The first night of our holiday together, and we thought we’d go for a stroll and a shop, if anywhere was still open. Walking along the narrow alleys, we made our way to the main thoroughfare through the village. “Think we’ll bump into anyone we know?” asked Jen. “Nah, it’s been a long time.” We turned a corner and there was Tsambika’s supermarket, and by the till, next to the doorway, looking exactly as she had all those years before, was Tsambika. “Hello Jenny” she smiled the way she did as her face lit up. “You come to stay or just holidays?”
While she and Jen caught up, I did some shopping. I loved the little Greek supermarkets, with the deli counters, all the cheeses and cold meats, the fresh vegetables, giant, juicy tomatoes and gnarled squashes.
Soon I had some essentials, including wine & beer. By the till was a rack with “Dolce & Gabana” and “Rayban” sunglasses for 4 Euro each. “They are not real you know” said Tsambika. We laughed and bought a pair each anyway.
As we wandered out of the little shop, we wondered out loud who else we might bump into from the past. As we did, I heard a voice come around the corner that could only be one person. “Ella Kiki!” I shouted. A head of long blond hair tilted back and turned towards me. Kiki, my friend Dimitri’s sister, was a tall, broad-shouldered woman, with a wicked sense of humour and a smile the size of a sunrise, except when the subject came to her father. “Yiorgos my darling!” She called everyone ‘Darling’. “You come to stay or just holidays? I just finish at the Kalypso. You come tomorrow? Tomorrow night.” She had a big sack full of tablecloths over her shoulder, and I promised we would come the next day.
We’d met two people, both of whom we knew, and we’d only popped out for a late night wander. The streets were pretty empty, it was late in the season and late in the day, but before going back to the apartment with our shopping, we decided to take a detour by the tree where we had first met.
The tree was still there, outside Il Sogno, ‘The Dream’. The bar had changed its name to the 404 bar, but the tree was the same, with a white trunk and a low circular wall around it. It was at the intersection of a few alleys and streets and had been a good place to have a beer and watch the world go by.
As we got nearer a man stepped in front of us, hand outstretched. “Yiorgos, Jenny, you are back!” It was Manoli, who had been the owner, a nice man, he looked older, greyer, but just as smart and welcoming as ever.
“How are you, how’s things, you still have the bar?” we asked.
“I have restaurant now, I rent the bar to Rob.” He replied with a smile. I’d known Rob since he first worked in Il Sogno as a barman. We peered in and there he was, shorn of the long golden locks he had sported, pouring cocktails, a crowd at the bar. “Go in, go seem him” encouraged Manolis.
This was unreal, we knew everyone we had bumped into in a few short minutes. We walked into the bar. It was dark long and narrow, the spiral staircase in the floor leading down to the toilets was still there and as we approached Rob he looked up and stared. The crowd at the bar turned round as one and a huge roar went up. “Yorgie!!”
Summer '92. The Sunburnt Arms
I’d given it another day, thinking about taking on the job at the Kalypso. Ultimately, although I wasn’t sure I’d get on with waitering, I wasn’t sure I wouldn’t. I had also paid a month’s rent, got my medical card and ripped up my ticket home. Walking through the archway into the restaurant courtyard, Rip looked over at me then away. A tall, slender man in a white collared shirt, and black trousers came down the steel stairs from the rooftop terrace carrying a tray, piled high with used crockery; plates, bowls, glasses, cutlery. He disappeared into the kitchen and Rip was nowhere to be seen. My mind had been made up for me.
Next morning found me lying on my bed in the dark, hot, sweaty, mosquito’s den of a room I shared with Polly. Buyer’s remorse didn’t quite cover it. My act of bravado with the ticket was eclipsed only by its stupidity. At least I was alone, Polly having gone to work, a luxury I would not be sharing. On the one hand I was relieved, it hadn’t taken me long to go off the idea of working evenings, on the other, I was now in a strange limbo.
I was on holiday, but wasn’t, I was going to be working, but didn’t have a job, or prospects. Money, of which I’d had more than enough to splash on a great time, now became a precious commodity to be guarded and eked out, if it was going to last indefinitely. A day on the beach, relaxing, enjoying a cold beer or two, an evening meal, a night out, the ingredients of a good time, the things I’d come to expect, instantly became accountable luxuries. Lying in the sweltering gloom, rods of light through the cracked wooden shutters lighting the wall above me, I decided. The room was paid until the end on the month, that would be my time limit, and I would only take a day-time job. Now I had a plan, a target, something to aim for.
My mood lifting, I pulled on my shorts and picked up my towel; I could still afford to swim.
I’d found a bay at the back of the village, St. Paul’s. It was quiet, secluded, and one of the little beaches had no umbrellas on it; but today I was going to go to the beach where the Rhodes Town Boats came in, the Small Beach. Polly worked there, at the Sunburnt Arms; I had promised him I’d pop in, say hello and meet the people who worked there.
