GET YOUR LAUGH­ING TACKLE AROUND THIS

The Victoria Standard - - Food / Lifestyle - GE­ORGE SMITH

While liv­ing in Lon­don, my friend David Hard­cas­tle and I planned a Greek hol­i­day. We de­cided to go for the en­tire sum­mer, start­ing in May and com­ing back when fi­nances ran out. I got us a cou­ple of cheap re­turn flights and in­vested in a pair of sun­glasses for the end­less sunny days in Greece where we in­tended to is­land hop. Thus equipped, we boarded a plane at Heathrow at the be­gin­ning of May and headed into the eter­nal sun.

We landed in Athens in the late af­ter­noon and headed to the docks to book pas­sage on a lux­ury liner to Crete. De­par­ture time set for 8 pm, we headed back into town to get some din­ner. Not that I have any rec­ol­lec­tion of what we ate, since the lo­cal beer was rather good. Thus for­ti­fied, we re­turned to the ticket booth/ram­shackle gar­den shed at the sched­ule time. Now, the chalked de­par­ture time read 9 p.m. but, be­ing pre­pared for any even­tu­al­ity, David and I had brought with us the largest bot­tle of Bac­ardi rum we could find. Now was the time to sam­ple it. The docks were strangely de­serted and, apart from the odd in­di­vid­ual wan­der­ing through, we were alone. We had a cou­ple of drinks, and maybe one more, as we watched boats ar­rive and tie up. As 9 p.m. ap­proached, the gar­den shed door opened and out stepped the ticket seller. He pointed at a large, red (rusty?!) hulk of a ship. This was our “lux­ury liner”!

As we boarded the ves­sel, so did lots of other peo­ple... and their farm an­i­mals. Chick­ens, sheep, goats, dogs, and a cou­ple of don­keys laden down with boxes or bas­kets. Ap­par­ently we were early for tourist sea­son and this was just the nor­mal means of trans­port­ing peo­ple and things be­tween main­land Greece and her is­lands in the Aegean Sea.

David found a cou­ple of benches on deck and pro­ceeded to make him­self com­fort­able for the night. I on­the other hand had an­other mission in mind. Since start­ing univer­sity, I had grown a rather ex­ten­sive beard, never trim­ming it or car­ing for it, just let­ting it grow and grow. Be­fore leav­ing on this trip, I had cut it back as much as I could, and it was now my in­ten­tion to shave the rest of it off. I rea­soned that by the time I re­turned, no­body would re­mem­ber it and the sight of the “new” me would not be such a shock. I headed down flights of metal stairs deep into the bow­els of the ship and, some­where near the cargo hold, I found a door with a small sil­hou­ette of a man on it. There was no one else in­side, so I chose a sink at the far end, got out my ra­zor and soap, and turned on the tap. I stood there in front of the mir­ror and took one last look at my beard, re­mem­ber­ing how much my mother hated it, how it had sig­ni­fied to me my en­trance into a bo­hemian world as an artist, and how had marked my tran­si­tion from a child into an in­de­pen­dent adult. I lath­ered up the soap and pro­ceeded.

The door opened and an older Greek man came in. One of his legs had been am­pu­tated above the knee and he was us­ing crutches to move about. I watched as he walked be­hind me and chose the sink next tomine, and I pon­dered the pos­si­bil­i­ties of de­sign­ing trousers for peo­ple with one leg. He had folded the ex­tra por­tion of pant­leg up and pinned it out of the way. He leaned his crutches against the sink and turned on the tap. He had a wash­bag with him and took out soap and a cloth, putting the­mon the ledge at the back of the sink.

I con­tin­ued to shave as my fel­low pas­sen­ger re­moved his shirt, then his shoes, socks, and trousers, and even­tu­ally stood com­pletely naked be­side me, prop­ping him­self against his sink. I now be­came more aware of the roar of the en­gines, the smell of diesel, and the sway of the ship. The flu­o­res­cent lights flick­ered and I started to feel claus­tro­pho­bic. We never spoke or ac­knowl­edged each other’s pres­ence. He washed him­self from head to toe, and I shaved. The odd­ity and yet com­plete nor­malcy of this, this pe­cu­liar im­age and my in­tro­duc­tion to Greece have al­ways stayed with me.

I fin­ished as quickly as I could, washed my face, cleaned the sink, and packed up my ra­zor and soap. I left­the room and as­cended the stair­ways to the stars and a large rum. The ship rolled through the night and, as the sun rose, I saw Crete ly­ing be­fore us, float­ing in the most beau­ti­ful turquoise blue sea. It was al­ready get­ting hot as we dis­em­barked, and we hur­ried be­tween the peo­ple and the live­stock and looked for a place to get break­fast. I could feel the sun on my face as I dropped the now empty rum bot­tle into the garbage con­tainer on the dock.

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