Chapter 1. An Unexpected Break.

Chapter 1. An Unexpected Break.

I’d never helped a man dig his own grave before. Surprisingly, that wasn’t the most unforgettable thing to happen that day. This thought, and others, percolated through my mind, as, for the first time in over two decades, we were returning to this sun-soaked speck of land on the edge of the Aegean. Circling the airport with the lights of Rhodes Town below us, I began to wonder what other memories, both cherished and buried, would welcome our return.


May ‘92 found me trudging through Paradise, an ironically named, brutalist, concrete, quarter, in the centre of the city I’d lived in for the past ten years. No home, no girl, no job; feeling blue didn’t quite cover it. On my way to view a bedsit, all the money I had in the world was in my pocket; rent and deposit. I was running late.

Pulling my collar tight, to stop rain drops running down my back, it was getting colder, and wetter. Office workers scampered past double decker Corporation buses idling at their stops, while shoppers scuttled like ants, searching for cover in all directions. Watching the back end of a number 50 disappear up the road, leaving a bleak, windswept, empty shelter, I cursed.

Seeking refuge from the weather, I sheltered beneath a concrete overhang running above some shops, browsing the windows while I waited. A travel agent’s poster caught my eye; a girl, sitting on a golden beach, warm sun beating down from a blue sky, as waves lapped at her feet. For a moment I was transported, until a squall hit me square on the back, then another, almost pushing me over. Inside looked cosy, and dry, so in I went, and pretended to look at some brochures.

Club 18 – 30? Not my cup of tea. Cruises didn’t float my boat and I’d never fancied a package holiday. Through the rain lashed window I saw my bus pull up. As I turned to leave, the girl sitting at the desk spoke.

“Need some help, bab?”

She had a welcoming smile. I felt I should at least say something, thank her for her time, then get on my way. I waved the random brochure I had in my hand and said,

“Only looking. Not really into package holidays though, know what I mean?”

“That’s all right, have a seat. I might have something.”

In that moment of conflict, pulled between a dash in the rain and sense of politeness, the bus belched a cloud of sooty exhaust fumes and set off, along with any chance of me getting to my viewing on time. It would have been a lousy bedsit anyway.

In those days there was no or on-line holiday companies. The travel agent was the guardian and guru, the mystical gatekeeper of all things holiday related.

“Greece, is it? I love Greece” she said, typing.

I looked at the brochure in my hand; ‘Greek Islands’ it read.

“People are lovely there. Weather’s great, I love this time of year. You could go island hopping, find your own accommodation. When were you thinking of?”

“Anytime really, not fussed.”

Red lacquered, fingernails clacked over the keyboard as she sold me the food and the beaches and the lovely weather. I imagined the sun, beaming from the poster, warming my face, while at the same time, the reality of the soaking I’d had settled into my sodden shoulders, along with my current misery. Newly single, free from the obligations of employment, maybe a couple of weeks away would do me good. The notes in my back pocket pressed against my hip.

“Fly from Birmingham, Rhodes, two weeks, £80 return. Wednesday.” She said.

“Tomorrow?” I replied.

“You could make your way to Lindos; it’s where the back packers go. It’s my favourite place in the world”.

Call me impulsive. Call me impetuous. Call me irresponsible. As I gazed through the window of the bus, looking out on an unfamiliar landscape, I knew I’d done the right thing. We passed through dusty little villages, old men sitting in cafes drinking coffee, playing backgammon. It smelled different; the hot, dry air blew through the open sliding windows. Every now and then glimpses of the sea teased as we passed olive and citrus groves. I noticed, every so often, by the roadside, little metal framed glass boxes with icons and candles inside, sometimes flowers. The bus rumbled and jolted, letting people off, letting people on. Passengers were mainly locals, with bags of shopping and purchases from the town. At a larger village some school children joined us, their excited chatter adding to the general hubbub. All a bit different to the Corporation number 50.

Soon glimpses of the sea grew more frequent, and as we rounded a bend at the top of a long, steep road, my reward for sitting on the sunny side of the bus was granted with the perfect view. Across a circular, sand fringed bay, gathered like a necklace around a castle on a hill, was a village of brilliant white houses, set against the two-tone blues of the sea and sky.

Joining a queue of traffic, we inched our way down a steep, narrow road, towards the village. Hitting a patch of shade from a copse of tall conifers, I could see over a whitewashed wall into a little cemetery, neat rows of headstones, an old woman, dressed in black, tending a grave. Beyond, through the trees, speedboats towed skiers and inflatable rings.

Shuddering to a stop in the village square, I climbed off, stretched my limbs, and tried to take it all in. Dominating the middle of the square was a large tree with a white painted trunk, surrounded by a circular whitewashed wall where people sat. Facing out, over some blue, painted, metal railings with a citrus grove below, was the bay, framed by a long headland behind it, boats and yachts rocking gently in the wake of water sports craft. Behind me a sweat patched policeman blew his whistle as tour guides chattered to their parties, calling out in German and English to keep their groups together. It was as busy as New Street ramp on a Saturday afternoon, but I didn’t care. I remembered back to Moseley Road baths, swimming up and down the lanes under the Victorian vaulted ceiling, paint flaked cubicles around the edge, weeds growing on the inside of the frame of the arched, opaque window at one end. I had swum mile a day, every day, for months; recuperation from a badly broken ankle. I found it calming and meditative. Buoyed by water, the mesmeric repetition of movement unplugged me from my senses and surroundings; I would find freedom. Looking at the bay below, I thought only one thing. I could swim in that.

