreshed with the supplied dried essences and boiled water we decided the best way to spend the remainder of the evening.

Our first port of call was the local pub where we partook of their food and multitudes of beverages whilst evaluating the relative merits of the waiters and bar staff. When filled to the satisfaction of all we went back to the guest house and proceeded to ‘exercise’ to lessen the load of our feast and to examine, in great detail, the ability of the beds to withstand sustained bombardment from various directions. Following our study session, we retired for the night having set various mobile phone alarms in order to cover ourselves against one not working.

Next morning at seven something o’clock we went down to the first over indulgence of the holiday that was our breakfast. Several months of dieting were already fast going down the toilet one way or the other. Now, normally, breakfast is a bowl of Weetabix with a few grains of sugar and a dollop of milk. Somehow, my logic dictated that I needed to eat more; after all, I was not now going to eat until I was in the air and everyone knows that nothing a person eats when flying will do any good and certainly does not contain anything that will put on weight. The logic of that being, an aeroplane needs to be carefully balanced; therefore, they can’t have the weight of the passengers constantly changing. One major problem with that theory being, if the weight of passengers must remain the same, why have a loo on the plane?

Everyone also knows that when a person is about to embark on a long journey the need to urinate increases in direct relation to the closeness of departure. Thus it was that the drinking of three cups of tea was a mistake! Even the several slices of toast was unable to soak up the excess and far too many visits to Messrs. Armitage and Shanks were required.

The nice man at the guest house then drove us to the airport in his ageing Mondeo estate that he managed to get speeds from I am sure the manufacturers had not envisaged when they designed it. I should have been concerned when he encouraged me to firmly wedge in the suitcases to the boot.

All was smooth at the airport until I got to security and the buzzer went off. I was somewhat concerned as I knew I had nothing metal on me, I assumed it was probably my hearing aids. This nice man examined me closely which was not so terrible, somewhat disappointed that he didn’t think of me as more of a risk and decide to do a more thorough job, he let me pass through. Once Air Side we settled for a short wait with a coffee and a pee but not in the same cup. The lads went for their pee when the fire alarms sounded. I was somewhat hoping this was one of those please ignore the alarms thing but it wasn’t. There was an announcement that this was not a drill and we were to evacuate. I was half expecting one of those coded enouncements that such places inflict upon us so as not to create panic Could Inspector Bomb please come to the main departure lounge.

The lads came out but left in the loo some poof that had just sat down to deliver his contents.

Reunited we left the terminal (I hate that word) and walked for some distance to the muster station. We trundled through corridors, upstairs, down stairs, across the roof where mere mortals seldom tread reaching our destination some 15 minutes later. No member of staff was anywhere to be seen and we waited some time before a very nice man joined us with multitudes of congratulations on our intelligent observation of the fire procedure and our diligent following of the written instruction to head this way. Sadly, we were now Land Side which meant another visit to passport control and security. Now, we have all seen ?Airport? on the television, we know how much practise that do for these things and how they have it off to a fine art getting the airport back to normal again. Well, we may have been watching but clearly none of those that are responsible for doing things such as this were! Two security posts had now closed; there were no staff that had any power to do anything guiding people. We spent twenty minutes in the wrong queue before we got close enough to the front to see what queue it eventually snaked into. With the time now many minutes past the time we were due at the gate and with no movement of the queue before us, we joined the back of an even longer, yet faster moving queue.

Thinking back to my previous passing through security I was prepared to be examined in close detail when the buzzer sounded and the lane we had chosen was now near the front. I approached the arch and nothing, not even a pathetic blip was heard. The only thing I had done was to drop my own little message in the porcelain telephone Air Side and I am quite certain I had not heard the clink of metal hit the pan at any time. It is a mystery to me just what I had lost that had set it off before!

Once through this nightmare of British organisation we now had a run for our plane which was meant to have left some 20 minutes hence. We made it, they had delayed all aircraft waiting for stranded passengers, we got the impression that a great many people stayed in the loo with that poof as our flight was packed when we arrived.

Gatwick crisis over we head south for Westerly cost of Africa, just off from Morocco. The weather on the flight was not good for viewing and our approach into Gran Canaria was an instrument only affair. Occasionally the pilot dropped us below the low cloud covering to get a bearing but only short glimpses before he piled back the power to the engines and rose us back up above the clouds once more.

We’d done our homework and knew that cloud in the north of the island was normal and nothing to be alarmed about. There was rarely cloud in the south. Of course, we also tried to ignore the fact that the airport is not exactly north but more midway between the two. When it started to rain we were still not bothered, it would get better. Sure enough, when we got to Playa Del Ingles it was better but only just. There was more blue sky and it was hot, around 26? but there was some ominous clouds that were simply not far enough away for our liking. On that first afternoon we sorted out our priorities and headed for the nearest bar for a beer or two and then off to the sand dunes, one cannot say that we are in Playa without doing the dunes. It was deserted when we arrived at hut 7 which signifies the gay area of the coastline. We were surprised by that but also seeing hut 6 behind hut 7 whereas it should have been some half a kilometre further up the beach. Apparently a violent storm had displaced many of the huts (small beach bars) and many were either missing or in the wrong places, clearly the gay one was made of stern stuff! It is somehow idyllic to be so far from civilisation, miles from home without a care in the world, shame how these things never last.

On our walk back, we stopped off for a beer at a nearby bar. We had to have San Miguel though it was not cheap, very refreshing it was too.

Back to the accommodation and unpacking then off for a meal.

Meals in Playa Del Ingles can vary tremendously in quality if not in price. What we had previously discovered was that the better establishments were those that required no advertisement. Too many of the others employed hard sell to gain custom and we found them to be all too often, substandard. One exception to this rule would be the Miramar in the Yumbo centre. Both Martyn and Nick had expressed an interest in sampling some ‘delights’ of foreign places in the culinary department. The very best solution to this curiosity was Paella. Neither the lads are favourites of seafood, less still those that don’t look too pretty. I was proud of the pair of them from trying the dish, without complaint and even having second servings.

Having eaten far too much and in danger of seriously undoing our belts, we headed off for a walk into Maspalomas and the Faro 2 shopping centre. On the way there we discovered that we were in need of a pee, probably still trying to extract the several cups of tea we had at the guest house. On finding a quiet spot, off the beaten track, we let it all flow out. We could not help to notice the luminosity of Nick’s green pee; it looked like nuclear lime juice. This, it is sad to say, was the first sign of things to come.

Faro 2 is not that large a centre and is aimed almost exclusively at the straight German market. With shirts starting at ?70+ we were not going to be extending our wardrobes any time soon. We may have liked to examine some electrical items more closely but found again that the hard sell tactics were too off putting to bother.

We spent a lovely first naked day at the gay beach admiring our neighbours with carefully chosen mirror sunglasses and attempting to take pictures of the general surroundings that naked men just kept getting in the way of. Honestly, some men just have no consideration. This was Martyn’s first experience of naked swimming and he appeared to enjoy it very much. When he swam on his back it was reminiscent of a submarine with periscope raised. The water being somewhat cold, the said periscope was never raised too much above the surface.

