Driving in darkness, headlights guiding our way, everything was different, and nothing had changed. Masses of new tourist hotels built along the way; small resorts grown large, big resorts spread even further. Road signs and turn-offs to towns and villages were recognised instantly, forgotten memories flooded back, the way they do when rifling through faded photographs.
Flevaris Supermarket flashed past on the road by Kolimbia, where Jenny & Scary Mary had found the rat, stuck to a glue board behind a freezer, squealing for help, getting only the boot of the owner. I had a warm feeling, seeing the mechanic’s yard and workshop, outside Arkhangelos, where Tsambikos would strip down the engines of the boat every winter to give them a service, and we would drink frappe and swap jokes. Passing the turn off to Haraki, our first date, we resisted the urge and carried on.
Soon, turning the corner at the top of the hill, out from the darkness shone the Acropolis on the hilltop, floodlit in the night sky, and we could see rooftop lights of the bars and restaurants in the village below, twinkling like diamonds. It was the picture on a million postcards and holiday snaps. We called it home.
Summer '92 - Why not?
Jody’s Flat was a popular bar in the centre of Lindos. Run by three lads from South London, it was a place where holiday makers met up before going out to eat or went to drink and dance afterwards. Early evening they’d play an eclectic selection of chilled music and, later, more of the danceable stuff. It was popular with the workers too, mainly due to the reduced prices. They also ran a free workers’ film show, where each afternoon a popular film from a massive collection of contemporary Hollywood videos would be screened. A cool place to go and a chance to chill before the evening’s work began. That was until the Chief of Police threatened to close them down for operating a cinema without a licence.
I knew none of this as I passed by at lunchtime, on my second day in Lindos. I’d decided to stay away from the beach, partly because of my embarrassment the evening before, but mainly due to the excruciating sunburn reminding me of my Celtic roots. Looking in through the heavy, wooden doors it seemed dark, cool and inviting. The place was empty apart from a young, fair, curly headed girl, polishing the long wooden bar the way they do in the movies. Her name was Jacqui, but I didn’t know that yet. Entering the stone-built building, I felt the temperature drop and gave my eyes a few moments to adjust to the gloom. It was on different levels; where I stood, the floor was a mosaic of pebbles and there were a couple of bar stools next to a wooden ledge, by a little arched recess. It smelt of alcohol and cigarettes and even when empty, in the middle of the day, it had the feel of a place where things would happen.
I climbed a couple of steps to a large, open area where speakers hung from the walls and up high on the left-hand side was the DJ’s booth. Another set of steps led up to the bar. It was long, and on the wall behind it were mirrors and bottles of all kinds of liquor, with a blackboard menu of cocktails at one end.
“What can I get you?” The girl asked cheerfully, a fellow Scot. A pint of Amstel seemed like a sensible idea; cold, wet, and long. I could take my time and plot my next move; my room was booked for three nights, and I was already two down. I looked around as she poured my beer. Behind me, in the centre of the building, reaching up through the ceiling was the trunk of a tree and to the rear were some steps which led to an outside patio area shaded by vines.
“You’re not from round these parts?” I asked and quickly wished I hadn’t, as she shot a look that said no shit Sherlock.
She put my beer down in front of me, I gave her a note, and she gave me some change, and then carried on polishing the bar. I must have looked a sight, with my scarlet sunburnt face beaming like a beacon and my bumbag strapped firmly round my waist. I tried again.
“Must be good, working out here?”
“Not all it’s cracked up to be, but it’s ok.”
Just then a couple of Germans came in and ordered.
From what I’d seen it was an idyllic place, the weather was great and there seemed to be lots going on. What drawbacks would there be? I imagined myself getting a job, getting away for the whole summer. No one was waiting for me back home, no work lined up to go back to, party all summer. The Germans disappeared up the steps and out to the patio, so I asked the question.
“So, what’s not to like?”
“Looking for a job then?”
