Spice Up Your Life

*WARNING* This post contains the word ‘bitch’. Multiple times. If you are of a delicate constitution I advise you skip this one and read an older entry. (But under all accounts avoid my depiction of visiting Amsterdam’s Red Light District in Finding Netherland.)

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It has been fifty days since I fulfilled the childhood dream of all high-kicking Millennial girls (and many boys): attending the legendary Spice World tour, the nineteen-years-later reunion of four-fifths of, like, the best pop group ever on earth. It was a blast. Having booked the tickets as a thirtieth birthday present for my sister, this outing was well and truly a celebration of girl power; sisterhood; and swinging it, shaking it, moving it and making it.

First on the agenda was gaining access to the stadium – Coventry’s answer to the O2 – the Ricoh Arena. If you haven’t been to Coventry before: don’t go. And if you’ve never heard of it: I envy you. No one wants to be sent to Coventry. Apparently it was a rather lovely city pre-World War Two. But, you know, the Nazis put a stop to that. Once within the stadium’s bounds, however, one could detach oneself from one’s geographical placement, though the steadily-growing abyss of unfortunate Coventry accents made this exercise somewhat challenging. But we survived.

Finding the correct door, as indicated on our tickets, was a trek and a half. Imagine the circumference of the venue as an elongated clock. Our door was at twelve o’clock. We started at one o’clock. We set off in a clockwise direction… When we eventually round up in the right place we were scanned through and security checked in a jiffy. Fabulous! You might say. No long queues or unnecessary waiting. Hoorah! This was my reaction, but my safety-conscious sister had other ideas. The breezy bag check left her feeling uneasy and unsafe. She was certain that we were going to get bombed, and proceeded to point out every pen cap and sweet wrapper on the floor as potential terrorist paraphernalia. Thankfully we made it to the end alive, with the only explosive episodes arising when we were rudely pushed in front of by a group of three venomous bitches. But more on that later.

A grave mistake I had made when booking the tickets was leaving it until late on the day of release to actually get round to buying them. As 5 pm struck I logged on to the ticketing site, which had now been open for over seven hours. The standard tickets had all sold out; the VIP tickets were all that were still available. Working against the clock on my iPhone SE (I know, frightfully behind the times), I scoured through the abundance of VIP packages offering slightly different privileges for mouth-watering amounts of money. It was seriously ridiculous. Who would pay that much for this? Well… me, it turns out. I found the cheapest possible option (Zig-a-Zig-ah VIP) and punched in my credit card details. They were booked. I had done it. This was going to be the best thirtieth birthday present ever!

On obtaining the VIP aspect of the Zig-a-Zig-ah tickets I felt more like a Victim In Pain than a Very Important Person. With our exorbitantly-priced tickets we were entitled to a goody bag, consisting of a ‘Spice World’ emblazoned water bottle; a ‘Spice Word’ emblazoned pin badge; a set of ‘commemorative’ postcards; and a ‘Spice World’ lanyard. It specifically stated on our tickets that we were NOT permitted to enter the VIP area (which we duly checked and were downright turned away from), which meant that the VIP nature of the ticket was this goody bag alone. And an ugly bloody canvas bag it came in. Without divulging exactly how costly this Very Idiotic Purchase was, let’s just say it sat in the low three figures. Per ticket. On top of general admission.

With a beer in hand (I needed something to numb the pain) we ventured into the arena to set up camp for the night. It was remarkably empty. Clearly most people adhere to the frightfully depressing reality of full-time work and are unable to step foot in the Ricoh at five o’clock on a Monday afternoon. For me this was no such problem. The hardcore fans had begun to populate the area immediate behind the security barrier, but other than that we had pretty much free choice. After an exploratory wander we opted for a spot slightly right of centre, about three metres back from the protruding walkway on which we would soon see Sporty, Scary, Posh and Ginger. OMGP (Oh My Girl Power.)

Supporting the Spice Girls on their long-awaited tour was singer / songwriter Jess Glynne, who, despite the meagre crowd and haemorrhaged vocal chord, was really rather good. And who knew that I knew all the words to every Jess Glynne song ever released? I impressed myself! My sister was more bemused than impressed – it must be the first time that I’ve sung more, and more loudly, than her in our lives, and – if she wants her eardrums to remain intact – I’m sure she won’t let that happen again any time soon.

But as the Jess Glynne set came to an end our evening took a turn for the worst. By this point we had amassed a posse of SGFs (Spice Girl Fanatics), and some lifelong friendships were beginning to blossom. There was the calm looking blonde girl, who would become our closest ally. The friendly male couple, whose whooping and cheering would bring a smile to even the poshest of spices. And the gregarious, gargantuan Spice Girl devotee, whose bosom alerted you (in the back) to her presence in the row behind, and with whom we placed bets on which song the girls would open up with. (Louise and I were correct: Spice Up Your Life; she, regrettably, was wrong: Wannabe.)

