Seagulls and sangria without the sunburn: Torremolinos, W1, where Rosie Millard watched the lads party the night away, is just like the costa

'IT MAY be winter outside but there's a HEATWAVE on the horizon . . .' say the posters outside Oxford Street's Cinecitta Discoteca. Inside, we are promised seagulls, beach balls, lilos, paddling pools and glorious disco tunes; for this is Torremolinos, the club where the package holiday comes to the Brit.

And indeed, in the bitter cold outside, people are queuing in serious holiday gear: boob tubes, Union Jack shorts, hankies round heads, and what one woman calls her 'poolside outfit', consisting of 'funny high heels and a turban'.

To enter the club you must play the wheel of fortune. 'Simply spin the wheel,' yells the ticket girl, 'and see how much you will pay.'

Payments range from the full pounds 7 top whack to a pounds 2 forfeit, which is to be 'Bruted': the full Henry Cooper treatment splashed on all over. Steve, a student from LA, landed on the pounds 2 reduction and the Faberge bottle in a fairly major way. His girlfriend appears clutching a rubber ring. 'I was Bruted]' he shouts, clearly delighted.

Inside, the atmosphere has been carefully manufactured to resemble a Club 18-30 holiday in Malaga. A hammock swings above the dance floor; people lie about in deck chairs or thread their way around plastic palm trees clutching glasses of something that vaguely resembles sangria, and the overweight bartender is wearing a white T-shirt that announces 'I'm pissed'.

Dean and Eddie are taking it easy in the deck chairs. They are keen to expound on the phenomenon of the British on holiday. 'I tell you what it is,' says Dean, swigging at his drink. 'We live our whole lives in greyness. For two weeks you have sunshine and you go, well, a bit mad. The Italians and the Spanish take it for granted. I've been to Tenerife. It's just like this over there.'

'People lose themselves on holiday, really,' says Stuart, a Debenhams floor manager, who is dressed for the evening in a pair of shorts and a bath cap. 'Here you can just lose yourself for one night. Why are we different on holiday from other countries? I think it's because we get less bank holidays than they do, and I think it's because we work harder. On holiday you just go mad; you don't care what you dance to.'

Stuart goes off gyrating to 'It Feels Like I'm in Love' by Teena Marie. Behind him, the hammock is being invaded by several inebriated men.

The recession is probably a good thing for Torremolinos. Fashioned so closely on the bars and discos beloved by the British package tourist, it acts as a nostalgic, albeit unsubtle, reminder of easier times. 'It's like getting away when you can't afford to,' says Lee. 'It's really got the stress-free holiday atmosphere in here.'

Launched five years ago in Liverpool, Torremolinos came to London as a one-off, and by popular demand now runs once a month at Cinecitta.

Neil Mather, the organiser, admits it began as 'a piss-take on the Brits abroad. We got everything from the package holiday scene; we even have seagull sound effects. People seem to like it. Last month, we had a hen night in. They pulled down all the white handbags we hung above the dance floor for a joke, and danced around them all night.'

The hammock, by now filled with about five people, looks dangerously close to plummeting to the floor; it is hastily withdrawn from service by the management. A group of young men from Essex stand by, draped in Union Jacks and clutching beach balls. It would seem that, far from putting people off the venue, Torremolinos the disco is actually inspiring visits to Torremolinos the holiday camp.

'We all went to Gibraltar last year,' says Colin. 'This year we're going to Torremolinos. We have to, having been here. Oh, I agree, the Brits aren't like other people on holiday. We stick together.'

His mates nod their heads sagely. 'We've still got something to prove,' says one. 'By wearing Union Jacks all the time we try to make a foreign country British.'

Mr Mather says wearily; 'The Essex lot are here every club night. They are usually still here by 5am. No, I don't think the club makes fun of those who can't afford other types of holiday. I just think it's nice to come out for a laugh and go to a club that's not playing some obscure Belgian import or that has a strict dress policy on the door, like some of the Seventies-style clubs do.'

By 3am the place is heaving, people waving plastic seagulls around the dance floor as the club favourite, George Michael's 'Careless Whisper', is played. Various holidaymakers have collapsed on deck chairs; the Essex boys have finally tired of hurling the contents of the paddling pools over one another.

By the next morning, though, the very existence of Torremolinos and its perennial sunshine have been cast into doubt. 'Just thought I should tell you,' Mr Mather says over the phone, 'after you left, the sprinkler system was set off by mistake and about 40,000 gallons of water poured straight into the club. The floor was about ankle-deep in water. Our next night is set for 26 March, but, you know, the owner isn't very happy.'

(Photograph omitted)

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