Sunday, 27 July 2014

A Cretan Affair


Four decades ago, during an Easter school trip to the Med, I fell in love with a beautiful island called Crete.  I can still remember standing on a mountain road that was edged with wild flowers, looking down upon clusters of tiny white-washed houses grouped around a golden bay, and delighting in the bluest ocean my twelve-year-old eyes had ever seen.  I was awestruck.  It was many years later before I returned, and when I did, the magic was still there.  Like a charming lover, Crete has disarmed me again and again.
          ‘Wow!’ I exclaimed, as we piled into our hotel room.  ‘This has got to be the swankiest room we’ve ever stayed in.  And look!’ I pointed with delight to a panel on the wall.  ‘This place is so posh, our room even has a burglar alarm.’
          ‘Those are the air-conditioning controls,’ said my husband rolling his eyes.
          The bell boy wheeled in the suitcases and we started to unpack.
          ‘Oh, no,’ groaned Eleanor, ‘you forgot to pack some sponges.  I can’t possibly have a shower without a sponge.  I won’t feel clean.’
          The following evening, Mr V – who was already suffering the proverbial ants in his pants – volunteered to buy some sponges.
          ‘Who fancies taking a bus with me into the old town?’ he asked, looking from daughter to wife expectantly.  But Eleanor and I were watching a mesmerising sunset, and didn’t want to budge from our basket chairs on the terrace.  ‘How can you just sit here?’ he complained.
          ‘Quite easily,’ I assured.
          Who needed to take a bus ride for entertainment when the most spectacular drama was unfolding before us?  The vast sweeping view from the long open terrace gave sight to the open sea with a backdrop of mountains.  Every evening a huge bonfire of orange would hover over the horizon before slowly sinking into the ocean, leaving a horizontal trail from left to right of peach melba, raspberry sorbet and giant pink wisps, while the heavens above overlit the whole thing in violet and indigo blue.  Never has the word mesmerising been so apposite.  Night after night, I’d sit and watch that sunset until the skies turned black and the vista became one of twinkling lights along the rugged coastline.
          On the flight to Crete, there were two new parents with a young baby.  The mum, exhausted no doubt by endless broken nights, was struggling to deal with a fractious infant confined to her lap for a four hour flight.  Eventually her husband took a turn, walking up and down the aisle with the colicky infant over his shoulder, and all the time he crooned, ‘Shush, shush, shush.’  As he shushed, I could feel my own eyelids drooping.  And as I stood on the beach the following morning, listening to an ocean that shush-shush-shushed, I was reminded of the young father placating his baby.  I loved the changes in the sea – how one day it would be as smooth as glass, making its lazy shushing noise as gentle ripples curled through the water producing the smallest of laps around paddling ankles.  And yet twenty-four-hours later, a breeze would descend, picking up speed, whipping the waves into a crescendo of whooshing and hissing so that they rose up six feet high before bursting forth in a mass of foaming froth, sloshing huge bubbling puddles onto the sand.  I always knew when it was around 5.30 p.m. because the sun would be at a certain angle.  Its rays would turn every wave and ripple to a shimmering mass of diamonds.
          But I digress.  Mr V returned from his trip to the old town grinning like a prospector who had found gold.
          ‘Ta da!’ he said, making a noise like a fanfare of trumpets.  ‘Here are the sponges you wanted.  They’re real ones too!’
          Eleanor leant forward to peer at them.  ‘Real ones?’ she questioned.  ‘What, you mean they’re still alive?’
          As a family, we have these ‘quirky’ exchanges.  For example, on another evening my husband suggested we have a chat about politics.
          ‘Is that a good idea?’ I asked.  An unspoken rule is to never talk about politics, or religion, on the grounds that it can lead to heated arguments.
