Far From The Maddening Crowd

Picture the scene. We’ve just arrived in the beautiful hills of the Algarve for a much-longed for mini-break, settled down with a book in a secluded grassy spot away from the hustle and bustle of the pool area, perhaps looking forward to a quiet snooze… when all of a sudden a bunch of raucous Essex folk descend.

‘Babe, babe,’ shouts the korma-coloured woman in the bejewelled bikini, wheeling a pram. ‘There a good spot here. Get Dave.’

‘Daaasvvvvve,’ yells Babe. ‘Get Filipo to bring us four sun beds. And get the beers in!’

Larger-than-life Dave, who looks and sounds just like James Corden but with none of his affability and a belly the size of Mount Vesuvius, bellows for Filipo.

Filipo dutifully trots off and returns, trundling the loungers behind him. Despite being twice his size, larger-than-life Dave doesn’t offer to help but merely jabs a chubby finger to where he’d like his loungers – namely within 30cm from us.

We are surrounded.

‘Oh no,’ grumbles the husband, whose tolerance levels for loud people are generally much higher than mine. ‘TOWIE have arrived!’

We thought we were safe here. It wasn’t by accident that we ended up relaxing on this grassy knoll. After a tour of the available sunbathing spots at the hotel, this particular location was carefully chosen for its quiet ambience: a safe haven from the highly-populated pool area – a mass of reddening flesh and squawking pool splashers – yet with views of the surrounding hills and a soothing babble of water in the background. How wrong we were.


This year has turned out less about The Battle of the Sunbeds (previously documented here and also here… oh, and here too – I’m clearly OBSESSED!) and more about The Battle to Eschew the Essex Crew.

‘Wouldn’t they be better in one of those cabanas down by the pool?’ I whisper. ‘They’d love it down there. Tell Dave!’

‘I’d even buy them a round,’ says the husband, as Filipo meekly scurries over with a tray of beers. ‘Just to get them out of earshot.’

‘Come this way, Dave,’ mimics the husband, in a soothing tone. ‘I’ve found you a lovely spot down by the lower pool, quite some way from here. I’ve even thrown in a bucket of Coronas!’

Larger-than-life Dave obliviously takes one sip of his beer and curls his lip.

‘Filipo,’ he booms. ‘Can I have another one of these but this time make it a cold one, would ya?’

Babe 1 appears to be grappling with a baby. ‘Babe,’ he says to Babe 2, holding up the baby and sniffing at its nappy. ‘Chantelle’s got a full package ‘ere.’

The husband lets out a long sigh.

That night, we decide to venture out of the Conrad compound and head to a restaurant recommended by a friend.

We ask the concierge for a taxi and – bizarrely – he offers to drive us himself. Before we know it, we are ushered into a luxury saloon and are soon purring down the immaculate driveway of the hotel, listening to the croon of Chris Martin.

‘The concierge certainly goes the extra mile – literally!’ I whispered to the husband. ‘Is this normal taxi rates or are we now paying for a private chauffeur?!’

‘No idea,’ says the husband. ‘But I like it!’

Quinta do Lago, famed for its golf courses, is like a colonised version of the Truman show: palatial homes peek from behind perfectly-pruned palm trees, while pearly-toothed families pound down pristine pavements. If it’s culture you’re after, you won’t find it here.

It’s very hot in Portugal and the husband appears to have a shortage of shorts: dressy shorts, that is – the kind of shorts you might wear to visit a restaurant of an evening, perhaps teamed with a pair of… (ultimate middle class horror)… loafers.

The husband has one pair of such dressy shorts; they are a light blue Reiss number and could stain easily, if he is not careful. He is under strict instruction to cover them with a napkin at all times.


We arrive at the restaurant. It’s terribly refined and overlooks a picturesque lake. King of the pearly teeth Philip Schofield is on the table next to us, holding court with a group of TV exec types  – and a gaggle of girls straight out of Chelsea clink glasses opposite. Ex-footballer Graham Souness is apparently at the bar.

