Well not actually Barcelona – Sitges, a smart resort a few miles south which has been a magnet for the A-Gays for donkey’s years, even before that bastard Franco kicked the bucket. And to continue the fine tradition, an old friend and his partner have just exited Brexit and parachuted in. We might join them, who knows? Sitges is a coastal retreat untroubled by the political hurricane currently battering Catalonia. Like expat ghettos everywhere, it’s bubble-wrapped from the tedium of real life.
My flying visit was a business trip with added benefits. My old mucker is opening a gay ‘lifestyle’ store (no sniggering at the back) and I’ve been building his website. The shop should do well given the town’s perennial appeal to likely lads looking for supplies and fancy pants to drop. That was the business bit. Getting to spend time with one of my oldest friends was the benefits bit. Unfortunately, the weather was crap at both ends of the Bay of Biscay. I went from this:
As it was a pac-a-mac break, I didn’t get the chance to rub shoulder pads with surgically enhanced Eurotrash or old queens with painted faces and matching poodles. Still, the food was delicious, the booze free-flowing and the gossip salacious, so it was well worth coming in from the drizzle for. Naturally, the sun came out the day after I left. This is how Sitges normally looks:
Liam works like a dog and every dog must have its day in the sun. And where better to laze round a sun-kissed pool lapping up a large glass of chilled white than the island named after man’s best friend? So we’ve picked up a last minute bargain to Gran Canaria, flying from our very own little international airport right here in Norwich. Liam and I are well acquainted with the volcanic rock that is Gran Canaria. It’s been a firm favourite with the fairies for decades now. It was in 2012 that we last rolled out the sun towels there. At the time I wrote:
Now I’m older, wiser and firmly married, I’m content to observe the boozin’ and cruisin’ from the safety of a bar stool and shady sun bed. Notes will be taken and reports will be written. No doubt the odd geriatric German will wave his crumpled old do-da at us on the beach, flopping out from a well-clipped grey bush. My wrinkly old British do-da will remain safely under wraps.
Jack and Liam Go to Gran Canaria
So you can imagine what it’s like. According to Going Local in Gran Canaria by Matthew Hirtes, that nasty old fascist, General Franco, banished gay soldiers to the island which may explain the island’s evergreen appeal to the rainbow brigade. A place of exile is something Gran Canaria has in common with Bodrum, a place which…
…has always provided refuge to the exiled and the unorthodox…
As I mentioned in Turkey Street.
And talking of Bodrum, we’re popping over in October to attend a wedding, so some good news coming out of Turkey for a change. Salud!
Old Palma is a place in which to wander and explore. This is just as well. Our hotel, the Costa Azul, hadn’t quite finished constructing the bar by the miniscule pool or supplied enough parasols to avoid third degree burns on the sun terrace. We spent blissful days meandering through narrow cobbled streets, along grand boulevards, over battlements and across elegant piazzas. Palma is a city with art at its heart and the evidence is liberally littered around the streets.
Come nightfall, the Santa Catalina ward – once down at heel but now dressed up to the nines – seduced us with her trendy bars, cool restaurants and laid-back vibe. Upmarket Old Palma is a far cry from downmarket Palma Nova and eating out comes with a West End price tag attached. We stuck with the set menus to keep a check on the check. Still, a palatable glass or two of Rioja was very reasonable priced wherever we watered, and we did quite a lot of watering. Generally, the crowds were good humoured and lively, without being raucous. The one exception was a small bar called The Escape, a roadside inn tucked into the corner of a pretty piazza and frequented by pissed-up Brits from the yachting fraternity. Typical.
Towards the tail end of our stay, we pushed the boat out to visit Ábaco, a cocktail bar in the old town. Occupying a palatial former merchant’s house, part bar, part museum, Ábaco is a bit of an institution with guests being serenaded by light opera in Baroque opulence as they sip lethal cocktails served by snotty waiters in gold lamé cummerbunds. The entire experience was Disney kitsch with a crazy Catalan twist and only slightly marred by the continuous procession of camera-toting tourists wanting to stand, snap and gawp (image courtesy of MallorcaHoliday.com).
We took the opportunity to venture out of town to the small resort of Ca’n Pastilla to surprise an old friend. Welsh rarebit, Bernard, gave up butlering for bar work a few years back and now owns ‘Thai at the Tavern,’ an unassuming little establishment at the end of the promenade. It does exactly what it says on the tin. Pop in if you’re in town. You’re sure to get a warm welcome, a cold beer and a spicy Siamese from the friendly valley boy. Bernard and I used to step out with the same fella (but not at the same time, obviously). I call Bernard El Presidente of the First Wives Club. When the bar closed, we ended the evening in a backstreet dive well away from the main drag with Bernard, a bunch of jovial locals, a bottle or three of cheap plonk and a strong whiff of weed. The next day we had wine flu.
Following our fright flight, we arrived at the Hotel Costa Azul in Palma at 2am. Our smart room was a little on the bijou side but we were tired and thought little of it. The next morning we awoke to a rotating mechanical clunk and the sound of persistent banging. Liam leapt out of bed and swung open the balcony doors. Decibels came flooding in. He looked about. Our room was at the side of the hotel with a restricted view of the marina. He looked down over the balcony to the ground floor. A cement mixer was going ten to the dozen and a loud gang of labourers was racing about, fetching and carrying, shovelling and hammering. This isn’t what quite what Liam had in mind when he booked a few months back. Miserable tales of unfinished Spanish hotels are the stuff of legend but here we were staying in an unfinished Spanish hotel. My husband must have missed that little detail in the small print of the glossy brochure. Welcome to Palma. We made ourselves decent, marched to reception and politely asked for the room we’d actually paid for (rather than the room they couldn’t give away). After a bit of tutting, wringing of hands and head shaking by the pretty concierge and a lot of stubborn insistence from us, we were moved to a larger room with a view. And what a view it was with not a cement mixer or sweaty worker in sight.
Liam’s possesses a fine pair of lanky lalls and doesn’t look good with his knees wedged against his chin so I booked emergency exit seats for the flight to Palma. You can do that on Sleazyjet these days (for an extra fee, obviously) and this helps to mitigate the scrum at the gate where it’s every man for himself and the Devil takes the hindmost. Senior citizens have been known to break a hip in the sprint. As Liam enjoyed the extra inches, our neighbours gathered around us: a squawking clutch of bottle-blond Essex grannies with fake nails, fake teeth, spray-on tans and spray-on micro-skirts. They hit the bottle as soon as soon as the captain switched off the fasten your seat belt sign. Drinking the plane dry, they even demanded a discount as they polished off the bar. The saintly cabin crew indulged them with grace and patience. We were relieved that an emergency landing was not required since these pissed-up ladies would have struggled to see the doors, let alone release them and the only brace position they knew was chucking up in the gutters of Magaluf. One senior attendant, a slightly camp Spanish trolley dolly with an Andalucian lisp, had clearly seen it all before. He looked over at us with a wearied expression, throwing his eyes up to the clouds in resignation. Almodóvar met Essex and lost every time.