28th July 2017
The Spanish eat late and we are, for one week only, living in Spain and, despite our milk bottle legs and pasty faces, making every attempt to fit in. We are drinking Sangria. We are talking loudly, and with some swagger, in the street. We are trying to tan. We are even occasionally saying Hola, in lieu of Hello, and Gracias instead of Thank You, though our pronunciation is still East Belfast sharp and to the man in the corner Bodega must sound more like Grassy Ass, than any form of authentic gratitude. Nevertheless we are doing our best to appear Spanish. Eating late. On a boulevard. Wearing flip flops to the table. All the time wondering what our delicate Northern stomachs will make of so much pasta, so late at night.
We are trying to get the waiter’s attention as he passes us for the fifth and sixth time. We are using well-practiced, beckoning gestures, similar to how you might gesticulate at a runaway toddler. However, we are having no luck. We appear to be invisible to this waiter and all his black-shirted colleagues. We have without realizing, achieved the state of ‘fitting in’ and passed smoothly into some other, more Continental state, where we are indistinguishable from the furniture.
29th July 2017
The first girl said, “shall we have a wee nap before we head out tonight?”
The second girl, who was the more cautious of the two, and well aware that it was already gone seven, an hour more normally associated with heading home for the night, said, “ok, but only a very quick nap.”
Somewhat enamoured with the idea of a late afternoon Siesta and all its Continental associations, both girls failed to set the alarm function on their mobile phones and consequently slept through eight o’clock, nine o’clock, (which was the exit hour they’d been roughly aiming themselves at), ten and eleven o’clock, to wake at midnight, which was much too late for heading out, even in a cosmopolitan Spanish resort. And so they stayed in and dined richly on strawberry yoghurt, and jarred olives and half a bottle of Spanish red, consumed neat from a toothbrush mug, before falling back to sleep for fifty years/three weeks/four hundred days or some other fairytale-ish amount of time. Long enough to sleep the dull dreams out, and the Belfast drizzle, and the drag, not to mention the pigeon gray hue of long wintered skin, and all those serious thoughts. Long enough to wake with a head like a just-planted seed, already beginning to sprout.
30th July 2017
They are a pair. Like salt and pepper. Or Torville and Dean. Or Carol Vorderman and that man who used to present Countdown on Channel Four. They are most definitely meant to be together. They just don’t know it yet.
You spot her first, sitting alone at the beachside café where you are always served vanilla ice cream, no matter what you order in faltering GCSE Spanish. She is about your age, pale, limp-haired and reading a paperback novel half-heartedly as she sips her café con leche. She is very obviously lonely.
You spot him less than an hour later, also alone, and tubby in a Homer Simpson t-shirt, making short work of a Magnum Classic. A sliver of chocolate has broken free and melted into the white of his shirt. It will probably leave a stain. There is no way of knowing for certain but you’re pretty sure his name must be Roy or Gary. Something from an early 90s sitcom.
You want to draw a line between this woman and man. You want to say, “does your loneliness not feel even keener when pitched against all this sunshine?” You want to kick the well-meaning friends who said, “take a holiday by yourself. It’ll be character-building. You might even meet someone.” Yes, you want to draw a great, big, sloppy line of romance between this man and woman and in doing so wipe that smuggish look off the faces of all those well-meaning friends.
31st July 2017
There is an elderly French man living in the hotel lift. I encounter him every time I leave our room on the fifth floor. He is always in the lift waiting patiently by the push buttons every time I return. I am reasonably certain he is not a Bell Hop for this is neither the 1930s nor a hotel luxurious enough to require the services of a Bell Hop. He is wearing Bermuda shorts and a washed out holiday t-shirt, a Majorcan sunset stretching across his great drum of a belly.
One morning the man is eating breakfast cereal from a bow, the next dozing on the floor, and that evening, leaning against the back wall of the lift, scanning the day’s paper. He has the weary look of a man who does not know where he will lay his head tonight.
“Do you live here in this lift?” I ask him in very plain English.
He says something, rapidly in French, which I take for “yes” and smile sympathetically, all the time wondering if it would be considered inappropriate to offer this elderly stranger our hotel room balcony, or the thin space between our beds with a rolled up towel for a makeshift pillow.
Later, as I fall asleep, I will wonder if the Frenchman who lives in our lift dreams differently from us ordinary folk, currently sleeping in static positions. Do his dream thoughts slide up and down, temporarily catching on one floor or the other, like a bored teenager, flicking between television channels?
