In Here: The holiday help
The first thing I do is locate the accommodation comments book - guaranteed to make me feel young and cool and groovily un-English
Saturday 17 June 1995
So what's the first thing I do on arrival, after a long, stressful journey (cone nightmare on the M23; dawn check-in at Gatwick; three hours sweltering in Kos, wondering why I wore my black woolly leggings; failure of herbal sea sickness remedy on the boat)? Do I indulge in a long, slow ouzo on the rocks, while gazing out at the blue-green Med? Wander up the hillside, hand-in-hand with my loved one, to crush handfuls of fresh thyme? Rush out for emergency insect repellant?
Of course not. The first thing I do is the first thing I always do on holiday: locate the accommodation comments book - in this case, the one for "Helpful Hints!" and "Suggestions!" The one with priggish, boastful recommended walks, pointless lists of birds spotted, bad-tempered complaints about why isn't there a cheese-grater, and handy tips about the best way of angling the shower head. So accidentally funny. So stupid. So guaranteed to make me feel young and cool and groovily un-English. And, OK, I admit it, better than anybody else. Which is what I want to feel on holiday, when the rest of the year I feel inadequate.
So that night, I look for the dumb tips, reading the choicest items out loud. Maureen and Clive, who island hopped in May 1994, recommend that visitors, "Buy fresh milk... The long-life stuff makes Ultra Horrible Tea!" (Ho ho!). They also suggest that we, "Put half a bottle of mineral water in the icebox of the fridge the night before. It will give a cold drink for most of the next day." So frozen water stays cool for longer? How extremely useful to know!
The next day, I discover Deidre and Dave and how they cracked the secret of the crockery supply: "Small plates are in the larder cupboard in the kitchen. It took us over a week to discover them - shame!" We chortle loudly, scooping dribbles of baklava from a daringly bohemian big plate. (The best cakes, I've already established, come from the place up the hill.) That evening, after seeing a Scops owl and a hedgehog on the way home, I almost wet myself reading Ken and Angela's television news timetable. Why do these people bother going on holiday? Especially when they are so worried about going to the toilet: "Don't rely on all tavernas having loo rolls, it's a good plan to take a little with you. There is a public loo in Blah...turn right up hill...bear left..." The sea's good enough for us! (And we've discovered the best beach...)
Almost as entertaining are the amateur aesthetes, the purple poets, the small-time snobs happy to lecture fellow travellers about Greece - Her Landscape and Personality. Best of the bunch, sampled just after we gazed at a million stars twinking in the midnight blue, are Brian and Charles: "I can recommend Blah before sunset for a feel of former grandeur - vivid blues merge with faded reds and yellows, and the promenade reminds one of a rural town in Mussolini's Italy, the focus being the cinema - like something out of Cinema Paradiso. In fact, early morning and early evening suit most places on the island best, as the light-absorbing hills become more golden and striking shadows accentuate contours... I hope you absorb a little of the quality of life which is Blah - long may it remain relatively untarnished by selfish materialism." Well thank you, Brian (or is it Charles?). Us ordinary mortals would never have appreciated the island without your piercing insights.
Meanwhile, we are truly mellow. Each morning, our landlady gives us fresh lemons and eggs that scramble a fluffy, bright yellow, the colour of a children's story book. The tamarisk trees provide gentle, dappled shade. The jasmine blooms a heady evening scent. We really have cracked this island.
Then, one evening towards the end of the first week, I find Matt hunched over the comment book. More accidental gems? Well, no. He is actually beginning his third page of urgently cramped handwriting. But it's OK! This is all good practical stuff: the adequacy of the tap water. Items (numbered (a) to (f)) to check before you hire a bike, provided you have an adjustable spanner and allen key. How to reach the highest point on the island (OK, so there's one sentence where "suddenly you're up high and rounding the last switchback...") And, um, the generosity of our landlady. Well, she is generous.
I teeter on the edge for a few days. Then I crack. But, really, it's mainly practical instructions about the pair of white kittens that have adopted us. The little one, the female with different coloured eyes, doesn't like cheese. The big one needs to have his ears checked for mites. The dog is fairly friendly, but they both need to be protected from the nighttime maraudings of the bigger cats.
Then there's the gekko. It lives in the fuse box, but you have to leave the door slightly ajar so it can get out. Also the shower. Don't be fooled into thinking it's blocked: the rubber no-slip mat prevents it from draining properly. Forget the Turkish delight sold at the shop up the hill: it's sickly and sweet. And do watch out for trains of donkeys, weighed down by bales of freshly mown hay - a sight from another era.
Holiday bore? Moi? I just want you to enjoy your holiday as much as we did. As they say in France, bon voyage!
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