After a difficult year spent hanging around hospitals and with me dictating a book, we needed a holiday. My husband went on the web and typed in "wheelchair-friendly villas". We found a place in Majorca, which looked like paradise; we booked it for three weeks. Then the German owner rang to tell us that she'd let half of the house to another family for the first week of our stay. She was astonished when my husband said we did not want to share with strangers. "But it is a large
house," she said. "There is plenty of room
for two families." When my husband relayed this to me I screeched: "Doesn't she know we're English?!" He found another villa in Santa Eulalia, in Ibiza.
In Cala Llonga, at a cafe on the beach, I listen to three late-middle-aged English couples who are staying at the same hotel. They are getting to know each other - English style. They talk for a solid hour about dogs: their own dogs, pining for them at home in England; dogs belonging to family and friends; long-dead dogs.
Barry, a south Londoner, monologues about George. His voice cracks; he was a good dog. He talks about the time George got through a gap in the fence and stole a koi carp from a neighbour's pond; about another incident when he chased a squirrel and caused a road accident. "This silly woman driver was sitting in her car screaming and the car was spinning round like a bleedin' skittle."
Barry's wife, Renee, joins in the laughter. "The police were always bringing George back," she remembered fondly. "Trouble was, kids insisted on stroking him, and he didn't like it."
"Not his fault if he got a bit snappy," says Barry. The others murmur agreement. With this conversation, the couples have established the gradations of their class, intelligence and respectability.
We were warned not to visit San Antonio:
"It's a prole hell-hole." When we got there, we were pleasantly surprised: a wide promenade, a pretty bay, a couple of nice cafes. Gaggles of unaccompanied English teenagers pass by. Visiting Ibiza is a rite of passage for the young working class. These young people do not have a gap year: they have a gap fortnight.
When I first lost my sight, I asked my husband to keep me informed of anything of visual interest. A typical exchange is:
Him: "A seven foot tall woman is walking towards us. She's incredibly thin and is wearing a bikini."
Me: "Seven foot tall? Is she wearing high heels?"
Him: "No, she's walking on the sand."
Me: "Is she sexy?"
Him (diplomatically): "No, she's what they call in Scandinavia a two-meter-plus woman."
In the hire car, I ask my husband where we are, and he explains that we're on the road to Jesus. I wonder if the strain of caring for a blind, wheelchair-using, neurotic writer has finally got to him and he has retreated into religion. But the explanation is more prosaic: Jesus is an upmarket village on the back road to Ibiza town.
In the afternoon, I stick my nose six inches from the television and watch Tony Blair darting out of a car. I notice how the Prime Minister now cuts a tragic figure. His smile slips more often and his eyes show that he is scared. I wonder if he ever sits on the sofa with his wife and children during his hour of family quality time and watches TV footage of Iraqi children being pulled from the rubble. My husband walks in and sees the images on the telly screen. "How could anybody vote for Blair?" he wonders. To my own surprise, I answer: "I won't be voting for Blair, but I'll be voting for the Labour Party." And I will. Labour has a long and honourable history, and I trust Gordon Brown to captain the good ship Socialism and to repel such pirates as Alan Milburn.
My mind wanders to the president across the Atlantic. Actually, he reminds me of a man I once spoke to in North Carolina, whom I asked for directions to the freeway. He said:
"You ain't from round here, are you?"
I said no, I was from England.
"England?" he queried.
"England, in Europe," I said, trying to be helpful.
"Is Europe far away?" he asked.
"Yes, it's about 5,000 miles," I guessed.
"Long drive," he replied.