Benidorm. April 2014.

Dear Rowley,

Do forgive the radio silence. I’ve just been taken on my first holiday in over two years. Where did we choose? Benidorm. Which hotel did we end up booking? The Melia where all the cast and crew of the ITV telly programme stay. I’ve been doing my best Pauline impersonation – ‘if you can’t get pussshed in Benidorm where in the name of Paul Gascoigne can you!!!’ – and have as yet resisted the lure of a mobility scooter a la Madge. But give it time. It is really rather lovely here and cheap isn’t even in it. The Melia is basic with a breakfast buffet like feeding time at Whipsnade Zoo but we rather like it.

We are not on an all inclusive so can’t say the immortal line ‘if you want to get pissed show us your wrist’ but that said a bottle of prosecco at our local – Sensations in the Old Town – is under 11 Euros so it’s a yes from me Amanda. It has been something of a relief to feel the sun on the old bones after what has been a rather stressful year so far. Admittedly I have left a few cares and woes behind me in London but they will have to wait until I get back to deal with.

Frightening thought yesterday. When I was booking tickets for the Benidorm Palace Saturday night show, I happened to glance in an estate agent’s window. A three bedroom flat in the Old Town is about 90,000 Euros: roughly what I have paid in rent on Bloomsbury Towers in the past five or six weeks. Makes you weep doesn’t it? I do love being a Bloomsbury boy but I think my months of paying exorbitant rent for a shoebox with two large sash chord windows are running out. I have only three words to say: grace and favour.

Terribly sad news about the sudden death of Mark Shand. Mr Shand was a hero of mine: a louche, leonine adventurer and saviour of the Asian elephants. He was as at ease in Studio 54 as he was adventuring in Bali with his great mate Harry Fane. I only met Mr Shand once when he was giving a lecture at the Royal Geographical Society a couple of years back. He was SO charismatic and still incredibly handsome. I am sure Messers Shand and Fane broke more than a few hearts in their time. As La Farmer says, ‘everybody’s wild about Harry’. Apparently the Duchess of Cornwall is in pieces at the death of her brother. I think perhaps he was a life saver when one is trapped behind palace doors and a slave to protocol.

Still, Mr Fane did go with no little elegance: he’d raised millions for his elephants at a charity auction in New York, he’d gone on to the after party rather well refreshed and fell having just smoked a crafty fag at 3am in the morning.  Mr Shand’s nephew Tom Parker-Bowles wrote a cracking good eulogy in the Mail the other day that had me welling up. The world will be a poorer and less colourful place without Mark Shand in it.

Do you know I always used to feel slightly guilty going on holiday. Not any more I don’t. Perched by the Melia pool under an umbrella with my MacBook Air on my lap and a gin lemon promised once the sun is over the yard arm it is quite simply bliss.  I think I could get used to this. Mind you, until I finally sort out the finances there wont be many more poolside perks in the immediate future. But I have to say it has been gorgeous getting out of London and diving into the bizarre wonderland that is Benidorm.

Everything on the telly programme is frighteningly accurate. We’ve even got a docking bay for all the lazy bastardos to recharge their mobility scooters in the hotel lobby. As Madge and Mel would say, ‘you don’t have to be a cripple to enjoy your holidays’. When we first arrived I was horrified by the high rises, the morbidly obese English tourists and the proliferation of cheap tat shops, tobacconists and off licenses not to mention the plethora of kebab shops, chippies and English pubs. But then it starts to work its magic and you fall in love with the place.

Call it fate but on day one we walked the length of the beach to the Old Town and I spotted a roof terrace. On said terrace was a lovely local lady called Sam who introduced us to Sensations and the rest is history. We’ve been down there a few times this week though did have a super night at the Benidorm Palace cabaret on Saturday night. I tell you the Lido’s got nothing on the Benidorm Palace. It was castanets, mantillas, glitz, hits and tits…and that was just the boy dancers. We’ve also found the only Spanish tapas bar in the New Town otherwise populated by fast food joints including a bakery that touts itself as ‘Benidorm’s answer to Gregg’s’. Can’t make it up can you?

What has really struck me is how nice people are in Benidorm. Everyone’s just happy to be here and there’s no side to anybody. It is – in the words of Patricia Hodge – SUCH FUN! One of my Twitter friends Lee is working on the Benidorm set and we went out for drinks at Neptune’s last night with him. He is such a sweetie and gave us all the gossip about Series 7 of Benidorm. Sadly Team Garvey had left Benidorm but at least we got to sink a couple of gins at Neptune’s and sit by the Solano pool the other day. What more can be said than ‘all this and heaven too’? Until next time…