They come for us in the night, a horde of dive-bombing, biting fighters, flying in formation. The screaming kamikaze whine of Messerschmitt mosquitoes that tell of raids by darkness, of a toll paid in blood.
The seaside in day time, lapping waves, broken glass on the concrete boardwalk, separated by a stretch of sand that burns in the midday sun and erodes the skin on my feet. I escape the glare of the sun, floating saturated with the history in these waters. The jellyfish hang suspended and tranquil, ethereal against the inky depths.
Clear skies and clear minds, lazily contemplating the mountains in the heat-hazy distance. Time is even more relative on the Med, no demands no alarms, no CCTV or injury lawyers 4 U adverts.
There’s a lot to recommend structureless boredom.
The beach is fortified with fat old men in speedos, deep-fried with sopping great man tits on prominent display. The tourists complain of the heat and their sunburn and insect bites, leering at the local girls – the young and the desiccated alike in sweaty lack of dignity.
Gentle breeze carries the scent of the sea, of suntan cream, sweat, cigarettes, wild flowers and food. The freshest seafood I’ve ever tasted, plump seabass, pig cheeks slow-cooked and peeling off the bone, calamares, carpaccios beef and cod. All with a side order of fries, washed down with the local poison in an icy glass – a typical Brit abroad with a livid-pink nose and sunglass tanline.
A beautiful girl in a nasty dress playing violin in a bar in Valencia. A whiff of perfume leaves me mildly homesick for someone I used to know. I can’t get enough of Seville; it’s surprisingly Moorish. Catalan waiter speaks Spanish like a militant Welshman speaks English. The untamed tourist, savagely drunk spitting out English for foreigners: loud and slow and slurred. Muscular macho local men wind up the holidaying girls and ladies – curious how the concepts of ‘machismo’, ‘body hair removal’ and ‘tacky fake diamond earrings’ are so interconnected. Gaudi would be appalled at Spanish workmanship – his buildings appear to be melting in the Barcelona afternoon.
Strange disturbing dreams of rabid cats shredding my feet and ankles, I draw accusing looks from the locals at this stranger in a foreign land. I wake up, heart pounding I lie here drenched on sweat-soaked sheets. Unable to get comfortable, incapable of sleep. I get up and stalk round deserted, filthy streets.
Divorced from the news, detached from my phone, unplugged from the internet I’m blissfully alone. But time is less relative on the Med than you might think – all too soon it’s time to pack up and face the ordeal of the airport. As the plane lands at Heathrow I feel a profound sense of the loss of decent sunlight and lunchtime drinking.
The vacation from real life is all well and good, but there’s some small relief when it’s done. I couldn’t live there, but for a while it was fun; this holiday in the sun.