Benidorm is credited with having given birth to the package holiday. This was a baby that grew into such an obese middle-aged monster that Benidorm now has more high-rise buildings (i.e. hotels), per head of permanent population, than anywhere else in the world.
When our family took our first ever foreign holiday there in 1975 I’d like to say that Benidorm was nothing more than a quaint little fishing village. However, even back then, there wasn’t much to see from your hotel window apart from other hotels or the busy building sites of forthcoming hotels. That aside, having spent most of our previous holidays on bleak and windswept caravan sites, Benidorm was ‘abroad’… and that was always going to be a much more exciting prospect than Great Yarmouth.
‘Abroad’ also meant it was going to be my first experience of flying. I’ve recently found a picture that I took from the tarmac at Luton Airport of this ‘first ever plane’. As this is the most momentous aeroplane in my travelling history, assuming I don’t die on one, I’ve done some research on its life.
I couldn’t fully make out the plane’s fuselage number on my fuzzy instamatic transparency but I did eventually work out precisely which one of Britannia’s Boeing 737s it was.
I have a lot of time on my hands right now. There must be other people out there with just as much ‘sod-all else to do’ because they makes lists of things like aircraft numbers and plane histories. It was a 737-200 and its number was G-AVRM, should you wish to add it to your list.
My plane’s fate was to be leased to America West airlines in 1987 and, in their capable hands, it overshot the runway at Tucson Airport on 30th December 1989. The plane was damaged beyond repair, with the crash being due to a hydraulic fault caused by poor maintenance. If you think I’m making this up, click here.
According to my meticulously anal record-keeping of my own life, this accident would have been just two weeks after I’d seen Garry Glitter’s Christmas Gang Show in Brighton. The plane crash only caused ten minor injuries, I’m sure Gary Glitter caused a lot more.
In Benidorm we did all the 1970s package holiday things you were supposed to do: ride an ill-tempered donkey up a hillside, go to a barbecue for food poisoning, watch a bull being slaughtered and dodge packs of rabid dogs on the beach. We also bought the obligatory furry donkey souvenir that has sharp pins inside its neck when you pull its head off. This hidden design feature was only discovered some years later when I tried to hide a stash of condoms in it. A disastrous scenario for my hand, the condoms and ultimately my girlfriend.
One of my photos from the Benidorm holiday shows me at the barbecue, that’s me in the straw hat. I’m also wearing a fashionable polyester shirt with printed graphics on it. These were all the rage back then. If you look closely you can see others wearing them too. Honest, I wasn’t the only one. I’m also stuffing my face with one sausage whilst cooking another. I was always a big-boned child, I could never work out why.
I do seem to remember the whole family suffering after that barbecue, all that spicy foreign food no doubt; e.g. burgers, sausages, etc. Diarrhea can be pretty bad at the best of times but you really don’t want it when the temperature is in the eighties and you aren’t allowed to put your used toilet paper down the loo. Instead you had to collect it in a special bin by the side of the toilet.
I’ve never been quite sure why you had to do this, and it coloured my opinion of foreigners and their toilet habits for many years. Franco was in charge of Spain in those days so you didn’t feel comfortable ignoring any of his rules, so we dutifully filled up the bin. Fair play to the hotel staff though, they did empty it whenever we asked. Although I thought we were pushing our luck at every thirty minutes.
Funnily enough, Benidorm was not only our first overseas family holiday but also our last. After that it was back to the caravan for the likes of us. I think my parents felt much happier being able to block the chemical toilet without fear of being shot.
More of my later toilet adventures in Spain can be found by clicking here.