The husband orders a black cod broth. He takes one mouthful and somehow manages to douse his shorts in splodges of soy sauce.

‘Something bad has happened,’ grimaces the husband, peering down at his lap, the protective layer of his napkin nowhere to be seen.

‘How bad?’ I ask, craning my neck. ‘It it salvageable?!’

‘Really, really bad,’ says the husband, sliding his lower half further under the table. ‘It’s too distressing for you to even see.’

I throw my hands up in a signal of mock despair and as I do so, I somehow manage to knock a whole glass of wine straight into the husband’s lap, dousing his ill-fated shorts even further.

The husband gasps; waiters rush over… even Schofield stops his patter and turns to stare.

But it’s too late to save them.

I think the husband will be wearing trousers from here on.

The next day, I peer out of the window to check out the state of play on the grassy knoll. The Essex crew’s loungers from the previous day are still there, dominating our quiet spot. Those loungers had never been there previously, I note, but overnight Filipo has failed to move them back to wherever they had came from. This was troubling; Dave and co. had effectively SEEDED the area.


‘I’m going to go down and bagsy our loungers,’ I tell the husband. ‘But I’m also going to move the additional loungers out of the way to discourage any further TOWIE invasion.’

‘Fine with me,’ says the husband. ‘But please let it be noted that this is not the behaviour of a sane person.’

I furtively scamper down to the pool area. By the time I have carted off six loungers (some double ones- who knew?!) and restored the grassy knoll to its original half crescent sunbed formation, I have worked up quite the sweat.


‘All done,’ I say to the husband, who is patiently sitting at the breakfast table, engrossed in his book (Wonder by R.J Palacio).

I turn back just in time to see feeble Filipo wheeling the sun loungers BACK to where I had moved them from, with larger-than-life Dave swaggering brashly behind him.

‘There. Is. No. Escape,’ says the husband.

Playing A Blinder

I’m always a bit late to the party when it comes to stellar TV series (Breaking Bad, Dexter, The Fall, to name a few). 

But this week I have developed an all-consuming obsession with Thomas Shelby the lead character in Peaky Blinders, played by chiselled-cheeked Irish actor Cillian Murphy.

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I’d vaguely heard about Peaky Blinders a year or two ago – something about bad Brummie accents and a brief nod to 1920s fashion in Grazia magazine.

So it was only when I finally sat down to watch Peaky Blinders (on recommendation of the sister-in-law), that I became completely and utterly hooked.

Never has a lead character fascinated me quite as much since my long-standing fixation with Don Draper from Mad Men (aka The Best TV Series In The World Ever).

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In Mad Men, Don was darkly enigmatic, brooding and inherently-flawed, but in Peaky Blinders, Thomas Shelby is all piercing blue eyes, porcelain skin and sharper than the razor blades concealed in his cap.

I shared my Cillian Murphy/ Thomas Shelby crush with friend Sally-Ann over a mid-week glass of Malbec.

Helpfully, I was carrying the season 2 DVD in my bag, having hastily ordered it the previous evening to feed the fixation (thank God for Amazon Prime).

I whipped it out of my bag and placed it on the table. Murphy’s cerulean eyes started back enchantingly.

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Take a look. He may even be carved out of pure marble.

‘I completely understand,’ said Sally-Ann, sagely. ‘This is what happens when you’re old and married like us.

‘We basically start developing these ridiculous crushes. We’re only one step away from turning into cougars.’

The husband has also developed his own mini obsession – with Sam Neill who plays the bad-ass Victorian cop, hellbent on hunting Shelby down. He has a very strong Irish accent, which the husband likes to get his tongue around.

In the shower the other morning, I heard him saying in his best Ulster accent: ‘Let dog fight dog… and we will be there to pick apart the carcasses.’

And when I asked if he was going to put petrol in the car in Sunday he replied: ‘That I’m not. I’m going to hunt those BEASTS down.’

In the pub on Friday, I began bleating on about Cillian Murphy to anyone who’d listen.

One friend said she’d helped design an extension on his London home, although she never actually met him in person.

