Thursday, 9 April 2009

In celebration of friends

In difficult times, it's only natural to turn to our friends for comfort; having a sustainable support network is in part what friendships are all about. Lately though my friends, unasked and unknowingly, have been brightening up my life simply by making me enormously proud. Not through any seismic acts of brilliance – none of them has collided a large Hadron, or saved the whales, at least not yet – but by achieving something of personal significance against all odds.

Take Stephen for example. After years of bouncing between jobs in various sectors, admittedly doing very well in them all, Stephen recently took a huge plunge and, embracing a long-held ambition to perform, retrained as a drag artiste – yes, such courses do exist! He's now topping the bill every Sunday at one of London's top cabaret venues, Clapham's 2Brewers, as his hilarious alter-ego Lady LaRue.

Then there's Paul, the youngest of three adult brothers who lost their wonderful mum to cancer last year. Despite being the 'baby' of the family, Paul has taken on the role of linchpin, helping not only his brothers but also their families – including his four teenaged nephews and nieces – through their grief, whilst managing his own with immense dignity.

And I'm bursting with pride for my life-long bestie Andrew. He realised about two years ago, aged 31, that he wanted to be a doctor. He'd always loved medicine – at school we nicknamed him Doctor Andrew – but hadn't considered himself good enough academically despite having gained a first in Anatomy from a top university. He needed more Science A-Levels so he went to night school, achieving an 'A' in Chemistry. Knowing what medical school would cost, he tightened his belt, took a weekend job and saved up. Then he spent hours getting work experience with GPs and on hospital wards. The final objective - getting into medical school – is in sight. What's making me so proud isn't whether he becomes a doctor or not, but the selflessness and tenacity with which he's pursued his dream.

I'm telling you about these amazing men for no more profound a reason than this: that while in the wider world the news may all be doom and financial gloom, if you just look at the people you love, admire them, do as R.E.M. once sang and 'Take comfort in your friends', like me you'll soon feel, at least spiritually, very rich indeed.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

A Love There Is No Cure For

Benjamin Disraeli once supposedly scoffed that "There are lies, damned lies and statistics", and like Britain's erstwhile Prime Minister I tend to take survey outcomes and the like with a large pinch of salt. I couldn't however ignore recent reports of a study, published in the journal BMC Psychiatry, which according to one headline had found that 'One in six psychiatrists has tried to 'turn gays straight''.

It was reported that researchers had canvassed over 1300 mental health professionals and found that 17% (or one in six) had at some time in their career 'assisted at least one client/patient to reduce or change his or her homosexual or lesbian feelings'. In layman's terms, the statistics suggested that a substantial minority of psychiatrists and other mental health practitioners were willing to try to 'cure' homosexuality. Incredulous, I resolved to discover more and to inquire as to why, in 21
st century Britain, anyone would want to be 'cured' of their sexuality.

The first stage was to read the report to see if the newspapers had sensationalised or manipulated its findings at all. They hadn't – the 1 in 6 figure was clearly explained in (as my boyfriend would put it) language so simple even I could understand it – although the blanket use of the term 'psychiatrists' to cover a group which also included psychotherapists and counsellors was slightly misleading. If anything I felt that some of the articles I'd read had actually missed some of the report's more disturbing findings. For example, 72% of all respondents who had 'treated' a patient's homosexuality
still believed that such treatment should be available. Also, while the survey covered a period of four decades from 1963-2003, 79% of all the cases fell in the last ten years; even allowing for the proportionally fewer respondents who would have been practising in the earlier decades this nonetheless pointed to there having been no decline in the number of patients seeking to be 'cured' of homosexuality from the years pre-legalisation and in times far more intolerant than our own.

