Costa Blanca: home or away?

The most lively thing in Calpe

At the end of any trip to Spain, G and Grimble reflected on the possibility of this destination becoming a potential relocation. So it was with Calpe, and the Costa Blanca. After all, this was the favourite outpost of the Brits abroad, if the TV was to be believed. This was their mecca and the beast that was Benidorm their home from home.

Of course, this actual holiday had started as a potential trip to Benidorm, though G had been at a loss to explain why his Grimble, who had an aversion to collective boozy Brits on holiday, had even suggested this, let alone booked a flight to Alicante before she’d even contemplated accommodation. In the end, Benidorm hadn’t even warranted a day’s excursion, despite it being a short journey by tram, from Calpe. Why not? Well, the airport transfer had driven past the horizon of the town, along the motorway. This distant sighting was enough of Benidorm to confirm their views and fears.

Grimble was entranced by its ugliness and ill planning. Monstrous tower blocks blocked any daylight for their short and stumpy neighbours. At 5 foot, and pretty stumpy herself, Grimble felt an empathy for those short buildings. It was just how she felt, when she had to queue with the tall nations of Germany or the Netherlands. Overshadowed and shaded by girth, these buildings must have rarely seen the sun. It cast a grey shadow which contrasted with the azure sky and sea.

G had not really been paying attention to this emerging vista. He was busy, focused on his phone game, killing things happily. Grimble nudged him, a few times, as he endeavoured to ignore her, to show him the horror. He commented on its similarity to Hong Kong and she wasn’t sure if this was good or bad. Grimble compared it to Salford with sea, rather than the Manchester Ship Canal, which offered a clearer opinion. They both realised that for many folks this was holiday heaven and they loved their annual Benidorm breaks. This was great to have a chance to escape to high rises in the sun, drink lots of cheap booze, eat English breakfasts and roast dinners and zap around on a mobility scooter but, for Grimble and G, it was the equivalent of a living hell.

Thus they focused their attention on Calpe as a potential final resting spot. The signs were good. It’s location was awesome with the scenic rock jutting out to sea. It was humbly compared to a Spanish Gibraltar though it had two major differences: no lewd baboons fidgeting with their bits and stealing handbags and food and no territorial dispute over ownership. Aside from their multi level, high rise hotel, all was pretty low key in Calpe. However, as the week progressed, they became acutely aware that Calpe was not for them. True it’s climate was wonderful and the prices for dining out highly competitive. It had more real estate agents than Grimble had ever seen in one place and seemingly more properties available than residents.

However, as they sat in the morning sun partaking of café con leche they came to a joint decision and it was based on similar criteria. As Grimble simply put it: Calpe made them feel young. Rejuvenation and retirement might seem like an ideal partnership. However, it was not the warm sunshine acting as an elixir of youth for their aching arthritic limbs that gave them this sensation of youth. It was the fact that most of the population of Calpe was made up of very senior and ancient North Western Europeans. Their age profile was at least twenty years in advance of G and Grimble and, whilst their longevity might seem reassuring to two potential retirees, it hardly made for a hip (unless hip replacements were counted) and happening location. As G put it, there was no flange to observe. Withered bodies in Lycra hardly made for excellent eye candy of the flange variety.

G and Grimble often wiled away a sunny hour people watching. She’d observe the dress and design, commenting on its unsuitability or ill choice. In Calpe, in February, she had noted that, despite it heading upwards of 25 degrees, Spanish people were still attired in padded jackets, scarves, hats and all manner of winter paraphernalia standing next to holiday makers in shorts, flip flops, and ever increasing sun red skin, almost like an Iberian weather clock. G’s observation focus was on flange, which basically translated to a quiet noting of an attractive physique. In Calpe, this sedentary hobby was going to be rather limited in scope or interest.

Their tentative opinion on the Costa Blanca was affirmed when they ventured to a diminutive English bar one evening. Given the past experience at Calella (see ‘Grimble and G have a night on the Town’ for further explanation) this did create some apprehension though, comfortingly, the bar did have a Spanish name, Pueblo, and there wasn’t an inflatable penis or hen party gathering in sight. It was evidently a budget operation and the name clearly from a previous life form and not because the new owner had any intention of integrating with the indigenous population. It was a tiny bar with a huge pool table that filled most of the space, leaving only the bar as an area to sit and they did. It was affable enough, run by a formidable Yorkshire woman, assisted by her Cockney friend. Grimble noted and sympathised with this North South companionship knowing that, if her own experience was normal, there’d be times when this partnership would understand Spanish, or even Russian, more readily than each other’s accents.

Chat turned to the Calpe lifestyle and they learnt from a Dutch guy there that it was relatively boring. Every disco, late night joint and dance place had gone, closed down by a lack of enthusiasm, to be replaced by sandwich shops, coffee places and places to hire a bike or mobility scooter depending on the client’s needs. This might have sounded ideal but instead it made it seem quite dull and so old. The small Spanish bars serving late into the night didn’t exist in Calpe as there were few clientele who wanted to chat and drink until the wee hours. Accommodation was expensive, inflated by the affluence of the German and Nordic euro. Grimble was surprised that she recalled this conversation the following day, as fuelled by wine and ill advised shots, her head was rather groggy. G had a better recollection of the night’s events and informed her that there had been a brief moment when she had considered table dancing. Grimble had hoped that this was a fake memory but she did recall clambering on a bar stool in a quite undignified manner before giving up the final table ascent. She groaned to herself at this mad moment and wondered how British bars were able to transform even the most dignified tourist into uninhibited monster.