Seriously concerned that we may get burnt, we spent many moments melting cream into each other’s bodies in a way that would be scorned on a straight beach yet seemed perfectly natural here. Despite this, we all managed to ?catch the sun? on the walk back to civilisation and the straight world later in the afternoon. The beers that awaited us at the end of the trek were most welcome and evaporated soon after making contact with our lips.

On the Friday we had rented a car and driven to Palmitos Park, a botanical theme park a few kilometres outside the town. The beauty of the place is such that it quickly becomes commonplace and it is easy to rush around missing many of the things on offer to see. Perhaps it was only on seeing the pictures upon our return that we had realised the wonders that were there. It never fails to amaze me though that a place claiming to be protecting wildlife would put on a show with performing parrots. These beautiful creatures surely deserve a better way of life than riding a bicycle along a rope will ever give them.

Sadly and most annoyingly, it was around this time that I discovered things were not quite right ‘down below’. Within hours of my first discovery I was experiencing pain in a way I care not to repeat whilst performing the most basic of bodily functions. This took several days of pain and an embarrassing visit to a doctor to remedy and really put a dark cloud over what we had hoped to be one of the major events of the holiday.

During the time we had the rental car we tried to get in as many trips as possible. We spent many hours trying to find a shopping mall and then, when found, wondered why it was that we wanted to go there as we didn’t really have anything to shop for. I guess it was one of those things that seemed like a good idea at the time.

Another and infinitely more interesting trip was to the highest point on the island, Mont Nueblo. Upon our last visit, we assumed we had got quite close to the top but, in fact, we were not even close. This time we were determined to get as high as a person could go without climbing gear. The air got quite thin as we approached the summit area and my throat was hurting. The view ascending had been incredible but not really prepared us for the outstanding view from the top. We tried several attempts to get a picture of all three of us together with the use of assorted red rocks and a camera, had this been a challenge on the Krypton Factor, we would have failed miserably. Our saviour was in the form of a jolly friendly German chap who may well have been chatting us up but was prepared to take a picture all the same. I somehow got the impression he spent much of his time on the mountain doing much the same thing.

On walking round the high point with sheer drops to the side, I was amazed to see families having a picnic on the edge of cliffs and their tiny offspring running around as though they were playing on the front lawn. There are some things in life that are just too painful to watch and this was one of them. One other was Nick and Martyn manoeuvring around the cliff edges in order to get a better picture. Now I can do that myself but those that I care about really ought to have the decency to stand well clear of danger!

Our next trip was to Aquasur, a water park near Playa Del Ingles. This was great fun though, somehow, Nick always chose the slow chute to ride. We concluded that the speed of the chutes must have rotated at intervals throughout the day and Nick was just unlucky to have always chosen the one on ?slow duty? for that moment. I have to say, it was fun to see Martyn’s Speedos retreat to a place they should not have been on one of the faster slides. Martyn is also aware now how impractical arms are as brakes once the downward journey had commenced on water slides. But then, I am still at a loss to know what the guard thought Martyn was supposed to use when he blew his whistle and ordered him to stop. I am convinced that the damage to arms was greater than that to the most likely empty water Martyn would have hit at the bottom.

There is a certain walk that develops at water parks in hot countries. It is a little like a chicken trying to escape from an oven and is really very amusing. I am not saying that the ground was hot but when a group of 20+ holidaymakers entered the pool at the same time, a fair proportion of the water evaporated into steam.

Our friend Martyn was a willing, if forced, volunteer upon the stage at Pub Nestor to assist with a drag act. Sadly, when she through her ‘baby’ at Martyn to catch he missed and his WKD proceeded to soak me and I spend a sticky fair while waiting for me to be able to slip quietly unnoticed into the gents to clean up. Martyn, meanwhile, managed to acquire a replacement beverage courtesy of the management. On another night I had a slight accident with a beer glass when it slipped from my firm grasp and landed on the table. I managed, with superior reflexes, to catch it with barely a drop spilled. What it took me some time to notice was that the stem was now naked of a base and I had no way of putting it down. Not that this is much of a problem with a beer anyway. However, the management insisted on replacing it with another after I had finished the contents and I was not about to argue.

Some meals were noteworthy. There was the salmon at Emilio y Miguel’s. At ?11 it was a total bargain. I don’t think many visitors to Playa Del Ingles, one of Europe’s premier gay destinations, would admit to having enjoyed fish on their holiday but we certainly did! To finish this off we had a banana flamb? How any one dessert could be so wicked yet wonderful is beyond me. Our meals at Merlin’s were also worth a mention. Not so much for the food itself, good though it was, but more for the attentions of the staff and management, it was difficult, in fact, to leave. One last establishment we cannot leave out is the Restaurante Chino just opposite the Yumbo. The food is not much better than can be had in many of the Chinese foot eateries of the resort but the boys, oh the boys! I have no idea who does the hiring and firing in that place but the man has taste.

One final trip in the car was to circumnavigate the island. Martyn chose to sit in the rear of the car which later proved to be a mistake as the winding roads of GC makes many rides at Alton Towers seem quite mild. One piece of mirth worth mention is the totally ridiculous sound of the emergency vehicle sirens they have on the island. It was like having Jimmy Saville trying to pass us ? now then, now then.

The views were stunning but not worth the effort, certainly never to be done twice. By the time we got close to Playa again, I don’t think any of us were very enthused to do more sightseeing. We did visit Puerto Mogan which is very picturesque but somewhere I can imagine gets terribly dull after a day or two. Puerto Rico was next on the list but none of us had the spirit for it, we were far more interested in spirits of a quite different kind.

The two final trips with the car, one that I have to say had the style of a tortoise the power to match, were a visit to what used to be called Faro 1 but now has a totally different name, we identify it as ‘the place with the turd’. The other trip was back to Aquasur. This time, with delicate areas still most uncomfortable, I had to be more careful what I rode, after all, this was just about all I could ride at this stage so I had to make the most of it. ‘The Place with the Turd’ was like all other shopping areas on the island, full of hard sell, tack and coffee bars. What it is also full of, quite literally, is shit. Some no brained individual some time back decided that an excellent marker for the public toilets was a two storey, permanently moistened turd. True, and with my eternal gratitude, they did refrain from adding full realism to the thing but I mean a giant turd, whatever next? On second thoughts, perhaps we best not go there.

Much of this part of the holiday was spent doing typical holiday things. You know the sort ? on the beach still trying to decide how to get a photo of the naked guy across the way (replace guy for girl if that is your thing), better yet, how to get to talk to them. It is about having copious amount of alcohol and associated food stuffs, walking, tanning and general jollity.

