Sunday 21 January 2018

In which gran gets a dose of villa envy...

What Katie did next with Katie Byrne

My grandmother became fixated by our next-door neighbours when we were on holiday in Malaga last year. Or rather she became fixated by their villa, which rose up on a hill and stood towering over the other rental properties in the area.

Our patio permitted unrivalled views of their pile, a Moorish property with fortified whitewashed walls, cast-iron doors and countless terraces. This was how the other half lived.

My grandmother would lie on her sun lounger and, instead of reading a book or eating a Cornetto, she would just stare up at their villa, admiring the flower-filled patios, the tiled fountains and the sophisticated owners, who she hadn't met but who were clearly people of impeccable taste.


She still hadn't met them two days before we were due to leave. She told us she wanted to compliment their flowers, but we knew she just wanted to get a look inside her dream home. (Why is it that the more wisdom you attain, the nosier you become?)

So it was half out of deference, half out of divilment, that my brother and I suggested she introduce herself to them.

She thought it was a great idea and with that the three of us climbed into the car and drove the 10 metres (yes, 10 metres) up the hill to our next-door neighbour's home, which was guarded by obnoxiously imposing iron gates.

It was a struggle to manoeuvre the rental car so that my grandmother, in the passenger seat, was positioned right beside the intercom, but we got there in the end.

"Go on, press it," we giggled.

She cleared her throat before pressing her thumb against the button, where she kept it until told otherwise.

"STOP!" we squealed in unison.

We were greeted by a rendition of Greensleeves before the intercom was answered by what sounded like a frightened child.

"Hellooooo," my grandmother began, slipping effortlessly into her best RP. "We're in the house next door to you and I just wanted to say...

"... I'll get my mum," said the child.

A cut-glass English accent soon came to the intercom. No doubt they were watching us on a screen inside; no doubt they were wondering how we managed to get our car so close to their gate.

"Hellooooo," my grandmother continued, "I'm in the house beside you and I just wanted to say...

"...what company are you with?"

(My brother and I were wriggling around with laughter at this point.)

"I'm staying in the house next door to you," my grandmother continued, elongating her vowels and spoon-feeding her words in an attempt to convey her message. "And I just wanted. To tell you. That your house. Is the most beautiful house I've ever seen."


There was silence, save for the barking of two Dobermans who had just been released into the yard.

"Thank you very much," said the woman.

"I've been lying dreaming about it. And I wishya luck with it," my grandmother went on, forgetting her RP.

"Pardon – I didn't catch that."

"I. Wish. You. Luck. With. It," my grandmother practically hollered.

This particular sentiment seemed to assuage any fears that we might be drive-by robbers. "What a lovely thing to say," replied the woman, whose voice was now softening.

She then came out to the gate to introduce herself, or rather "she came right out to the gate to meet me" as my grandmother proudly told my mother that night. Her holiday was made. And, if I'm honest, so was mine.

My friend is joining us on our family holiday this year. I told her this very story the other night to prepare her for the type of holiday she can expect. Or rather to make sure that she isn't expecting much.


Holidays with older people are different. I needed her to know that before she booked her flight.

Older people always seem to have an idee fixe on holiday, whether it's meeting the neighbours, lodging a complaint/getting something repaired or finding a particular brand of eye drops in the chemist. There is always a mission.

I also warned my friend that everyone will be a suspect; that my grandmother will warn us to watch our handbags somewhere in the region of 1,200 times.

They are all "thieving bastards", according to my grandmother, who thinks anyone who accepts cash in a foreign country is in the business of shortchanging her and that all taxi drivers are part-time rapists.

This isn't to say that my grandmother and my friend won't get on. In fact, they have much in common. They will both struggle to remember what they did the night before, only for very different reasons.

And they are both fantasists: while my friend will ask me "when do you think I'll fall in love?" my grandmother will wonder "when will we win the Lotto?"

And they'll both infuriate me, as much as I'll infuriate them. Here's to an interesting holiday.

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