Once on the plane home, they reflected on the Costa Blanca experience. G and Grimble realised that there was a predominance of hurdy flurdy languages and that Spanish voices had been rare. In addition, from a point of view of Grimble making a small income teaching, there were two major pitfalls. Firstly, the ageing population had no secondary age offspring to educate, unless they wanted to send their holidaying grandchildren to school rather than the pool. Secondly, the Spanish population in Calpe had a fairly good grasp of English after five decades of Brit visitors, who refused to learn or even try the local lingo with the exception of “cerveza” and “por favor”, had saturated them with the nuances of their mother tongue. For Grimble and G, Calpe and the Costa Blanca was a pleasant holiday destination but not a lifestyle choice.

Anxiety Archive

In the 7 years since this anxiety condition had first invaded Grimble’s mind, times had changed: thankfully. The same medical offers had been made in the recent weeks: medication, therapy, counselling and occupational health. However, the style and approach now, compared to seven years ago, were totally different. For Grimble, this was most welcome. However, the return to the language of mental health had thrown her mind’s memory back to the time before and, for the first time in many years, she reflected on that past experience.

She’d ended up seeking help because, five months after the final traumatic life event and eighteen months since the first, she finally accepted that she was not coping particularly well. Perhaps she always knew that she wasn’t well but facing up to it was really difficult. Instead she had played a major masking game. She remained at school in a way that really should have sent alarm bells ringing loudly through her management’s sensibilities. She arrived there at 7am and left at 6pm as the caretaker almost shoved her out. Was this devotion? No: it was desperation. Her house was too empty and rammed with upsetting stuff like other people’s photos, clothes and letters. Things that she really couldn’t face on a nightly basis. Did these long hours increase her productivity and benefit the students? Did it hell! She sat there, staring at her desk or her computer giving off a really good semblance of dedication, dreading the moment when she would go home, make her ubiquitous bacon and egg sandwich and collapse on the bed for another night, where if she got three hours of sleep, she considered herself blessed. The next early morning, fuelled on a breakfast of an energy drink for daytime survival, she’d start the cycle again.

The grim realisation that this was just daft and dangerous was when her Head, with a tone of appreciation, commented on how hard she had been working, and gave her that ridiculous contented expression of a boss who believed that she now presented the perfect example of a hard working teacher. Actually, the reality was that her dedication and devotion to her job was struggling to reveal itself with the mishmash of mind madness going on inside her head. One lucid thought that she did have, was one that she’d always harboured, no bugger knew anything much about what working well or effectively actually was. Stay long hours, be seen by management and evidently you were doing it right.

Faced with this sham, Grimble decided to take some control over what was becoming ever more uncontrollable. The next morning, she arrived at 7am without the stimulation of an energy drink, looking tired and grey. She presented herself at the Head’s office. Lucidly, she explained that she was going home via the doctor’s surgery, she wasn’t well and she needed to sort out her mind as a matter of some urgency. She had been trying to deal with three bereavements on her own and really, from what purported to be a caring profession, there should have been some acknowledgement that her frankly bizarre working pattern since these events was perhaps something that needed addressing. However, time had since taught her, that where workplace management was concerned, providing the employee turned up to the job wearing matching shoes and had reasonable body hygiene, they were deemed to be fully functional and fit. She also accepted her own responsibility in this façade.

This was late November and, as she she walked to the door, the Head commented that he’d see her before Christmas. Grimble turned and responded that she considered that highly unlikely. In fact, twelve months later, having never returned, she resigned and disappeared off to Spain and another, far better chapter of her life. However, before that happened, she followed the accepted manual and undertook the series of processes designed to make her well.

The counselling given had been great. There again, PTSD was a feature of that workforce, so it bloody well should have been. The rest of the treatment offered was less effective. Her doctor, whilst incredibly sympathetic, was dealing with her own issues: an accusation of racial discrimination and, amazing though it might sound, or perhaps because Grimble had a trusting, kind face, she actually felt she knew as much about her doctor’s crisis as she had knew about her own during her monthly appointments.

At the end of these sessions, as they became, she was prescribed something in tablet form to make her more relaxed, happy and content and thereby able to face triple bereavement and desertion. Each time, she’d patiently explained she was not going to take the pills. Grimble felt her road to recovery was to work through this, with support and not to obliterate it with medication.

As a result, only the counselling was of use. The first session wasn’t that great though. A Grumpy Grimble sat huddled with a cup of hot tea, clenched hands, declining to discuss anything much. In fact, she was very afraid. She felt that if she started to speak, she’d start to cry and never stop. Therefore, she hid her terrified self beneath a cynical grouchy body or used humour to distract herself and everyone from the real problem. The second session, they made some limited progress. She cried and sobbed for the whole hour and beyond, murmuring about unfairness of life, anger and anguish, but finally she did stop. Then they got to work and her counsellor offered her ideas that she still tried to use now: writing, taking time each day to sit quietly and empty her mind, doing things that made her feel happy such as walks and living for now. This all began slowly to work and the pills remained firmly sealed.