On June 1st the three of us decided to take a walk across the dunes after a large meal and walk of some of our excesses. It was quite early, around 8pm when we set out. To cut a long story short, we were mugged by a man armed with a knife. He didn’t get a lot, around ?60 and the important thing was, we were all able to walk off in one piece. We did the right thing and called 112 (The international 999) but, contrary to what was promised, could not find any operator that spoke English so we had a very scary walk back to civilisation and were glad to acquire some more cash to purchase a few beers. Later that evening we had to get a cab to the police station to make a statement which took some time. In the evening and late into the night we sat a little stunned getting increasingly merry.

The following day, we were visited first thing by a couple of hunky special branch guys who asked us to accompany them to the station and showed us some pictures, one of which was our attacker. It appears that our description was good enough for them to identify him and he had already been arrested by the time we got to the station. We had to make another statement and sign 7 times but that was an end to it! We have to say that Ray, our holiday representative from Respect was wonderful, we couldn’t have got through it without him. As for the British Consulate, forget them, they are no more than a citizens advice bureaux and not very good at that either.

Three days later it was my birthday and we had arranged to do a catamaran trip with some other men and ladeez. We chose the one organised by Pub Nestor as it was longer but I am sure that the other two trips were equally worthy. One other was arranged at the Almendros and the other at the Ibiza Bar with the advertisement in the loo, somewhere I have often thought was an excellent source of advertising, after all, and we all need something to read. During the trip I was treated to some parascending and the controls of a jet bike on which I was reminded that I could sometimes let go of the throttle! Many times I tried to catch up to the lesbians on the bike in front but they cheated and cut corners. I was impressed that some of the camp queens as seen previously at the pub were really good fun to be with. I must make a note to myself, do not prejudge! A wonderful day indeed, I could not have asked for a better birthday. The only glitch of the day was when, through a breakdown of communication coupled with a forgotten realisation that nothing arranged by poofs ever leaves on time, Martyn left Nick and I to have a coffee alone without leaving us with any money to do so. I guess he saved me needing the loo on the journey so no harm done! That evening, and after several hours to sober up, we were back at Pub Nestor and they treated me to a complimentary liqueur served with a sparkler and an accompaniment of ?Happy Birthday? across the PA system, a lovely gesture I thought. This was sickeningly embarrassing but lovely all the same.

The following day I had my second treat. A lady came to our bungalow to give me a back massage, a facial, head and scalp massage and reflexology, a two hour period of indulgence just for me. This would have been all the more wonderful had there not been a tear in the massage bed which caused considerable discomfort to me and completely detracted and spoilt many aspects of the experience. It is difficult to relax when there is pain involved as many gay men will tell you. Should this be read by them, perhaps, when I return to the Almendros later in the year, around October, they may want to offer me some sort of freebie? OK, it was worth a try, you have to give me that much.

I discovered one thing on this holiday and that is this, I have 4 kids and long to be able to do some serious shopping on my own without constant pleas for expensive items they just must have (I have no idea where they get it from). Sadly, what I noticed when I had the chance to shop on my own is that I just can’t be arsed. Love spending money but when the challenge of finding the time and the space has gone it just somehow seemed as exciting as doing the weekly shop at Tesco.

On our last day we forced ourselves to do some naked shots on the dunes and these can be seen on respective Gaydar profiles, you will need to contact us for the details of those!

Coming home was a dream if we ignore the minor hiccup when we discovered we were not booked on to the flight, quickly sorted with a few phone calls! Oh, and Las Palmas airport has just about the worst coffee I have ever tasted. Unless you are very used to caffeine, it is best avoided.

As a special request, if people cannot go on holiday and be suitably chilled afterwards not to feel the need to incessantly complain on the way home, could they please stick to Bognor, that really is a holiday destination worthy of critique.

Gran Canaria is one of those places that just have to be returned to. I guess there is always going to be something (or someone) we wish we had done. I will be back again October 2004 all things working as they should.

Not the Only Poof in the Gatwick Village

Memoirs of a Gran Canaria Vacation

Gran Canaria is one of those places that was nothing (and some would say still is) and yet is now a bustling tourist resort for that all year round holiday experience !. Well, that’s what the brochures say but who believes what they read in a brochure ! yes, most holidaymakers! The reality is, the island is extremely variable both in weather and how many people visit. It’s fair to say that a July or August visit is going to be very hot with unbroken sunshine and wall to wall families, screaming brats and yobs. The winter months, for those of us further north, will be reasonably busy but with the more affluent as prices sky rocket when the comparative temperatures between the UK and the Canaries is huge. That said, it is not to be assumed that one can have sunshine every day in February, that’s a choice of the good Lady Luck.

When I went was May, the heterosexual nightmare and gay paradise month. With the onset of the Gay Pride week, Gran Canaria is busier than at any other time of year with homosexuals from across the globe. The hetties stay away in droves with row upon row of deserted holiday accommodation and sunbeds.

The weather in May can be changeable. Being sub tropics Gran Canaria can have great weather all year but in May we are looking at changeable even from morning to afternoon. Not that it could be described as ‘cold’ at any time with temperatures rarely falling below 18C but certainly not balmy strip naked type weather. Lots of shirtless cute boys with goosebumps.

Oh, I get ahead of myself as this trip did not start in The Canaries but in sunny Gatwick ! that was a joke by the way, it was raining and not particularly warm.

Well, this poof set off from home on Sunday afternoon Gatwick bound allowing a little time for the normal delays on the British motorways and, as is typical of the Law according to Lord Sod, there were none meaning I got to Gatwick airport way too early and had to park the car which cost nearly ?4.00 for a little over 30 minutes which is how long it took for Martyn’s coach to arrive. That is to say, how long I had to wait for him, not how long it took him to get to Gatwick from Bristol!

Onto the guest house and then the pub which was a typical nearby airport establishment with assorted guests from all over the place. The Americans that just sat there thinking how quaint everything was, the German that looked like a British World War II pilot except for the ankle socks with his brown shoes and exactly 25p tip, he actually sat there and worked it out. Zer Chockens Avay!

It would be fair to say that I savoured the delights of the hostelry a little too much and upon return to the room I got out of bed and then promptly fell backward again striking my head very hard upon the bed. I swear I felt fine when I got up to pee but after that bump it was multi coloured sneezing for some considerable time. That Bitch, the Mistress Stella of Artois had struck again.

Our original flight has already been put back from 11:00 to 15:00 with a different company. Our sole reason for booking the guest house was to be in Gatwick early enough for the original flight. As it was, we had way too much time to kill.

The flight been altered to make a stop off in Manchester ‘on the way’. In total it was over 7 hours of sitting on that plane for a flight of a little under 4 hours. The company ‘XL’ did not help matters. I was fairly convinced that what had occurred was that our Gatwick flight had been cancelled because the aircraft developed a fault and the only spare they had was a 747. Now, that is a huge plane for such a passenger number so someone in XL management had a brainwave ! ‘how about we cancel the Manchester flight too and then combine it with the Gatwick flight?

It was pure inspiration on the part of XL. For the price of some severe customer inconvenience they could save a small fortune.