What really alarmed me were some of the verbatim comments from practitioners invited to justify why they believed it was acceptable to attempt to 'reduce or redirect' someone's attraction to the same sex. One spoke with apparent pride of a man he "helped to become heterosexual" because the patient "came from a working class background where it was completely unacceptable to deviate from the norm". Another alluded to similar considerations, saying that a patient was afraid of the reaction of "the local community – which outside London is still very homophobic", placing the capital on a pedestal which even its most satisfied gay residents would consider lofty.

There were several variations on the theme of 'the client knows best', with respondents stating, in essence, that if a patient wanted to be 'cured', then they were duty-bound to attempt to do so. Finally, the most distasteful comment – fortunately, as the report observed, one of only 'very few' that were discernibly homophobic – stated that "The physical act for male homosexuals is physically damaging and is the main reason in this country for AIDS/HIV. It is also perverse…" prompting me to wonder if the psychotherapist quoted was more part of the problem than the 'solution'. I could only conclude that he must be from 'outside London'.

So much for the professionals; who, I wanted to know, are the patients? The report offered a breakdown of reasons for patients seeking help, with by far the most common reason being 'confusion about sexual orientation' at 57%. This greatly outweighed the next most common reasons, 'social pressures including the family' at 14% and 'mental health difficulties' at 11%; 'religious beliefs' represented a surprisingly low (I thought) 7%. Other than this there was little specific information about why, today, anyone could be so distressed by their homosexuality that they would want to be cured of it, so I decided to undertake some research of my own.

First off I spoke to Jack Jones, agony uncle for GT (Gay Times) magazine, to find out whether he'd come across anyone seeking to be 'cured'. He certainly had, the most recent being in the last couple of months. What, I asked, were the sorts of reasons correspondents offered for wanting to become straight? Predominantly, it would seem, religion – in some cases their own, in others that of their parents – but also a general difficulty in coming to terms with their sexuality, manifesting itself as a desire to avoid the problem in hand by 'turning straight'.

"Some of the guys who write to me are very vulnerable and confused," Jack told me; "they want or rather need explanations for
why they're gay, and because this isn't something that's easily rationalised, they instead seek other ways of making the situation 'better'." In Jack's most recent case, a young guy of about 20 wrote asking whether he should accept the 'cure' being offered by his parents' church, despite the fact that his deeply religious parents had actually shown some degree of acceptance when he had bravely come out to them. Jack's advice to this correspondent was the same as he gives to anyone who writes to him about a 'cure': "I sympathise with the confusion they're feeling but emphasise that sexuality isn't something that needs to be cured, and instead advise them to get help with accepting it." Common sense, you would think, but evidently not for the one in six headline-making professionals in the survey.

I still couldn't quite get my head around why someone would want to be cured of their sexuality rather than accepting it. From a personal point of view, I know that I was very fortunate growing up in that I never, ever had any problem accepting that I was gay. Try as I might to empathise, I found it impossible to imagine a situation so bad that it would make me want to not be gay, or that could justify a professional in trying to 'cure' me. So, knowing that among my myriad happily-gay friends there had to be some different experiences, I asked about forty people the same question:

Thinking back through your lifetime, as opposed to how you feel now, has there ever been a point where had it been available, you would have accepted treatment to 'cure' you of being gay?

The responses I received were fascinating for their variety and candour. Fairly predictably, most answered unequivocally 'Never', with a few saying that while there'd been times where they had thought life would be easier if they weren't gay, they'd never actually wanted to turn straight. Indeed, several respondents said that their sexuality was something they drew strength from, with one describing his being gay as "the one constant that has never left me" and another saying that "I always revelled in it." Others were less sure, with about 15% being able to identify a time (all while in their teens and still coming to terms with being gay) when they were sufficiently distressed that they would have accepted a cure, but tellingly most of these respondents stressed that it wouldn't have been their sexuality they wanted a cure for, it not being clear to them what their sexuality
was yet, but the terrible anxiety and stress they were suffering from. All of these, natural enough to say, are now happy, fully-functioning homos with no lasting signs of damage.