The other aspect of recovery was the Occupational Health that this former employer used which, to put it mildly, was simply shocking and had given her an avid aversion to all forms of Occupational Health as it left a legacy of being unscrupulous and disinterested. This mindset was only rectified this week. Plus, the organisation that had given her the phobia thankfully no longer existed. In fact, she later learnt that this company had a toxic reputation for handling cases. Not to dwell on all the horrid aspects of this, it was the sole focus of this organisation to get her back to work full time unassisted and irrespective of her mental condition. The initial response to her messy and horrendous life revelation, was a response of a nondescript “shame and you’ll be fine”. No offer of workplace restructuring just a sense of man up and get back in there. After this, she’d really had enough. The resignation came shortly after.

Now, she was back in a doctor’s surgery: a doctor who had not proffered their own emotional crisis to her. Instead they had offered Grimble a range of support and courses: some free and some cheap as chips. She’d engaged with this process. She had requested Occupational Health herself in a brave attempt to vanquish that nostalgic nightmare. The signs were encouraging. The initial conversation to schedule a meeting had been respectful and understanding. And, so far, there was not a pill in sight.

Calpe Cuisine: dinner/supper/tea

Pre Dinner drinks and Dinner

This is when we come in to our own. We love a good evening meal whatever it might be called.  For us, it’s our night out.  I scour the reviews, the menus and thee photos like a I’m undertaking a military strategy and read them to a disinterested G.  When it comes to meal planning, I’m the organiser.

Pre dinner drinks at the Suitopia hotel Rooftop Bar. I’ve documented the downside but the view is great.
The advert says its floor 30, the lift, 29 but who is counting?



Our absolute favourite pre drink place: The Caviar Shop:
This is like a small deli with a few tables. He serves the most divine Caviar, smoked salmon and cava. A glass and a tapas of one Caviar or salmon: 3€! Insane and scrumptious. I wish we had availed ourselves of these fishy delights earlier in the holiday. We passed every day and the owner always greeted us. Finally, we took the plunge. We ate impressive morsels of fish eggs on rye or eggs and smoked salmon of the finest quality. Plus the owner told us about his time in Spain and his life before in Russia. He’s interesting and he knows his fish!

Then the main Act: our restaurant choices. The good thing is I’d eat at anyone of them again. There’s lots of nations represented in Calpe and most want to serve steak. Luckily, we like steak. So, in no particular order…
Restaurant El Andaluz:
We went here twice which gives the idea of how much we liked it. It was recommended by the hotel and, on an extremely busy Saturday night, they found us a table. The predominantly Spanish clientele indicated quality as well people being prepared to queue.


The wine was cheap and good. The tapas were huge and divine. We ordered four to be followed by lamb chops. Far too much. The tapas were more like media. I’ll be tarting up my padron peppers from Waitrose with some tiny lardons. Service was a bit eclectic but the fact we returned says it wasn’t an issue.
Our second trip later in the week was for paella, a full marisco one and it was awesome. Again it was huge. We couldn’t finish it!
Exceptional value…really. Neither bill over 50€ for two with drinks and so much food.

The Dutch Places: Steakhouse and Por Que No? Not names often associated with Dutch restaurants and not our first choice on the short Calle Jardin. However, despite recent reviews that choice was most definitely closed and being transformed into a Buddha bar of sorts. Sudden closure can be an issue in Spain. Margins are tight and tiny and even seemingly popular places disappear overnight.
We were drawn towards the plastic figure of a cowboy and an evening dinner of under 12€ for 3 courses. Wine a crazy 8€ a bottle. And unlimited ribs too.
It wasn’t busy but it was Monday and unusually dank but there were other bodies. The meal was fine despite mediocre reviews. The steak was a decent size, cooked well. In fact, we couldn’t understand how this could be so little valued whist Tango with its shocking service got great reviews. Hard to fathom taste.
Across the road, was the sister restaurant, Por Que No although we hadn’t worked that out until the lady that served us appeared at this place’s door too. Another great offer here was the 9.90€ for 3 courses. It was Shrove Tuesday so my starter of spinach and cheese crepe was apt. G’s mixed grill offered a decent plate of meat. The food was straightforward, hot and well served. The mum and daughter were a lovely and attentive couple. Plus, the place was packed.
These both represented excellent value. The BBQ place was really child and budget friendly. The other like a grandma’s house with sofas and 1980s décor.  Homely Dutch.


Continuing with our cheap Calpe eats, we dined twice at a Chinese restaurant, Chinatown, causing us to harmonise, “Won’t you take me down to Chinatown?”.
Our Valentine’s Day dinner is in the blog, our first visit was motivated by lots of places shut on a Sunday and it was our lone rainy day. What a friendly place! What a ridiculously cheap place! I’d agree the food was not like UK Chinese but why would it be? Spain and spice don’t sit well together so curries and chillie dishes do not have the potency of UK ones. However, the hot and sour soup packed a punch for sure! The staff help to make the place with friendly and happy service.