Those of us waiting at Gatwick were really kept waiting. The problem with using the 747 is that it requires a much larger crew compliment so we had to wait for them to arrive from wherever they were. Once the doors of the plane were closed we were pushed back onto the taxiway ready for the short journey to the runway and then not a lot happened. The engines started and then stopped again. ‘I am sorry but we seem to have a warning light, our chappie says he can fix it but we need to go back to the gate first it’ll be about 10 minutes?.

Over half an hour later and we were ready to try again and this time we were off to Manchester, oh, joy. This is not to say there were not complaints, there certainly were but those complainants were silenced by the cabin crew telling of their heroic performance in turning up and how grateful everyone should be.

Up in Manchester was a similarly peeved passenger set. They had been given ?3 to spend on refreshments much to their disgust. They were still complaining when they boarded the flight with us sitting there blissfully unaware that by now we had been aboard for well over an hour and at this point were further away from our destination than when we started.

There was another delay for yet another heroic crew to join us and then we were off without incident.

After many of the passengers had bought drinks and snacks the Captain announced that these would be complimentary so some got freebies and others did not. It took the second round of drinks much later in the flight and having to get up before any of the crew gave us some attention. Pressing the call button achieved nothing.

PR is certainly not one of XL’s strong points and even if it were and they may have tried to apologise, few could hear the announcement system as it was just too quiet.

As mentioned previously, the Gran Canarian weather is unpredictable and so it was on the very first day. Overcast and chilly in the morning and by afternoon it was bright sunshine. The following day was even worse with the clouds being consistent all day and the temperatures actually worse than those of the UK.

The accommodation hosted the holiday company’s pride party in the evening and it was a little less than perfect. The food was OK and ‘free’ but the drinks were short measures and overpriced at the bar. The entertainment started quite late and was Karaoke. This may not have been so bad had the sound system been OK but on leaving some poor guy was trying to sing to near non existent music whilst fighting with feedback. Oh dear ! that was not the reason for leaving but could well have been were there not many others to choose from.

Let’s say a little about the accommodation, Los Almendros.

They are the higher end of the market consisting of small bungalow type buildings. I heard one older guy refer to them as ‘chalets’ Happy Camping!

Several are around the pool area with others in more secluded locations in the same small complex. Nude sunbathing is allowed and is enjoyably noticed. Only gay people can stay there except for very gay friendly straight people and maybe those that are just a bit poofie. Bacardi and Coke please Myfanwy.  Speaking of drinks, they are very expensive at the Almendros. With a captive audience they can afford to charge silly prices. ?3.30 for a pint is not cheap anywhere except maybe Stockholm!

All staff are friendly though once an effort has been made to speak to them.

Pub Nestor was holding their regular Wednesday night  ‘Open the Box’ and as usual it did not start until late but it was already quite clear who at least one of the cute guys on the stage was going to be and he was very cute.  I had all sort or visions about what I would like to do to him blissfully unaware of how our paths would soon cross.

It has to be said that I do enjoy being centre of attention but I didn’t account for what happened that evening. I was dragged (get it?) up on the stage by drag queen ‘Ricky Glass’ and subjected to some time of humiliation. She was one of those that love to get their laughs from making others look bad. I had the piss taken out of my hair, my glasses, my smell and my tits. The audience roared with laughter as she mentioned these things and went on to insinuate how I clear couldn’t have had sex in such a long while I must be o desperate! I am a good actor so no one knew how much that hurt. It was made worse as Martyn’s friend had joined us and been placed between Martyn and I and clearly had no interest in me at all. I spent some considerable time just being ignored whilst they chatted.

The only plus from this situation was the boy as mentioned earlier. Not sure how old he was but he was from Norwich as though that matters!

Anyway, it was thrust upon me to remove his jeans with my teeth, boy I had died and gone to heaven until ! that bitch ‘Glass’ decided it would be way more fun to bring up a lesbian too to help in the fun. This was the lesbian from hell. She didn’t want to be there and boy did she make it clear. As soon as the Drag Queens back was turned she opened the second button down on the guys jeans and then turned to him and asked if they were now loose enough to drop off, he said they were. Les-bitch turned to me then and handed me my instructions:

‘Let’s get this done quick and we can both sit down’

I tried to find a way of doing that button up again, I had plans for this ‘open the box’ postie and none of them included getting his jeans off quick and sitting down.

Alas, it was not to be and removed with haste they were.

I was left alone soon after that and not wanting to sit there getting bored I came back to the accommodation.

It’s a long while since I have had to deal with humiliation that I was not in control of. I mentioned that earlier on to Martyn that having people laugh with me was fun, laughing at me wasn’t, I so didn’t like it. I was just a kid again being bullied at school.

So, I took that long walk back and I cried; it hurt like hell.

Martyn returned later that night but I had gone into a deep sleep and he couldn’t wake me. The next morning he asked me what was wrong and after some explaining he gave me a huge hug and apologised for leaving me.

Bless him, he has never really experienced emotion before and is way out of his depth but still does amazingly well and hugs brilliantly.

What I really wish for is that should Martyn ever find he has tired of that lifestyle of sleeping around just for the relief with no attachment, that someone else will come along that loves him and he’ll be happy. Even more so, I hope he realises it when it happens. He’s terrible for not seeing his plus points and putting himself down ! I sense one of those sagas involving differing but similar well used cooking vessels here!

Pride, what can I say ! bloody brilliant! I was in prime position and had so many pictures taken it was unreal ! that and several video shots as well, I was on top of the world in my little loaned rubber shorts and red boa. ‘___ing hell, is that the time ! well, for those not here right now it is 02:22 and boy am I knackered. I had to all but force Martyn to go and do what he wanted to do at the Cellar Bar ! the dumb thing is, and what I’ll probably never understand is that he could have come back here to the apartment and had great sex but no ! in line with true poof tradition he is looking for the perfect 10 ! well, wake up and smell the coffee. (I am justifiably proud of my ability not to be a bitter old faggot) When you got something that works and is great fun, why go shopping for shallow STD ridden sluts? Don’t get me wrong, each to his own but I am a logical person and it just makes no fucking sense to me buggrit!

That may sound very opinionated and that may possibly be because it is. ___ing hell, everything we say or think is opinionated; the issue is not with the opinion but with the understanding that conjured it up.

How can I say this? I have just spent a week with an incredibly sexy guy yet only once have I got to ‘that point’. I could accurately say ‘frustrated’ at this juncture without fear of contradiction! So, it may be better understood why, right now, I am a little miffed by anything that gives him the chance of getting his rocks off elsewhere leaving me alone in that wasteland of sexuality and dry riverbed of orgasmic flow. It would be fair to say that Martyn is like that prized item on EBay ! I place my bid and I know it’s a good one but as soon as someone else see’s what’s on offer, I am beaten into second place and second place is the equivalent of last, a miss is as good as a pile.

So, right now, dark rooms, bitch’s of friends and probably sand dunes all have horns to me and should be banished to the darkest recesses of some other place or summat !. Buggrit!

