THE Carthaginians came and went. The Romans came, conquered and went. The Moors came, conquered and flourished. The Christians came, conquered, flourished, gave the world Franco, Morgan’s Tavern and the biggest holiday resort in Spain. Today, all those generations and waves of humanity later, this city of concrete, glass and pizza has more high-rise buildings per capita than anywhere else on the planet. This cauldron of cultures has history, sand, sunshine and karaoke bars. It’s a world within a world and a shock to the systems of the unprepared. It’s big, it’s brash and it’s brazenly brassy. It’s Blackpool with bocadillos and barbequed Brits, a beautiful blister set on a sun-baked beach. And it’s still known by its Moorish name – Benidorm . . .
Benidorm is an easy target for journalists whose professional limitations prevent them gazing beyond their smirks. It appeals to tourists whose tastes veer away from what certain people refer to – somewhat smugly – as the quality press. According to Wikipedia, this is what Jani Allan wrote in the Sunday Times back in 1990:
“These days you just have to look at the numbers of wide-bodied jets bearing wide-bodied holidaymakers to Benidorm to realise that package holidays and airborne cattle trucks make fun in the sun accessible to everyone.”
I don’t like this sort of stuff because it demeans ordinary people who work hard all year and put a bit aside for a few days abroad. If some are wide-bodied, perhaps they are emulating those members of the House of Lords, city bankers, several members of Parliament I could mention, and a number of journalists who work for quality newspapers and the television news, who have allowed their girth to expand beyond what is considered acceptable.
Foreign travel is now within the grasp of the ordinary British worker, although I am not sure whether to include the millions on the living wage, minimum wage and zero-hours contracts in this – but we journalists have long been in the bracket, and for that I am grateful for it has broadened my experience and appreciation of the fortunes of others.
Benidorm has its downsides. Some alleys smell of urine and the occasional vomit stain on the pavement rather blunts the appeal of the neighbouring fast-foot shops. But in that it’s no different to most British town and city centres. I’m sure the odd person has thrown up at the Henley Regatta before today or been caught short at Royal Ascot. In fact I’d put money on it. I expect a proportion were wide-bodied, as well.
Benidorm has a permanent population of 69,000 – a similar figure to my home town of Barrow-in-Furness although, admittedly, it’s a bit more glamorous. It attracts five-million visitors every year, the overwhelming majority of whom are British.
They fly here for the beaches – which are the cleanest and most golden I have seen in Spain – the cheap drink, the food and the holiday atmosphere. Most importantly, they fly here because Benidorm is Benidorm in the same way Blackpool is Blackpool.
Would I stay for a holiday? No. I wouldn’t go to Blackpool either. I’ll stick to my mountains and wild places, thank you. But I won’t knock those who do, because I look around Benidorm and all I see are smiling, happy, laughing faces on every street and in every bar.
Bring on the wide-bodied jets, that’s what I say. Bring on the pink-shouldered Brits with their lilywhite legs, tattoos and football shirts. Everyone deserves a good time on their holidays. Benidorm must be doing something right.