All this talk of giving things up for Lent reminded me of a period of conspicuous consumption. It was the summer of 2005. A memorable time. The Vatican was choosing a new Pope. I'd sent my CV in, but wasn't hopeful. Live 8 was in the planning stages, part of the 'Mark Poverty History' campaign.
Make Poverty History? Who comes up with these names? I ask you.
To escape from the excitement (there was the Dutch referendum on the European Constitution; I told you these were crazy times), Katie and I decided to go on holiday to Spain. A friend of hers had a house in Gran Alacant which we rented for a fortnight. It was never going to be a culturally rich experience, more of a cheap fortnight with the sun on our backs.
And it delivered. The weather was hot. I got heroic sunburn. We drank red wine at about 3 Euros per litre while watching the sun go down over the Costa Blanca. We even managed to travel further afield after I agreed to hire a car. Although the rental company actually delivered something that looked more like an automotive toad:
600cc of throbbing power. Just what you need to haul two overweight Brits up winding mountainous roads.
In the evenings, when we weren't back at the house damaging our internal organs with I Can't Believe It's Not Vinegar, we would wander down to the local town square. That sounds rather nice doesn't it? Quaint. You'd expect flower baskets, religious festivals, paella a-plenty, wouldn't you? But of course, this is the Costas, so it was not exactly Spanish in tooth and claw.
The square had a number of different establishments. First, there was the Dick Turpin pub. Dick Turpin doesn't feature that heavily in Spanish folklore, so you can guess the theme. Sky Sports on the telly, microwaved chips in baskets, all the John Smiths and Stella you could drink. We tended not to frequent the Dick Turpin.
Then there was an Indian restaurant. We ate there, once, when the air-conditioning broke down. We were eating hot, spicy food in a mediterrannean summer. I think I needed an ice-bath after that meal.
There was the one bar we did frequent, which was actually owned and run by a Spanish chap and his elderly mother. It was un-named, a little grubby perhaps, but had more character than Dick Turpin could steal at gunpoint. There was no shared language, other than "cerveza grande", but we would happily sit out for hours and consume Mahou at a prodigious rate.
In the opposite corner was one final place, which was normally closed. But one night, the door was unlocked and the shutters were up. It looked like another bar, but strangely all the customers appeared to be Nordic in appearance. It had no external signs, no hoarding, nothing. Katie and I shrugged at each other and decided to give it a try.
It turned out that this new bar was aimed squarely at the Finnish ex-pat market. A bit niche, perhaps, but you had to admire their focus. They seemed friendly enough, and the barman spoke English with a faint mid-Atlantic accent. I'd had enough beer so I asked for a gin and tonic. I know, I'm like a latter-day David Niven, aren't I?
Still smiling, and without breaking eye contact, the barman poured a generous measure. It was only then that I noticed the gin was coming from a bottle with no label. This was an unexpected development. I think I had several.
I don't know if the unbranded gin had an effect. But what I will say is that later that evening, I awoke to find a helicopter in the bedroom, hovering over the bed. Not a big helicopter, but a helicopter nevertheless. I wasn't sure if that was normal. And when I went to the bathroom, the far wall started receding. As I ran towards it, it kept on moving. Eventually it appeared as if we had a bathroom 12 feet across and half a mile long. I wouldn't have minded, but annoyingly the toilet was on the far wall.
We didn't go back to the Finnish bar.