All the cheap deals seem to include a bottle of wine as an incentive. This is never a bad thing. It’s very much a Costa Blanca ex pat thing but, if it works, why knock it.

Finally, our last night out at Kanaii: was divine as the blog documented. The whole place was a food event and worth every euro. In the excitement of great grub, I couldn’t remember my card PIN number and I was locked. Luckily, delving into the depth of the joint fund purse, I managed to scavenge the 81€ but, aside from some cents, there was no tip to be had. Add to this, I’d wanted to treat G. Ah well, at least we weren’t doing the dishes.

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Overall, Calpe Cuisine worked well. From ex pat fry ups and cheap roasts to a range of international places and excellent Spanish restaurants, Calpe has it covered.

Calpe Cuisine: lunch

There’s so many choices for lunch along the seafront it’s hard to pick. One English place, Oscars, served coffee in China tea cups, which isn’t trendy or quirky: it is simply wrong. We didn’t go back. That’s how easily a reputation can be ruined.


Again, sometimes we made our own and used our terrace as the best sea view table in Calpe. Our particular pleasure supermarket freshly roasted chicken/pollo asado with its bronzed skin and BBQ flavour served with bits and bobs, shandy/Clara or tinto verano despite summer being ages off.

We also made mistakes: Tango at Fosse Playa and Las Olas, where the website images were more tasty than the food. It wasn’t bad, just average. 11.50€. The sole we had remained on the bone because, if filleted, it would have rendered it invisible. If we had been in the mood, the fact that a bottle of wine was served rather than a glass did make it economical.

In addition, we ventured to the eccentric Restaurant Dracula.

It was Sunday. All the fish restaurants were full and we located one table at this google highly rated place. Meals were cheap as was the produce. Tables so close that I nearly ended up conversing in French with the person by my side. I was transfixed by the Transylvanian castle mural on the outside wall. In Vlad fashion, G wanted to gouge out the eyes of the woman swinging her hair on his back and there was an obnoxious child legging round the place under chairs, ignored by her family and blockaded by different customers. Finally, she sat back down and played her mum’s phone playlist at full blast. Add to this, a Romanian christening in the interior of the bar and it was hell. The name was apt. I felt my blood had been sucked from me. Passing Vlad’s smiling statue on my way to the toilet just added to the impression of bizarre.

We are night eaters so quality lunches are not my forte. I find some restaurant’s Menu del Dia promise more than they deliver. However, they are cheap and holiday makers on a budget (sounding very Judith Chalmers) can find a decent bargain. Out off season, our choices were more limited. A number of places were closed until March. On the plus, it meant less menus to peruse before a decision could be made.

Calpe Cuisine

Calpe is a feast of food. Restaurants abound. All types of cuisines and all types of prices. Much revolves around deals: blackboard specials, happy hours, straightforward fodder. However, there’s some great deals, unexpected quality and posh nosh.
As it is food, my happiest hobby to make and eat, I am going to try a change of narrative voice…try the direct tone…

Breakfast by the beach
Aside from our efforts in the Suite, there were two favourites: Bar Arenal and Bar Chirungita both selected because their sea views were grand, Spanish and they were popular.

Bar Arenal: good service and a menu that mixed Spanish breakfasts with a type of fry up. The most unique item was a ham and cheese toasted sandwich with a perfect circle cut out and filled with an egg like an alien space craft landed in a sandwich. Good café con leche on the ample outdoor seating.

El Chiringuito Bar: we first went here for cocktails, 4€ specials, served complete with a paper parrot. That’s when we saw the breakfast deals and decided to try. This menu was more extensive and the scrambled eggs bloody lovely. I do think I need to try making them with olive oil. The place is built like a very large beach shack which gave us that holiday feeling, just as well as we were on holiday.

Evening cocktails, not brekkie!

Suitopia: sweet dreams

Accommodation: bedding down in style.

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Suitopia. New. Luxury. Trendy. Fresh. The colour scheme, furniture and furnishing: excellent. Double sink and double shower head, so no arguing about the first shower…or is that our thing? We had a suite with a sea view…ish. 8th floor. We could see the Mediterranean well enough, but not an uninterrupted view. Any lower, the room would have been in the shadow of other blocks of flats all day. I’m not sure this would have made me as bucolic.

It was February so, with the exception of the heated small infinity pool, all other pools were closed. Our terrace was large enough to keep us entertained during our stay and beautifully furnished. Lighting: I don’t normally get excited about lights but they were stylish. The hotel had lots of techy touches: USB ports, HDMI sockets, good sized TVs…lots of thought had gone into the presentation.

We didn’t need the blow by blow account of every hotel facility when checking in, just the bloody key. G sat down and waited as every aspect of the hotel was explained to me. We’d travelled: we wanted the bloody key. The free drink at the bar, a nice touch. The room had free water, fruit and chocolates. Every day in reception, a fridge was filled with juices, water, pastries, yoghurt and fruit. It was occasionally replenished twice, but the hotel was filled with elderly Nordic and Germanic types so, in a true sunbed legacy, speed and timing were of the essence for the freebies.

