Saturday May 12, 2007

By Richard and Judy

JUDY WRITES…I know Praia da Luz very well; from the time our youngest child was two we had an Easter holiday there every year until she was in her teens. Why wouldn’t you? It’s just a short flight to Faro Airport, the weather is almost always fabulous and the little resort itself is just about perfect for a family holiday.

An enormous, beautiful, sandy beach, lots of family-friendly restaurants, apartments and villas to rent at very reasonable prices and usually splendidly built and equipped. And full of children – usually British – so lots of friends for your kids to make around the pool.

Above all, it felt safe. Everyone on holiday there seemed of a type – young, middle-class parents with well-behaved children. No yobs, no groups of teenage girls intent on getting drunk and getting laid, no frightening gangs of youths behaving raucously outside the bars. There was nothing for teenagers to do anyway. Just one, very sedate club.

Anyone over 14 would have been bored to death. Which is precisely why we stopped going there when our own offspring hit adolescence.

I don’t blame Maddy’s parents one tiny bit.

Judy Finnigan
Judy Finnigan

But until then, a family holiday in pretty Praia da Luz was the absolute ticket; a sure-fire success and always a good time had by all.

So to see little Madeleine McCann’s anguished mother pleading for her daughter’s safe return outside the picturesque village church with its dazzling golden altar filled our family with disbelief. Sure, you don’t leave small children alone but if there was one place in the world where you could imagine nothing but friendliness and benevolence towards all children, Luz was it.

So Praia da Luz has retained a huge amount of affection in our own family memories. The Portuguese love children. I cannot remember a hint of anxiety about paedophilia soiling the white bougainvillaea-covered walls. Small children played alone on the beach while their parents ate lunch at one of the beach restaurants. It never occurred to either of us to worry about little Jack and Chloe as they joyously ran along the soft sandy shore. The only potential anxiety was that they would get out of their depth in the sea.

I don’t blame Maddy’s parents one tiny bit for leaving her in their apartment while eating at a tapas bar a mere 40 yards away.

We never stayed in an apartment complex; our large brood meant we rented villas, often outside the town, so there was no question of eating out without the kids. But I know the holiday complex where the McCanns were staying and it really does feel spectacularly safe, with mums and dads and children everywhere.

The “checking” routine is one we have often used in hotels, you have dinner downstairs while the children sleep in their room and every half hour one of you goes to check on them. Until this terrible case I would have thought any parent unwilling to do that was being a bit paranoid.

No longer. I’m incredibly sad that a little piece of family paradise will now, for ever, be tarnished with fear.

RICHARD writes…

Richard Madeley
Richard Madeley

SO THAT’S that then. The last big gun with the calibre to take on Gordon Brown decommissioned himself on Sunday. John Reid’s intended resignation and Tony Blair’s graceful exit speech four days later seals the deal; Gordon’s got that job he always wanted.

Future historians may scratch their heads about it all. Blair had to bow out earlier than necessary because of Iraq; everyone agrees on that. But hang on… didn’t Gordon think that toppling Saddam was the right policy, too? And didn’t Blair win a third term – comfortably – despite what he himself described as the “blowback” from the post-invasion meltdown?

Iraq didn’t cook the Prime Minister’s goose. The bird was plucked, stuffed and roasted by his next door neighbour in one of the messiest, most protracted coups in British political history.

It is only when you hear the private views on Brown held by some top Labour figures that you realise how much they loathe him. This bodes ill for the party’s future.

For all Blair’s urbanity and style at Sedgefield on Thursday, this was a Premier defenestrated in an untimely fashion. A very bad mistake has been made. And we all know by who.

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