The route to the Small Beach took me round the back of the village, through little alleys with tourist shops, down some stone steps on to a flagstone path. It was part of route to the Acropolis, built high on the rock towering over the village. Skinny donkeys led by men making jackass noises of encouragement, clattered along, bearing portly, sweaty tourists with big straw hats and cameras round their necks. A man with a long-handled broom, a large metal bucket on a stick and a flower behind his ear followed behind, scooping up donkey doo. At a junction they went up, I went down. Passing a small, whitewashed chapel with a tree in its overgrown yard, I could see out along the length of the Big Beach maybe 50 meters below, before passing some steps leading down to a bar with a large lemon tree outside the arched entrance. The Rainbird, strange name I thought to myself. Passing the last building, the cobbled path led to a steep incline with a sandstone rock face on the right and to the left an open view over the whole bay, the headland, and the sea beyond. I could see the Small Beach, a cluster of buildings with tables and chairs, sat down behind a short, but wide, golden beach. Umbrellas and sun beds dotted the sand and people paddled and swam in the shallow water. There were pedalos to rent and at the far end was a long, rickety wooden jetty, built over a rocky causeway. Maybe half a dozen tourist boats were moored to it, like fishes in a can, sterns to the walkway. Behind the walkway was a large wooden, floating platform, where a speedboat was ready for hire for water sports and parascending. I stood for a moment to take it all in, a couple of stone houses at the bottom of the hill, on the right, then a big covered, tiled patio, Alexis Taverna. Next was a little fast-food place, Phillips. After that was a smaller place, the Pallas Taverna and then, there it was, on the end, The Sunburnt Arms.
The Sunburnt was a two story, whitewashed building, with shuttered rooms to let upstairs and a shaded patio to the front with 8 or nine white plastic tables, overlooking the beach. Making my way along the mosaicked front, I walked into the gloom. Behind a short counter, pouring a lager from a chilled tap was a trim Englishman, about 50ish. A waitress came out of the kitchen carrying a couple of plates and I could see a lady and younger girl, cooking at a range at the rear. Polly was at the side, chopping tomatoes. “Pint of that, please” I asked as the chap. “Oi, oi” shouted Polly on hearing me. “It’s me roommate, Yorgy”. The women turned round, beaming smiles “Hello mate, welcome to the madhouse” said elder of the pair, while the younger one came up the kitchen, threw open the upright fridge door, pulled her top right up and thrust her body against the cold drinks cans and screamed “Fuck me. That’s more better” in a gentle, west country lilt. Polly introduced us; Cliff was behind the bar while his wife Rena and daughter Nat did the cooking. Alison was waitressing and Christine had the day off. “First one’s on the house, mate” said Cliff as he passed me a cold lager, condensation forming on the outside of the glass. I didn’t know it at the time, but that was the closest I would come to paying for a beer at the Sunburnt.
Taking a seat outside, Cliff joined me, opening a tin of small cigars, Café Cremes. As he lit one, a light breeze blew under the canopy and the glistening sun reflected off little wavelets on an otherwise calm bay. I took a sip. Only one thing better than a cold beer on a hot day, and that was a free one. “Where you working?” asked Cliff, drawing on his cigar. “Well,” I replied, “I was meant to be starting at the Kalypso, but…”. “He go Greek on you? Don’t worry boy, you’ll get something. First time out?” I nodded and took a sip as Cliff blew a long stream of tobacco smoke upwards. “Don’t get in trouble with the police. They’re bastards. Don’t get into any fights. Never, ever, have a row with a Greek. Don’t forget, we’re the Pakis here.” Fair warning, I thought. He finished his smoke and went back inside. I slowly sipped my lager, enjoying the shade and the breeze, as omelettes and salads, jacket potatoes and pork chops all made their way to the tables around me.
Cliff and Rena were Londoners, He was a former footballer, having played for Charlton before settling in Torquay. Lindos was the place they had come every year, and when the opportunity came up to start a business here, they grabbed it with both hands, bringing Natalie with them. It meant living on the premises, but in the morning or after work in the evening, there was no place better on the island than this little beach.
I’d just finished my drink when Rena stuck her head round the door. “Alright mate?” she asked cheerily. I nodded. “Cliffy says you’re looking for work” which was true, so I nodded again. “I got something. Might not be enough for you, hour a day, clean down the kitchen when we finish. Thousand dracks.” She had a cheeky way about her and I thought, why not. A thousand Drachma wasn’t much money but an hour wasn’t much time either. It would be something ‘till I got a job. “I’ll give it a go”. “Good” she replied, “See you tonight, 5 o’clock. Sharp.”
Setting off from the Sunburnt I took the back way, passing under a cool, shady, vine covered yard at the rear leading to another restaurant, Kiriakos’ Bouzouki Taverna, which sounded interesting. Sandwiched between it and Alexis Taverna was a small house, outside of which sat a wrinkled, weathered old, old man mending a fishing net. I took my time walking up the hill, contemplating my job. It would be hot, dirty work, cleaning up a greasy kitchen, scrubbing sinkfulls of plates and pans, cleaning the cooker, washing down tiles. I was sure it would take me more than an hour, but the going wage for a day’s work in a bar or restaurant in those days was 3500 Drachma, so nearly a third of that still wasn’t bad, the people seemed good, and I could legitimately call myself a worker.