The hotel sells itself as child friendly but this is an odd promotion as all the decor indicates otherwise. I’m not certain how well the suites, with their cream leather sofas and glass tables, will withstand pre school visitors armed with a crayon. The rooftop bar was lovely and the views stunning but again claims to be child friendly. Really it was not. It was very much geared to adults with chill out seating, a DJ deck and an emphasis on alcohol. Weeping babies and four year olds running amok across the cocktails and cava seemed out of place. The hotel had another bar right next to the children’s play area why not confine them to there?

The Spa. I loved the saline water pools even though my iPad refused to recognise my finger print after an hour in there. Though, I couldn’t understand why this was promoted as child friendly in the mornings. The speed of the jets would have sky rocketed a six year old into orbit. Saunas seem an odd pastime for babies. It appeared that, whilst the facilities were very much designed for adults, the hotel was at pains to stress children could use everything. We indulged in a massage which was just OK. However, the price considering that this was a hotel was fair.

Overall, this is a lovely hotel. Our rate in February an absolute steal especially as it included our airport transfer. We’d easily stay again but not in high season where the winter wrinklies escaping the nastily cold Europe winter will be replaced by hoards of children and I know I’d get quite fractious.

Finally, the hotel’s colossal height has caused controversy amongst locals.. Seems several upper floors shouldn’t even be there. There’s rumour and gossip of back hand deals, greasy palms and general naughtiness. However, I reckon those upper floors will remain safely standing.

San Valentin versus the Grimbles

G, Grimble and romance were uneasy bedfellows. They had convinced themselves that it was the sheer commercialism of St Valentine’s Day that perturbed them when really it was the sheer slushy, gushy, gooey nature of this event that offput them. They’d hoped to escape this revelry in Calpe, but the streets lit with bright red love hearts, indicated that this was not to be.

In the Costas, where Brits abroad were predominant, there were always street hawkers attempting to offload some tat on an unsuspecting, or inebriated, tourist. One night, as they sat quietly dining, one man had produced a mini plastic disco light contraption from his supermarket carrier bag. He seemed much more impressed than they were by the bright blue lights swirling round their tapas. A firm, “Non” from Grimble indicated that there was no chance of any purchase: not even if he danced wildly for them. The other frequent visitor to the supper tables was the Rose Man: a bloke with a fake smile permanently etched onto his face, trying to sell less than fresh red roses to loved up couples. He did not seem to have much luck, usually, but G suggested to Grimble that this chap’s big night was fast drawing close and San Valentin was his major money day.

In fact, Grimble had obtained a card for G. She got it excessively reduced from the outlet place in Gloucester. It was a half decent one too. She had mentioned this spontaneous act of love to G to ensure he was aware, but knew that his systematic nodding in response meant he hadn’t listened to a word she’d spoken. On February 13th, when the shops in Spain were closed, she mentioned to G, again, the card. Suddenly, with no chance to rectify the single Valentine’s card situation, the penny dropped, the realisation sunk in and G grew a tad grumpy blaming Grimble for changing the rules. She patiently explained that her act of love had been well documented and discussed. Finally, they settled on a compromise. They’d share the bloody card. He could write some romantic tosh in after he’d read hers. Clearly, romance was not something they did well.

February 14th arrived. Grimble had forgotten to write the card herself. Hastily, she scrawled something. She made a quick acrostic complete with a made up word for E, but knew that all her efforts amounted to more than G’s. He read it and returned unimpressed to the hotel’s king size bed. Grimble decided to take a wander and happened upon a small shop where they cleverly mimicked posh perfumes with significantly cheaper oils. She got herself one and something that smelt like the ridiculously overpriced Creed for G. She was communicating in noddy Spanish to the nice lady who asked if was for her marido. She confirmed that it was, as trying to explain he was her partner seemed to always go same sex and confusing when Grimble ventured this information in Spanish and calling him a novio made them seem about eighteen years old. The lady immediately outburst: San Valentin! She grabbed G boxed perfume and proceeded to wrap it in shiny red paper, with bows and heart stickers. It looked unfittingly romantic.

Back at the hotel, Grimble presented this package to G who was even more churlish at the thought that Grimble was trying to trick him into some romantic gesture of his own. Grimble denied this but discretely looked at the now joint card where only her jottings remained written.

They took a brisk walk to the other side of Calpe where big apartment blocks and hotels dominated. This promenade was much more out of season than theirs so restaurants were limited. They selected one that had the most clientele, a cheap menu del dia and whose name was bordering on romantic: Tango. That was a pretty hot and spicy Latino dance if Strictly was anything to go by. After ordering, it soon became evident why it was so busy. No one had actually moved, been served or got a bill for several hours. There was a surfeit of wait staff, all particularly inept. One brought drinks to a nearby table, spilt the hot drink across the table and, as he attempted to wipe it up, dropped another drink from a tray which smashed across the terrace.

To some extent, G and Grimble got away lightly. They ordered shandy, a very clear clara…they got beer. They managed to prevent the waiter serving their salads to another hungry table by shouting a lot. When they wanted to leave, along with several others, Grimble almost yelled la cuenta across five tables. This was definitely the last Tango in Calpe for them.

