And so we partook of a coach trip to the west coast of Corfu to the place known to all as Paleokastritsa which is much easier to say when you are drunk, it was a trip recommended by the extremely camp Phillipe of Vlaseros Travel, a born salesman who promised the world on his tours around the island on one of his own big red buses, when I say extremely camp I mean this Greek makes Charles Hawtry look like Charles Atlas, I’m not sure whether it was the tight leather jeans or the sequined t-shirts that he wore constantly that gave me the idea that he might be a tad gay, but it was one of those things.
True to his word he did have two big red modern tour buses, a Merc and a Volvo, 60-something seaters and built to impress, and thrown around the islands mountain passes and serpentine bends by his trusted drivers, Tassos (his brother, not gay, I think) and Kostas (not gay judging by the number of girlfriends who he spoke to on the phone while driving), each trip through the mountains was like a fairground ride of hanging over precipice edges as you negotiated series upon series of 180 degree bends, close your eyes or take photos of your imminent death, its your choice.
Paleokastritsa was everything that Camp Phillipe had promised, the word “Beautiful” isn’t sufficient, Tassos promised us a good discount on a boat trip and being from Yorkshire and fond of a discount we followed him to the jetty where he argued for a bit with a boatman but eventually got us 10% knocked off, I smelled back-handers, in fact all through the day Tassos was on little earners here and there, there isn’t a tourist attraction on the island that the Vlaseros brothers aren’t earning from but here we are sitting on a little rowing boat, rocking gently in the bay thinking “What did we just agree to ?” and an old Greek man with a face as tanned and cracked as a walnut is guiding his boat towards a cave – this is a tour of the sea caves around Paleo apparently, I say apparently because he couldn’t speak a word of English, we’re on a boat trip to see something that our guide can’t really explain to us – hey we’re on holiday, who cares?
He sails right into a small cave and suddenly announces “HELLO!” and then “LOOK!” and he throws a bucket of water at the wall of the cave and we turn to look at it and he pronounces “VIRGIN MARY” and we all screw our eyes up and turn our heads from one side to the other but for all the world it just looks like a cave wall now with a damp patch where he threw the water and a bit of rock thats a different colour that definitely doesn’t look like the Virgin Mary, just a damp rock really.
We all point and say “Oooh yes look, the Virgin Mary” and whisper “Like bollax it is” and the old man is satisfied and reverses out of the cave for a short chug along the coast to another cave, where we repeat the process, this time its to look at some coral beneath the waves inside a cave, it looks an awful lot like seaweed to me but we all nod and say “Ooh yes look, seaweed, erm coral, look everyone, coral…” and in another cave he just shows us some fish who wait inside the cave every day until he comes along to feed them with bread, “Ooh look everyone, fish” is what we say to each other and then “I can’t believe I’m doing this” in a whisper.
Later Janice and I take our paints down to the beach and sit on the edge of the Ionian Sea, feet in the water and we paint the view of the bay, its scorchio today, around 100 degrees and this far corner of the bay is inhabited by foreign people who speak in a tongue that could have been Greek, or Italian or Bulgarian or even Scottish, couldn’t understand a word they said anyway.
We sat there for god knows how long, it was one of those times when you paint and you don’t even know how many days you’ve been painting for, foreigners kept looking over my shoulder but I managed to ignore them until one fat woman stood right in front of me blocking the view, pointed to the painting and said something in foreign-ese, “HELLO!” is what I shouted back at her, shouted as if I had “special needs”, shouted like one of those adults who generally have to hold another adults hand when they cross a road, she looked a bit worried and backed off – thats how we English controlled the whole of the Mediterranean 150 years ago – we just shouted at the locals and frightened them a bit by our “different” nature.
Eventually Suzanne dashed across the beach to find us, “Do you know what time it is ?” she asked out of breath
“No” we truthfully answered and frankly not caring less what time it was
“Its time to go, the bus is waiting for us” she said
“Bugger” is all I thought…
A highlight of the whole fortnight was sitting with my feet in the sea, painting.
And so Tassos whisked us up an adjacent hillside on a road that was only just wide enough for his huge luxury coach around bends that were definitely not wide enough for his huge luxury coach and at the top of the headland he halted in a small car park next to a monastery, “I’ll park the coach down the hill” he said, “because I often get blocked into this car park”, and then he changed his mind and parked in the car park instead only to get blocked in as predicted and spend half an hour directing traffic back and forth right down the hillside in a 3D version of those “Shuffle” games you get for free on mobile phones.
And something really weird happened in the monastery, the religious types all headed for the church where nuns were on hand to offer candles for lighting, its a religious thing apparently, nothing to do with a power cut or anything, you light a candle you say a prayer, it helps somehow, apparently.
Anyway, Janice recently lost her father and with her and Mary being of the catholic order (with a name like Mary, well, you do the maths) and so they lit a candle, hey ho, time to get back on the bus and watch Tassos shuffle cars and buses all the way back down the hillside as he tries to get his big red tour bus back down the mountain and while all of this is going on Janice suddenly screams out and holds her mobile phone for all to look at.
There’s an incoming call, the name display is “Dads Mobile”, no-one has used her dads mobile since he passed away.
She didn’t answer it and frankly neither would I have.
Freaky or what ?