We had our crew, the countdown was on, and then the most obnoxious threesome (two women, perhaps sisters or friends, and one very uninterested husband) stood immediately in front of us, completely blocking our five-foot-two views. Calm Blonde was the first to make a stand. “Are you actually planning on standing there?” she asked one of the less-than-empathetic women. “No,” came the sullen reply. This, it transpired, was a lie. A flurry of vexed glances were exchanged between myself and my sister, and between us and Calm Blonde. I don’t know what was said next but the reply from CB to BF1 (Bitch Face 1) was, “Don’t speak to me so patronisingly.” Eek. Things were really tensing up. Louise then got an understandable bee in her bonnet. The man of said trio was standing right in front of her. Did I mention that he was six foot three? She cleared her throat and gave me a quick, sideways, cautionary glance. “Excuse me,” annunciated with impeccable diction, “are you actually going to stand in front of me? I’ve waited for two hours [both excellently stressed] to secure this position and now you’ve come and are completely blocking my view.” Well said, sis, I thought, cowering from all the confrontation. He took a small step to the side and replied in THE MOST PATRONISING VOICE, “No, don’t worry, I’ll stand to your left.” In unison we gave him one of our signature looks: the head tilt / fake smile / eye scrunch combination. It seemed to work a treat, as he stayed there, stationary, for the entirety of the gig. (I don’t he think he even swayed to Viva Forever. Must be really cold inside.) Bitch Faces 1 and 2, however, needed more time and effort to overcome.

As the Spice Girls emerged onto the stage – obviously we couldn’t see them but could sense their arrival due to the uproar of the crowd – BFs got their phones out and didn’t seem to put them down. For two and a half hours. Not satisfied with stealing our carefully selected spot, they were intent on filming / photographing the entire concert, or taking selfies of themselves with the stage in the background. This proved to be extremely awkward, as they would turn their backs to the stage and directly face us, and I didn’t know quite how to react. I tended to just look them in the eye for an uncomfortable amount of time without blinking, in the hope that they would leave. Alas they did not. And once they’d taken the ruddy photos they would – right there and then – upload them to Instagram, taking a good few minutes staring down at their screens to think of a caption, while Mel C was strutting her stuff just a stone’s throw away. It was excruciating to observe. One: photos at gigs are always rubbish. Two: no one cares. Three: watch the bloody concert!

After half an hour of trying to peer over their shoulders or watch through their phone screens, Louise made a dash for it and managed to re-position herself. She was now in front of the lanky man, to the left of the BFs, and to the right of Calm Blonde. We were all mightily pleased. Still recovering from the initial confrontation, though, I was slower to reassert my position. I didn’t want any more animosity, but I did want to stop having to stand on tiptoes. My neck was also in spasm, but I’m unsure if this was due to the bitches in front or my rather bitching dance moves. Never Give Up on the Good Times gave me just the crowd movement I needed to squeeze between then and emerge in front, victorious, at last. 

And do you know my immediate reaction? Well, my reaction that immediately followed my elation and sense of righteousness? Guilt. I felt just a little bit guilty for pushing in front of them. I wonder, what is the correct etiquette in terms of the pushers and the pushees? How long must the first be in their looted positions before it becomes theirs? Would they now have a go at me for pushing in front of them? I think they wanted to. I think they were overcome with rage. But they knew – just as well as I did, and my sister did, and Calm Blonde did – that we weren’t going to take any more of their sh…enanigans. This was it. We were back. And, boy, were we going to milk it.

As a collective force we were unstoppable. Our dancing and singing became wilder, louder, even more energetic. An unexpected cover of Sister Sledge’s We Are Family blew the roof off. Louise and I were now on full throttle. The group was back together and we were jumping and bosom-bouncing like there was no tomorrow. I accidentally stood on the feet of BF1 a number of times, and flailed my arms in the air like I didn’t care. I do hope it didn’t ruin their Instagram stories…

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Hello, Donkey

Amidst the breathtaking white-washed buildings and blue-domed churches of Santorini, tentatively tackling the cobbled, uneven labyrinth of streets with tanned and handsome beau in tow, one might expect to be beckoned by local business owners into their café / terrace / Swarovski-embellished jewellery shop. This is a given in established tourist destinations. And given that Santorini – an island spanning just seventy-six square kilometres (making it smaller than the English seaside town of Brighton) – welcomes some two million visitors each year, this vocal advertising, one would assume, must be part and parcel of how things work; how the Summertime economy keeps the island afloat all year round. The Greek restaurateurs and shopkeepers did, indeed, try to coax us into their establishments and to buy their wares, but they were, in fact, the most unimposing and polite touts I have ever come into contact with, across Europe and beyond.

