Your Holiday Disaster: Gordon Coxhill's biggest mistake was to trust a Greek bearing an Amstel (or four)...

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The Independent Travel
ACROSS Constitution Square to take photos of the white-skirted evzones, into the Grande Bretagne hotel to use the cleanest "public" toilets in Athens, and on - so I thought - to the bookshops in Nikis Street.

"Have you got the time?" The question came from behind.

I looked at my watch and turned around. "Er... eenai mia ora kai theka".

"Ah, you are English. Please come and meet my wife. She is English, she would love to talk to you."

"Actually, I'm in a bit of a hurry..."

"I have a cafeteria just over there. Please. Just for a few minutes."

The cafeteria was in fact a fortress posing as a bar. Steel shutters in the middle of the day. Thin beams of yellow light just managing to pierce the tobacco fug. He handed me a bottle of Amstel.

"On the house. For being English."

His wife turned out to be Scandinavian, once beautiful but now as faded as the Parthenon caryatids. And harder. Sissy, on the other hand, was one of those Trojan whores we failed to learn about in our history lessons; sweet perfume, sour nature. All ponytail and decolletage. Before long, she was stroking me in that most sensitive of spots, my inside jacket pocket. They were drinking something that resembled pink shower gel in minute champagne glasses. My Amstels continued to come "on the house".

When I summoned up the bottle to leave, Sissy protested. We could go in the back and have some fun. I pointed out that I had to get to the bookshop. When it came to my bill, the man without a watch didn't need a cash-till, either. He simply thought of a ludicrously high price for a thimble of soapy water and multiplied it by 16.

Now it was my turn to protest. Three or four Amstels give a man a certain Dutch courage. Two tall, dark raincoats appeared at my elbows. As I was handing over 32,000 drachmas (about pounds 90 at the time), Sissy turned all hurt and simpering, and I was just explaining that I really did rate her in the Michelle Pfeiffer-meets-Mother Teresa bracket when the man behind the bar spoke.

"I'm very sorry but these two are 500 drachma notes, not 5,000."

No, I didn't argue, just coughed up and told myself, as I put his two 500 drachma notes into my wallet, that I had scored some kind of victory. The Greeks have a word for it: Pyrrhic. Rhymes with sick.

When I got outside, I looked at my watch. I had spent pounds 120 on a few beers and a bottle of coloured water in under an hour. I felt... kind of heroic. Greece does that to you.

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