I told her how I was out on my own, maybe thinking about it. Condensation formed on my cool glass, the ceiling fans spun and moved the air around as a light breeze rustled through the vines. I thought I saw a movement amongst the bottles on the shelves high above the bar but couldn’t be sure in the gloom. She didn’t sugar coat it.
“First, you’ve got to get somewhere to stay. You’ll have to share a room because you won’t earn enough to get anything else, and all the best accommodation has been taken. You’ll need to get a medical card before you get a job. To get that you have to get to Rhodes Hospital before 8am, ‘cos that’s when they do them. You’ll need to hire a bike or take a taxi, ‘cos the bus doesn’t get there in time. You’ll have to work seven days a week and, did I say the money is rubbish? Pay is about 3000 a day.”
“What keeps you here?” I asked. She tossed her cloth, bent down and began stocking the fridge behind the bar with bottles from a red plastic beer crate, turned back to me, thought for a bit longer.
“I just love it here” she said. Turning away again, she carried on.
The conversation was over, but the seed had been sown. Nursing my beer, I imagined myself working in a bar or restaurant. I’d done neither before, but it could be an adventure, and goodness knows, I needed one.
What I also needed was some after-sun and a lie down, so putting down my empty glass I said “Thankyou” and made my way down the steps and out into the daylight.
Back in the apartment, lying on the little wooden bed, I went over what I’d been told. Firstly, accommodation. I didn’t know anyone so how would I find someone to share a room with, and did I even want to share a room? Secondly, what if I got a room but couldn’t get a job, or got a job but couldn’t get a room? I was torn. It was a nice thought not to have to go back to Birmingham for a few months, but it was neither practical, nor realistic. Deciding to stop being fanciful and just enjoy my break, I closed my eyes and dozed in the cooling breeze of the fan, listening to the sounds from the street outside.
Waking a couple of hours later I showered and changed, digging a fresh tee shirt out from my rucksack before going for a bite to eat. The little narrow lanes lined with shops and bars and restaurants were getting more familiar, and I enjoyed the gentle bustle. Finding a little takeaway place, “Miki’s Fast Food” I was soon tucking into my first ever gyropitta. Soft but crispy flatbread, spread with tzatziki with spit roasted, seasoned strips of succulent pork and a few chips on top, wrapped in a paper napkin. Oh my goodness, this was good. Strolling as I ate, I found a lane leading up and away from the main area. To my right was a bar called “Sunlight”. A couple of English lads, (who I later found out were Mark & Diamond), stood on the top of the steps leading up to the front door. One of them squatted down so we were at eye level.
“Pssst. Over here mate”
This was Diamond. He was a lovely bloke who always gave me the impression he was up to something. Then and there I thought he was touting for business for the bar.
I replied. He was laughing and I couldn’t work out why
“Na, come here”
He spoke as if we were conspiring.
“If you’re looking for a job, go to the Kalypso, tomorrow lunchtime and ask for Rip, and if you want a room to share, go to the 60’s bar 8 o’clock tonight and ask for Polly.”
Then he winked, got up and started chatting to a couple going into the bar.
Right then, so how did he know that I might even be thinking about getting a job, how did he know where I could get a job, and how did he know where a room was going to rent? How did he even know who I was? Bewildered I finished my gyropitta and carried on. Well, I thought, why not? I could check out the room, and if that looks ok, I could check out the job.
The 60’s bar was further up the cobbled street, and I made my way in, at the appointed time. There were a few customers sitting at the tables and a short, skinny little guy with a weathered face and feathered haircut sat at the far end of the bar, which ran up the left hand side. Behind the bar was a tall, bronzed girl with blond hair and crimson nails. She must be Polly. I had to speak loudly, above the music”
Internalising something, she shrugged her shoulders before flicking her head towards the guy further up the bar. I got the impression there was something going on but couldn’t quite work out what. I made my way towards him.
He jumped a little, kind of startled, but replied pleasantly enough.