1st August 2017
This afternoon it rains. It is almost thirty five degrees out and whilst the sky is not the same baby eye blue it has been all weekend, it is still a summery enough sort of shade. No one is expecting rain. The first drop lands on you arm as you walk along the palm-lined boulevard, past the marina and the African woman squatting on camp stools to braid tight cornrows into the salmon pink scalps of young girls from Glasgow and Bristol. They are not expecting rain either. Their mouths make neat little o’s and squeak shrilly. It is impossible to tell whether it is the rain which has shocked them, or the persistent sting of so much tugging at sunburnt skin. The Moroccan man standing next to the fountain, selling helium-filled balloons of Peppa Pig is not expecting rain either. The beach police, cycling up and down the promenade in spandex cut-offs couldn’t possibly have known. The heavens open. You haven’t so much as an anorak hood to keep the fat drops off. You weren’t expecting rain. The weather ap on your phone still says smiley sun, smiley sun, smiley sun, every day for at least a week. How could you have known to pack an umbrella? You shelter under a largish palm tree and remember how, innocent of all the Met office’s shenanigans, you once believed television weathermen blessed with a sixth sense when it came to rain and shine predictions. You had Michael Fish down as a kind of weather prophet. You had no idea that such a thing as a teleprompter even existed. Later, when you discovered the forecast was science rather than magic, you’d lost all interest in the weather.
2nd August 2017
We are staying in the sort of hotel which offers nightly entertainment. Water fights, junior discos and egg painting for the smaller residents. Champagne bingo, (?), music disco and World of Warcraft tournaments for those allowed to stay up after eleven. Tonight it is Elvis impersonator night at the poolside bar and though neither of us are particular big Elvis fans, we have a feeling that this evening will offer just the right mix of class and kitsch, to give us an authentic package holiday experience. We are hoping Elvis will be just the right amount of awful. We are dressing up in anticipation, using enormous amounts of hairspray to fashion makeshift quiffs from our sun-frizzed hair, ad libbing Vegas era jumpsuits from linen trouser and shirts with upturned collars. Wearing all our rings at one time on the same hand. We practice Elvis lip curls in the lift. We affect a Southern drawl. We are the only people in the poolside bar dressed like Elvis. The entertainer is not even dressed like Elvis. Nor is he singing Elvis tunes. “That’s a really shit Elvis impersonator,” we say to the barman, and he says, “Elvis night’s tomorrow night. That one’s doing Fleetwood Mac.” We order gin and tonics. We flatten our quiffs. We remove most of our rings, stealthily, beneath the table and try to look like we are wearing our normal going out clothes. We do not say the word Elvis for fear of being overheard and seeming ridiculous.
3rd August 2017
Andy and Holly Eaton
Between 1949 and 1953, the Alicante born artist Eusebio Sempre lived and worked in Paris, France. He would later come to see these years as a period marked by silence and self-discovery. By day he worked, earning just enough money for food and lodgings. By night he sat at his desk tracing hundreds and thousands of straight, interlocking lines in gouache. He’d use earth tones and the occasional iridescent blue to render the idea of kinetic possibility on a black, cardboard background. Sometimes he grouped his lines into triangles. Sometimes squares. Never circles. He was not a frivolous man. Silence was everything, and the simplicity of an unflinchingly straight line. Over the years, these lines became thinner until all the punch of Sempre’s work lay in the dark space between one line and the next. It is not difficult to read this space as silence. To look at it and feel a kind of stillness behind the eyes. Nor is it difficult to believe that some years after his death, two unnamed physicists, discussing Sempre’s linear aluminium sculptures, over cold beers in some unnamed Spanish bar, would realise that his carefully rendered beams could interrupt sound waves, could pitch the surrounding space into silence. This, they would conclude, was the sort of thing Sempre had been after all along.
4th August 2017
Anne and Chloe Thwaites
Tonight is our last night in Spain. We are eating pizza outside the little Italian restaurant next to our hotel. We like the fairy lights here, the Rioja, and the pleasant-faced waiters. It is almost eleven but the heat has yet to go out of the day. We press our thighs against the underside of the table hoping the cold formica will ease our sunburnt legs. We try not to think about the drizzle awaiting us in Belfast.
“There’s something ludicrous about having sunburn when it’s raining,” you say, “it’s like your body hasn’t quite caught up with itself.”
I wonder how long it will take before the paleness comes creeping back up over my shoulders and down my back. I wonder if I will peel. For a while we do not talk. We eat pizza and drink wine and watch a Spanish grandpa walk slow laps of the square, pushing his granddaughter in a collapsible buggy. It is almost midnight now yet the child has no notion of sleep. By the fifth circuit the grandpa looks exhausted. His granddaughter is bright-eyed and babbling, bending like a door hinge to suck on her little pink toes. She is fighting sleep and winning. She is refusing to let a good day end. We look at this small, squirming creature and we wish we had her pith. Tomorrow we will leave this place and return to our ordinary ways and we are not even trying to resist.