Celebrity visitor. No, not a former drummer in Genesis.
Responding to questions on why the blog has become seemingly moribund from a devoted reader - the lovely Carmel – the answer is simple: we’ve been laying low for a week, keeping a low profile and ‘chillaxing’ if you’ll forgive my usage of the present participle tense of the verb ‘to chillax.’ Look, if David Cameron can claim to be ‘chillaxed,’ (nice usage of the simple past participle there Dave) then the word is fair game.
So, are we chillaxed then? Some chance with friends who seem determined to turn us into party animals. We’ve hosted guests for a thrown - together – sort – of - dinner - party, eaten out several times, met a celeb and enjoyed a live gig by the brother of a music business legend. Well, the better known brother is Peter Sarstedt of ‘Where do you go to, my lovely?’ fame and there’s a famous third brother, Eden Kane, as well. The lesser known Sarstedt is a talented singer in his own right. A busy week then and we’ve now pitched up in that bastion of peace and quiet, Marbella.
Our lovely friend Kay Kay, so good they named her twice, thinks we’re so boring we need to get out more. In company with the aforementioned celeb, whom I’ll just call Brian as he’s incognito this week, we’ve been press-ganged into a week of unrelenting bacchanalia. Brian used to be a hooker - whether in a rugby or ladyboy context was not made clear – and is splendid company. Worn to a frazzle by a hectic week of excessive eating, drinking and bonhomie, we got back on the road and off on our travels once again.
Marbella, Golden Mile et al, has glamour aplenty. Even more so with the arrival of Marigold and myself. We stayed here for six weeks, many years ago, in a hotel owned by Hapimag, the Swiss owned timeshare company. No dogs allowed which made it a fraught six weeks. Smuggling a not particularly well behaved Labrador up and down lifts and out to the patch of waste ground next door several times a day was stressful.
Just the two of us this time and many changes to note. The old town is still all narrow streets, orange trees and charming, much as it used to be. We got lost. Twice. That too had more than a hint of the familiar. We walked the marble promenades of the beach area in the company of a horde of walkers. Collective noun for walkers? No idea. A perspiration of walkers? Maybe. It would certainly be appropriate today.
There’s a four day walk-fest going on and everybody but us was striding out valiantly. A couple of triple Fs - formidably fit females - passed us and stopped at a café for a drink. We pressed on, swept along with the tide, and ten minutes later the same FFFs passed us again having ordered drinks, drunk them and continued their walk. Oh, the shame of it. Worse was to come as a pair of distinctly rotund men, bustling along as if late for opening time at the pub, passed us as well.
Time to get our excuses out perhaps. Marigold glides, I hobble. Despite daily applications of Poundland’s finest adhesive strapping my recalcitrant Achilles' tendon refuses to repair itself. Also, these purposeful walkers are cut from very different cloth to ourselves. Where they bustle along, we take in the sights. We don’t hustle, we don’t power-walk, we stroll we saunter, we amble. Tortoise and the hare, except that unlike in Aesop’s fable, in reality the hare always wins. Whatever, there are far worse places for a stroll than along Marbella’s luxurious marble promenade.
Marbella hasn't always been so grand. After the war, a German Prince, Maximilian de Hohenlohe-Langenburg and his son, Alfonso, were driving past a shabby fishing village when their Rolls-Royce broke down. Alfonso, the son, liked the look of the place, so he bought a piece of land and built a house on part of it. Nothing unusual there, but what Alonso did next was to change that sleepy fishing village for ever. He sold off plots of land to his friends and they built houses as well. His friends were named Rothschild and Thyssen. Alonso’s own humble abode, Finca Santa Margarita, became so popular with visitors that he turned it into the Marbella Club.
A luxury hotel owned by European nobility attracts wealthy visitors and the likes of Ava Gardner, Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant and Laurence Olivier were soon spotted around town. Sleepy fishing village? Not any more.
Marbella was already established as a place where the well heeled came to relax when a more contemporary version of German minor royalty appeared on the scene.
The late King Fahd of Saudi Arabia took a liking to Marbella because it was "was a land blessed by Allah,’ presumably a reference to its Moorish architecture and over seven hundred years of Islamic rule. Fahd bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud was the king and prime minister of Saudi Arabia and leader of the House of Saud. His personal wealth was said to be in excess of 25 billion euros and an awestruck correspondent from the Financial Times reported ‘He earned more in a minute that any monarch in history did in a year.
King Fahd built a house in Marbella, Mar-Mar Palace, modelled on the White House and spent many summers there. Saudi Kings don’t travel light. An entourage of over 3,000 required a minimum of 300 hotel rooms and 500 cars; in every month of the King’s stay Marbella’s economy boomed as countless millions of euros were spent. Hence the marble pavements, the mosque on the Golden Mile and the fond memories of local shopkeepers and hotel staff. He once left a tip of over 30,000 euros to reward the efforts of the staff at a single hotel. No wonder they came from far and wide to seek work as gardeners, maids or chauffeurs whenever the Royal yacht hove into sight.
Marbella held three days of mourning when the King died in 2005; a public garden and a street are named in his honour and he was decreed an honoured son of Marbella. King Fahd may well have been the last of the big spenders as his successor, Fahd’s half-brother and chosen heir, King Abdullah, has yet to follow his predecessor's extravagant lifestyle, although he stills visits Marbella regularly.
Not that the legacy has died off completely. One of Fahd's four surviving widows and 14 princesses stayed at Mar-Mar for a month in 2006 but only managed to spend a paltry 12 million euros. Impressive, but nowhere near the excesses of the recent past.
Our rather more prosaic lifestyle has had negligible effect on the local economy, but we did our best. Yesterday we visited old friends – Polly and the Pope – ( old as in the sense of being friends for many years rather than being ‘old,’ although now I come to think of it…) and enjoyed an all too short reunion. Perhaps the best test of friendship is meeting up after a long interval and it’s like we only only spoke yesterday.
We passed the splendidly named Happy Beach resort today. While in Italy, somewhere in the Dolomites, we passed through a village called Sunnova. I remarked at the time, in an Italian accent obviously, it was a pity the village was not next to the sea as it could then be called Sunnova Beach. Even with the cod Italian accent marigold didn’t find it amusing either. Oh well, can’t win ‘em all.
Where next? Maybe the fleshpots of Puerto Banus will tempt us tomorrow. It’s a full on life this mingling with the jet set.