The view from our holiday apartment on a non–rainy day
It was Sunday, the last-but-one day of our holiday in Cala Galdana (the only resort in Menorca to rhyme with ‘have a banana’), and for the first time in the entire stay, it rained. Constantly, steadily, from the moment we woke. As I stood on our balcony and felt the washing we’d put out – which, also for the first time, wasn’t drier than it had been the night before but wetter – I looked out at the grey clouds hanging over the sea in the near-distance. A sea that was now opaque grey rather than clear turquoise. As if someone had drained Mediterranean overnight and replaced it with the English Channel. And then added pedalos.
All the Spaniards had packed up their tiny niños, tiny bikinis and even tinier Speedos and left the resort the previous day. And just ike that, overnight, the weather had turned. Clearly, this rain was proof – along with Penélope Cruz – that God is Spanish.
But I didn’t mind all this too much. In fact, none of us did. The only thing more comforting to a British person than a cup of tea is crappy weather. A week of unfettered sunshine and temperatures in the high 20s, while glorious, is frankly disconcerting to an Englishman. Bad weather in the Balearics is thus, in some ways, the perfect compromise. The grey skies are less misery-inducing, because you know they’ll pass soon enough; and the temperatures that accompany them are still several notches higher than those you’d experience in England. You can forgo a day at the beach or a day by the swimming pool because, frankly, you’re not really used to spending the day at a beach or a day by a swimming pool. No – endless sunshine is just too easy, and we Brits don’t like things being easy. Slightly inconvenient or downright difficult? Yes. Easy? No. Show me an Englishman who’s listened to The Eagles’ famous song, and I’ll show you an Englishman who’s failed to take its core message on board.
As a result of the weather, it was, finally, a day I felt that I could go for a run and not end up like the classic cartoon man in a desert – dishevelled, bearded and crawling towards an oasis he thinks he can see up ahead – and so I did. And I didn’t, indeed, end up like such a man. Mainly because I don’t have a beard. I was, however, dishevelled, returning to our apartment like a wet, horribly out-of-breath dog whose owner (me) had taken it (me) out for a too-long, too-fast walk in the rain.
After my run, and a hugely enjoyable game of Catan (which had been packed for such a day like this, and which you really should play if you never have), we Brits abroad – me, my boyfriend and our Holiday Chums Simon and Zoe – did what all good Brits abroad do on a rainy afternoon: head down to a local bar. Because if you can’t hang out by a pool, you can at least have a game of one.
Carlsberg Estrella did pool bars
We’d been to this bar before – not just because it had a pool table but also because it possessed, for me, an important, nay vital, asset. Namely, rattan sofas. You can plonk me anywhere, and as long as it’s on a rattan sofa, I’ll be happy. (When on a trip to Homebase, B&Q or any outdoor furniture emporium during the summer months, this is the equivalent of leaving me in a crèche.) As a result, sitting on a rattan sofa in a bar in the Mediterranean with a cerveza in my hand is like dying and going to heaven. And further proof that God is Spanish.
So there we were, hanging out and playing a game of pool badly, as was our wont. Or at least my, Frank and Zoe’s wont – Simon is rather more skilled at the sport, due to many a happy (or as he would probably put it: unhappy) hour spent at JFK’s pool bar in Peckham. Never was the phrase ‘pot luck’ more appropriate than when Frank, Zoe or I sank a ball.
And this fact didn’t go unnoticed by a white-haired, large-bellied gentleman in a pink shirt, who came to watch us play.
At first, he simply stood, leaning against one of the pillars that was keeping the indoor-slash-outdoor pool area roof up, and us (and the rattan furniture) dry. Stood, leant and watched.
An unspoken unease ran through all four of us. No one had simply leant against a pillar – a pillar too close to our pool table for comfort – and watched us play before.
Then he said: “Are you trying not to pot any?”
Because he was English, of course. Because we were in Cala Galdana – a place where there were more Brits than Spaniards. Especially since the canny Spaniards had all buggered off the day before.
We did the British thing of sort-of-acknowledging him, sort-of-ignoring him. But then I started to feel that it was perhaps rude to ignore, or rather sort-of-ignore, him. And apart from anything else, I actually rather wanted to talk to him. As we’ve already established earlier in this blog, I actively like talking to strangers these days. So I found his presence interesting. We four had only had each other for company for a week, so a stranger spiced things up a little. Plus, he had grey hair. And looked a bit like Roy Hodgson. How harmful could he be? Probably no more harmful than your average England football coach.
