It was hot, very hot, in fact being August it was as hot as the Mediterranean gets and being the last into the airport building we were also the last to find our baggage and the last to find the Thompsons Holidays bus outside waiting to take us and 50-odd other tired, hot and flustered holidaymakers to our holiday homes and hotels, we got some very annoyed looks from our fellow passengers but Charlie being the big bumbling policeman that he was put on his best public charm offensive and we sneaked down the aisle behind him.
After 30 minutes or so the bus stopped in a very quaint fishing village and the Thompsons rep stood up and called our four names out, just us, no-one else. In fact the rest of the bus were going to the south of the island and we were the only Thompsons clients staying in Benitses, being that they only had the one villa there.
Once again we had to walk the bus aisle of shame, lugging our hand baggage behind us trying not to catch the back of anyones head with it and nodding nicely at the once more annoyed faces that turned to glare at us – when the bus stopped then the fresh air stopped, air conditioning was years off in 1980 and you only got a breeze from an open window, stop the bus and everyone gets very hot again very quickly.
The Thompsons rep was a lad the same age as us with a bubble perm, very popular amongst footballers and other posers of the time, he helped us with our luggage from the bus and then introduced himself as Dennis and walked us past the harbour and up a long winding lane lined with gorgeous little white villas with purple and red flowers bulging from window boxes, it was very quaint but all of us were thinking the same thing, how would we find our way back home at night when we’ve all had a few ?
Dennis explained that he rented an apartment in the next village and if we didn’t mind then he’d join us in the harbour front bars on a few nights, and then as we were halfway up the small mountain which backed Benitses village he turned a corner into a tiny little square with a small church in one corner and our villa opposite.
It was a picture postcard villa, perched high up on the mountain slope with one of the bedroom windows having an unopposed view right over the terracotta rooftops and the azure blue Mediterranean, around this window was a grape vine with the grapes in full bloom and ready for picking, it was so beautiful that it was corny.
Leading us into the villa we could see that it was a very simple dwelling, a hallway with one bedroom to the right and the bedroom with the beautiful view to the left, the hallway then widened out to a table with four chairs, fridge, sink and small cooker and a small bathroom at the far end, it was more like a short corridor with two bedrooms off it, but we didn’t care, we didn’t intend to be in here for very long, in fact we’d already spent too long in the place, there were bars down on the harbour and we were wasting time.
Dennis opened the fridge and showed us the meagre rations that Thompsons Holidays gave to all their self-catering clients, some cheese, a small loaf of bread, a few teabags, some coffee and powdered milk and a small packet of butter and another of lard, these two packages he picked up and laughing slightly told us to make sure that we didn’t mistake them, both were very white and the print on the packaging looked similar, “you don’t want to put lard on your toast in the morning lads do you” he laughed, we stared back at him as if he were a moron, who on earth would do that, what sort of guests do you normally get around here we thought.
We waved him off and he ran back down the mountain to rejoin his bus load of extremely aggravated holidaymakers, we stood in the hallway waiting for someone to make a move, the choice was the beautifully appointed front bedroom or the one at the back that had a shuttered window that faced onto the brick wall of the villa next door, two metres away.
Without any attempt at democracy the Burt brothers claimed the front bedroom and me and Charlie were consigned to the soul-less back bedroom, no worries, we were on holiday.
An afternoon and an evening of drinking beer ensued and as we retired back to our villa up the hill we could see that the villagers were accustomed to sitting outside in front of their abodes and chattering the night away until the early hours, we were right in the middle of the village and our square with the church in it was the main meeting point for other villagers who were out for a midnight stroll, the night was still young apparently and we were not supposed to go to bed yet. So we dragged the table and four chairs out of the villa and sat outside in the square with a bottle of beer each, waving at everyone who passed by. Charlie had brought a set of dominos and a peg board for scoring and we soon became the centre of attraction as we sat there at our outside kitchen table playing fives and threes, a game which apparently was not known of in Corfu as the villagers tried their hardest to understand how we were marking the game.
The following morning Charlie was up early and through bleary eyes and bleary ears I could hear him clashing around in the kitchen struggling to put a breakfast together until eventually he called us all into the corridor where he’d set the table for a breakfast of toast and coffee, not a bad effort from the few ingredients that Thompsons had left for us.
Richard was already sat at the table, he looked worse than I felt and was squashed into the corner with Charlie sat next to him, me and Steve took our seats opposite them and Charlie poured us a cup of coffee, “thanks mam” we both replied.
As I’d been on a sort of made-up diet before coming on holiday I was taking my toast dry, without butter, but I sat and stared at Richard opposite me who was clearly not yet awake, and struggling to butter his slice of toast the butter simply crumbling onto the bread instead of spreading nicely.
“This Greek butter is bloody awful” and his screwed up face confirmed it as he tried to eat his toast.
“Mines OK lad” Charlie replied as he stuffed another full slice in his mouth all in one go, the white butter oozing out from the corner of his mouth and running down his chin.
Steve was now struggling to butter his toast as Richard tried to eat another piece but spat it out
“I don’t like Greek toast” Richard proclaimed
“Charlie, where did you get this butter from” Steve asked him, the schoolteacher in his head trying to asses the situation properly.
“Its in the fridge, why” said Charlie
There was a long silence
“Are you sure its butter” asked Steve, prodding the white substance around on his plate
“Course its butter” Charlie was offended that Steve should question the validity of the breakfast
“Show me” demanded Steve and Charlie stomped across to the fridge and took out the opened packet of butter with the Greek writing all over it.
“Get the other packet as well” demanded Steve
“What, the lard ?” said Charlie, “You going to put lard on your toast” and he laughed but it wasn’t a very convincing laugh, he had his doubts now as well.
Charlie brought the unopened packet of lard to the table, Steve opened it, sniffed it, wiped a knife across it, rubbed it between his fingers then finally tasted it,
“This is the butter Charlie” said Steve
“Can’t be” said Charlie, “this packets got a picture of a cow on it” and he pointed to the original packet that he’d opened earlier
“Its probably beef dripping Charlie, that’s not a cow it’s a bull” explained Steve
There was a long silence as we all stared at each other absorbing this information, then one by one we all started laughing, except for Richard who was still staring at the half eaten slice of toast that he’d been given by Charlie, his face had taken on the expression of someone who has just unknowingly eaten dog excrement.
“How much lard have you had for breakfast Charlie” laughed Steve, tears now running down his cheeks as he looked across the table at his horror struck younger brother who was still only half awake and now wondering what the hell he’d done and whether lard on bread would make him vomit.
“I’ve had three slices, its quite nice actually” lied Charlie.