I am not ashamed to admit I have been living the life of Riley for the last few weeks. First, we went to the all-singing, all-dancing wedding in Saint Tropez - as if we do that kind of thing all the time! Then we took number 2 and her partner to London for the first day of Queen's to watch plucky Brits do what plucky Brits do best at tennis (apart from Murray obviously) and factored in a glass of wine or three on the 32nd floor of the Shard and dinner with number 1 and her partner at Malmaison along the way. Then last week, I skipped off to the Algarve to have a sneaky four days in the sun with my dear friend and Acorn supremo, Louise.
Villa 775 has been the backdrop for a number of hilarious girly tennis trips over the years but sadly those came to an end when it became apparent that I am the only one who still plays tennis. Anyway, fabulous memories of Umpa Lumpa dancing at Maria's, far too much 'drink it, it's only fruit cup' Sangria/Pimms and laughing at, and with, Alex and Rosie until I wept. So when I got the text from Louise inviting me to join her for a few days 'chillax', as the Barnsley lodger would say, I negotiated a pass-out from my beloved, numbers 3 and 4 (cries of "you're going on holiday again!") and the intrepid granny who was swanning off to Ibiza herself and the Jet2/Ryanair bookings were made tout suite.
Arriving at Leeds Bradford early on Sunday morning, there was a large group of tattooed men in matching t-shirts already drinking at the bar. Thinking: 'I hope Deano's stag weekend is somewhere other than Portugal', I checked in and, boarding the plane, was delighted to see that nobody was sitting in my row or on the other side of the aisle, nor indeed in either the row in front or behind. Marvellous, I thought. And then Deano's stag party boarded... next to me, in front and behind. Just me and eighteen jolly stags. Actually they were very polite and once we had established that I was not the stripper, they offered me champagne (too early) and only held my hand on take off and landing - because they were nervous, rather than me!
Met at the airport by the lovely Richard, the only difficulty we encountered was getting out of the car park. The barrier had broken and was being manually operated by a befuddled fellow who, at one point, was the recipient of some serious advice delivered by an enraged Richard who felt we had queued for long enough and stormed out of the car and gave the chap a proper talking-to (think Percy Sugden in Coronation Street if you get my drift).
Back at the villa, we waved off Stephen, Helen and Richard back to sunny Yorkshire and settled down to some serious relaxation. Louise admitted to having done virtually no exercise during her first week's sojourn, but, because I am a bit of an exercise-junkie, all that was about to change. Day 2 and we set off to sort out the bikes. No hire car so bikes and feet were our only means of transport. Having walked most of the way round the resort and organised bikes, I was then ready to organise a little light tennis. "I am digging my heels in!" said Louise as we walked past the Praca. Apparently only so much actual exercise can be done without stopping for milk shakes/pancakes/pina coladas - though not all at once!
The bikes were delivered by the delightful Riccardo (obviously the Portuguese equivalent of the recently departed - in the airborne sense - Richard) who was very proud to tell us that one of the two bikes (I suspect he says this to everyone) was used by Jason Isaacs - cue production of the autograph of Jason Isaacs alias Lucius Malfoy. He also gave us an excellent cycle route which took us through glitzy Quinta Do Lago, which has grown enormously over the last few years, and on to a nature reserve track which finishes at the end of the runway at Faro. Nearly three hours of cycling done and yes, it's milkshake time!
We also did a more challenging - hill and traffic-wise - cycle to the beach at Quartiera where my companion had previously road-tested the best chicken and chips in the area and we managed to sleep off our Sangria on the beach before wobbling back to Val do Lobo for pancakes and pina coladas (more of "I'm digging my heels in!" from Louise).
The highlights were definitely two meals at Maria's on the beach which has been transformed brilliantly and has changed hands for the better. We were looked after on both occasions by Matthew - there'll be a Portuguese spelling of that, but Lord knows what it is - and we managed to walk off our squid and wine on the way back to 775.
There was, of course, a brief trot round a tennis court but the Tennis Centre was very quiet and is definitely in need of rejuvenation. Shame though. It is definitely a case of faded glory now.
So a thoroughly relaxing few days in the sunny Algarve and back to reality and rather a lot of work over the next few weeks. Louise and Meme (and Richard, of course) - thank you!