5 o’clock found me back at the Sunburnt. People sitting, drinking, chatting, Cliff playing backgammon. Inside Rena swept the floor. The kitchen was spotless; everything was clean, put away, ready for the next day. I thought perhaps they had decided against giving me the job, but Rena looked up and smiled. “Right, mop and bucket’s in the cellar round the back, fill it from the kettle, OXI under the sink. Swap the bag in the toilet and stick it in with this bin bag, tie it up and take it to the bins round the back. Tip your dirty water out on the ground behind the bins.” This would take me 10 minutes at most. “What about cleaning down?” I asked her. “Nah, we do all that, like to keep my kitchen clean, I do.” She leaned in conspiratorially, and in her strong London accent, whispered loudly “But I finish at 5, and once you’re in ‘ere and the floor’s been mopped, none of ‘em bastards” nodding outside “can get me back in”. Kind of made sense. Then she laughed “and once a week my fan needs a lick”. “You dirty bastard” screeched Nat, appearing from a door at the side. Rena pointed up to the ceiling fan, whirring above us. “The blades get greasy, dust sticks to it, builds up, when it gets hot, slides off and sprays round the kitchen. I hate havin’ a dirty fan.”
20 minutes later I was done. Rena had a look around before giving me a 1000 drachma note. “Pour yourself a beer. Staff drink.” she said, before opening one of the fridges and pulling some plastics out. From under the counter, she took a couple of rolls from a lidded bin and began spreading them with butter. “Cheese ‘n’ ham alright?” She looked over “Staff meal, everyone working in my kitchen gets one.”
The days rolled by, into evenings, then nights, and on and on. I did get one job, on “The Building Site”. I think every able-bodied male who hadn’t found a job did at least a couple of days on “The Building Site”. It was up at the top end of the village, near the police station, just past the 60’s bar where I’d first met Polly and all this nonsense had begun. Usually, construction was carried out in the cooler months, when it was more conducive to labouring, and more workers were available. Not this job. However, a week of hand mixing cement, knocking holes in concrete with a hammer and chisel and moving piles of aggregate from one place to another with a long-handled shovel was enough for even me.
I met Jack Kerouac and William Faulkner at the tiny laundrette, which doubled as a lending library. Run by an American lady called Sheila, it was stocked with an eclectic range of paperbacks, left behind holiday reads with well-thumbed pages and wrinkled covers. Both men whet my appetite for adventure, rather than alleviate the long, stifling days.
We’d had a laugh at the Sunburnt, but I hadn’t found my reason for staying; the end of the month drew closer. More days went by, and more excuses I found for not wanting work that came up. Maybe inside I was missing home, perhaps I’d “done” this place and after all the sun and fun, it was superficial, like a hot Disney World with water and donkeys, and it was time to go. Perhaps this place was done with me.
Cliff and Rena had been kind, but I knew it was time. I’d decided to tell Rena that I was going at the end of the month. Polly would have no trouble finding a roommate, workers were sleeping on floors and courtyards, desperate for somewhere to stay.
I was about to tell her, when she came breezing into the kitchen as I was mopping away. “Oi oi, this here’s a job for you” she said with a glint in her eye, taking me to the door. A gleaming white motor cruiser was mooring up at the now empty jetty. It must have been about 50 feet long, with the name “CAPTAIN TAKIS” stencilled in large, bold, black letters down the side. “Barman on the Captain Takis” she laughed. “Not for me” I said. I didn’t fancy being a flunky on some rich bloke’s boat. “Trust me” she said, “You will fucking love it”. God bless my sweary godmother.
“Cliff” she shouted “tell old man Takis to give Yorgy a job”. Cliff looked up from his backgammon, looked round at the newly arrived boat, nodded “yeah, all right” then rolled his dice.
Five minutes later Takis made his entrance “Rena Darling”. He was a stocky man, maybe late 50s. Wearing a straw fedora, black speedos and a pair of white clogs, he had a large gut and hairy chest. On one arm was a tattoo of a ship’s wheel and he smoked his cigarette through a little green plastic holder. Natalie came from her room. “Natalie mmmmm” he spread his arms as if he were going to kiss her.
“Get off me you dirty old bugger, go on, take a cold shower. Look there’s one on the beach you can use. Down there.” Captain Takis laughed. Cliff came in. He didn’t beat around the bush. “You’re late this season, got anyone to work the boat?” Takis shook his head, Cliff carried on, “Yorgy here’s a good boy, give him the job”. I don’t think Takis had even noticed me in the kitchen at that point, with my mop and bucket. Looking me up and down he began to hum and haw. “Don’t mess about, give him the fucking job.” Said Cliff. Takis shrugged his shoulders. “Yiorgos, here tomorrow, 10 o’clock, we see.”