A tale of a lads holiday taken in the 1980s
So let me see, this is the tale of a holiday that I took in the late summer of 1985. Myself, with six friends, from our local pub, in Crayford. Peter, Geoff, Barry, Pat, Kevin, Richard and not forgetting me. We got on a plane and flew to the sunny island of Corfu, for a fortnight of sun, sea, and sex. In truth, it turned out to be two weeks of sun, sea, and lots of lager, but with very little sex.
Our expectations took a bit of a dive, when we landed at Corfu airport. (I'm not actually sure you're supposed to call it "Corfu airport," after all we don't say "England” airport do we?) Anyway that's what I'm calling it. As we made our way down the rain lashed steps off the plane, it was bleak. Just like the place we had jetted away from, dark clouds, gale force winds, and driving rain, what a total let down, this was.
At first glance, our home for the next two weeks looked nice. It was a two storey, Swiss chalet style building. It was made up of about twenty self contained apartments, with a swimming pool to the rear. The only drawback that I could see was that it was at the top of a very steep hill. And the only road appeared to be a sea of mud, that was slowly making its own way back into town as I looked at it.
It was about 11 p.m. No time to waste then. The rooms got allocated. Pete and Geoff in bedroom one, Barry and Rich next door and Pat, Kev, and myself in the third bedroom. There was actually a fourth bedroom, but when we looked inside, it was completely devoid of a bed, any furniture and there was a light sprinkling of broken glass all over the pine striped floor. We'd leave that one in case someone got lucky.
So that was that. We dumped our suitcases on our respective beds and headed off down the muddy track into town. The resort was called Gouvia. As I spent most of the holiday in a drunken stupor, my memory of it has no doubt got a bit skewed over the years. Anyway, it was just a bog standard holiday resort town. It was full of bars and restaurants catering for hoards of thirsty young Brits and Germans that arrived every week. So that's where we found ourselves, six of us, stood at a bar drinking lager, with Geoff stood in one of the giant flower pots in the corner with his trousers around his ankles, taking a piss. It must be some kind of record, ten minutes in and we're already being told by the kind Greek man, to go and fetch our friend with his trousers around his ankles, standing in the flower pot, and leave.
The next two days passed by with us playing cards and drinking in the apartment, accompanied by the sound of the rain lashing down outside. We did venture out in the evenings, when the rain seemed to ease off just enough to allow us to surf down the muddy track into town.
On the third morning of our trip to the well known monsoon region of the Mediterranean sea, shock and horror, the sun was shining. It was streaming through every window, bathing the whole place in blinding light, our eyes only used to the dull bleakness of the past few days. We warily ventured outside. The place was already rapidly losing its water drenched coat. The wet patches on the paving slabs round the pool were giving way to dry, and the road into town had stopped trying to slide there on its own and was turning back to dust.
Our first morning at the beach, there was a rumour circulating that there was to be a two day strike. Every business would be shut all day on Thursday and Friday. I don't think any of us believed it, or if we did that it wouldn't affect us. Anyway, on the Thursday evening I certainly found out that it would affect my stomach.
It was around 10 p.m. and the seven of us were all seated round a dinner table in a nice little restaurant in the middle of town. My fourth steak, chips and Greek salad with feta cheese of the week had just been placed in front of me. All of a sudden the lights went out and the waiters were hastily running round the place drawing the curtains. The atmosphere, that two seconds earlier, had been full of the banter and piss taking that always ensued, and the general hubbub of the restaurant had turned. I could've cut through the tension with my Greek steak knife. That's if I could find it. The whole place had been plunged into darkness. It was absolutely pitch black in there.
What actually happened was, the planned strike had gone ahead. Despite this, our restaurant had chanced it's arm and opened anyway. Unfortunately, they had been caught out. Gathering outside was an angry mob of loyal Greek pickets. They were chanting for the death of the cheating Greek scabs. Well, that's what they may have been chanting if I could understand them, but it was all Greek to me.
After a minute or two in the dark, the waiters had managed to light some candles, so it wasn't quite so gloomy. I could just about see my Greek salad with feta cheese wilting on the plate. The owner went outside to appease the baying mob. It was quite clear upon his return that the seven of us weren't getting any dinner that night. The little fat Greek man, after his very important meeting, returned and announced that he was very sorry, but we would all have to leave immediately as he had to close before the...... I was going to say before the hungry mob burnt him down, but sod them, we were the hungry mob. A minute later we found ourselves back on the street, our steaks cooling on the table and any sympathy for the strikers' cause, cooling alongside them.