The answers which most interested me were those that said not only "Yes", they would have accepted treatment, but also that this was as an adult, already identifying as gay and therefore putting them in the same category as the patients in the survey. One, Adam*, said that he happily identified as bisexual for many years, making the mental distinction that men were purely for sex and that he would eventually settle down with a woman and have a family. When he realised however that he was gay and not bi, he was so upset at the prospect of never having a family that he would have considered a cure had it been offered. In some cases it would appear that it
is on offer: the report found a number of professionals considered bisexuality "was not a stable category of sexual orientation" and would be willing to try to realign a patient's feelings – towards being heterosexual, of course. Other respondents, living as they were then in communities where they would not have felt safe had it been known that they were gay, described feelings of isolation and indeed of endangerment so severe that they would have been open to having their sexuality 'cured'.

Now, with hindsight, all agree that their sexuality wasn't the problem and that by moving away they were able to accept themselves as gay, as now have the families and communities which they felt compelled to leave. What if they hadn't had social mobility and had found themselves in the hands of one of the psychiatrists who considered acceptance by a homophobic community as being of greater worth than acceptance of oneself as gay? They'd be, most likely, in the same situation as the patient quoted in the
Independent who, as well as admitting frankly that the treatment he underwent had plainly failed to suppress his attraction to men, said that, "The very structure of my being [was] torn apart in the name of science."

One good news story emerged from my survey which serves to prove that mental health professionals can – and do – play a positive role in the lives of gay people today. In her twenties, Jenny* sought counselling because as she says, "I didn't want to be different from all my friends or to disappoint my family; in my vulnerable state I would have jumped at the chance to make myself straight." Fortunately, that chance didn't arise; instead, Jenny saw a (coincidentally) lesbian counsellor who rather than take her down the route of 'redirecting' her feelings, "thankfully understood the whole process [of coming out]" and helped her towards becoming the confident, loved and loving lesbian she is today.

Dominic Davies, founder of specialist independent therapy organisation Pink Therapy, explained just how important this understanding of a gay person's thought processes is: "Straight therapists can find it hard to empathise with a LGBT patient and not appreciate the social context they're coming from and how they're living their life. They're more likely to collude with straight, patriarchal values of what's 'normal' rather than understanding what is possible; for example, that it's possible to be queer and have a family, or to identify positively as being bi." Pink Therapy have over 300 'queer-friendly' therapists on their books, all able and willing to help anyone experiencing confusion over their sexual identity.

The time people devoted to answering my 'survey' and the openness with which they did so showed just how emotive the very idea of anyone trying to 'cure' us of being gay is. Many were furious that the question should even be being asked in 2009, "morally repugnant" being one of the more printable comments. Overwhelmingly though, the message to come out of my research - and the message I would like to send to all mental health professionals, whatever their current views on 'treating' gay patients are – was that the best and surely
only 'treatment' to offer is to help individuals to accept themselves as they are and to allow them to see that they can lead a fulfilled and happy life being gay.

I couldn't hope to summarise this better than my dear pal Robin; would he ever want to be cured of his sexuality? "NO NEVER. And you can publish my answer in NEON LIGHTS in the national press with my name and photo if you like. Purely and simply I love men, and I love being gay. I mean can you imagine life not being gay? How dull." Robin – and all the proud, happy, incurable queers who I spoke to – I salute you.

*Some names have been changed to protect the confidentiality of respondents.

Friday, 6 March 2009

My Grown-Up Gap Year

So, here's the first of my pieces for your perusal, an overview of what I've been up to on my 'gap year' and how it came about. Please do let me know what you think!

Given the opportunity, I can't imagine anyone would pass up the chance to take a year off from working, travel the world, spend time with their loved ones and enjoy a life of leisure. For many it will only ever be a dream, but last year I was lucky enough to be able to make the dream a reality.