C’mon, let’s get real here ! I have done my fair share of sordid places and I have made my point of how my sordid place is less sordid that say ! a back alley or the public loos but they are all the same and only the level of comfort and facility changes. That they are all meat factories replete with  bugs and other nasties is a fact that cannot be ignored, that they scare the shit out of me also can’t be ignored. In short (and it wasn’t) I am a jealous little queen right now! I, of course, have my standards and as long as I know who I am having sex with I don’t give a shit who has been with before ! see, I am just so much better than all the others ! NOT!

Meanwhile ! the weather outside is sunny and hot and I am in indoors, This may seem like the wrong place to be but I was starting to get a little too sizzled and I had open to me two choices ! go for a swim in the pool or go and sit in an air conditioned apartment for a short while ! the fact that you are reading this suggests I did the latter.

For a few days now I have been reading the 25th DiscWorld Novel ‘The Truth’ and it is like an old friend. As usual, it is well written and often witty with some familiar characters and some fascinating new ones. Reading in bright sunshine can be quite tiring on the eyes though so a good break now and then is a positively good idea.

I was with Martyn earlier and it dawned on me that a ‘Man is worth More than the Sum of his Farts’.

DSC00524We have a chav with us here, it is just so weird seeing all these camp as tits poofs and then a bling bling chav !

Maybe it takes a while to fully unwind but yesterday was magical. Very hot so sweating buckets but something close to pure bliss doing as little as possible and enjoying doing it. Come evening we had a magical walk along an all but deserted avenue except for the twittering of birds. Blue skies, a pleasant breeze, palms and cacti ! sigh. This we followed with a Chinese meal which was excellent and some drinks at Pub Nestor, one of the more popular bars in the Yumbo. Slightly pissed I suggested a walk down by the sea shore as it was a near full moon, it just seemed so amazingly beautiful, and it was. I couldn’t resist and just had to walk down to the waters edge and dip my toe. Just standing there bathed in that moonlight, dragging myself away was so difficult. But drag I did and then had a long walk across the dunes back to the hotel that marks the start of civilisation again.

There are some moments that just cannot be described in any detail and that were one of them. There was nothing at all could have spoiled that for me. Except maybe a plague of locust or, a large meteor, a stray Moroccan, a ! well, nothing did and that’s what matters!

Openeth thy box doth behold wonders of the bollox escapas variety with the added pleasures of the thong bird, shy but amazing when in full display during the breeding cycle. Sadly, the lesser sparkled drag was well past her prime and it may be that she shall soon lose her matriarchal position to be replaced by queen drag or ‘gay warbler’ as she is sometimes known.

The Nocturnal Homosexual Erectus & Deep Throated Pooftie were spotted on a night time foray onto the edge of the great savannah. A shy species, they hurriedly scurried off into the night.

Sitting around looking glamorous can be fun but after a while it can get a little boring so something different was called for and a nice long walk along the shoreline was chosen as the activity of the day. Thankfully, though it was very hot, there was also a breeze off the sea cooling us down nicely and once across the dunes the walk was flat and easy. The tide was way out making the ground easy to walk on rather than trudging through loose sand. There is only so much silliness by way of exercise a poof should do so we got a taxi back and resumed relaxation mode by the pool.

A visit to ‘La Belle’s’ is a must for anyone visiting Playa Del Ingles. It is the premier nightspot in the Yumbo Centre. Cute boys wearing not a lot that danced forcefully if not in time with the music! There was the ‘Kylie’ tribute segment which was mimed but done so very well and in ways that would have put the old days of ‘Top of the Pops’ to shame and she/he quite managed to look convincingly like Kylie too. The tribute to ‘Cabaret’ was spoilt by one of the boy dancers having a private joke with the other dancer that was off stage which ruined the otherwise very entertaining piece. One of the stars of the show was the dog used in the Judy Garland tribute. Shame it couldn’t sing as that could only have improved matters. There were few moments of humiliation comedy but one guy, Craig, a holiday rep was certainly used extensively and at one point rendered naked on stage. This he did for the price of a bottle of cheap sparkling wine ! I so don’t think I would have gone there with that one but he looked cute and seemed to take it OK. ‘Some’ of the comedy one liners were fun but sadly, by the time they became two liners and three times liners they lost their humour and a lot of tightening up needs to be done to avoid that sort of careless repetition. All in, a good night out for the price of a drink and, on that note, they are probably the most expensive place to get a drink in the Yumbo with just a bottle of water costing €3.00 or about £2.00 which is excessive by anyone’s standards.

Gran Canaria January 2007

This is my 5th visit to the Spanish homosexual haven of Gran Canaria. An island created from the results of volcanic activity thousands of years ago in a chain of islands known as the ‘Canaries’ which still has at least one semi active volcano and another, Mount Teide on Tenerife being dormant. The volcanic history of the islands makes for an interesting landscape with vast moonscapes and a mix of lush sub tropical vegetation.  

Gran Canaria boasts the dunes to the south which have been formed by sand from the Sahara desert no less being blown westward. It holds what are for me some mysteries but which are probably, for the locals, known about facts and totally uninteresting. One of these being an apparent road system beneath the sand which can be clearly seen from space and, very occasionally, whilst walking across the dunes. These may be natural ducts or ancient roads to who knows where. 

The climate is mild year round and rarely extremes of anything. Winters are typically around 21 and summers up to 35, in short, quite a pleasant place to be should the cold not be your cup of tea. 

For such a small island the temperature on it can also be quite different which depends greatly upon location. The south can be as much as 10 degrees warmer than the north with the mountains controlling that aspect by protected the south from the cold winds. Even some resorts, protected as they are by high cliffs on either side can be warmer still. 

With me living in Northampton and my being expected to present myself at Gatwick by 09:30 on a Monday morning I opted to stay overnight at a reasonably priced bed and breakfast establishment in Horley, just a few miles from the airport. 

It is run solely by a woman named Fiona who has several dogs which are generally well behaved but prone to occasional outbursts of barking which can be a little annoying at times but not as much as Fiona herself who seems to make a hell of a noise whilst cleaning the nearby rooms of which there are only 6. She really needs to consider that doors can be shut quietly and do not have to be left to slam of their own accord. Though this was early in the evening it was still somewhat off putting when one is attempted to use the facilities!

Fiona at Rosemead, for some reason I just cannot get along with her, she seems quite often distant and difficult to talk to and I talk to most people just fine. She’s like a lesbian, more tolerant than friendly, polite but not social except if one engages in conversation about the dogs, a subject clearly close to her heart! I suspect the lady needs to get out more.

After a sumptuous breakfast of cereal and full cooked English it was time to set off for the airport and by 8:20 my taxi was already awaiting me outside. With a surprisingly quick run on reasonably clear roads, strange for the rush hour I was within the terminal very quickly, indeed, only 10 minutes after leaving the bed and breakfast. 

