End of story

EL SID rang up from Spain earlier in the week. He was concerned that his skin cancer was spreading again.

"Hello? I've got this 'orrible growth on my neck, son," he said.

"It's called your head, Dad," I reassured him. I wasn't too worried. Most of the elderly British expats living on the Costa del Sol have got skin cancer in some shape or form these days. A good job too. Otherwise they'd have nothing to talk about on the way to the golf club.

Sid had skin cancer before it became popular. So far, he has had two malignant melanomas removed, which he often boasts about, in spite of the tremendous difficulty he has pronouncing words like "malignant" and "melanoma".

It isn't the possibility of dying from skin cancer that bothers Dad. It's rather the fact that it looks so horrible. "Veronica says it makes her feel sick just looking at it," said Sid, over the phone. "Says I ought to have it looked at by a specialist."

I made an appointment for him to see a skin specialist in London and he flew over from Marbella. Tests showed that the growth wasn't malignant (it was a run-of-the-mill benign basal cell carcinoma); but the specialist said he was loath to remove it. He did offer to tidy Sid up a bit, however, and he whipped a trio of repulsive-looking moles off Sid's forehead with a scalpel. Sid brought these moles home with him in a matchbox.

"What are you keeping them for?" I said, recoiling in disgust when he showed them to me. (The ones with hairs coming out of them looked like dead insects.) "I'm going to put them under my pillow for the mole fairy," he said.

When he returned to Marbella, I went with him. I like to pop down whenever I can, especially at this time of year. It's a short flight - and ludicrously cheap if you go with one of those new, no-frills airlines.

The one me and Sid usually fly with is so cheap it actually costs us more to get to Gatwick than it does to fly to Spain. The only slight drawback is that they do insist that passengers have the exact fare on boarding.

There are no meals or alcoholic beverages served during the flight, of course. A polystyrene cup of lukewarm tea - either incredibly weak or incredibly strong - is the closest one comes to "refreshments". In-flight entertainment consists of the occasional violent assault on a member of the cabin staff.

Informality and overcrowding are the keynotes. In place of "air hostesses", surly young men and women wearing those colour- co-ordinated T-shirts, shorts, and baseball caps jog up and down the narrow aisles.

Instead of politely reminding me to fasten my seat belt, a crew member simply pointed at my midriff and said: "Belt." And in order to have our undivided attention for the emergency life-jacket demonstration, the person performing it told us to shut our "cake holes" for a minute. Would that they gave us some cake to put in our cake holes now and again, lamented Sid.

Rumbling and shuddering, the plane taxied towards the runway. We settled back into our narrow seats. Leg room was at a premium. After some trial and error, I discovered that it was just about possible to maintain the integrity of my own personal space by sitting bolt upright, as if I were about to give an important piano recital.

I looked at Sid. He had his matchbox out and was about to show the lady sitting on the other side of him his severed mole collection. For maximum dramatic effect, he was holding the matchbox right under her nose and slowly pushing out the drawer with his forefinger. What a prannet!

I pulled out the in-flight magazine and contemptuously flicked through it. It was called Go! The main article was a profile of Yoko Ono, John Lennon's widow. It was about how well-respected she is in the art world these days. It brought to mind that when I was a child Sid told me Yoko Ono was Japanese for "One egg, please", which I innocently believed for many years afterwards.

The lady beside Sid was shrieking, and I looked up just in time to see her batting Sid's matchbox away with her hand. Sid was down on all fours immediately, trying to retrieve it. While he was down there, a steward came and stood at the end of the row with his hands on his hips, like an exasperated teacher.

"It's all right," I explained. "He's looking for his moles."