It’s easy to laugh or be appalled by Benidorm, but Jim Duffy feels right at home in this playground of Brits abroad.
My daughters just love the ITV sitcom, Benidorm. The series had a ten-year run where a very funny cast spent their holidays with us in the vacation enigma that is Spain’s Benidorm. The caricatures, types, stereotypes and just plain odd people that we got to know in the series were figments of the screenwriter’s imagination. Or so I thought.
In actual fact, a visit to Benidorm right now is like a visit to Universal Studios in Orlando, where one can visit the filmsets. Unfortunately, as I write about my recent trip to Benidorm, there are no Oscar-winning movies, just politically incorrect gazing at the most bizarre people and events.
Before you jump to conclusions and ask why I would go to Benidorm over Mallorca or Zante, it is because I live near it. Ostensibly, it is my Largs, my Saltcoats and my Girvan all rolled into one with a large dollop of Las Vegas and a big slug of Blackpool thrown in.
As you travel down the AP7 from Alicante to Benidorm, there is not a lot to see except barren hills, mountains and the odd Guarda Civil patrol car. Then, like a mirage, up pops Benidorm with its Las Vegas-style skyline attempt at futuristic and posh highrise. There are water parks and hotels galore as one enters this tourists’ Mecca in the middle of the Costa Blanca. It feels quite exciting to be honest – until you spot the first kebab shop, the “Full English Breakfast served here all day” signs and, of course, “two for one drinks” promotions. And here is where the fun starts.
As I drive into the hotel to park my car there are two entrances. One for cars and the other for scooters. Yes, “Madge” is alive and well in Benidorm. Madge was a leading character in the series. In short, she is a sun-worshipping, orange-coloured, chain-smoking woman who almost lived in her mobility scooter. And Benidorm has spawned a whole tribe of Madges. These scooters are everywhere. Honestly, you will not travel more than a hundred metres without bumping into Madge. But, it gets even better and funnier. Why walk with your partner when you too can jump into the new tandem scooters?
These sleek contraceptions are everywhere and all sorts are using them. Don’t get me wrong, my dad had to use his to get around Renfrew when his legs started to fail. But, here in Benidorm every Tom, Dick, Madge and Harry is using them. And they go from pub to pub to lounge bar to all-day breakfast in them. Yes, Benidorm ensures a hassle-free route to your very own stroke and heart attack.
Let me set the scene. There I was sitting in the “Spanish” pub looking onto the street. I had just ordered my first cerveza and was perusing the “English” menu – well, if you can’t beat them join them, right? The cold beer arrived and I ordered the small cod and chips. Kind of takes you back to Largs except here it’s half the price with 80F heat. As I sipped the cool liquid, a tandem scooter arrived at the open front entrance. Two very large “Brits” were on board and sat there ogling the street menu. Yes, they were now coming in. Now ordinarily, I’d be ready to help someone off their scooter as they may be infirm. No need with these two heavy-go-lightlys. They bounced off their scooter together, bringing it up another five inches from the ground. No effort to park it mind, just abandon it near the door. In they strolled.
It was “Donald and Jacqueline” from the hit series all over. Hugely overweight and really didn’t care ... They sat down near me and ordered two beers. They were both wearing shorts that were just plain wrong as the varicose veins in their legs were struggling to breathe. “Two full English please” was the battlecry. They then proceeded to watch the English news on the chuntering TV as they devoured their first pint then ordered a second. I had seen this before on ITV and it wasn’t the Jeremy Kyle Show either.
The nightlife in Benidorm is even more interesting. There is neon everywhere as bars and eateries compete for “British” euros. Stag do’s are everywhere with the occasional Hen do thrown in. Bucking Bronco rides for five euros give energetic young lads the chance to show off their prowess and testosterone levels. Semi-naked women dancing on podiums reeling in half-drunk guys to make a spectacle of themselves, while their mates order more booze and, of course, people being sick as they’ve had too much sun, too much alcohol and not enough pizza. The only thing to note now is that the scooters have gone to bed.
Yes, just like the series with all our favourite characters, Benidorm is predictable and not what the doctor ordered. Throw in the Rangers pub and Celtic pub and it makes many Scots feel right at home. In fact, the bold Paul “Gazza” Gascoigne made an appearance recently and sang along to some silly bigoted song then signed autographs accompanied by “Simply the Best”.
Add in as many rip-offs – or ‘tribute acts’ – of celebrities and musicians as one can throw a stick at and the cabaret is just the ticket – from ‘Olly Mars’ to ‘Tom Jones’, Benidorm has them headlining at a bar near you.
It’s okay to gaze at the Benidorm freakshow and be a little smug about it. But, I actually love it. Yes, it makes me smile as I see the show’s characters played out in real life every day. As I order my two-for-one drinks at Sinatras, while enjoying the drag acts and imitators, I feel right at home here. Viva España eh??