The queue for check-in was very small, just me, some ageing hippies and more homos, a very pleasant change from the enormous queues I have been in previously. I asked for and got a window seat, always on the right of the aircraft for some reason though I never stipulate either. My luggage was well under the allowed weight, something which is always a moment of anguish for me with things being put in the case, taken out again, exchanged for lighter alternatives all in an effort to allow me some room on my return journey for some choice items. Once checked in it was a simple matter of a short walk over to security to get ‘air side’ and I could relax in the departure lounge. 

The queue for security was a fair size though, estimate of around 30 minutes. 

They have the ‘no liquids’ rule in place whereby they don’t allow anything through above 100ml! ironic then that there is a drinks machine in the queue area selling 500ml drinks! 

The woman in front of me who sounded American but I can’t be sure was a problem. She was a Ryanair priority boarder with her ?23 ticket and considered this made her immune from the rules everyone else was following. She had 2 items of hand luggage which she finally accepted she’d have to amalgamate into one. Then there were the perfumes and toothpaste she insisted were essential items of hand luggage for her flight which she did not want to place in the secure bags provided. Turns out, when we get to the 1st security desk that she had not been to Ryanair at all to get her boarding pass and only had 15 minutes to board her flight! silly and cow come to mind. 

Despite the apparent long wait to get through this part of the process I was soon running way too early as I allowed extra time for the check-in delays which didn’t happen. Do I have another coffee and risk having to pee all through the flight or just chill out around the shops! I shall get back to you on that one! Oh, almost forgot, I got frisked today, very cute he was too. I also noticed that people are basically just sheep. One bloke took his shoes off so all the people behind him followed suit and for no reason except that he had so perhaps they had to? this spread rapidly to other queues and before long most were removing shoes! It was really quite amusing but I am more than pleased this happened early in the day before the feet had a chance to really sweat! I guess it doesn’t help that the notice boards around the area of security are vague and have different boards for different things as they have been added over time. It would be really helpful if they just made it very clear to people exactly what was expected of them. Laptops for example! they only had it on one quite small sign that these needed to be removed from hand luggage for separate inspection. Not an issue for seasoned travellers like me but others around me were guided more by my actions than they were from these hard to find signs. I noticed with relief in her voice a young student type behind me say that she was right when she expected she’s need to remove her laptop, again, this is the sheep mentality, I could have just done it to wind people up, but it also shows more of the shortcomings of security than anything else, they need to keep the public informed. 

Through security and on to air side and time to relax, chill for a while and wait for the call to the gate where ever that may end up being. 

Gatwick has quite good facilities and adequate for most waits which is seldom more than an hour or so but much beyond this and the place would become very tiresome. Many of the high street stores are represented here and whilst they advertised no tax on their prices they are, in fact, generally more than one would expect to pay outside of the airport because of the overly excessive profit margin attached to the goods on the shelves. One item I had looked at before I left home I had priced at ?27 yet at Dixons in the airport the same things was ?36! The level of profit on that must be huge when we consider that 17.5% has been removed from the base price. 

Not sure who was worse, the guy for trying to sleep there or the kids that were running around like idiots all over the benches surrounding the play area or, maybe their parents who didn’t seem to be about! no, my mistake, mummy is about, single mummy who clearly has little interest in what her daughters are doing. 

The smell from the smoking zone permeates throughout the lounge in departures making it really unpleasant. I wonder if in July when the ban on smoking in public places is introduced, airports will be obliged to follow the law or whether there will be an opt out clause somewhere? 

I am not really very close to the play area yet nearly had my laptop knocked off my lap by out of control kids! heaven help the folk in resort where these people are going! 

In need of the loo, probably because of the 3 cups of tea I had at the guest house. By some strange quirk of luck I bashed into someone I knew at the loo, Jim Darby. By an even stranger quirk, turns out he’s staying at the same place as me at the same time. He is also hoping for someone to eat with which is like so cool! The problem with travelling alone is eating alone. Many places seem to see the lone diner as second class, after all, they take up as much room as at least two people yet are almost certain not to make them as much money and probably, and this could just be me, sit there reading a book and nursing a coffee for ages preventing new guests from indulging in the culinary delights of the establishment. 

Probably worth mentioning I am looking at a lot of virgins and I don’t mean the mad kids either. No, it’s those red and white planes from Virgin airlines which always manage to look better than any other on the airfield. Rarely have I seen an aircraft operated by that company look sub standard, always they are pristine. 

On time the flight was announced to be departing from gate 33 which is some 20 minute granny steps away, for the rest of us it is no more than 10 minutes walk. The gates at Gatwick are better than I remember they used to be. I recall not having any facilities there just rows of seats with the nearest toilets always a very long walk away encourage people to hold on longer than perhaps they should and then having to go just as their boarding is announced! These days we have small coffee bars and toilets nearby. Amazingly, and here I am on my high horse again, but amazingly they allow smoking quite openly throughout the coffee bar with no apparent distinction between smoking and non smoking areas. 

We boarded on time which always has to be a good sign and there were no difficulties that were going to delay as. There was a couple who had decided that despite their ticket numbers clearly being toward the back of the plane they wanted the front seats with extra leg room. This was quickly sorted out by an attendant who was polite but insistent that seat allocation was final and that she was not about to swap customers around on a full to capacity aircraft, well done her. 

Followed Delta for a while then a BA nipped in first just because he required a shorter runway. 

The flight was OK, watched ‘Click’ with Adam Sandler and it was really very good in a bad copy of ‘It’s a wonderful life’ kind of way. I believe I may have fallen asleep for a while after the movie as it seemed shorter than normal and that’d be a first for me to doze on a plane! Landing was good though the zigzag approach taken into Las Palmas airport was ‘interesting’. It seemed like the pilot had veered off to far west on his approach to the island so had to fly a fair way east to compensate before heading south and then a complete about turn for final approach. 

Compared to my stay in Ibiza late last year the baggage handling at the airport here was excellent with few having to wait long for there suit cases to arrive and none seemed to have been damaged. There was no passport control, indeed, only once during my journey had I been asked for my passport and that was at the boarding gate back in Gatwick, more a measure to ensure my ticket was valid than any sort of nationality check. Our man from Respect Holidays, Raymond was awaiting us land side and directed us to the transport which would take us to resort some 20 minutes to the south. 

No one on this Respect week is staying anywhere other than the Almendros Apartments which meant a much easier check-in! even better that Jim was around because his case just about fell out the coach when it was opened and mine was second from last off. I was cheeky and just joined him at the front of the queue, bad of me or what! 

The acquisition of the Los Almendros Apartments by Respect Holidays a few years back was inspired. Formerly a complex of 36 bungalows for general use by the straight community they were swiftly converted to the requirements of the gay community. This involved replacing the child swimming pool with a huge Jacuzzi, removing the play are and placing a gym in its place. Finally a bar and restaurant were added and one final touch, and iron and ironing board in each bungalow, instant homosexual heaven! The only drawback of the place is the location and we all know how important location is to any property. This one is at least 10-15 minutes walk away from the centre of this gay resort, the Yumbo (often pronounced ‘Jumbo’) Centre. This does not seem to unduly bother the Almendros guests many of whom simply avail themselves the use of the taxis which wait outside. 