As the days drifted past, we spent our mornings on the beach. We'd have an hour recovering on the sun loungers from the past night's beer. Then we'd set off to find some excitement. We all had an attempt at water skiing, from what I can remember Barry and Geoff were the only ones that actually made it to their feet for more than two seconds. The skies didn't fit correctly on my size twelve plates, so I bailed out after one attempt. But poor old Pat, he was the star of this show. Before we got in the water we had a quick tutorial from our instructor, he had talked us through the essential techniques, the do's and the don'ts, the this's, and the that's. It all went in one ear and out of the other, except for the bit when he said.
"When you fall over, your instinct will be to cling on to the rope. WELL DONT!”
Anyway, as our turns all came and went we duly heeded this advice, except that is for Pat. Yes, poor old Pat. As the speedboat eased away, the slack rope became taut, and his sunburnt body emerged from under the glistening blue Mediterranean sea. For all of two seconds, he was bolt upright, then as quick as he'd got up he was back down. Only this time it was face first with arms stretched out in front of him, the backs of his skis pointing to the sky. His head below the surface, as if he was on a day's snorkelling trip, but he'd forgotten his snorkel, and he was rapidly gathering speed. Now obviously the speed boat driver hadn't noticed Pats dilemma, or if he had, he was pissed off with him for not listening to the fine lesson he had given, not ten minutes earlier. Pat was now travelling at about 30mph like a jet propelled walrus, his fat belly bouncing and skimming the surface. Of course, he eventually let go, the penny finally dropped, or more likely he just ran out of breath. The boat circled round, and they dragged his weary body out of the sea and back to the laughing crowd that had gathered to watch his antics.
We appeared to be gaining a bit of a following. I suppose people see us all having a laugh and enjoying ourselves without getting into any real bother, or causing any grief and they wanted to be part of it. But on this particular day we left all our new found friends in Gouvia and headed off across the island to a place called Ipsos. We were going to try to rendezvous with Pete's mate Buck. He was staying there with his Mrs and two of their friends.
We'd been to the hire shop the evening before and rented a seven seater van. We didn't actually set eyes on it until the next day. I think if we had, we'd never have bothered. I can't remember what make it was, but I for one hadn't seen anything like it before. I don't think you could have got one in England, it was tiny. It was a little red box sitting on four wheels, with three rows of rock hard bench seats inside. Anyhow, we all piled in, Peter holding the steering wheel and six back seat drivers.
Assuming Peter knew where he was going, I soon switched off and was taking in the stunning scenery. The green of the olive groves set against the sun kissed blue Mediterranean sky. As we weaved our way up through the ever steeper mountain roads, our hearts in our mouths at every hairpin bend. You could see a row of cars on the road far below us, from where we had been not five minutes since. They were like a line of soldier ants meandering slowly up a jungle path. So an hour later we pulled up outside the Metaxus bar in Ipsos town.
We got ourselves seated outside the bar and ordered seven cold lagers, superb! They went down a treat, so we had seven more. But before we could get settled in for a session we set off down to the beach and met up with Buck and his family. We spent the next few hours swimming through the caves that pierced the cliffs on either side of the sandy lagoon. By mid afternoon, we were back in our little red van, en route to Danglers Bay
Yes, "Danglers Bay." A nudist beach, that apparently wasn't too far away, or, so we thought. Of course, it wasn't really called Danglers Bay. Kevin came up with that one. We didn't actually know what it was called. A bit silly when you think about it. It was hard enough trying to follow the Greek signposts, but we all knew, "Boxing Glove Bay," wasn't going to be found in any A to Z, let alone on a signpost on the side of a mountain on Corfu.
We realised we were never going to find it, when after what seemed like an eternity, we drove straight through a village we had been through an hour earlier. It was about now that it dawned on us that we were lost. So for the next few hours we drove up and down ever steeper, dusty dirt tracks that lead to dead ends, or even worse, the edges of cliffs. Some of these roads were becoming so steep that the little van, once we had got to the bottom of a cul- de- sac, couldn't make it back up with the weight of all of us inside. So we'd drive down a hill and under the scorching Greek sun have to push it back to the top. Now some of us were fitter than others, and it soon took its toll. Once again poor old Pat looked like he was about to take his last breath. So he and Richard, who was also on his last legs got back on board and acted as ballast, sitting at the back while Pete drove. The rest of us, who were now quite relieved at the diminutive size of our transport, pushed.