In something resembling romance, they decided to indulge in a lovely drink in the Suitopia’s twenty ninth floor rooftop bar and watch the sunset. G indulgently and, possibly insanely, offered Grimble a bottle of Dom Perignon at 170€. He had banked, accurately, on Grimble’s lack of joy where champers was concerned, preferring a cava or prosecco. So, he saved his bank balance and gave a grand gesture of romance to his Grimble. They settled on a cava, served with sweeties and a lovely sunset despite the welcoming of children to the bar, who sobbed, shouted and screeched with no consideration of love.

The final stage of the San Valentin proceedings was dinner. Grimble had been eying up offers all week. It seemed that most places were offering a special of around 60€ for several courses, all of which involved some type of sorbet and a steak and a bottle of wine printed on a heart encrusted menu. What distinguished them was the extra alcohol treats ranging from a welcome glass of cava to pink gin. Uniquely, these dinners were being served until Sunday suggesting that either: romance never died in Spain or the owners were determined to sell the additional produce bought in for this event. G and Grimble hadn’t reserved anywhere as they weren’t sure what to anticipate. They wandered the streets of restaurants and it varied from places rammed very unromantically to places so quiet it would have been the equivalent of a private dining experience but with more tables. They pondered on what to do; there was an option of a tapas fusion place, which from past experience could signify a deeply troubled and culinary confused chef. Finally, they had a joining of minds as they both exclaimed, “Chinese?”. Well, Grimble said, “Chinese” being all PC whilst G stated, “Ping Pong” but the effect was the same. It was as if their minds worked in romantic harmony.

They knew that the food would be plentiful and scrumptious and the excuse for decorative love hearts ignored. It did have people in there but tables to spare. They were seated speedily and the even settled on the most expensive set dinner on the menu. After all it was a special night and deserved the six courses which included dim sum and shredded duck as well as a bottle of decent wine for a desultory 35€ for two. As they chowed down, they observed another bonus, the Rose Man had already visited if the table nearby was anything to go by. Two limp roses were in a glass. It was a table of six: four oldies, the Calpe indigenous population to be honest, a younger woman and a decidedly sulky teenager who had an expression like a slapped arse. She clearly was disgruntled at spending the holidays at her grandparents when Benidorm with all its vices lay so close. It was hard to decipher for whom the roses were meant or which woman had been exempted. Perhaps the cost, which possibly exceeded the price of one dinner there, was too much. As they left, it was clear as to their uncertainty of ownership, as the sweet lady waitress had to pursue them down the street, roses in hand. She presented them to the elder of the ladies, attired in a Bet Lynch imitation leopard fur coat, complete with peroxide blonde hair dye the colour of straw and a terrifyingly sun ravaged skin. The rose presentation was the nearest thing to romance G and Grimble had seen.

They returned to their suite. Grimble noted the card, still on its side as neither could work out how to make it stand, possibly explaining the discount, and still bereft of G’s musings on love. As she turned, she was greeted by G, small box in hand, which he presented with a cheery, “Happy Valentine’s Day, Grimble”. She lovingly accepted the box of two free truffles supplied by the hotel. A perfect end…


Birmingham: BENIDORM…Calpe, please!

Prior to any trip, Grimble scours the internet for deals.

Using a two hour radius from home, she checked every airport for deals. Using the ever trusted Skyscanner app, she commenced her search with UK to everywhere. Then, she realised for her and G, everywhere was simply Spain: predictable and perfect. Why go to such lengths to secure a good deal? Because they were at the mercy of school holidays: a novelty for G but not for Grimble, who was something of an expert at weeding out a deal despite every airline and tour operator attempting to thwart her.

Grimble was relentless and canny. The key to her success was early booking and a knowledge that different UK areas had slightly differing holiday dates. So it was that, the previous August, Grimble secured £90 return flights for them in February from Birmingham to Alicante, which given that the Bristol equivalent was already an unreasonable £200 each seemed a bargain. True, her cockney diamond geezer would have to venture up North somewhat, but providing he left the chat to her (not difficult) and stop calling everyone cupcake using a strange nasal intonation, they’d be fine.

They were still in the process of researching the different Costas of Spain pre relocation and the Costa Blanca was virgin territory. It was rare that virgin and the Costa Blanca were placed together, this being party central for the most terrifying version of a Brit abroad. Alicante was the landing point for the Torrevieja and Benidorm brigade. In fact, when the flight was booked the Grimbles had yet to agree a destination. In a moment of what can only be described as temporary insanity, Grimble decided that they should reside in Benidorm for the week. After all, February was a lean month in the holiday season, how bad could it be? There were pluses: it was reputed to be a 24/7, 365 days town. Spanish resorts did like to hibernate in the winter and have the mother of all siestas, lasting upwards of three months. Benidorm never slept.

Motivated by this, Grimble searched The hotels alarmed and fascinated her. Trying to find anything that didn’t resemble a Salford tower block of 9 million bedrooms with little more than a dip pool was proving rather a challenge. Finally, she found a penthouse apartment, just off Levante Beach, designed like a ship, complete with portholes and a 35th foot private terrace. One click and it was booked. She sent links to G. He always left her to the arrangements and, as he put it, just turned up. He approved.

