MY PALMS were covered in so much sweat that an onlooker might have been forgiven for thinking I’d just patted down a horse that had won a two-mile handicap carrying top weight. Worse, my heart was beating faster than a trembling bloke on Jeremy Kyle who is about to discover if he is, indeed, the father of twins to an obese, heroin-addicted single mum from Huddersfield. But, if my mission were to succeed, I needed to show nerves of steel.
I took the package I’d surreptitiously lifted from the shelf and proffered it to the official. Avoiding eye-contact, I feigned interest in what I initially believed to be a missing person poster. “That’s your constituency MSP, Paul Martin,” said the woman, as she scanned my item. “This Spanish phrase book and CD are due back on 23 November,” she said, with more than a hint of passive aggression. I nodded. Little did the library goon know that I was off to España for a month and that the Teach Yourself Spanish In Thirty Days course would be returned a week overdue. Hasta luego, stupido!
Since retiring from the chalkface, I’ve learned to live on the edge, whether it involves being a tad tardy with returning library stock or testing the moral fibre of a checkout operator by ostentatiously placing 11 products on the conveyor belt at the ten items or fewer counter. Thanks to my golden goodbye pension of £11,000, I am financially secure but, like a slightly impoverished Thomas Crown, my wealth has not brought happiness.
While sun-glasses-wearing Steve McQueen looked down on the little people from his private glider, I have to settle for staring out the dirty, almost opaque, windows of the No12 FirstBus. When I yielded to calls from my employer to end my teaching career, I dreamed of rising at 8am and smugly gazing at the less fortunate heading off to work. Sadly, living in the North Glasgow G21 postcode, a geographical area that makes Gaza resemble a gated community, the dearth of wage-slaves has rendered my sneerometer obsolete.
To escape my daily routine of utilising a shovel to relocate canine deposits from the immediate vicinity of my house, I jumped at the chance to stay at a friend’s apartment in Torrevieja for four weeks at “mates” rates.’ Clearly, by the amount I paid, the owner was not on the best terms with her pals. The one-bedroom flat is, erm, cosy; put it this way, every time I exited the apartment, I felt like convict James Stewart emerging from the prison “hole” in the film Carbine Williams.
Torrevieja is not Benidorm. There are no signs proclaiming “Full English Breakfast” or “Sky football here”. Perhaps not to excite pangs of homesickness in expats, the local populace does not pick up after their dog has evacuated the contents of El Pedigree Chum. As in Scotland, there is signage reminding cur-owners of their responsibility to keep the streets, and the shoes of citizenry, clean. Even my limited understanding of lingua Espanol understood Perro (dog) excremente malo! To avoid an awful kitchen roll wiping ritual, one has to quickly master a sort of Spanish pavement quickstep. If Strictly Come Dancing celebrities had to learn their craft on the streets of the Costa Blanca, trust me, judges would be awarding tens all round!
Liz, my girlfriend/partner (the former job description is my perception, the latter is stridently hers), came out for nine days, but it rained on most of them. We managed to visit the romantic castle in nearby Alicante but, given the unseasonably bad weather, our greatest delight was discovering bottles of rioja keenly priced at €1 (81p), although, admittedly, it was barely drinkable.
No sooner had she departed for Moffat – Spielberg’s preferred location for his forthcoming blockbuster, Noah’s Ark: The Movie – the sun came out, all top hat and twirling cane. It was something of a guilty pleasure, nay, a holiday in my heart, to swim in the sea in late November knowing that, in dear auld depressing Alba, flood alerts had been announced and Liz was busily scraping ice from her car windscreen.
Slumming it in Spain is not without its travails. Surrounded on all four sides by more than 100 apartments, the communal pool looks like a pond in Shawshank’s exercise yard. Señoritas, to my disappointment, are patently not attracted to fat, bald Glaswegians (OK, I accept this may be a worldwide phenomenon). Mañana, I will touch down in Greater Paisley airport and resume my hitherto existence. My life is on fuego.