As the sun began to set, thoughts of spending a night stranded in the hills without any beer spurred us on. Eventually, after a lot more pushing, we found our way back onto the main road. Those dodgy hairpin bends that, in the morning had seemed so impossible, were now reassuringly beckoning us home. Eventually, the seven of us returned to our apartment looking like we had spent the day climbing Everest.
On the journey back, we'd spotted a Chinese restaurant set into the side of a hill, just outside town. So we decided that to make a change from steak and Greek salad with feta cheese, we'd get a takeaway. Later that night, Barry, Kevin, and I set off in the van for dinner. Upon arrival at the restaurant we were informed that they didn't do takeaway, we would have to return with the others on another night. As we pulled out of their car-park, Barry was driving, I was sitting next to him in the front, with Kevin to the rear. When Barry, instead of crossing the dual carriageway, then turning left into the right hand lane, turned directly left into the oncoming traffic. I realised what he'd done momentarily before him and screamed his name, ”BARRRRYYYYYYY.” By now I'd got my eyes firmly shut, bracing myself for the inevitable impact. It's not true you know, what they say about your whole life flashing before your eyes just before certain death. No, all I thought was.
Fuck it! I've survived an entire day on the verge of flying off the side of a mountain, only to be meeting my maker the wrong way up a bloody dual carriageway.
Anyway, the impact accompanied by certain death never arrived, your average Greek road user being quite used to us Brits trying to drive on the left when we were supposed to be on the right. They were skilfully swerving round us, horns blasting out from everywhere. Meanwhile, Barry was hastily trying to find a reverse gear to get us out of the way.
The next day we returned our faithful little van to the hire shop. The guy behind the counter couldn't quite believe his eyes when he came outside to check the mileage.
"My god," he exclaimed. " Where have you been in this, Athens?"
"No," piped up Barry, quick as a flash, "we popped back to London for the evening!”
Over the next few days, we stayed in Gouvia jet skiing, parascending, and all manner of other water based activities. We were such regulars, when we informed the guy running the "Banana.” For those that haven't had the pleasure, the “Banana” is a long, obviously yellow, rubber inflatable. As many people as possible sit on it, while being pulled behind a speedboat. The driver's job is to do his best to get you off, by making sharp changes of direction as fast as he possibly can. That we were going to do a run backwards, yes, backwards. He seemed more up for it than we were. Word quickly went round, so later on that afternoon we found ourselves hurtling at about 50mph backwards along the length of the beach while a massive crowd of onlookers stood by cheering us on. Actually they might have been jeering, I'm not sure about that one.
Halfway through the second week, Greece was bracing itself for part two of the general strike. This time we were a little better prepared,, and as we'd been told nothing at all would be allowed to open, we had bought some supplies the day before, so at least we wouldn't go hungry.
Laying on the beach on the morning of strike day three, news had reached us that right round the other side of the bay past the tall cliffs to the left, there was a hotel beach bar, and yes, it was open. Well what had we to lose, after all it was desolate round here, no bars, cafés, most of the sea sports apart from the pedalo man, god knows how he got away with it, were shut. They had all gone off to form picket lines elsewhere. So Barry and Geoff hired a pedalo and set off to investigate. Half an hour later they returned confirming the good news, the bar was open.
By now it was lunch time, and the thought of not even getting a bottle of water drove us to make the epic journey, four on the pedalo, with Pat and myself swimming alongside. Kevin was going to join us later, he'd become too attached to his sun-bed. Actually he was nursing a giant hangover and couldn't be bothered to move. As we walked up on to the beach, it was clear the word hadn't spread very far. The bar was deserted and the beach only had a few groups of people dotted about. Anyway, what started out as swift beer before lunch, turned into a five hour bender. By the time, the bar was shutting our party had swollen to about fourteen. Us seven, Kevin joined us later that afternoon. There was the honeymooning couple, they spent more time in our company than alone, who knows! There were the three girls from Norwich, and not forgetting the two Swedish girls. So picture this, fourteen really pissed people all trying to stay on board one, two seater pedalo. Once we had set sail it was mayhem, there were tits and bums flying everywhere, people falling off while others clambered back on. Eventually, we made it back to Gouvia beach in one piece. The pedalo man looked pleased to see us. I think he thought his pedalo was gone for good as he hadn't seen it for such a long time.
