Too yellow to survive the Canaries

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The Independent Culture
YOU PAY peanuts, you get monkeys. I paid pounds 199 for a week in Lanzarote last Thursday - in retrospect, if they'd thrown in a couple of monkeys I would probably have lasted the week. I like monkeys. A baby monkey, surprisingly heavy for its size, once jumped from a tree on to my shoulder on Mount Popa, near Pagan, grabbed my cigarette and stuffed it into its mouth. I waited for the roar of pain as burning ash encountered tender palate, but nothing happened. It chewed, swallowed, chittered (monkeys really do chitter), scratched its head, scratched my head, and returned still chittering to its tree.

Mrs Baxter, next to us in the dining-room of our three-star hotel on the Costa Teguise last week, had three monkeys, none, alas, as accommodating as my Burmese friend. It was Mrs Baxter's monkeys, more even than the food, weather, murky lagoon-style swimming-pool and, of course, the Germans, that prompted our early departure from the Canary Islands - which, I read on the plane returning to Gatwick on Monday, are this nation's fourth favourite holiday destination, attracting 10 million British tourists last year. It takes all sorts.

"Ooh Dale, you little monkey," observed Mrs Baxter without rancour as her first-born, a pasty lad of around seven in full Liverpool FC away strip, tipped beans over his brother's cornflakes. "I don't suppose you thought to ask if Digby wanted beans with his cereal?"

"MONKEY MONKEY MONKEY" shrieked the Baxter baby from his high chair, hurling the contents of his own cereal bowl, mainly beans, at Dale's head. He was also a Liverpool supporter. "And you're a little monkey too, Daniel, Mummy's baby monkey - in fact you're all naughty little monkeys," continued Mrs Baxter, oblivious to the growing pile of debris accumulating round their table.

Digby and Dale were now bombarding each other with tinned peaches and pineapple chunks. For the record (I learnt this from the man beside me on the plane), two-star hotels offer only one choice of tinned fruit for breakfast.

The only other item of news I remember reading on my homeward flight was the report that 1998 has been the hottest year this millennium. Fiddlesticks. Or - as young Digby Baxter observed pleasantly in a Costa Teguise gift shop, when his mother suggested that a plastic clockwork matchbox model of a rutting couple entitled The Bonk was (a) not a suitable present for Granny, and (b) not worth 12,000 pesetas - "bollocks you silly cow."

Anyone who spent the summer in Argyll, reputedly the wettest for 90 years, will know that far from being the hottest this millennium, 1998 has been the dampest, drenchiest and altogether most dispiriting year weatherwise since Mrs Noah insisted on buying new gumboots for the children.

Indeed, it was precisely because of our washed-out August on the west coast of Scotland that I decided to book an off-season package to the nearest, cheapest, hottest place, which turned out to be Lanzarote. For pounds 450 I could have had a week in Bali; for pounds 399 they offered St Lucia. Too much, too far, I said foolishly. A tiresome know-all acquaintance told me last November that he and his girlfriend had just booked three weeks in southern India for pounds 299 including flight and hotel. Funny, I haven't heard from him since. With any luck they've both died of Pondicherry belly or cholera.

"I think I've found just what you're looking for," said the travel agent. "Average seasonal temperature 25 degrees Celsius, three hours' flight, pounds 199 for a week. Why, it's cheaper than staying at home."

What she didn't tell us was that although it is certainly hot, the sun doesn't in fact shine on the Costa Teguise in November.

You can see it up there through the haze, and when the wind blowing across the Atlantic from America lets up for a second, allowing you to loosen your stranglehold on beach towel, deck-chair and other personal effects which would otherwise be hurled out to sea, you can relax and pretend you're sunbathing, but it isn't the same.

Gentle reader, beware the cheap off-season package, even if it is going to the fourth most popular British holiday destination. Save your peanuts for real monkeys.

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