I'd been growing increasingly disenchanted with my job, a fairly senior and very well-paid public sector management role, for some time, but because I was heavily in debt I couldn't afford even to take a pay cut, let alone give up work completely. Then, suddenly, my circumstances changed. My mother, who suffers with mental health problems, decided that it would be best to sell her house and a rental property she owned in Dorset and move to a retirement flat in Norfolk, nearer to my sister and not too far from me. As well as being best for mum, it was great news for me too: I owned a third of her house and so when it sold, I would come into a pretty decent amount of money, enough to pay off all my debts, squirrel plenty away and fund a year or so of not working. I took the plunge and gave my notice; the next twelve weeks couldn't pass quickly enough, but time flew and in May 2008 I began my 'grown-up gap year'.

The first two months were somewhat like still being in full-time work, with daytimes taken up by the myriad dealings that selling two properties and sourcing and buying another necessitates. Notwithstanding my vested interest, this experience was very rewarding; emotionally, because of finally being able to do something tangible to help my mother after years of feeling helpless faced with her illness, and practically, because it gave me a valuable insight into the complicated processes involved in buying property.

Once at leisure, top of my dream to-do list, as I'm sure it would be for most people, was to travel. I'd toyed with the idea of disappearing around the world for a year, going everywhere I'd ever wanted to go plus a few places I hadn't, but two things stood in the way of this. One, having always liked the finer things in life, I could never envisage myself back-packing, and two, at around the time I quit work, I'd met someone who by the time my notice was up I'd fallen in love with and couldn't contemplate being apart from for too long. So, instead of going 'travelling', I settled on taking a series of individual holidays. I spent a month exploring Spain and three weeks in Italy, had a week larging it in Ibiza, enjoyed two weeks travelling around Mexico with my boyfriend to celebrate our anniversary, stayed with an old school friend in Bermuda for a fortnight and enjoyed three weeks spanning Christmas and New Year with friends in Sydney. Before the year is out, I've another couple of long weekends in Spain booked in, and I'm in the process of planning one last long trip to somewhere new.

While in London, I've indulged my culture vulture tendencies, attending dozens of exhibitions, visiting the major museums and many minor ones, and seeing tons of plays, films and gigs. In one especially memorable week alone I enjoyed Elaine Stritch's genius one-woman show and an afternoon Q&A with the lady herself, plus Kylie's X tour at The O2; recently I went to both plays showing at the two-space Trafalgar Studios in the space of ten days. My boyfriend and I spent a whole day enjoying the V&A and Science Museums, and another at Tate Modern taking in every exhibition. Going out of an evening knowing that there's no work to get up for in the morning, and having the free time to go to major exhibitions and attractions avoiding peak hour crowds, makes these activities even more enjoyable

The best aspect of all of the year off though hasn't been the travel or the leisure pursuits, but having been able, whenever in the country, to spend time with my much-loved mum. When she had a bit of a 'wobble' in November and was hospitalised for a while, I was able to visit her twice a week and attend all the necessary meetings with care staff that my sister couldn't because she was tied up planning her November wedding (planning, incidentally, which I was able to be more involved in than if I'd been working). Once mum was out of hospital, I devoted time to helping her settle back into her home and manage with day-to-day tasks; since then she's recovered brilliantly and our days together now comprise boozy lunches, shopping trips, cinema trips, cooking...all the things that we both enjoy, but enjoy ten times more when done together. It's bliss.

Of course, soon this all has to come to an end and I can't pretend that I'm not nervous about returning to work, if there are any jobs to return to. I don't want to go back to anything like the level of seniority I had before; I've overheard enough banal business conversations on trains and planes to know that corporate bollocks is not for me. I'm hoping to find something creative, perhaps in fashion, or involving my writing. My year off has helped me to re-evaluate my aspirations and values: acquiring knowledge through travel and culture and spending time with family and friends are what matter to me now, not professional status or a £50K salary.