With his arms raised to the sky, he exclaimed, “where have you been?”
So Barry replied with his well used joke. “Sorry we're late back, mate, we've been to England, and due to the strike this old boat was our only means of transport.”
He stared back at us completely nonplussed. I don't think many foreigners get British humour, but what the hell, we laughed.
We spent that evening drinking in Denis's nightclub (another strike dodger), which by this time had turned into our local. We spent most nights in there, but the following evening even Denis (good Greek name) was to shut.
Anyway, this particular night had started on a bit of a downer, but it certainly picked up towards the end. Sometime in the day we had run into our rep, and she'd told us that, as nothing would be open that night, we could get dinner in the hotel at the bottom of our road. So the plan was to eat in the hotel, and if nothing else really was open just stay put at the bar.
Getting out of our apartment was a nightmare, seven blokes all trying to get shit, shaved and showered, seemed to take forever. As people were ready they would go, and we'd all eventually meet up in a pre-arranged spot, usually the first bar at the bottom of the hill. But this night it was Hobson's choice, the hotel was the only show in town.
By the time, I'd got in and out of the shower Pat was just getting his shoes on. We were the last, so he sat on the balcony smoking a cigarette while I hurriedly got dressed, and we made the short journey down the hill together. When we arrived at the hotel, the others were nicely settled at the bar, and couldn't wait to tell us the good news. The time now was ten twenty five, and in exactly thirty five minutes this bar, the only bar open for miles around would be shutting. Yes, out at half past ten and home by eleven. We both swallowed our beers and ordered another in a vain attempt at playing catch up. As the devastating news slowly sunk in, the owner of the hotel had come over to chat with us, to try to explain his position. He had no choice, his hands were tied, blah, blah, blah.
As the minutes ticked by to the end, like seven men on death row, waiting for that last minute reprieve, but looking less and less likely as every agonising second ticked by. Suddenly like a bolt from the blue, salvation, it arrived, a plan had fallen at our feet. Looking back I can't quite believe why it was so important to us that we spent every single night getting pissed. I suppose it's the culture, it's what every young Brit went away for. To get away from the everyday tedium of work and life back home. A fortnight of complete freedom, freedom to forget. Nowadays I would gladly have had my dinner, a couple of pints and an early night, but that's now and this was then.
Anyway, Nickel the owner had an idea. He said, "If I give you boys all the drinks you can carry, you can go back to the apartment and party. That's the best I can do.”
Now this seemed like a plan. I think that he thought that we'd go home, have a quiet drink and an early night, but oh, how wrong could one little Greek guy be.
As much as we enjoyed each other's company, a whole night of us lot alone just wouldn't cut it, so armed with as much booze as we could carry, we set off back up the hill.
The people in the other apartments hadn't been blessed with our good fortune. It appeared that they had taken to their beds, en masse, because when we arrived the place seemed unusually quiet. So as Barry sorted out the music, Kevin and Geoff went to every other apartment and woke them up and extended an invitation to our first ever Greek house party. Now, most of them had only gone to bed because there was nothing else for them to do. So when the offer of a party with free booze arrived, they couldn't get there quick enough. Five minutes after arriving at the apartment, it was heaving. It was suddenly the hottest place in town. Even the honeymooning couple came. Our party was turning out to be a great success. It wasn't long before, what seemed like half of Corfu island was crammed in. They must have been drawn by the music. They even helped themselves to all our emergency food rations, still, it was a party after all!
