Just the other week and by the miracle of this web site I re-made my acquaintance with Richard, or Burty, or “The Lad” as we came to know him in those halcyon days of the 1970s when the sun shone all day, beer was thruppence a pint, you could get served in pubs even if you were only twelve years old, and drunk driving was obligatory after 11pm.
We met up for a celebratory soft drink in a pub that was in the middle of being redecorated, or maybe it always looked like that, and we spoke of the olden days in hushed tones, of how we travelled abroad to Grecian places that no-one else seemed to know existed and of taking just £50 spending money on holiday with you and coming home two weeks later with £30 of it still in your pocket.
And the instigator of this meeting was a collection of drawings that Richard had found in his loft, a diary in pictures of our holiday to Rhodes 33 years ago, each one scribbled upon an A3 sheet full of detail, a skit-taking record of the people we had met in that fortnight in May, and we both recalled each one as if it were yesterday.
Its hard to tell who drew which for our styles are very similar but one of us had drawn the meeting between a purveyor of crystal glass ornaments in the marketplace and an American pair of tourists, we had stood not two yards away transfixed with the argument between them as the American husband, resplendent in khaki shirt, shorts, desert hat and sunglasses had tried to convince the young Greek retailer that the ornament in his hand was a porcupine.
“No, ees hhhedge-hhhog” explained the Greek, who should know as he’d made it himself out of molten glass
“Gee no, its a porcupine” explained the American who could have come straight from a book entitled “One day all Americans will live up to the Texan stereotype”
“No, ees no por-cu-pine, ees how you say, hhhhedge-hhhog”
“No, its definitely a porcupine, look, its got spines”
“Yes, hhhhedge-hhhogg have spine too, ees hhhedge-hog”
“No, I’m telling you, its a porcupine”
“No, ees hhedge-hog, I make eet my-self”
“Well you made a god-darm porcupine young man…”
“No I make hhhedge-hhog”
We sat on a wall and watched the argument go around and around for ten minutes, and then we drew it for the history books…
And then later, back at our hotel we sat in the shade of the bar terrace and we’d listen to Norman and his wife, Norman a Lancastrian with the broadest Lancastrian accent you have ever heard and his wife who never spoke a full sentence for two full weeks but would instead repeat the last two words of every sentence that Norman issued, prefixed with a guffaw, just in case you missed it,
“Whoooff, missed it” is what she’d say, I won’t say that it was annoying, but we captured the image remarkably well in this drawing…
Norman, the man who knew Rhodes like the back of his hand, the man who had never been to Rhodes before until Thomson Holidays brought him there the day before you arrived, but Norman who had read every single tour guide on Rhodes ever printed and committed it all to memory so that if you mentioned anywhere he’d instantly reel off directions always starting with his wonderful mispronunciation of the glorious feature of that beautiful island, Mandraki Harbour…
“Did yer not know way t’stret o t’kneets o’ St,John, well tha goes Mandrankee ‘Arbour and tha tekks fust left, then thirrrd reet, then yer know that gift shop wi all t’lace towels, tha does, it sells tebbel cloths, aye that one, well tha walks street on and tha teks second reet then thud left, then tha catches number two bus for ten stops, then tha gets off an tekks fourth reet…”
Oh how those evening just flew by until finally we broke free of Normans guided tours and went for our nightly meal of steak simply because steak was the only thing we recognised on the Greek menu, we ate steak for fourteen nights on that holiday all paid for in luncheon vouchers provided by the Thomsons Holiday rep, each of which entitled us to a bloody good slap-up meal and as much wine as we could drink every night, and so thats exactly what we did even though it was several days later that we realised that we had not seen any cows on the island, the steaks were quite small, and there was no end of stray cats from which to select a cut of meat from …
Drawings loaned by The British Museum from a forthcoming exhibition “Rhodes, an imbeciles sketchbook” 26th March to 10th September, admission free.