My advice to anyone would be that if you ever get the chance at least to take some time out of the rat-race, from a few weeks to several months, then DO IT. Use the time to follow your ambitions, live a life you like, and spend time with the people who matter to you. I know that I've been extremely lucky to be able to do so, and for that I'll always be thankful.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

It's Not You, It's Me.

OK, so I know you're all waiting for the latest travel update - I promised, almost two months ago, to tell you all about Mexico, which I visited nearly four months ago - and in some cases (well, Richard's), waiting for my write-up of my stay in your particular corner of the world to see a) just how much I love you and b) if I really did enjoy myself as much as I claimed to have to your face (the answers are a) very much indeed and b) yes I really did). Well, I'm sorry to have to say it ain't gonna happen. Or at least, not yet; see, the thing is I've decided that the blog's not working in the way I want it to and so it's time for a bit of a change.

Writing at length about my travelling has been fun, as has been receiving your comments about it, but try as I might - I started, re-started and finally gave up on my Mexico write-up about fifteen times, for example - I couldn't master doing things succinctly and just felt that rambling on about everything I did, everywhere I went and everyone I met wasn't, well, interesting enough for a blog. If you want to know about my travelling, I would love to tell you - in as much or as little detail as you prefer - but face-to-face; let's do it over drinks or dinner, my treat, in a world city of your choosing. When I started my blog a couple of years ago, it was with the intention of writing about life as it happens, the highs and lows, things that were occurring, activities I was enjoying (or not) and my cultural, culinary and carnal exploits. Travel blogging is fun but I should have done it as I went along; after the event, even a few weeks, it seems cold, retrospective and...OK if I'm honest, too much like hard work. In a nutshell, I just feel I've lost my traveloguing mojo.

That explains why I've let the travel writing slip (I hope?); so what's next? Well, I haven't just been sitting on my arse watching Trisha since my last post, although that has taken up an hour most weekday mornings (yeah yeah, mea maxima culpa). I've been writing all sorts of stuff for pleasure - reviews, comment pieces, rants and random musings - but not posted it because it felt inconsistent with the travel theme that I'd established. Some of it - in fact probably most of it - is total crap, but some of it might, I think, be of interest to others. Additionally, buoyed in no small part by the very favourable comments I've received on some of my past posts, I've decided that as well as returning to some form of paid employment when my 'Grown-Up Gap Year' comes to an end in May, I'd also like to try making a go of it as a writer in some professional capacity. And this, my loves, is where you and this blog come in.

From now on, TS&F is going to be a 'showcase' for everything I write, from one-line musings on any given day's TV viewing, via restaurant, theatre and cinema reviews, to essays and potential articles. Not all of it will be for submission, but all of it will be for your comments. If I'm going to achieve anything through my writing - other than entertaining a loyal few around the world, to whom I am forever grateful - I need to know first if what I'm doing is good, or accurate, or interesting...or not. I also need exposure; a post on here that might just be good enough to get published in a magazine is going to be so much more saleable if I can say that it excited chatter on my blog.

So what can you do to help? Three things spring to mind. Firstly, you can comment on and critique what I write, either directly to me or preferably on the blog so that others can see them; I promise not to be offended by anyone's views and in fact would value any comments be they positive, negative or ambivalent. Secondly, you can spread the word about the blog to any friends you think might be even slightly interested; the more exposure my waffling gets, the more comments and criticism I can hope to receive and accordingly learn from. And thirdly - and this is the cheekiest one - you can help by being my international ideas people, letting me know if there's anything going on in your neck of the woods (wherever that may be in the world) which you think I could do justice to and let me know of any publications you think I could potentially pitch it to, whether that's the Sydney Star Observer or the Walthamstow Guardian. Firing off unsolicited articles to magazines might not get me anywhere fast, but it'll be a start.

I really want to make something of my writing. Your support of my blogging to date has been so valuable and I appreciate it so, so much; now I hope you can help me to take it to the next level. Oh and as for Mexico? It was amazing; let me tell you about it over a burrito some time - I'll treat us with my first pay-cheque from Vogue...

