GET YOUR LAUGHING TACKLE AROUND THIS
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.