Now, we all know that when you're a little tipsy, you tend to act, let's just say slightly out of character. It's possible to do things that sober you wouldn't dream of. Well, where shall I begin? It was about 5:a.m. and most people had crashed in our apartment, or left for their own. The only people left awake were Kevin, Jill, the female half of the honeymoon couple, and me. We were sitting in the kitchen chatting and sharing the last dregs of a disgusting bottle of red wine. Suddenly out of the blue Kevin picked up a fork from the table and threw it at the half open window above the sink. It missed the window, bounced off the wall and landed in the sink. Without batting an eye, I reached for a spoon and launched it at the window. It hit the corner of the opened window frame and ricocheted onto the floor. Jill's go. She picked up the salt and pepper pots off the table and took two goes. The salt pot hit the window and landed in the sink. The pepper pot went straight out of the window, one nil to Jill. Not wanting to be beaten by a girl I sent the rest of the cutlery hurtling towards the window, some going out, some staying in. In the meantime, Kevin and Jill were fighting over the contents of the fridge, half eaten packs of ham, cheese, butter, eggs and the milk all ended up spread down the outside stairs or gently cooking on the patio by the pool. Finally the great big pot of beef and potato stew Richard had made that afternoon, so those horrible Greek strikers wouldn't get the better of us, went out, pot and all
We went to bed that morning laughing our heads off. Still arguing about the finer points of the new sport we'd just invented. If a knife or a fork is worth one point, then half a pound of butter must be worth at least ten. The next day standing in the midday heat, scrubbing the steps of stew and getting the contents of our kitchen from the bottom of the swimming pool. (Someone else's little joke I suppose) It had lost some of its allure. But anyway, once everything was back shipshape the others did start to see the funny side.
So the Corfu adventure was coming to an end. But it wasn't quite over just yet. No, not quite. We still had to get home.
Our flight was supposed to be at 3pm. The coach was to pick us up at 1pm. So we were all packed and ready to go by 11am. That is ready to go down the hill to the hotel pool bar.
Two hours later when we saw our coach fly past us, heading up the hill towards our apartment, Kevin, Geoff, Peter and the honeymoon couple (yes they even came to see us off) were all still in the swimming pool. We had to make a mad dash up the hill, some still dripping wet, just in time to grab our cases and dive on board.
Upon arrival at the airport, it was absolute mayhem, thousands of people, and no sign of any planes, and no idea why they'd all gone missing. Corfu airport consisted of one great big hangar with a little bar in one corner, a few shops and one cesspit of a toilet. We queued up for about twenty minutes with a few hundred other stranded tourists, to get ourselves a tin of slightly warm lager. After one bout of queuing and two minutes of drinking something had to be done. So we had a whip round, and I got back in the queue with Peter, and yet another twenty or so minutes passed by. This time when we got back to the lads instead of seven cans we had seven cases of lager. Yes, that's more like it. 168 cans ensured that we wouldn't be in that queue again in a hurry.
So a few hours passed, and although the departure lounge had thinned out a little we didn't seem to be any closer to our flight, and someone had turned kevin's volume control, right up. He had started a football match with a beach ball and about twenty little kids. By the time, he was bored with that he busied himself by stacking the remains of our lager in a baggage trolley and dishing it out to anybody thirsty enough not to care that it was warmer than dog piss.
The hours passed, and night had fallen, but we were still no closer to going home. For us it didn't really matter, once you're on the piss it doesn't matter where you are, you're on the piss. You had to feel sorry for some of the families with young kids though, trapped at the airport in stifling heat with very little or no spending money left. But I suppose looking on the bright side at least Kevin, the new self appointed entertainment manager had kept their little angels amused long enough for them to drink their warm lager.
The boredom of being stuck in one spot was starting to show, people were wandering off hoping to find some unexplored nooks and crannies. Desperately seeking some light relief from warm lager and baggage trolleys. So we found ourselves on an outside veranda watching planes taking off and landing, it didn't take long to grow weary of this. Once you've seen one plane taking off you've seen them all. So Geoff, leading with his trusty guitar, decided to have a sing song. And for fifteen brief minutes, on a cooling Greek night, on a veranda at Corfu airport, we experienced what it might be like to be in a famous band. I suppose driven by the boredom of the long day, crowds of people were coming from inside to the balcony. Soon there were hundreds outside clapping and cheering as we sang along. Our new found fame came to a crushing end when out of the blue our flight was called, and as quick as it had begun it was all over. Before we knew it we were thirty thousand feet above the Greek islands, Peter was soundly sleeping while Kevin ate his in-flight meal, (all hell would be unleashed for that one later)
There's been many great holidays taken since Corfu, but never that same group all together. I suppose that's why it's still talked about today. It's a memory we all share, it's what binds people together, their shared experiences. The lives we have with our friends and families is ultimately what shapes us all.