Thus it seemed by early September, the winter sun was sorted. However, Grimble spent the next three weeks in turmoil. She recalled and then recoiled from the classic TV series, Benidorm. She watched Bargain Loving Brits in the Sun and began to feel a sense of fear and foreboding. Added to this was a work colleague’s comments, who offered Grimble insights into her previous year’s out of season Benidorm trip.

She happily recalled a club night which transformed into a floor show. This was no ordinary floor show. It commenced about 2am, and her co worker was already half cut to the point where, if she hadn’t filmed it, she would have believed it was a Sambuca shots psychosis and not real. She revealed said clip discreetly to Grimble. They were, after all, sat in the workroom of a Catholic college and what was about to be revealed would have certainly been beyond the redemption of a few Hail Marys. Indeed, it was so bizarre, that Grimble wondered if a exorcism might have been required.

The clip commenced innocently enough. Typical of a Spanish club, they was evidence of a foam squirt…well she hoped that it was foam. Onto the dance floor, at some speed, was a muscular black man on a Segway, wearing a Darth Vader mask and little else, other than a Lycra thong. He did a few nifty spins until he was joined by another Segway. This was driven by a Princess Leila, of sorts. This was clearly not going to be a faithful adaptation of the Star Wars franchise given that Leila’s white gown seemed to be missing its bottom half and there was a cleavage of bike parking proportions being revealed. Grimble would concede that the hairstyle was as per the movie. The performance then began. Princess Leila descended her Segway, dropped to her knees at the foot of Darth Vader. Grimble wondered if this was symbolic of the Empire’s final defeat. Oh no. With speed, she deftly dismantled Darth’s thong and BJed his shlong. Grimble was so surprised, she nearly genuflected, and she wasn’t even Catholic.

And this certainly was live, real and bloody awful. Grimble wondered in which universe this was considered entertainment.

Convoluted images invaded her mind. This Star Wars adaptation was joined in her brain with the giant inflatable penis of Bar Alcatraz, Calella del Mar, from last summer. That was the sole bar representative of UK there but Benidorm was inundated with such novelties. She cancelled their Penthouse Ship apartment immediately and frantically google mapped the Costa Blanca hunting for an appropriate bolt hole. Bloody Benidorm and tawdry Torrevieja hogged all the sodding coastline it seemed. At one point, she wondered if she could convince G that a city break in the uninspiring port of Alicante could work. Suddenly, and without warning, she found it: Calpe. It was a good hour and twenty minutes from the airport and independent travelling meant getting to Benidorm and then tramming it to Calpe, but it looked the part.

It was Grimble’s lucky trip planning night as she found a colossus of a hotel quite literally. Twenty Nine floors and every room a suite. It was aptly and easily titled Suitopia and, given the facilities, a bargain at £400 for the week. Even more ridiculous, airport transport was included in the price. It was shown to G and booked immediately and the madness that had lead them dangerously close to Benidorm was over.

Now they were comfortably seated on the mini bus transfer with three civilised Dutch ladies wending their way up the motorway knowing it was the right choice. If nothing else, the flight had confirmed it. Birmingham Airport had presented itself as half term hell. They’d paid the £5 extra each to fast track customs and the mass of noisy Northern humanity which had traumatised Grimble. Even as they parked the car, in sub zero UK temperatures, there was a nutter from Blackburn (his Blackburn T-shirt and intonation gave him away), travelling to some resort in Egypt, already attired in shorts and sandals. He was shivering so dramatically that, in a desperate attempt to ward off hypothermia, his family had wrapped him in a lurid tartan patterned beach towel. He now looked like he was sporting a velour kilt and even more ridiculous than before. G, who thought he’d seen most things, having family in Essex, was lost for words. Grimble just felt an overwhelming urge to apologise to him for the North.

The plane was rammed and they wiled away the twenty minutes of boarding playing Benidorm: Torrevieja: Calpe, and identified who was heading where. They based their judgements on: attire, noise levels and inebriation. It didn’t surprise them that they were now sat on a minibus with three Dutch ladies with no one English in sight. In fact, Jet2 politely, but clearly, announced that getting pissed on board was not tolerated and the only alcohol to be consumed was their own sales. Given the cost of a drink, that effectively sobered up the whole plane.

Calpe and the promise of a luxury hotel was drawing near. They’d passed the high rises of Benidorm and they could just see the rock that marked their chosen resort jutting into an azure Mediterranean Sea. They were back, they were here, and they were happy.