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Ibiza: Space Doubt, And Other Dilemmas...

My hissy fit at having to leave Italy was hugely mitigated by the prospect of having the wedding-of-the-year to go to upon my return: Kate and James's Moroccan-themed nuptials in Lottisham, the bride's teeny-tiny home village in Somerset. Kaftan and bejewelled sandals packed, two car-loads of us (ours a very swish midnight blue Saab, driven expertly by Glenda) headed down the motorway for a weekend of love, laughter and lunacy - the latter in the form of the swarms of loopy New Agers and wannabe gurus who roam the streets of Glastonbury, where we were staying in a very agreeable hotel above an ancient pub. As weddings go it was a classic. The bride was stunning in a beautiful vintage style dress, and the tiny village church was pure Four Weddings. As was to be expected, the bride's side was packed full of The Gays, all clucking approvingly over the fabulousness of the hat worn by the one lady among them, Kate's old friend and sometime boss Christine. The reception, in a marquee dressed up in Moroccan silks with guests sitting cross-legged at low-slung tables, was utterly charming, made all the more enjoyable by all the guests mucking in to clear the tables and serve the food after a logistical mix up left the party staffless. Drunken dancing - yes, mothers were twirled - continued into the wee small hours; the hangovers the following morning bore testimony to the good time had by all. Back in London on Sunday evening, it was time to pack for the next foreign clime: Ibiza.

Now, somewhere during the organising process for this week-long Balearic jaunt, there transpired to have been a fairly spectacular break-down in communications. I had thought that it was to be just me, Richard and Simon, over from Sydney for a few weeks of family and fun in Europe. On arriving in the BA lounge at Gatwick, however, I found the boys in the company of three other chums, with another seven to be met up with on arrival. Our vacances a trois, therefore, was in fact to be a vacances a treize - a baker's dozen of us to keep entertained for the week ahead. Things didn't get off to a great start - the service on the flight left a very great deal to be desired - but before long we were sitting on the balcony of the boys' stunning apartment in Talamanca, sipping large voddies and looking forward to our stay on the White Isle. I wasn't checking into my hotel until the next afternoon so I stayed there that night, and was woken pleasantly the next day by the sunshine.

Day one was very pleasant and sociable; after a morning spent lounging around the apartment, we strolled en masse - nine of us - to Talamanca for lunch, tucking into paella while watching the boys on the beach. After that it was time to check into my hotel, El Corso, just a stone's throw from the beach and overlooking the new-ish, classy Marina Botafoch. As a base for the week it was fine, although unsurprisingly for somewhere booked through a travel agent it had been rather up-sold and didn't, in my opinion, merit its four stars; my room was very basic and lacked a minibar (horror of horrors) and although clean and bright, looked in need of modernisation. Still, it was only a place to sleep and so I headed across to check out the marina - very nice it was too - before repairing to the hotel bar for a few beers and to enjoy the views out to sea and across the bay to the old town.

Come evening, after drinks at the boys' apartment, we walked into Ibiza Town (I'm not enough of an arse to call it Eivissa as hard-core island goers insist on doing) and the full thirteen of us convened for drinks at the quayside Mar y Sol cafe bar before going on to dinner at Studio, a cute outdoorsy affair in one of the old town's myriad cobbled squares. Comedy ensued when I asked our very cute waiter, in Spanish, if it was possible to exclude the coriander from my starter salad; he replied - in English: "Your Spanish is excellent but unfortunately mine isn't - so could you say that again in English?" He turned out to be Polish; thank heavens for a common language. After dinner it was off to Angelo's, the sprawling multi-level bar in the shadow of the old town's ramparts, where the gay crowd flocks to catch the club parades which culminate in its huge courtyard and to see and be seen. What was left of the group, which inevitably dwindled as the night wore on, moved on to the island's only officially gay club, Anfora, where we dispersed among the club's various areas, some better lit than others...