          ‘Yes,’ my husband waved a hand dismissively, ‘come on, Eleanor, tell me what you know about politics.  This is an educational conversation. After all, you’ll be old enough to vote next year.  So, tell me, who are the main political parties?’
          ‘Oh, right.  Um, well, there’s the Lib Dems.’
          ‘Yes.’
          ‘And, um, Labour.’
          ‘Very good.  Who else?’
          ‘The Conservatories,’ said Eleanor, warming to her task.
          ‘The–?’
          ‘Ooh, and that alternative one, don’t tell me,’ Eleanor was in her stride now, ‘yes, got it, The Green Thumb.’
          ‘Isn’t that a lawn company?’ I asked.
          ‘Ah.  In that case it must be the Jolly Green Giant.  I’ve seen their poster somewhere.’
          ‘Yes, on tins of sweet corn,’ said Mr V looking horrified.  ‘Eleanor, one day you will be responsible for electing a future Government.  You need to be a lot more informed.’
          ‘Have you seen all the unusual handbags hanging on the wall in the hotel foyer?’ I asked, thinking a change of subject might be required.
          ‘Handbags?’ Mr V frowned.  ‘What handbags?’
          ‘Those rectangular things over there,’ I pointed.
          ‘They’re cow bells,’ said Mr V.  ‘Wooden cow bells, not handbags.’
          As I said, sometimes we have these conversations.
          And sometimes we don’t just say silly things, we also do silly things.  Like the time I offered to do the drinks run.  I set off from the beach, straw hat plonked firmly on head, and made my way to the bar.  It was a good trek as Mr V always liked to reserve sunbeds at the far end of the beach.
          ‘Hi,’ I greeted the barman.  ‘I’ll have a large bottle of carbonated water, three cups, one full of ice and, um, a Pepsi cola, a gin and tonic, and a Virgin Mojita please.’
          ‘Anything else?’
          I eyeballed the massive bowl of fruit on the bar top.
          ‘A banana.’
          ‘Here you are.’
          ‘Thanks.’
          I then realised that carrying this little lot back to our sunbeds at the far end of the beach was going to be tricky due to only having one pair of hands.  Undaunted, I picked up the banana and shoved it down the side of my bikini bottoms, before scooping up the three drinks in one hand – fingers in all the liquid – and then grabbed the carbonated water with my other hand.  I was just lowering my jaw down to bar level to pick up the plastic cup of ice with my teeth, when the most heavenly male accent spoke into my ear.
          ‘You look like a woman in serious trouble.’
          I turned, and nearly fainted.  Standing before me was an Adonis, well over six feet tall, with a washboard stomach and skin the colour of peanut butter.  He was also about twenty years younger than me.  In the grip of hormonal havoc, I flushed deep red, and assured the gentleman I could manage perfectly well.  The man arched an eyebrow before glancing at my bikini bottoms.  Automatically, I sucked in my stomach.
          ‘Any woman wearing a banana as a pistol in her bikini, is a woman who needs help.’
          There was a fleeting moment where I wondered if he meant psychiatric help, but instead he removed half the drinks from my hand and asked, ‘Which way are you going?’
          ‘Oh, no, really, it’s fine,’ I gabbled, ‘I don’t want to take you out of your way, I’m right at the end of the beach.’
          The Adonis gave me a smouldering gaze which nearly had my banana standing to attention and replied, ‘I just happen to be going that way too.’
          I gulped nervously.  Quite what Mr V and our daughter would make of me sauntering up to our sunbed with Rod the Bod in tow, I wasn’t sure.  As it turned out, Eleanor was plugged into her iPod with her eyes shut and my husband was knee deep in the Daily Mail’s sports pages.
          ‘Ah, lovely,’ said Mr V holding out his hand for his gin and tonic, eyes still firmly on photographs of footballers and oblivious to the big hairy hand offering him his drink.  ‘Thanks, darling.’
          This confirms that when you’ve been married a long time, your husband truly no longer notices you.  Which reminds me. 
Marriage is an institution in which a man loses his Bachelor's Degree and the woman gets her Masters… 

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