Today I am delighted to be joined on the blog by Bev Spicer. Bev has written three fun books about her and her friend, Carol, and their youthful adventures.
First of all, I’d like to thank Sandra for inviting me to write a post for her Guest Blog. Very kind.
I thought I’d say something about a trip I made in an orange camper van (called Vanness) when I was young and carefree (there were no student loans to pay back in the seventies). So, here goes…
Whenever I think about my two years in Greece, living and working on the island of Crete, the memories come flooding back. Good ones for the most part.
Today, I’m starting at the end of my adventure in the land of deliciously oily moussaka and exquisitely ambiguous head movements (a Greek nod usually signifies ‘you must be joking!’).
On the day in question, I was in the shower, greatly relieved to have finished another punishing session of high impact aerobics to the accompaniment of the appropriately named, ‘Can You Feel it?’ at Physique, the gym I’d opened in a back street of Rethymnon with my friend Suzannah. I taught the dancey stuff with lots of ad-libbing, and had quickly become a woman defined by the size of her thigh muscles and her exuberant personality.
The night before, I had told Suzannah that I wanted to leave our island paradise as soon as possible. She wasn’t happy, but my mind was made up. I would lose my stake in the business, but I would regain my freedom!
So, I was in the shower at the gym – naked, obviously – when Mimi, a forty-something American woman, pulled the curtain to one side and asked me whether I would be interested in buying a VW camper van. Even though it was a situation I had never found myself in before, I was determined not to be bashful. It crossed my mind that perhaps such intimacy was perfectly normal across the Atlantic. So I pressed my flannel to my beating heart and said that maybe I just might be interested in buying a VW camper van – it would depend largely on the price. She eyed my nipples and said that she wanted £2,000 but was prepared to ‘dicker’.
Back at our picturesque semi-underground house, my husband (now ex+-husband) was as keen as I was to grab this new and unexpected opportunity to escape in a style not previously imagined.
Mimi was married to Eric (a devilishly good-looking man in his early thirties) and it was soon arranged for us to view the vehicle they had bought in London outside Australia House and which had toured them most efficiently around Europe for the past twelve months. It was orange with a green tartan interior and an elevating roof. It had heating, a cooker, a sink and a fridge. It came with a top-of-the-range chemical toilet, hardly used.
Take it for a drive, they said. Keep it for a couple of days. See how you feel.
I’ll admit that the first thought that crossed my mind involved taking the keys and never bringing them back. Of course, it was just a thought. Driving inland from Rethymnon, taking mountain roads and random turns, we were immediately smitten. Never mind the cute put put put of the lawn-mower-sized engine or the shiny plastic steering wheel that was big enough to turn a mill. We were up high, tootling delightfully, and listening to New Order on the fully-working cassette player, wondering how on earth we could afford £2,000.
The financial arrangements were indeed complex and required a great deal of trust on the American side, but there is no time to go into detail. Suffice it to say, we bought the van and set sail for the mainland, after overcoming a series of hilarious bureaucratic obstacles invented by the island’s Greek customs house (a uniformed officer composed a two-page hand-written essay in Greek in the back of my passport, detailing a most unusual vehicular transaction between foreigners – this was passed around the border control in Athens to hoots of jovial derision from the much more sophisticated customs police, who seemed to adore the curious idiosyncrasies of their Cretan counterparts).
The seas had been kind to us and we arrived at the port mid-afternoon on a glorious summer’s day in August. Driving in Athens was no different to driving in any other city, that is to say, hair-raising. I already coveted my VW and didn’t want to dent it. Mimi and Eric had made it a condition of the sale that I ‘drive real careful’.
We were in Athens. We had to make a stop.
Rethymnon: home for two years.
The hotel was third-rate. Our enormous room looked as though someone had just slept in it and barely bothered to smooth the covers on the rickety bed. The linen was sticky with heat (I hoped), and, worst of all, when I lay down and looked up, there were several strategically placed super-sized mosquitoes. Poised. Bugger, I thought, noticing simultaneously that the ceiling was out of reach, and that it would be too hot to sleep with the windows closed.
Glad this is not to scale!!
Doused in repellent, I sweated my way through the night and woke early to the sound of traffic outside our window. Kali flippin’ mera!
Let’s eat, I thought. The hotel was central. Finding food wouldn’t be a problem. Spanakopita for breakfast, and a fat, syrupy slice of baklava, served with thick Greek coffee and the odd chauvinist comment. Excellent. In those days, I was often referred to as koukla, or koukla mou (doll/my doll). Mimi always told me I shouldn’t worry – it was a compliment. In fact I should be grateful – it was better than being constantly mistaken for Eric’s mother.
Anyway, inappropriate forms of address aside, Mick and I were free and at the very beginning of our fabulous tour. Despite the collapsed drachma, we had saved enough to worry that we might be robbed. My cunning plan to stick a wad of cash inside the heating vent of the camper van was largely unnecessary, but reassuring at the time, except when I imagined it might catch fire.
But we weren’t flash. We were in our twenties and shabby-spontaneous. We wore tee shirts and baggy trousers or shorts coupled with a beaming grin. We dyed our hair blond and avoided brushing. No one would ever suspect us of having stashed cash in any kind of vent.
Athens was noisy, dirty and thrilling. And hot. We wouldn’t be there long. After breakfast, we decided to make the most of our brief stay and visit the Acropolis. It was walkable and would be a fab way to build up an appetite for lunch. There was no need for a map, as it was in plain view most of the time – a medium-sized rocky outcrop with a pile of ruins on top. Off we set.
Climbing in the midday sun was not a good idea. No one else was doing it, in fact. But the steps took the gradient out of the climb. Up and up we went. It would be worth it, we told ourselves. The ancient stones would impart the buzz of history, and we would float away, transfixed by the beauty of the statuary and the richness of the friezes.
I wished we had brought water.
Breathing heavily, we eventually came to the entrance, the Propylaea, with its ancient columns and impressive steps. Mouth-watering. What a start to our adventure! I dug into my bag for my camera. But, wait a minute, what was this? A chain, supported by two posts dangled a sign which read: Closed for essential repairs. Sadness and woe.
And, why, oh, why had they put the sign at the top and not at the bottom? Panagia!
We grumbled our way back to the hotel. But soon saw the funny side. We had been bitten to pieces in our hotel room and didn’t relish the thought of another night in sweaty sheets, feeling like bait. Not to mention the carbon monoxide poisoning drifting up from the street.
“Let’s get in the van and drive,” I suggested. So that’s just what we did – heading straight for Yugoslavia. After all, we were young, and didn’t appreciate the dangers of imminent civil war.
I’m very tempted to write a book about the journey from Rethymnon to Glossop. It would be fun. It’s been fun just remembering the start of it for this blog post. I might have to replace my ex-husband, though. Perhaps I could just pretend I was travelling with Sting? I’m sure neither of them would mind. After all, it’s only a bit of fun, isn’t it?
In the meantime, I cordially invite you to have a look at my Bev and Carol series, which begins with ‘One Summer in France’. It’s a humorous memoir about my university days. Best days of my life? You bet!
To purchase the first in the Bev and Carol series click here