Next day, after a very pleasant day spent sightseeing in Ibiza Town and dinner at the hotel (€15 all you can eat = happy Hugh!) we once again headed to Angelo's and managed to score free tickets to La Troya at Space, the 'world-famous' gay party and according to one guide I read, 'perhaps the best gay club night in Spain'. Well, all I can say is that that guide writer's experience of Spanish club nights must be fairly limited because I was seriously underwhelmed. Space, like so many clubs, has suffered from the island government's insistence that clubbing hours be limited to 6pm-6am and that all clubs be enclosed; this latter regulation has completely ruined Space's legendary covered terrace, reduced now to nothing more than just another room. I didn't like the music, the crowd - for a putative gay night - was very mixed save for the inevitable cluster of muscle Marys huddled together in a corner gurning at each other, and trying to find a part of a room, far less a part of the club, upon which the group of us could all agree was next to impossible and so reluctantly I split and went off to find a corner that I could at least be happy on my own in, before making a relatively early break for home. To be fair, the others all liked it very much more than I did - three of the guys didn't in fact return home until the following evening, having continued the party all day at various venues of varying salubriousness - so perhaps it was just me, but I wouldn't recommend it in a hurry.

Probably the highlight of the whole week came on the Friday when, after a morning spent browsing the town's jewellers and boutiques, punctuated with a couple of little beers here and there, I met up with Richard, Simon, Ron, Shane and Dr Yaz to take the Jet Cat to Formentera, Ibiza's neighbouring island and smallest of the Balearics. Although we all baulked at the eye-watering €41 return fare (day trips by pleasure boat, admittedly with very limited travel times, can be had for about €15), such qualms were soon forgotten as we whizzed across the turquoise water, docking in what felt like just a few minutes later - actually half an hour -at La Savina on the island's northwest side. We stopped off for delicious bocadillos at a pavement cafe, then walked for about fifteen minutes until we found a beautiful spot on Es Cavall beach where we pitched camp. For the next four and a half hours - the longest, I think, I've ever spent on a beach! - we swam in the cool, azure sea, snoozed under the beach umbrella, read our books and ogled the boys, until we decided it was time to pack up lest we miss the last boat home. Walking back past a very swanky looking bar-restaurant, Mediterraneo, none of us could resist temptation and we made a heavenly pit-stop, sipping beers and nibbling delicious, free tapas for an hour or so before scurrying along to the harbour for the 8pm boat. Dinner that evening, 'just' the nine of us, was at an anonymous Italian chiringuito at Talamanca, where we enjoyed good pizza, tasty fresh salads and lashings of sangria for a bargain €20 a head, including a deliberately small tip in light of slow, surly and inattentive service, characterised by none of the staff being able to agree on which of them exactly was supposed to be looking after us!

Saturday morning saw me waking late - surprisingly, as no-one had been up for going out after dinner the night before and thus it had been an early night. After another delicious breakfast at the hotel (I must say that for all my whinging about the facilities there, the food was superb) I took the boat into town to find an internet cafe and get a flight home booked, as for reasons too boring to go into, I'd only booked a single out. This achieved (via Barcelona for a night with Tigger, then home to - yay! - City Airport), I bagged a coveted pavement table at the town's hippest cafe, Croissant Show, and enjoyed people watching while lunching on their famous Bocadillo #1 - toasted tomato bread with olive oil, Serrano ham and Manchego cheese all for a fairly reasonable €4.90.

It was clearly destined to be a day for great food, as that evening, after a siesta, I dined alone at La Barraca, a restaurant on Talamanca beach which the group had discovered earlier in the week and universally raved about. The high praise was completely deserved; I was welcomed effusively by cool, kaftan-clad hosts, shown to an excellent table (not the crappy one in the corner by the kitchen many restaurants try to fob off on solo diners) and looked after by attentive, amusing as I tucked into two delicious courses washed down with a fresh, fruity Torres de Casta rose. For my starter, I indulged in foie gras sprinkled with truffle salt, served with wafer-thin toasts and quince puree, and followed up with a hefty 200g serving of excellent steak tartare, super-fresh as it should (and indeed, must) be and perfectly seasoned. Pudding didn't appeal but I happily sipped a coffee and read my book until Richard and Simon dropped by to join me.