‘Yep, he does live in North-West London,’ I said, knowledgeably (I’ve done my Wikipedia research, natch). ‘He’s 38 and married with two sons. He used to be in a rock band. However, he shuns the limelight for a quiet life.

‘I’m probably going to travel down to London and become his full-time stalker.’

‘What is Peaky Blinders?’ another friend asked.

‘It’s about a gang of hoodlums in 1920s Birmingham, who basically go round attacking people with razor blades sewn into the peaks of their caps,’ I said, whilst thinking ‘this actually doesn’t sound very appealing at all’.

She looked on in barely-concealed bemusement.

‘I’m so obsessed that it’s a wonder I’ve even been able to leave the house,’ I continued.

‘I’ll be going straight home from here to feast on another episode.’

I’m now faced with a new dilemma. With only five episodes of season 2 left and season 3 still in production, do I restrict my intake to one episode a week, in order to prolong my love affair with the aforementioned?

Or do I watch them all at once in one gloriously gluttonous boxset binge?

After all, there’s always Broadchurch.

The Golden Ticket

I once had a glamorous job as a showbiz reporter-cum-girl about town, trawling the hottest haunts of London and writing about vacuous celebrities. I met them all – from the dregs of lollygagger Dean Gaffney and omnipresent Calum Best, to the A-list highs of pearly-toothed Tom Cruise and scowling Madonna.

My champagne lifestyle was the envy of many; the reality quite different. Most evenings would be spent shivering on the edge of the red carpet at one of the twice-weekly film premieres – cheek to jowl with pushy journos – or standing awkwardly in a darkened night club, deciding how best to broach the subject of Alan Partridge’s penchant for lapdancers. Many a night I cut a forlorn figure – scampering home across Waterloo Bridge, picking up a reduced sandwich from Tesco to supplement my canape diet, and then riding the No. 77 bus home. It was the best and worst of times.

So, when I received a phonecall to tell me that I had ‘won’ two tickets to the VIP opening of the new beauty salon down the road, I think it’s fair to say I was a little underwhelmed – grateful, of course but let’s just say, it wasn’t the highlight of my yearly calendar.

But the organiser of the tickets had other ideas. First, he explained in the phonecall that this really was a VIP event – so VIP that even the beauty salon owner’s friends and family hadn’t made it onto the guestlist. Really? I felt like one of the golden ticket winners at Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.

Next, I received a text checking that I was definitely coming. Of course. What else could be more important at 6.30pm on a Wednesday evening?

The next text wanted to know which of my friends I was going to bring with me. I consulted my ever-depleting ‘friends who might be free on a Wed evening’ list. Friend 1 – baby to look after; Friend 2 – ditto; Friend 3 – temporarily absconded down South; Friend 4 – packing to move house. This left Friend 5 – recently acquired new puppy but willing to abandon dog duty to accompany me to this ultra-exclusive opening.

But when I texted the organiser with the name of my friend, this was his reply:

‘Oh, *insert name of friend*, okay… Can I just remind you that you are both representing *insert name of local residents’ association* so you will need to be on your best behaviour. The dress code is smart/casual by the way’.

Best behaviour? Smart/casual? Seriously? What kind of tomfoolery was he expecting from a 30-something teacher and a respected homeware designer? Turning up in matching Vicky Pollard tracksuits, bad-mouthing the beauty products, and hustling the guests?

Wednesday came and when I finally swept through the hallowed doors of this much-vaunted event, I had an insane urge to really do something bad. Should I open up my large tote and sweep a whole shelf of nail polishes straight into it, when no-one was looking? Should I drink all the champagne, start emptying the goody bags out of the back door, and make off with all the freebies into the night (actually, I have done that before – the goody bags, that is. Maybe he had a point!)?

Instead, I plumped for stealing an extra cupcake on exit (one for me, one for the husband) and attempting to balance them on my knee as I drove home – yet still managing to get fresh cream all over the steering wheel.

So much for VIP. But it beats catching the bus with my Tesco reduced sandwich any night.