THE whores are out early in Puerto Banus. It is around 9pm on my final night. I walk around a corner and straight into them. "Hey cutie," one of them says, "you wanna make love?"
I am almost grateful. When you're down and out on the Costa del Sol, you take your pleasure where you can, even in the hollow words of a 40-something prostitute. "No thanks," I say. "Ah, you're Irish," she says. "I will see you in Gulwe." Huh? "Gulwe." Huh? "Gulwe! The races."
The Galway Races.
A little further on and we are approached again, my mate and I. "Hey baby," a black girl says, grabbing my cheek and twisting it hard. "Keep away from me," I advise. "You might catch something."
We are on our way to meet Eddie Jordan, the former Formula 1 guy. His yacht is anchored in the port. We share a beer, then another, then another. It tastes like nectar. But after six days and nights holed up in a hotel room, cat's piss would taste like nectar.
I tell Eddie my brief impressions of Puerto Banus. Behind me, two blondes are sipping champagne, supplied free by the barman. They are from Eastern Europe. "See those women," says Eddie. "They're prostitutes too." I would never have guessed.
A flash car pulls up; the window goes down. A woman dressed in black is inside. She is, maybe, 60. The Eastern Europeans go over and exchange a few words with her. The car pulls away. "She's the madam," explains Eddie.
Two weeks earlier, over a pint in Doheny & Nesbitts, we hit on what seemed like a good idea at the time, my mate and I. By coincidence we were off work; with nothing arranged. "Let's go to Marbella," he said.
Twenty-four hours later, I had booked the flights, he the hotel rooms at the Andalucia Plaza, seven nights. I had never been before, but I had heard the good-time stories. Puerto Banus, here we come.
Three days before we go, I wake feeling like there is grit in my eye. Later in the day, at work, the eye is watering and bloodshot. I go to the doctor and diagnose myself. "I have conjunctivitis," I tell her. She prescribes eye drops.
The next morning it is worse, so I go back to the doctor, who sends me to the eye clinic at the Mater. Hospital. I wait around a few hours before a young doctor examines me. Yes, he concurs, you have conjunctivitis. But it's viral -- antibiotics will not work. It has to make its way through my system.
"But I'm going to Puerto Banus," I say. "Don't worry," he says, "it should clear up quickly enough. Get yourself a good pair of sunglasses. You'll be fine."
At the airport, we bump into a work colleague of my mate's. She's going to Marbella too. We're in great form, my mate and I. We order a few drinks. The craic is good. "You boys," she says, shaking her head. "Watch out Puerto Banus."
We arrive at our hotel around 10pm. When we check in, I realise my passport is missing. It must have fallen from my pocket while in the taxi. But a few phone calls home and everything is sorted. Nothing is going to stop us having a good time. We drop our bags and hit the town. Two beautiful women are at the taxi rank outside our hotel. I put on my expensive shades to cover the bloodshot eye. They accept our offer to share a taxi. It's like that Carlsberg ad, I think. "Carlsberg don't do two single, middle-aged blokes in Puerto Banus, but if they did ... "
The next morning, my head hurts, but not just from too many shots with stunning probation officers from Nottingham. I try to open my eyes. They are stuck together, both of them. The conjunctivitis has spread.
That evening, we meet, for dinner, my mate's work colleague from the flight and her two friends, attractive women, one from Ireland, the other, in a wheelchair, from the UK. I try to make conversation. She had an accident when she was 14. She dived into the sea, hit her head and never walked again. For some reason, I ask if her parents were there at the time. They were.
The women are expecting a good time but I look a wreck, shades or no shades. Half an hour into the dinner, maybe an hour, I have to leave.
The following morning, and, well, it all falls apart. I am burning up; the bed sheets are soaking; I try to get up, but my limbs ache.
So there I am in Puerto Banus, bedridden but for the odd trip to my balcony to get some sun. And there I stay for five days and nights, except to gingerly make my way downstairs for breakfast and dinner. My mate brings supplies from the pharmacy, including a thermometer, which shows at one stage that I have hit 102 degrees.
Across the way, there are two dark-haired women from Scotland, at least I am told they are from Scotland. They spend their time by the pool, or on their balcony, waving across. In other circumstances I'd wave back, perhaps join them by the pool. All I can do is to toast them from afar, Solpadeine dissolving in a champagne glass.
After three or four days of water and vitamin C overload, I decide it's not so bad. The sun is shining, I am getting a good rest and I have a great book; two volumes of George Orwell's essays, which I greatly enjoy, particularly his polemic, England Your England.
Towards the end of the week, thoughts turn to going home. But I know I am not up to travel. I ease down to the hotel internet, take off my shades and postpone my return flight. I have still to get a document from the Spanish police confirming I had reported my passport missing. Otherwise I will never make it through Malaga airport. But I'm just not up to facing a Spanish police station. Not yet. Two more days, I think, and I should be OK. Or so I hope.
When I get back to my room, I realise I've left my expensive sunglasses behind. So I make my way back down again. A woman who works in the hotel is on the computer. She had asked two men standing close by if they knew who owned the glasses. One claimed them as his own, the bastard. I hope he catches conjunctivitis.
Passport gone, now my shades (they cost €250). It isn't my week. But it's just about to get a whole lot worse. That night my mate's friend sent a text to say that her friend, the woman in the wheelchair, had felt unwell the next day. When she got home she went to her doctor. She has just been diagnosed with swine flu. I wonder if that's what I have too ...
Eventually I make it home. I ring work the next morning and tell them my tale of woe. They advise that I stay out until I have been tested for swine flu. Whatever I had, my GP thinks I am probably over it, or nearly over it. I tell her I feel fine, if a little tired. She says she has to test me anyway.
She has a standard-issue HSE testing kit. The white coat is too big, she says; the gloves too big as well; the face mask is too small. She puts on the gloves. Shehas three swabs, but needs to take just two, from my nose and throat. The third swab, therefore, is redundant.
She has further complaints. The HSE test kit comes without a freepost return envelope, or even a return address. She has found an envelope for me, and the address. She puts my swabs inside with a covering letter. She hands the envelope to me and suggests I send it Swiftpost. The post office is closed.
So, beside me on the table is a white envelope with my swabs inside. I must take it to the post office with some urgency. If I do have swine flu -- I do not believe I have -- the postman, for one, is at risk. It strikes me that the level of preparedness for this pandemic is shambolic.
The results should be back in two to three days. Then I will return to work. But I think I need another holiday. Next time, though, I will stay away from the sleazy, gangster-laden, whore-infested hell-hole that is Puerto Banus, with its flash cars, fake tan and soulless centre.
No offence intended.