The three of us boarded the boat across to town and started a bit of a bar crawl, not at Angelo's for once - I'd asked if we could at least check out somewhere else - but at Koko's just down the hill; we then moved on to Angelo's for a while, then to JJ's on the carrer de la Verge, the heart of the Ibiza gay scene. Flirting, in his native tongue, with the French barman was rewarded with passes for Anfora; after a couple of hours there, Richard and Simon called it a night while I - feeling intrepid, taxied it to Playa d'en Bossa to try out Deep, the island's only gay after hours. I have to say I loved it; it was dark, loud, cruisy but also, perhaps surprisingly, really rather friendly...when I staggered out the sun was up - and beating down - and I squinted my way back to the hotel and bed and slept well into Sunday afternoon.

My last full day was spent extremely pleasantly; after finally getting up I headed alone to the beach for a long swim in the warm, if (on the shoreline at least) seaweed-choked sea, then walked round to the apartment having received the kind of invitation I get so rarely but love so much - to help drink the place dry. Richard, Simon, Ron, Shane and I then returned to La Barraca (clearly everyone's favourite restaurant of the week) for a last supper, and while my choices weren't quite as spectacular as the previous nights, I nonetheless greatly enjoyed my steamed mussels starter and main of suckling lamb ribs with the kitchen's signature, delicious, char-grilled vegetables. We strung the evening out with coffees and some dubious Ibizan herb liqueurs (which I'd thought were on the house but turned out, embarrassingly, not to be), all brought to us by a cute and sweet, if inept but happily Hispanophone, waiter. Instead of pudding there we mosied back to the apartment for some very good red wine and cheeses before calling it a night to allow the boys to get some sleep ready for their departure at early o'clock next day.

On the Monday, having breakfasted and checked out of El Corso, I boarded the boat for Ibiza town and killed time in the best possible way - drinking, of course - before busing to the airport. This latter journey was achieved more through luck than design; I'd headed on foot, following the signposts, for Ibiza Town's new bus station, only to find that it had yet to open, and then having found the existing departure point for buses to the airport, struggled to get sense out of anyone as to how one might purchase a ticket - it transpires that one can perform this transaction at only one tiny, obscure and unwelcoming kiosk hidden away on a very unlovely stretch of road about three quarters of a kilometre outside of the town centre. But achieve it I did, and made my flight in plenty of time, landing in Barcelona just 55 minutes later. Matthew and I had a lovely, low-key evening - just a few drinks locally and dinner at his flat - and the next afternoon I took off happily for my beloved City Airport; I was home and sipping PG Tips by 3.

As I always do before clicking 'Publish'. I've re-read what I've written and am aware that in contrast to some of my other travel posts, this one doesn't read like much of a recommendation for the destination in question. Not so; I'd recommend Ibiza to anyone as a very pretty, sociable, Bohemian, elegant island, with the added benefit - no longer as all-consuming as it once was - of a great, if somewhat neutered, clubbing scene, all with the caveat that it is very expensive indeed. But this trip for me was, if highly enjoyable at times, a very strange quantity. I'd got so used to the luxury of travelling alone, with its freedom to be absolute master of how one spends one's time, that it was very difficult to adjust to having to fit in with others; even more so to find myself part of a group many times larger than I had ever envisaged. It's no-one's fault but my own, but lessons were learned, most importantly: next time you book a week of summer sun, make sure you know who, exactly, you're going with...

Right, that now brings us slightly more up to date but I'm still three countries behind, so I'd better get on with telling you about my next and perhaps most exciting destination to date: Mexico.

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