Holidaying in Turkey, for instance, was for me a tricky game of ignore and/or eyelash-flutter; anything to avoid being all-but-physically manoeuvred into each and every open door. Tunisia was even worse. Travelling there aged eight I was told to stay with my father at all times for protection, while my mum and sister were constantly accosted by leather goods salesmen desperate to bag their next commission. Though intimidating as a child I have grown to become quite thick-skinned in relation to the hard holiday sell, and have perfected my ignore or eyelash flutter response over years of practice. In Santorini, however, this charade was surplus to requirements. A simple “no thank you” or even a non-committal smile was sufficient in communicating our wishes, or lack thereof to surrender our custom, and resulted in a warm expression in response, and a genuine desire for us to have a lovely day. Wow. I could get used to this.

There was, however, one memorable exception to this rule. It was the fourth day of our week-long holiday and we were making our way down to the port to commence a full-day boat trip. Life was good. The five-hundred-and-eighty-seven steps down to the port made life somewhat sweaty, but still enjoyable none the less. On our descent our senses were treated to a kaleidoscope of information: the sublime views; the dizzying heights; the jaunty stairway; the inescapable sun. Avoiding the deposits of horse poo scattered haphazardly along the path required precision of foot and strength of character; on meeting the stationary horses themselves my heart strings were pulled with an overriding sense that whatever they were there for felt wrong. 

We had decided to take the route down on foot. Many a holidaymaker instead pays just €6 to mount a donkey and let him or her do the hard work for them. No wonder they shat all over the bloody path. As we passed the two dozen or so horses on the steps they stood motionless, almost frozen, with their heads bowed down and their eyes fixed on the cobbles. They were not tied or restrained in any way physically, but adorned with brightly coloured beads and ropes to appear more cheerful to weary passers by. I stopped to take a photograph of them, feeling more like a National Geographic reporter documenting animal cruelty than an avid holidaymaker, and feeling guilty while positioning the lens in case doing so was in some way aiding and abetting the practice. I took the picture even though. At the time, and when I look back, the animals reminded me of the battered wives I had learnt about in A Level psychology: their coping mechanism to deal with the suffering to simply stand and bear it. But I digress.

As we reached the last step, caps now stuck to our heads and leg muscles twitching sporadically in recovery, we entered the port. Not before, of course (?), passing a security guard who scanned our bodies with a pogo stick from a three-metre distance, and waved us through the archway without the will to search our backpack. I couldn’t understand why there was a security guard positioned here (and only here) on the island, and clearly nor could he, if his proficiency was anything to go by. Hey ho. I doubt many terrorists would bother with the trek down to sea level… They’d surely make much more of a killing up on the caldera edge.

Once through passport control we walked out onto the port and I felt the luscious sea breeze calm, ever so slightly, my rapidly rosaceous face. And relax. Just as I was returning to a skin tone and perspiration level of semi-normality (well, what’s to be expected as a pale-skinned Brit abroad), I was called out to by the most insulting, and bewildering, pet name. Literally. “Hello, Donkey.”

Now, I may have felt some kind of connection to, or at least concern for, the four-legged creatures en route, but I certainly hadn’t morphed into one of them. My boyfriend and I exchanged nervous glances. Who was this cry coming from, and what on earth made him deem it acceptable to address one, or both, of us in this manner? Before we had time to come to any solid conclusions he bellowed once more, in a very Greek-sounding voice, “Hello, Donkey.” And then he repeated it again, and again, and again. We stopped in our tracks, determined to discover the man behind the mantra.

Perched upon a tiny – really impractically small – wooden stool, safe in the shade of a large ceiling overhang, was a slightly rotund and grubby looking old man, at a guess approximately eighty-two years of age. In his right hand he wafted a double-size ping-pong bat, plastered with an image of the horses we had encountered moments before and the word DONKEY, written all in caps. Ah. He was not, after all, passing judgement on our equine features or lack of appropriate toilet training. He was seller of the donkey ride, poised and ready to exchange a handful of shrapnel for an equestrian chair lift. But us realising this didn’t shut him up. With him a polite “no thank you” was barely acknowledged; a non-committal smile most definitely beyond his short sight. He was like a broken record, in the figurative sense, and almost the cause of a very broken chair.

His catcall echoed in our ears until we were on board the boat and at least twenty metres away from the port. Six hours of volcanic exploration and Aegean Sea swimming later we disembarked back where we had begun. Donkey Man was nowhere to be seen, nor his chair or ping-pong paddle. I felt an unanticipated sense of loss, and the glorious sensation of quiet. As we waited for the cable car to take us back up to the centre – we certainly weren’t going to exploit the lovely little donkeys, donkey caller or no donkey caller – a slightly rotund old man staggered towards us and joined us in our cable car. It was the Donkey Man, sans signage, now without a voice (or the inclination) to make small talk. Perhaps he felt exactly the same as me about the donkeys; perhaps he was only doing the job to make a living during the summer months, his ethics pushed aside for want of a better life. Or perhaps his bottom was so darn sore from six hours on a pinhead stool that he needed some proper seating for his ascent home. Who knows? All I do know is that I now have a lovely new greeting for when my partner gets home from work. Hello, Donkey. 

Fira, Santorini, Greece

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