To my left was a taxi rank, drivers sitting chatting, playing with their worry beads, polishing their air-conditioned, navy-blue Mercedes. It wasn’t quite the waiting room at Royal Cars; burst couches on a fag burnt carpet in a room above the chip shop, telephone operator behind a reinforced glass screen. I supposed I could cope. Next to the taxis was an arrow pointing down to the public convenience. Here was something else in common with Moseley, subterranean toilets. Bog Island was a dark, stinky affair best avoided. I had to go so made my way down. The Lindos Loos were brighter, but that’s where the difference ended.

Emerging from the steps I liked the look of the restaurant next to me, Mavrikos. Vine entwined archways in a white wall looked in to some shaded tables and chairs, a waiter polishing wine glasses, placing them neatly on crisp, white tablecloths.

There were two roads, the one we had just come down, past the cemetery, and the other rising from the beach below, I presumed. The junction of the roads was too tight for most vehicles; everyone approaching the square had to go round the tree, from both directions. The soaking, sweat drenched shirt off the traffic policeman a testament to the chaos he oversaw. It was still better than Kings Heath High Street on a Saturday afternoon.

Behind me, at the back of the square was a high wall with trees above, giving more shade, and a spring; clear water running from a channel in the sandstone wall into a stone basin below. Above it, carved in marble, was what looked like an Arabic inscription. As I watched, an old man filled a large plastic bottle with the clear water, so guessing it was ok, I cupped my hands and drank. In the warm wind, under the cool trees, after the bumpy, arid, bus ride, the cool, fresh, delicious water was the best and sweetest I'd ever tasted.

Beside the fountain was a Tourist Information Kiosk. A little man with olive skin and short, dark hair, dealt with the queues. Beside him, on his right, was a small, low window with a ledge on which was a telephone; you could be forgiven for thinking it was the only phone on the island. He dealt with the endless queue, giving out pamphlets and leaflets in all languages, writing names and numbers on scraps of paper, handing the phone over to those who required it. He seemed in control of his own world of madness. I thought about asking where I could go for a room but, not in the mood to queue, I carried on into the village. Passing a low shelter, donkeys and their drivers, the donkey men, lounged around, waiting for custom. Opposite was a little white-haired man with walnut skin and a camera around his neck. On a board next to him, fixed by clothes pegs, was an array of photographs, people on donkeys, mostly corpulent and obese, smiling and waving. Etched below the photographs was the legend ‘Lindos Taxi’. I guessed he made his living taking pictures of visitors getting a ride up to the castle and developing and printing them before they got back down, instant mementos, long before mobile phones, Instagram, or selfies.

Greeted by a maze of narrow, cobbled streets, with shops and restaurants, fast food places and bars on either side I wandered, making sure not to knock anything over with my rucksack. Passing a tourist office, offering currency exchange, day trips and accommodation, I decided not to go to the place nearest the square, it was bound to be the dearest. I’d rather take the time to look for a back street place.

The smell coming from the restaurants and cafés was something else and I liked the look of the smart bars. Coming across a creperie with an open window into the road, I decided to get a bite to eat. Dropping my rucksack, I looked at the menu on a board, written in English and Greek, as a young lad poured batter onto a hot plate.

Slowly and deliberately, I asked, “Cheese. And. Ham. Please.” Expertly, he spread the batter with a spatula, making a perfect, thin disk.

“Wanna to try the spinach and feta cheese man?” he said. “It’s canny.”

Ok, so, Geordie, not Greek. "Go on then." I said. Expertly flipping the crepe, he spread green spinach over the top of the cooked side before crumbling on some soft white cheese, the bright white of the feta standing out against the dark strings of green. He dusted it liberally with finely ground black pepper, before folding it into a triangle and handing it over, wrapped in a paper napkin.  Biting into the warm, soft wrap, the tangy cheese mingled with the squelchy spinach and hot black pepper. It was spot on.

Passing a couple more tourist offices I finally left the main area, exploring the little alleyways, wondering about the people who lived behind the big brown wooden doors. After finding some more shops and bars, I cam across another tourist office. Behind a desk, facing the doorway, sat a young lady who smiled and nodded as I entered.

“Hello. Have. You. Got. A. Room. To. Rent. Please?” I asked.

“Sure, how long you stopping?”

Another English person. I told her I would be staying for three nights. That would be long enough to have some fun and plan the next stage of my journey. Grabbing some keys, she asked me to follow her.

Leaving the office, the donkey station was straight ahead, charlie and the creperie were opposite and this was indeed, the first place I had passed.


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Nice Jorge, painted quite a picture :)

Rupert Johnson

Fantastic memories. I can feel the sunshine and smell the aromas let alone taste the food. Glad I’m not experiencing the hangovers!!

Penny Arnold

Great read Jorgie. Great flow and description. Think I may have been to some of those places?
Just another of your undoubted talent then😊

Seb Smith

Love this, been going to Líndos since the late eighties and even had the privilege of working for Socrates in the early nineties, can’t wait for the next chapter


Love it love it love it xxx

Emma Ettridge

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