“Are you staying in Cala Galdana?” I asked him.
“Yes – just over there.” He pointed to the group of apartments just across the courtyard, each with regulation white walls, green shutters and brown tiled patios. “My wife’s just getting ready for the evening. Thought I’d pop out for a wander.”
“Having a nice holiday?”
“Oh yes. We’ve come here before. We do a lot of travelling. I’m 75…”
He looked at me, eyebrows ever so slightly raised, as if this last fact demanded some response. A very specific response. Which was clearly meant to be “Nooooo! Really?! You don’t look it!”
But I wasn’t going to give him that response. Partly because he was seeking it, and partly because it reminded me of elderly people on TV when I was growing up, who always seemed to get a round of applause on quiz shows or That’s Life or whatever when they said how old they were. They don’t do it so much now (as far as I know – I don’t really watch quiz shows and That’s Life hasn’t been on for years), presumably because people live longer these days and so reaching old age isn’t quite the achievement it was back in the ‘80s. Regardless, I never quite understood it as a child. Perhaps I will when I’m 75 and go around telling complete strangers how old I am, pausing for effect… or even better, a round of applause.
I also didn’t give him the response he was seeking because I just looked at him thought: you’re two years younger than my dad. I wish my dad was well enough to go travelling like you do. Poor dad. Lucky you.
Indeed, I almost replied “You’re the same age as my dad!” – but I instinctively knew that he wouldn’t want me to say this. After all, he’d chosen to come and chat to us as he clearly saw us as (almost) equals. He probably didn’t want to be reminded of his age, despite, ironically, being the one who’d brought it up.
So he gave himself the response he wanted anyway. “Yes, I’m still very lively…”
I attempted to pot a ball. I missed.
“Bit of a shame about the weather, isn’t it?” I said, changing the subject.
“Yes…” he held his hand up, as if to catch some of the falling rain. Which didn’t come, because we were under cover.
“But still, makes it nice and cool,” I added breezily. “I went for a run in it this morning!”
And then it happened.
He looked at my bare legs.
“Athletic, are you?” he asked. And I confess to you, dear reader, that he asked it in a not unlascivious manner.
One of two things happened just then, I told myself. He either meant to surreptitiously look at my legs without me noticing – or he looked at my legs in that way very blatantly and deliberately. Given my appalling powers of observation (trust me, I’m 42, I know these things about myself. I’m observant like that), the very fact that even I noticed how he ran his eyes up and down my legs means that he did it very deliberately. Which somehow made it even worse. Because it was intentionally flirtatious.
A 75 year-old man was flirting with me.
Until this moment, it had been a perfectly harmless chat with a perfectly friendly stranger. But now, as a result of leg-gate, he was a little too friendly for my liking.
So naturally, I addressed what I felt was an inappropriate, unwanted advance from a man I’d only just met.
“Erm… no… I… erm… not really! I just go for the occasional run! I hate gyms!”
I took a swig of cerveza. And continued to play pool, my companions clearly slightly relieved that I was engaging this man in conversation so they didn’t have to. And I changed the subject again.
And after we’d established that he was from Kent, and that he and his wife used to work as London tour guides before they retired, and that he claimed to know the part of London I was from, he started to make a move. Thankfully not on me, but towards his holiday apartment.
“Better head back to the wife. She’ll be wondering where I am!”
“Great. Have a lovely rest of your holiday!” I chirruped, feeling the relief running through my body… or at least my athletic legs.
And just like that, he disappeared into the night. Or rather: the rain.
Would he have come and talked to us if we were in our 20s? I very much doubt it. Would he have remarked on my athletic legs if I was in my 20s? Again, unlikely.
But now, at my age, it appears that I am fair game to a ‘lively’ elderly man. Which I wouldn’t mind if it the man in question was Clint Eastwood or Alan Alda – both of whom are, I’m sure, far too gentlemanly to blatantly stare at the legs of a woman they’ve just met as if they’re a starving cartoon animal hallucinating about steaks.
Will I have to run quickly past old people’s homes in future? Who knows. But thank goodness I have the athletic legs to do so, should the need arise.
The courtyard by the pool bar/An Eagles album cover