As a child from a working class family almost all my childhood years were spent in the town in which I grew up. The only time I travelled beyond was during the summer holidays when my father took me to the seaside.

It required 12 months of saving hard for my dad to afford a week in Filey. It was here I met kids from Newcastle and Glasgow all of whom spoke a language totally alien to me.

Fortunately my linguistic skills developed fast and by the end of the week I was referring to everyone as ‘Pet’ and was ‘gannin oot to play footie’ with my new found friends. Had it not been for these annual excursions I would have known little of life beyond my own neighbourhood.

My first foreign holiday was a coach trip to Spain with two pals from the local youth club. We were 17 year olds off to chase girls on the Costa Brava. We thought the Spanish girls would like us… and they did. What we hadn’t counted on was that local boys might hate us …and they did.

I spent most of the holiday hiding on the beach behind a straw donkey so as not to attract the attention of the caballeros whose girls we had ‘insulted’ with our amorous advances.

How times have changed. I spent last week at a very grand hotel in Tenerife where I learned about people from a rather different background. I discovered that upper-crust English families live in something called a ‘hice’ and do not get drunk, they get ‘squiffy'.

One such family sat at an adjoining table in the dining room and referred to their children as Trixy-Pixy, Jo-Jo, and Fizz. It was like having breakfast with the Teletubbies.

One thing that hasn’t changed since my first trip to Spain all those years ago is the Spanish inability to make tea without the aid of security string attached to each bag.

I have no idea why dropping teabags into boiling water is such a complex operation to them.

Perhaps it has something to do with health and safety, which is somewhat bizarre considering they allow bulls to stampede through the streets. Travel really does improve the mind (unless you get gored by an enraged bull).


Have you ever been to Wythenshawe Hospital? I attended the outpatient facility there last week. It’s a very impressive place.

Parking the car was surprisingly easy and the attention upon arrival was swift and courteous. More than courteous, it was downright friendly.

It took the young man on reception no more than a minute to locate my appointment by asking simply for my date of birth and my postcode (an approach that probably wouldn’t work if you were trapped under a bus, but for outpatients it’s fine).

All went swimmingly until he asked me to name my next of kin.

“Err…is that essential?” I asked. “I’m only here to have my knee examined.”

He stared intently at his computer screen then nodded a sombre yes.

I couldn’t help wondering if he knew something I didn’t.

The consultant who examined me was a friendly chap calming whatever nerves I had until he announced that I needed to go to ‘Blood.’ Now I’m not squeamish, but ‘blood’ is not a word I associate with a routine external examination.

On returning to reception I asked the young man for directions to the ‘Blood’ department.

He gave me what I can only describe as a knowing look and sent me off to another unit where I sat in the waiting room clutching a ticket indicating that I was next in line. Quite what I was next in line for I knew not.

I did however notice a number of patients in the ‘Blood’ waiting room looking very pasty and couldn’t help wondering if they were waiting for some of mine.

Now, I know you won’t believe this but… on the top of a cupboard in the ‘Blood’ room was a model of Dracula. No, I swear I’m not making this up it was him all right complete with cloak and fangs.

I gave my blood and hurtled down the corridor like Usain Bolt.

I knew it was ridiculous but I could not dismiss the thought that my dodgy knee may not have been the real reason I was sent there. Maybe I was part of some military experiment?

While walking back to my car I convinced myself not to be such a fantasist it was simply a routine check-up. My self-reassurance worked and I calmed down enough to find my car keys and open the door when… I heard the deafening sound of rotor-blades.

Suddenly a bright yellow helicopter appeared hovering immediately above me. This was my Jason Bourne moment and I dived into the bushes to avoid capture.

When the chopper finally disappeared I broke cover and sprinted to the car.

‘How did it go at the hospital?” asked Mrs B when I returned home.

“No problem, just a routine examination.”

(Probably best if I talk to her on a need-to-know basis from here on)      

By Guardian columnist Vic Barlow