I did find myself for a while altering my plans to fit in with the inclusion of Jim then slapped myself and reminded me that the point of this was to just look after me and what I want, not worry about someone else. It’d be nice to spend some time with Jim chatting but it’s not essential. 

Oh, I seem to have a cold which is just so damned annoying!  

Most of today it’s been like I have been on autopilot. Every now and then I’d take notice of something and go wow, I am on an airplane or wow, this is Los Almendros, wow! etc. I got to Pub Nestor and it was just weird, it was like visiting a museum and seeing something famous yet not being very enthusiastic about it, ah yes, there’s Pub Nestor, I should clarify! Pub Nestor is probably the most prominent vanilla gay bar in Playa Del Ingles. ‘by Vanilla’ I mean that sex is not really an issue there, it’s not the primary reason for going which is solely to have a drink. They do have competition nights twice a week known as ‘Open the Box’. Standard stuff, behind each box is a prize ranging from totally crap to the current top money prize which is around ?600 at best. The drag queen host seems to change frequently and is either excellent or rude and horrible, seldom much in between. There are two lads, always (or nearly always) cute who have to be stripped to their pants (if they wear any) by a member of the audience chosen by the drag queen for maximum humiliation potential. It is actually just a cheap giggle with minimal outlay gaining maximum revenue for the place by virtue of the crowd it attracts in the hope of seeing cock. 

As it happens, on this occasion, there was nobody familiar there, certainly not Gary and he’s the only one there who is really sociable. Had to eat at Miramar, an upstairs cheap looking outside venue because Silos, a quality inside restaurant was closed along with Merlin’s, another such place, on Monday! might just be a good restaurant guide, if they are closed on Monday they are worth visiting! Speaking of the Miramar, I like my steak rare but I think had I been there just a moment earlier I could have milked it, it was that raw. It was barely even warm just the outside slightly brown with the inside as it was on the cow, more blue than pink and it was a little much for me so I left a third of it, not that I was very hungry anyway and the service there this evening was appalling.  

Maybe this is just typical of the Yumbo, it’s all very hit or miss there and lacks consistency. Let me explain! The Yumbo has two facets, the straight daytime shopping centre where a holidaymaker goes to buy their mainly tacky gifts courtesy of cheap labour in China and the night time almost exclusively gay venue full of gay bars varying from vanilla to outright sleaze and beyond. As mentioned before there is Pub Nestor and, I forgot to mention, whilst it is owned by Holgar, a German, it is predominantly an English bar. There are several others along similar lines on that side of the lower level which are either German or Dutch. Around the other side it becomes heavier both is sexual preference and also, quite literally by weight as we enter the arena of the bears and leather brigade. Further still, on the opposing side to Nestor’s we have extremes. Drag bars which prefer to call themselves ‘Variety Bars’ and sex bars with their dark rooms, harness and sticky patches on the floors, clothes in the latter of those two are most definitely optional. The variety bars appeal mainly to the straight audience believing this is what being gay is all about; dressing up as women, total rubbish but it keeps them away from the reality I guess which is that they have probably been surrounded by gay men for days without realising it.  

The architecture, and I am loathed to refer to it as such, is generally a mix of concrete blocks pieced together to form a centre of tack and sleaze from a hole in the ground the size of a few football pitches. This building is never going to win design awards. It’s functional and never pretends to be anything else. 

Today, being my first full day here and with a streaming cold was my chosen day to go for a stroll, just to get out a bit and see stuff. It has to be said that not only do I sometimes need to say no to others I also need to say no to me because that was one crazy mother of an idea! 

The theory was sound! walk down to the main stretch of Playa Del Ingles and then head along the surf into Maspalomas some three miles away, do Faro 1 & 2 (shopping centres) and then head back for lunch. The plan was bound to work and as I turned out of my accommodation instead of heading for the surf I thought heading directly across the dunes would be a cool idea. If I ever suggest this to anyone again, can they please talk me out of it! It was one hell of a long slog up and down mountainous sand heaps feeling like I was getting nowhere fast (and indeed I was). My back was killing me, everything hurt and I had barely started. Not one to give up easily I meandered on and soon entered the shaded territory of the lecherous huge naked German men! Come on guys, share the sun, there is enough or it for all of us! Thankfully I managed to out walk that lot and I owe them some thanks as they served a useful distraction from my other discomforts. 

The surf was up and it was very amusing watching fully dressed people not using their brains and walking on the wet sand and getting caught by the occasional huge wave soaking them through. Not that I laugh at the misfortune of others of course, that’s not my think at all! yeah, right. 

Eventually Maspalomas loomed and I was in Faro one before I knew it taking photo’s of the giant shit they have there. On I went now deciding that the rather attractive little port area I saw on Google Earth wasn’t that far away and headed off there! I can be so thick at times! Take a look at the map on Google Earth! find the lighthouse and then keep going round to the left until you find the little harbour. Yes, I really am that insane! 

Having got there which was a good feeling of achievement, I have to concede the place was fairly crap really. I was thinking crystal clear waters, loads of fish and amazing atmosphere from harbour side caf? but, the reality was much different. It was a nice harbour but the waters were cloudy. There were some lovely yachts there from all over the place including a few from the UK. Not up to Monaco standard but then, if they were they’d be in Monaco or St Tropez not some anonymous little port nowhere on Gran Canaria! There were no caf?, no restaurants, nothing but a vending machine over by the diesel pumps. It seems that this whole place is there just for some reasonably well off people to moor up and stay in their nice houses (yes, some of those too) and maybe see a little of the island. In short, this ‘resort’ was not my scene at all. 

From there and extremely knackered by this point, I headed for my final destination of Faro 2 when I finally conceded defeat and got a taxi. The place was open but all my enthusiasm has drained away, I just wanted to get back, get my sandals off! oh yes, did I mention I did all this in a pair of sandals? As an aside, this pineapple juice I am drinking tastes of washing up liquid! 

Met up with Jim later in the evening and we had a chat. Neither of us had eaten a lot so decided to have a wander and see if anything inspired us. It really didn’t though Jim did have some pizza to take away from a place just across the road. This is the problem with having a cold, I can’t really taste much (except for washing up liquid apparently) so I am actually thinking about whether or not I am hungry rather than how nice something smells and eating it. We came back to the complex and Jim shared some of his honey rum, I thought I’d take him up on that offer as I seldom seem to get any when we have some at home. We chatted about his dive earlier on that day and looked through his pictures which were really rather good though, I have to admit I was not that aware of the shark population having around the coast. One topic we got back to often was teenagers and how to bring them up. Jim has taken in a fair brood of strays locally all around 18 and has all the same difficulties as most parents even though he’s never been a biological parent himself. I’d say he’s got a very good instinct for it, maybe a little too soft but that’s a minor thing, none of his kids seem to be taking the piss out of him so he must be doing something right. 

