May 30th 2013
Having injured myself running (yet again) a few weeks ago, I was very happy to see I hadn’t put on any weight before our holiday, despite having done no exercise, and having quaffed a fair amount of cider in that time. While we are away I have vowed to eat healthily and swim in the sea every day to maintain my fitness, which could even aid the recovery of my knee, which would be fantastic. The seafood here is cheap, fresh and exceptional (just like me…) so a good diet in Portugal is most definitely a pleasure, not a chore.
Before we left home I announced to everyone that I was going to try and have a calorie-neutral holiday, which was met by a round of guffaws and sniggers, with Handy heckling me from the armchair, calling me Blubber Boy and other nasty names. I can’t lie, the cruel jibes from the others pierce my heart like barbs, and despite having endured a lifetime of it, it still hurts. But I’m determined to prove them wrong and arrived here in a positive frame of mind.
After breakfast on our first morning we all made our way down to the beach, on top of which our lovely old fisherman’s cottage sits. The house has been in the family of the ladies we rent it from for generations, and is homely and simply furnished in a traditional style, with wooden and pastel coloured furniture and whitewashed walls. There isn’t even a television, which is a very welcome break. All around this lovely cottage sit modern developments, and it stands like a welcome oasis of the past in a desert of change. I’m going to ask the owner Maria if she has ever had offers to buy her house to redevelop the land. I’d be very surprised if she hadn’t and also wonder if any pressure was ever exerted on them at any point to sell up.
We found a spot on the beach, which wasn’t too busy, but was full of the most attractive women. A good start to any holiday in my book.
It always feels good to have lost some weight just before your holiday, and although I’m not under any delusions that I’m an oil painting, for once I wasn’t paranoid about taking my top off on the beach. I pulled it over my head confidently and reached into my bag for the suncream. But before my hand had even reached the zip of the bag, Handy’s shrill voice sounded through the air, impersonating a siren, with a hysterical smile on his slightly deformed face.
“Woo woo wooooo! Quick, someone call Greenpeace, we’ve got a beached whale here…….and ewwwww! It’s a hairy one!”
Handy inserted his fingers into his throat and pretended to vomit.
“Fuck off Handy” I said.
“Ooh fuck me ragged- a talking, hairy beached whale! I was wrong- call the travelling freak show instead.”
“Keep your hair on love. I was only joking”
“Oh really? Well no one can tell anymore can they? Not with that botox face of yours” I countered.
But Handy had hit full flow now and brushed off my attempted defence easily.
“Pfff, this is a face you can only dream about darling- and I have no doubt that you do, on a frequent basis.”
He paused and raised his eyebrows at me, giving a look that was meant to be both lecherous and withering, but because of all the botox actually made him look like the guy in the stroke awareness advert.
“My beauty treatments cost more than you will ever earn fatboy, and Rihanna herself recommended this particular treatment to me”
Via the gossip pages of the Metro newspaper, although Handy somehow failed to mention this.
“… which is why, unlike you” he continued “I don’t have jowls like Churchill the dog. So trust me ‘doggy-whale boy’, it’s not suncream you need in your flesh, it’s a harpoon, a one way ticket to the soap factory and a nice meaty bone to gnaw on. Oh look, happy day, I’ve got a big one here just for you!”
He leered and reached down and grabbed the red front part of his thong, which was designed to look like the codpiece of the lead singer of 80s band Cameo, in the video for their song Word Up. He finished off by impersonating Churchill the dog- “Ohhhh yes yes yes!” followed by a cackle and a disappointingly high number of chuckles from the others. It’s amazing how easily mob mentality can develop, and each year our holidays become more and more like Lord Of The Flies. And no prizes either for guessing who Piggy is- weight loss or not.
Sulkily I rubbed suncream onto my embarrassed skin and took a look at the sea. I couldn’t wait to get in and start my holiday fitness campaign. Fuck Handy, I’m not doing it for him, or anyone else. I’m doing it for myself. Nevertheless I still found myself only reapplying the suncream when Handy wasn’t around for the rest of the day.
Just to our right on the beach were a couple of guys, seemingly of different nationalities, conversing in their common language of English. I have always liked the fact that more often than not it’s my own mother tongue that foreigners have in common. Not because I’m in any way arrogant about the English language, but because it’s always interesting, and often funny, to hear foreign accents communicating (or not) in a language I understand. I love the turns of phrase, amusing grammatical errors and improvisation when things aren’t understood. And believe me, I have the utmost respect for anyone who successfully learns another language, because I know how difficult it is.
They were talking about football and how the younger looking chap had recently been in England, and had tried and failed to obtain tickets to a premier league game. As they continued talking, they went on to the subject of how expensive London is, so I joined their conversation and found them both to be chilled and funny.
They told me that they are both staying at the same hostel in town. Diego was the younger guy, an Argentinian backpacking through Europe, and his companion was Martin, a German, here by himself for a break and to clear his head before possibly making a huge decision to change career and take a different path in life. Sensible thing to do, and he seemed an intelligent guy. He said he was leaving Lagos in a couple of days, to finish his holiday on the wild west coast of Portugal which runs down to the most southwesterly point in mainland Europe. After that there is only an awful lot of Atlantic Ocean before you get to America. We’re planning to take the car up that way next week and explore the craggy windswept coastline, with hidden coves at the bottom of formidable cliffs and waves that draw surfers from around the world.
Martin told me that he wanted to finish his holiday by “standing on top of a cliff and pissing into the ocean”
Laughing, I commended him and told him it’s good to have a holiday goal, or a mission if you like.
“Yeah – Mission Possible!” said Martin with a smile on his face.
Quick as a flash I replied “Don’t you mean Mission Pissible?!”
Not often you find the spontaneous wit to make a stranger laugh, although admittedly you did have to be there…
After that, Martin offered me a beer as Diego took a dip in the sea. On his return he was grimacing slightly and with a shiver simply said “cold”.
“Too cold?” I asked with a rising sense of a disappointment and alarm. It’s the start of the season and I hadn’t bargained that the cold Atlantic water hasn’t had time to warm under the summer sun, and may be too cold to swim in as I’d planned.
“Hmm” said Diego, considering. “That depends on the person really. For me, yeah a little. But for a mad English… maybe not!”
Shit, all my plans could be scuppered. Can’t run, and now maybe I can’t swim either. I’m not having much luck.
Well, there was only one way to find out. I steeled myself and tentatively walked down to the water’s edge. A small wave lapped around my ankles. Cold indeed. Cold but not freezing. Trying to ignore the sound of Handy behind me making siren noises again I waded in to thigh level, conspicuously aware that the shock to the family jewels was imminent. And that the only option in these situations is to rip the plaster off in one brief, awful moment. I took a deep breath, and then another. My holiday plans rode on this. Two weeks of comfort eating were just a goosebump away.
I took one more deep breath and plunged in, my eyes closed and my hands reaching for the sandy bottom. I resurfaced and took stock. Cold and fresh. But crucially, not freezing. Eminently doable. Result- bring on the swimming.