I’d always fancied the idea of a villa holiday. When I was married, it never seemed too important, but blended families need more privacy. At least, that’s what we told ourselves when the subject of the next holiday came up. There was some money from Jen’s house sale and we thought, why not?
I leave these things to Jen, because she’s much better at it than me. She not only found us a villa in Spain that wouldn’t have looked out of place in an episode of Footballers’ Wives, she also managed to bag a deal on British Airways Business Class there and back. That was something else – my one and only non-economy flight. It wasn’t just the first-class lounge, with as much pop and crisps as the children could manage, or even the champagne top-ups during the flight. No, for me, it was the quick check-in. Oh, those interminable check-in queues … with four children …
The fun started the night before we flew, when we stayed at a hotel close to Gatwick. It had a waterfall. That was enough to get the kids’ heart racing. And it was a big, open-plan affair, offering them a chance to explore. In Vinnie’s case, this meant ‘run riot’. There was a song in the charts – I don’t know its name or who it’s by, but it has a very catchy hook. It goes something like ‘Mia-hee, mia-ha, mia-ho, mia-hoho.’ Forgive me for that, but it’s etched on my brain because Vinnie had adopted it as his anthem for the holiday. He was seven by now, and knew how to make people laugh/get their attention. We went to the restaurant for dinner that evening and every now and then this high-pitched voice would launch into the Mia-hee thing, followed by a very cheeky grin.The other three loved it. We were on holiday … We loved it, too.
Back to that first-class lounge – the only problem with this particular blended family was that only the adults of the party recognised that there are certain behaviours to observe. Too much pop makes you burp (doesn’t it Vinnie?) and when burping long and loud is a bit of an occupation, it can raise eyebrows or cause copies of the FT to flutter and twitch. As nice as the lounge is, it was a relief to be called.
So … we knew this villa was nice before we went, but pictures can be deceptive. We’ve never really struggled with the idea that if something isn’t as perfect as you think it’s going to be, you just make the best of it. Especially on holiday. But how do you react when it’s better than your wildest dreams?
We’d hired a car and followed the very clear instructions to the letter. The villa owner met us at the bottom of the, well, mountain side? All I know is that the track she led us up was treacherous and you probably wouldn’t send a goat up it. Alarm bells started to ring, of course, but soon we arrived outside the door of a villa that looked perfectly nice from the exterior. It was in a row of newly built villas, each very individual in design. I noticed the owner take her time in letting us in … she waited until we were all ready … she smiled, a knowing kind of smile, then opened the door. We trooped in and, one by one, we stopped dead.
The sea-facing part of the villa had opened out to us like panorama – it was a picture window, and it delivered a view that could stop your heart. I’d never experienced anything like it before. The whole of Salobrena seemed to lay before us … mountains … sea … roads … I know, it sounds stupid, but the effect was indescribable. And that view, which was just as dramatic at night as it was during the day, stayed with us for the fortnight we were there. What I mean by that is that it defined our time there, as if we had the world at our feet.
Add to this the two balconies, huge patio and barbecue area, lovely pool, sunbathing spot, massive en-suite and a family bathroom, lovely big room for the girls, lounge and dining area and you have something I’d only seen on TV. What have I missed out? Oh yes … the boys’ sleeping area. They had a room, but it was almost a cut-out, windowless. It wasn’t airless, though, because it appeared to have been cut out of an area next to the stairwell, and this meant if you stopped at a certain point and looked over, you could see the boys from above. Our boys were seven and nine, they still had teddies, they weren’t yet blessed with teenage boy hue, they were cute. Well … when they were asleep.
After the initial whoops of delight, we settled in. It soon felt like we’d been there for years, even though I’d had to make a phone call to a taxi company in phrasebook Spanish so that we could just get down to the town to eat (I’d had a drink). We managed it, although the driver had to point out to me that in Europe, nine o’clock is morning time and he wrote down what I should be saying (21:00). I thanked him for his help.
Meat sizzling on brick slates was the next curiosity, and it’s funny how things like this stick in your mind. We went to the area again a couple of years later and that was the first thing the boys wanted to do again. Eating would be followed by walks along the sea front, perhaps a drink, before getting back to the real fun. Holiday was the villa, and everything it had to offer.
Yes, you can pack up your holiday gear and transport it across Europe to an amazing place, but you’re still you. So the kids, who had had the presence of mind to bring DVDs with them, still wanted to spend an inordinate amount of time watching them. Not only that, they wanted to spend an inordinate amount of time watching the same two. These are two films I’ve never seen, largely because I feel I’ve heard them enough times to know what happens. Pirates of the Caribbean was played about eight times during the fortnight, if not more. Along with Mia-hee, Vinnie’s new jingle was ‘Hello Poppet.’ Charlies Angels (the first one) was the other. I just don’t need to see these films. Ever.
The pool was always going to be a clear winner in the activity stakes, and it took on something of the trampoline (see earlier post) in that it provided another context for those make-believe games where they adopted alter-egos. We had to keep an eye on Vinnie because he’d only just started to swim, but was a water baby by the end of that fortnight. We had to keep an eye on Max because he was a sensitive soul and wore his heart on his sleeve. No … I’ll rephrase that. He was difficult, and by ‘wearing his heart on his sleeve’ I mean that he ranted, screamed, shouted and swore whenever the mood took him. Apart from that, he was lovely. We had to keep an eye on Erica because she’d broken her wrist by falling off her bike a few weeks before flying. And we had to keep an eye on Ella because her periods had just started. It wasn’t that we were worried about her well-being, it was that we’d never quite know where she was going to leave her used sanitary items. It took some persuasion to convince her that, just because she had other things to do, it wasn’t appropriate to leave whatever it was on the outside dining table. We found this one out when we caught Vinnie walking around with it in his hand, a look of delight mixed with horror on his face (but nothing like the horror on ours …).
Lots of swimming, of course, can lead to ear problems, which we discovered when both Ella and Max entered the bedroom at four in the morning, both in tears, both in abject agony, both thinking they were dying, both thinking there was something we should be doing. ‘Go and watch Charlies Angels,’ was all I could manage after pouring teaspoons of aloe vera gel down their ears. I should add here that I can’t swim, and this has provided those four children with a wealth of opportunity to wreak revenge on me for any kind of punishment/neglect I’ve handed out to them during the year. But more of that in a later post.
It was a fantastic holiday, over all too quickly. The Malaga first-class lounge is quite nice, too. I’m not sure its patrons thought that much of our boys’ propensity for four cans of Fanta each at seven a.m. I was glad that our flight was called just as the Fanta made its escape and Vinnie’s burp rang out in the early morning quiet. I’m sure we could still hear its reverberations as we raced down the concourse towards VIP check-in.