“Yeah mate, that’s me”
“Been told to come and see you about sharing a room?”
“About a room? Me? Nah mate” He looked puzzled, looking at me looking puzzled. I was about to make my excuses and leave when he took on the look of someone working out a crossword clue. He shouted up to the bronzed, blonde-haired girl. “Caroline, oi, Caroline.” She turned and gave him a look of tiredness and despair, which for a fleeting moment, I found incongruous, until Polly said to her.
“Are you moving out?” She nodded. “When?”, he asked.
If he was surprised he didn’t show it. Offering a hand, he introduced himself to me. “Polly, Polly Pollard.” I told him my name, and he said “Yiorgos, that’s what it is in Greek. Yiorgy for short”. Polly was a brickie from south London who’d had enough being on the tools and fancied a bit of escapism. “Come on then, I’ll show you.”
The apartment was one of two rooms on the first floor of a small villa in the centre of the village. A shared shower and toilet had a small window looking onto an incongruous Chinese Restaurant. In the room there were two basic, single, wooden beds, and a wardrobe between them. One window looked out to the alleyway below, the other faced to the front, over a small patio area. It wasn’t great and I weighed up my options. I could pay full price for a couple more nights in the room I had, move on somewhere else, or take a chance.
“I’ll have it.” I had in mind what I’d been told about accommodation and reckoned if things didn’t work out, I could move on easily enough. “Where’s the Kalypso Restaurant? Going to sort out a job.”
Polly gave me directions then asked, “Been for your Aids test?”
“It’s not really an Aids test, it’s a medical card, need it to get a job. They do blood tests and all that. You got to get to Rhodes town before eight.”
“And the buses don’t get there in time.” we said in unison.
“Let’s go for a beer, I’ll show you around” he smiled.
A beer turned into a bar crawl. Polly was a mine of information, and I learned about the post office where I could collect mail, all about the telephones, where you would queue up, pay your money and stand in a booth to make your call in the OTE office. Every bar we went into he made a point of introducing me as a worker and his new room mate. “Worker’s discount” he said.
Every bar we went to seemed to have its own character. We started quietly, back in Jody’s flat, where 3 well coiffured lads were busy behind the bar, up to the Sunlight, then Lindos by night, a place called the Med Bar where the bottle twirling barmen must have walked off the set of Cocktail. Finally, we ended the night dancing on the tables in a very busy Manoli’s Bar. We’d had a good night, everywhere was relaxed, fun, and despite the partying and drinking, felt comfortable and safe. I felt I was going to enjoy myself here.
Next morning, I found the Kalypso restaurant. Entering a little archway into a courtyard I looked around. There was a kitchen to the left and on the right were some steel stairs leading to a rooftop terrace. In front were some tables and chairs set out by a large stone archway leading to an indoor seating area. The cobbled floor had been hosed down and was still wet and there seemed to be no-one around. I heard a noise, and a man came out of the kitchen. He was about my age, maybe a little older, a little shorter, and stocky with a rounded face. The small bald patch at the back of his head was a sign of things to come.
“Hi, I was told to come here about a job.”
He stopped and looked me up and down. “Waiter. You have experience?”
“Sure.” I lied. How hard could it be?
“You have medical card? We Pay EKA. Proper job.”
EKA was Greek national insurance. Some employers put you on the books and did everything above board, some paid cash, under the counter. The local police liked to check up on the bars and restaurants, make sure everything was kosher. They also like to keep an eye on who was working in the village. According to Polly, if they didn’t like the look of you, you were out.
“I’ll get it tomorrow. Need to rent a motorbike, recommend anyone?”
I could tell he wasn’t sure about me, and he thought for a moment longer.
“We have a cousin in Pefkos, Jack’s Rentabike, tell him Rip send you.”
To celebrate I went to Jody’s, got myself a beer, pulled my ticket home out of my bumbag and tore it into a hundred tiny pieces. This was easy, or so I thought.