Wednesday, 21 August 2013

A sweaty Englishman

Ten years ago on a Spanish holiday, after several hours lying on a lounger under the fierce Mediterranean sun, it seemed timely to replenish my bottled water supplies. Clad only in boxer shorts and well worn flip-flops, and deploying my metronomic, energy efficient, stride pattern (head down, elbows out, short steps, shuffling gait), I soon arrived at the entrance to the small, local supermarket.

Aware of the lack of air-conditioning in this establishment, I darted towards the drinks section and soon located the hefty multi-pack of eight 1-litre bottles of water. As I headed for the check out, the stifling heat impacted upon my senses, distorting my vision and producing a soft whistling sound in my ears. Mercifully, the queue at check out was short.

The supermarket owner’s decision to bake their own baguettes in-house no doubt seemed like a winner at the time. The smell of freshly made bread at the check out was clearly meant to entice customers into an additional purchase. Presumably not considered was the impact of having a large, working stainless-steel oven positioned next to the cash till and within touching distance of shoppers waiting to pay for their goods in a non air-conditioned premise in southern Spain.

While standing in the queue, with my 8-pack clasped under my arm, the polythene wrapping accelerated my rate of perspiration. Sweat flowed in rivulets through clumps of grey chest hair and, upon reaching the imposing gut region, combined with viscous slithers of Ambre Solaire to form an alluring milk-like substance. Further south more watery, faster moving trickles could be detected as they intermittently darted into my darker recesses. Meanwhile, my already sun-charred skin was being braised by the heat from the oven.

Worse still, the queue at the check out did not seem to be moving. The obstruction was another Englishman, his two children by his side, unloading the numerous contents of his trolley. Clearly one of the few holiday-makers for whom the renting of an apartment really did mean self-catering, he was completing his weekly shop. Pale skinned and all three clad in white t-shirts and matching peaked caps, it was evident that they had sensibly evaded the sun for the duration of their stay. As his last item (a box of bran-flakes) was registered by the senorita at the cash till, there was an audible ripple of relief from the fleshy, and increasingly sweaty, masses queuing behind him.

Relief reverted to dismay when dad turned to his children and asked, “Don’t those baguettes smell lovely; shall we get some for our tea Benjamin?” Recognising that it is good parenting to actively involve one’s offspring in the decision making process, he followed up with, "Should we get four large ones or half a dozen of the small?”

Expectantly, the senorita had by this time opened the hefty oven door and, with metal tongs at the ready, was awaiting further instruction. Consequently, a wall of hot air assaulted my senses. My fluid loss was such that, despite having eight litres clasped in my hand, I was in danger of experiencing a net loss since stepping over the threshold. Feeling on the point of collapse, my poached brain tried to fathom whether it would be less embarrassing to collapse there on the floor at the feet of Mr. Sensible or to stagger to the exit and fall at the roadside. Vivid kaleidoscopic images intruded of my falling somewhere between the two options, pulling over the rack of inflatable pool accessories on the way down, and lying helplessly on my back in an oily puddle surrounded by stray flip-flops and a blow-up Dalmatian.

Movement of the queue returned my attention to the present. Baguettes finally dispensed, I quickly paid for my water and escaped onto the street outside and into the relative cool of the direct Spanish sunlight. Numbness radiated along my right arm, under which was firmly embedded my plastic coated 8-pack which by now felt as if it had fused into my skin and muscle. I squatted for a few moments in an effort to restore my usual poise, pedestrians having to swerve to avoid me.

Balance soon restored, I stood up and (with head down, elbows out, short steps, shuffling gait) set off on the return journey to my apartment complex. Having stored the bottled water in my fridge, and with paperback in hand, I returned to my poolside sun lounger.