Anxiety Revisited: Grimble Style

Well, this was a novel state of affairs. For the third time in seven years, Grimble was having a big bout of the blues. She was sure, on reflection, that she’d had these blues all her life. And this wasn’t in an Ella Fitzgerald sort of way. This was in a morose, maudlin and tearful way, with no desire to sing at all, not even sad songs.
The first major episode, seven years earlier, had taken her somewhat by surprise, and the effects had been all-consuming and life changing but, ironically, some changes worked out for the best. She shouldn’t have been surprised given the events that lead to her brain freeze . In the fifteen months prior, her dad, brother and mum had all died, not collectively as that would have been handy for funeral arrangements but in the order above and from a diverse range of circumstances. In a moment of Northern budgeting, she’d asked the Wigan undertaker for a three for the price of two offer, so frequent was her business with him. He generously offered to do hers for free if she was to continue the family trend of dying inexplicably. Just as well, Grimble thought as, with the demise of her mum, there wasn’t anyone left to dispose of her body should she have the inclination to die. G had yet to materialise as a force in her life. Grimble was not even Grimble at this stage. She had been married for two decades but then, very inconveniently at the same time as these deaths, her spouse reconnected with his childhood sweetheart on the now defunct Friends Reunited: older readers might recall this early form of social networking. A way to connect with old school friends that most sane people had spent several decades trying to avoid. He’d joined and, in a quirk of fate, his school alumni had his first ever girlfriend listed on it.
Thus, Grimble was one of the earliest documented social media widows. Her husband had engaged in virtual chat that progressed to real chat and more and might a blog on its own. However, some things are best left unwritten and, for now, this remains one of them.
Feeling betrayed, bereft and bewildered, Grimble tried to maintain her normalcy. She had grown up in a culture where mental health situations were not to be discussed. In fact, they were to be avoided at all costs. Her own mum’s OCD aspects, which extended beyond the thrice cleaning of the toilet, to daily full vacuuming and dusting were excused to her job as a nurse where ward hygiene extended to the home. Grimble bottled up a concentrated mass of emotions until like Prosecco that had been shaken far too much, she exploded.
Months and months of inner turmoil combusted. Her earliest memory of this emotional detonation was on a train journey in Germany where she was then living. The Germans were not renowned for their outward display of emotion so what happened on that train must have surprised them, as much as Grimble. She was looking out of the window at the beautiful countryside wizzing by when, without warning, she started to sob uncontrollably. This was not a few tears streaming down her face. This was a torrent of saline waterfalling from her eyes. She had never felt herself so alone, so frightened and so empty. Despite the look of horror on the faces of her fellow passengers, she was unable to stop this public blubbering. She even tried to initiate a sneeze to disguise her sobbing as a cold. Later, after lots of constructive counselling, she walked away from her old life and buggered off to Spain for a couple of years of total reinvention.

On reflection, the anxiety had served a good purpose. In a way, the traumatic events too. Without them happening, she would have plodded on to a predictable and monotonous old age. This major life shake-up caused her to consider what really mattered: her health, wellbeing and psyche. What didn’t matter was working until death, material possessions and saving face. If she hadn’t been ill, she wouldn’t have had the guts, or the madness, to run off to Spain: writing for pleasure inconceivable and she would not have known her own capabilities and she stopped seeing life as having limitations. Without a family, she had to create one and in Spain she me the cussing Emster from New York and geeky Canadian Polish Martita, her surrogate sisters and of course, later back in UK, the indomitable G. Without blood relatives, she was answerable only to herself for her actions which was a novel way to live. That was until she met G, five years after this initial incident and it had been an ongoing struggle to be accountable to someone once again.
There was a second, slightly less impacting anxiety episode after a nose operation and a major conflict with her boss. This time she had not run away to Spain. Instead, she squatted at G’s remote barn home for a couple of months, made friends with a farm cat, won against her boss, and moved jobs.
This anxiety feeling was a funny business. It messed with her tenuous equilibrium. Grimble was usually a happy person but often this masked deep insecurities. She became introvert and extrovert all at once. She grew disenchanted and desirous of change and had an overwhelming desire to run away. The first episode had been weird as she had little awareness of what was happening or why or if it would ever end. The successive events were less weird as she was in full knowledge that they’d end: eventually. But they all had one common denominator: she was employed in teaching mainstream when they hit her.
Grimble pondered on whether her career choice of nearly 30 years might be a part of the problem. It wasn’t the classroom: it was the bullshit. Her job might be an important one but she was coming to the conclusion that some people gave it more weight than it actually merited. Well, gave the mundane and mediocre too much credence. Anyway, all this professional codswallop congealed in her muddled and exhausted mind. This time her anxiety seemed to originate from the incident of the broken ankle which was odd as her broken foot three years earlier didn’t manifest itself like this. She was tired: tired of marking, tired of the perceived threat of inspections, tired of performing.
Grimble was in a state of limbo. She had appointments galore with a whole range of people trained to drag her from the muddy quagmire of this impasse and get her functioning in normal working life once more. It was as if there were two Grimbles at work in her brain: the joyful, funny one, who felt happy in the sunshine or taking brisk walks in the winter chill and the other one: the miserable dark weepy one who reacted with agitation and unease at the mention of school. She now understood Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, despite finding it the most boring book in the history of GCSE set texts ever and there had been quite a few contenders for that accolade. Lurking in the recesses of her mind was a free, slightly unhinged and creative spirit that detested rules, spreadsheets and a PowerPoint. There were people out there who wanted to help her to return to data analysis, whiteboards and endless reports but her brain was telling her to just let go…and the result: anxiety.