One thing we did certainly both agree on is the need for a kid to, when they are ready, move out and live for themselves. I am finding this with Matt, my nearly 19 year old. He really doesn’t want to take my advice anymore, he finds it all too intrusive and possibly he needs to make more of his own mistakes without the safety net to move on and he really can’t do that at home because it’s my job to keep him safe, to try and make sure he doesn’t take a fall too hard, try and stop huge mistakes happening. The reasons for that are complex but I guess can be summed up in two points. The first is my parental need to protect my kids, do what is best for them and the other is a selfish need to go for damage limitation. Far better to prevent a crisis than it is to clear one up. 

Jim left at some time after midnight I think, I don’t know because I don’t really do the time whilst I am holiday but I recall him saying it was somewhere near midnight anyway. 

I slept really well, right up to 11 and just cleared the bathroom in time for the cleaners to come in. I so planned to do nothing today but as the cleaners were just outside with their cleaning buggies I didn’t want to have breakfast in the apartment or on the patio because it was just so busy. Instead I braved the throng of pensioners and headed for the Yumbo for breakfast. I could taste the bacon, that was OK but everything else was tasteless thanks to this cold, the coffee felt nice. The blister on my foot is causing me mega grief, kept sticking to my shoe. Most of my joints are aching like hell as well but then, after the stupidity of yesterday, this is hardly a shock. 

Guys outside are being sociable and I am not sure I am in the mood for small talk. I have two things on my mind to do right now! read a book or go to bed, the latter seems quite appealing. Seems like a waste to be in a lovely place but to go to bed but then, I feel guilty for going to bed during the day every time when I am at home and this week, for one week only ladies and gentleman, I am not feeling guilty about anything so if I want to sleep, I just will. I think the guy in the apartment next door fancies me too which is awkward. Coincidentally, I was sitting next to him on the plane as well, quite freaky that! He could just be a nice guy being sociable of course but I am a little sensitive to guys chatting me up, I just don’t need it because I have a wonderfully handsome, funny, loving boyfriend waiting for me at home and I just don’t have the inclination to be messing with that in any way.

Restaurant Silos on Av Tirajana is just wonderful and it was impossible for me to feel as though I was eating alone there and why people walk past is beyond me, wake up and smell the coffee people, its brilliant! 

Thursday already and finally I am resting, sunbathing, no less having secured one of the padded sun loungers for my own use not after my rise from bed at 9:30 this morning.  

In a moment of what I can only think of as pregnant appetite I did myself croissants with cheese and honey and they were marvellous. I poured the washing up liquid flavoured pineapple juice away and had some grapefruit instead which tasted of grapefruit much to my drinking pleasure. 

I picked up my Nigel Hawthorne autobiography which had been barely touched and proceeded to read. Feeling a little hungry decided to do myself some lunch, it was 3:10 and I was already two thirds of the way through the book! I guess this is probably a good read and it’s been a long time since any book has captured me quite so much. 

I am finding that there is simply not enough on this island for a single guy to do beyond 3 or 4 days unless there is transport involved and, as I have committed to not renting a vehicle and don’t really do buses, I am kind of out of ideas as to how to spend my time. This is not proving too distressing as what it is also doing is making me rest a lot more than I usually do. Having nearly completed my book, eaten properly and been for a walk in today’s not particularly warm temperature and blustery winds, I can say that I have not really wasted my time. I grabbed a few hours sleep earlier too even though still, at 11:30pm I am feeling tired. This cold is still lingering in me, sometimes a runny nose, others a cough and just generally draining so, apologies for the lack of interesting stories but it just isn’t happening like that.  

Guys around me were speaking for some time earlier about the comparative virtues or otherwise between Marks & Spencer, John Lewis and House of Fraser. Which of those offered the better deals, had better customer care, better after sales. All of this I find strange as I personally measure such shops by the quality of their caf?and whilst M&S do a wonderful hot chocolate and House of Fraser can be reasonably priced, John Lewis simply have the better choice, end of really. There, you see, not really any titbits to report that are in the slightest interesting. O the couple earlier he spending some 20 minutes plus attempting to explain to his female companion why it is that she cannot purchase bottle water outside the airport to take on the aircraft with her but that she could once she had cleared airport security. Her argument was constant and unrelenting that a bottle of water is a bottle of water, where she bought it was not important which sadly was actually missing the point that the matter was not open for debate in any way in which her male informant could control. Some things are just rules and, unless we have lots of time to spare on such matters, are simply not worth fighting against. Was Jim’s lodger Lauren right to be annoyed that her four other lodger types were out for in excess of four hours when they said they had only popped out to buy some weed? I think probably not but then again, a little courtesy on the part of the others would not have been a bad thing. Telling her they may actually not be back that evening could have been better than allowing her to not make her own plans on the basis that they were returning. But they are stoners and, she too is one and the like do not have a lot of consideration for others when their priority is the next joint or two and she should know that. Poor Jim does try to understand, support them and sympathise but the root here is that he’s dealing with kids who much of the time are not thinking with their own clear minds, they are doped up. He needs to remove the drugs before he can get them thinking with true responsibility and not just acting it. Thankfully and I hope it remains so, this is not an issue I have had to deal with within my own family. 

January, the current month here in Gran Canaria, is a very pleasant contrast to those weather descriptive of the UK. If someone here says ‘it’s quite cold’ they don’t mean its ‘cold’ because the concept doesn’t really exist here. Cold here may mean the need to wear a light jacket and would seldom apply during daylight hours except in the north of the island. Were someone to suggest it may snow here, one could reasonably expect to be aloft one of the mountains. Relatively speaking, right now, with a temperature of 27C it could be described as chilly by the locals as summertime temperatures rise to over 30 and sometimes 40. However, with the weather stats in the UK showing a maximum today of 4C with the possibility of snow, here is ‘very’ hot. 

To further describe the resort here one need only listen to the midday conversation around the pool. The couple next to me are describing how they parted company last night around 11 and went off in different directions in search of sex. One of these described in great detail visits to bars with names such as ‘The Cellar’, ‘Cruise’ and ‘Construction’. He proudly boasted how he’d Had more men then drinks and I can’t remember how many drinks I had?. That really sums up the nature of many men to this place. They are here to have a good time and that is measured in the amount of condoms they get through, or worse still, just by the amount of men. They ask someone that is not here for sex what they did last night and seem genuinely uninterested to hear about the lovely meal, the hilarious chats and bubbly personalities. It’s as though if a guy has not fucked his way through his holiday that he has not had a holiday, he just as well of gone to Eastbourne where, no doubt, these guys would still go in search of as many shags as were available regardless of whether or not there was a pulse attached to the body. 

Many here this time of year are of a more mature type, the retired and infirm. It can be argued that it is possibly cheaper to move somewhere like here rather than pay for the exorbitant fuel prices of the UK. This would be as dull as ditchwater for me as I need to have some life around me, I need to be surrounded by the young and young at heart and there is not a lot of that here in January. 

Gran Canaria can be a fun place to visit but it helps to have limited vision at times, deaf ears and a liking for the tacky and sometimes ridiculous. This is the wrong place for history and culture.