March 1974. When I was invited to go for a weekend to Benidorm by my Uncle Dick – it was a works outing – I jumped at the chance. His wife, my Aunt Alice, his sister -in- law, my mother, and her husband Zbyszek, were coming too. This was going to be my first holiday abroad with my mother in my life. My excitement knew no bounds. I was in my second year at Sheffield University at the time, having a whale of a time generally, and although I knew we were not supposed to take time off during term time, I thought no one would notice if I wasn’t there on a Friday or Monday. So I grabbed my passport, a bag full of clothes and met my family at Gatwick Airport to go to Alicante. What I hadn’t bargained for was the weather. The Costa Blanca was hot – and I had my Sheffield winter clothes! We arrived in Benidorm – which at the time was in its heyday of fish and chips and English beer emporia, -but we were staying in the highest of high rise hotels somewhere near the old town. The hotel was cheap, cheerful and absolutely fine. I was just pleased to be with my family. We went out, had meals, went for strolls through the old town and generally had a lovely time. The hotel had a swimming pool and somehow, as you can see below, I was persuaded to enter the water. I must have borrowed my mother’s costume as I certainly didn’t have one. We all went into the water – everyone could swim except for me, but at least I didn’t mind being in it up to my neck. I couldn’t do it now, of course.
This is the rock of Calpe – we went on an excursion there, which I had totally forgotten about until today. Very impressive.
We also saw oranges growing – they weren’t ripe, but we picked them anyway.
On the Sunday it was suggested that we go to the village of Guadalest, high in the mountains but very near to Benidorm. it sounded lovely, so we piled into a minibus and twenty minutes later we piled out again. To be confronted with a row of donkeys and mules. The only way to get to this village was by animal. (I have just looked it up – there is another way these days). My heart sank – even then I was not known for my sense of adventure – I was right out of my comfort zone – if only I had known that expression then! But my aunt and uncle jumped on to the beast presented to them without any ado, my mother took a deep breath and stunned me by very elegantly climbing onto her animal, so I had no way out. Unfortunately I didn’t have a clue how to get on – but the donkey owners were eager to help and more or less bundled me on. My stepfather had more of a problem. As he was rather large at the time, they had to go and find a bigger mule for him. But they did eventually return with a massive steed and on he got. I was so impressed with them all that I eventually forgot to be frightened.
To enter the little town you had to go through a narrow tunnel in a wall of rock, and then you came to a little square – then there were about 150 inhabitants – now I believe there are still only about 300, and we were persuaded by all 150 to buy their wares. We had a field day – in the space of about an hour we had bought shawls, ponchos, tea-towels and plates after having been invited to watch how they made all these things. Did we ever wear the ponchos? Or use the plates. I don’t think so.
We came back the same way – I suppose the muleteers must have waited for us somewhere and so we returned to Benidorm. The next day we were returning to England. We got to Alicante Airport to be told that our flight would be very delayed – there had been a massive air crash over Paris the day we had been donkey riding, and the airspace above France was unavailable. So all flights would take a lot longer. Because of that they had to make sure there would be enough fuel available to carry us all the way.
So they started off by weighing everyone as well as their luggage. This was hideously embarrassing as well as very time consuming. But we suffered it – I mean suffered, as it was still really hot. Alicante Airport was tiny and not air-conditioned at that time.
Eventually we got on the plane, made ourselves as comfortable as we could, and settled down for a long flight. It was late afternoon by this time, and I still had to get to Sheffield from Gatwick. Suddenly there was an announcement from the Captain.
“Would anyone be willing to get off the plane and go to Manchester instead, as we were still too heavy to be safe?”
Eureka. Brilliant. Manchester is nearer to Sheffield than Gatwick. I unbuckled my belt, said I’d go, and was quickly escorted off the plane to the Manchester-bound one. Everyone clapped – I did not take a bow, just thought how clever I am. But – pride comes before a fall. On the Manchester aeroplane a stewardess asked me if I had my passport. “Oh, no,” I said. ” My mother has it on the other plane. ” So I had to be escorted back by a very disgruntled stewardess – remember how hot it was and how delayed we all were?This time I got another round of applause, (ironic I presume; I still did not bow) as I boarded the plane and retrieved my passport from my mother’s capacious handbag.
Finally I was ensconced in my plane, my family went to Gatwick, I stepped off at Manchester Airport, showed my passport proudly to whoever wanted to see it, and went to look for a train to Sheffield. it was very early in the morning and now very cold and the trains weren’t quite running yet. Luckily I had had the most enormous cooked breakfast on the plane – those were the days, and I had slept because I had three seats to myself so I could stretch out – but I arrived in Sheffield tired out. I went back to my attic in 95 Brunswick street and slept. I slept till 2:30pm the next day. I must have been tired. But when I got up I thought I would saunter into the University and catch up on the gossip.
I wandered into the Spanish Department feeling slightly guilty that I had missed some lectures, only to be met by my professor who embraced me in a frenzy of relief. I was a bit surprised by this show of affection. Someone had told him that I’d gone abroad for the weekend. He had not been best pleased- but when the news came of the air crash over Paris everyone had come to the conclusion that I had been on that plane and that was why I hadn’t come in on Tuesday.
I of course had been completely oblivious to all this but he did make me promise to let him know if I ever intended to play truant again! Dear Professor Pierce.