“Taut , tanned and terrific” says Fiona McIlreavy in her recent comment from the other side of the world (greetings and thanks to her). Well – not sure that I can manage all that – more fraught than taut, and unless you count a peeling forehead and a few closely-grouped mosquito bites on my left foot, not actually tanned. But rested, refreshed and in very good heart for a busy, busy, month – new catalogue just out, London Map Fair, Olympia and all the other book-fairs next week, website to overhaul, article for an academic press to finish, a stint at the London Rare Books School to follow.
The wardrobe saga wasn’t of course entirely finished. A bit bleary-eyed, but we are up and about at 3am on the morning of our departure – cab to take us to the airport due in half an hour. I proudly don my new suit – and it’s only at this point that I notice that there is one of those big fat plastic security tags still very firmly attached to the right sleeve – you know, the ones they say you can’t get off without the proper deactivation equipment. Problem. Who knows what this will do at airport security if it can’t be removed?
Anne suggests a very sharp little hacksaw. I experiment with that, but you really can’t get these things off – all that’s giving way is the lining of the suit. Other devices are brought into play to no avail. Eventually we find – but I’d better be careful here, I don’t want to be responsible for an outbreak of shoplifting – let’s just call it a pocket-size “ implement”, I believe originally acquired by one of our daughters as part of rather hands-on school project. Unlikely as it may seem, the “implement” sheared through the tag like knife through butter, leaving just the two tiny holes in the sleeve made by the hacksaw. Relief all round. And then Anne notices that there’s another tag on the trouser seat. Trousers off and in pursuit of the “implement”, which has of course now disappeared from view in the mysterious way things do the instant you put them down. “Well, where did you put it?” The cab-driver arrives at this point to a scene resembling Whitehall farce.
Flight delayed by the necessity of removing a drunk from the aeroplane (at six in the morning?) Scary and unlooked-for bit of turbulence as we pull out of our descent to the airport to wait for a safer window in the tail-end of a heavy storm – but all seems fine once we reach the ground. A pleasant drive up the coast and we are there. Lovely apartment with a view across the bay, swallows nesting and starting to fledge on our balcony – time to relax with a good book.
It’s at this point that a critical point in our marriage is reached. Anne has downloaded her holiday reading on her Kindle – but the Kindle has not taken kindly to the journey. It declines to function. It’s broken. Il ne marche pas. Completely kaput. Possibly derailed by security scans – who knows?
I turn my back to compose myself. Obviously a perfectly natural guffaw is completely out of the question – even though the books-to- clothes ratio of my packing had been seriously challenged only hours earlier. A belly-laugh would also be inappropriate. Even a gentle chuckle could be dangerous. Hell – even the glimmer of a smile could be catastrophic. The temptation to murmur, “That’s odd. All my books seem to working perfectly OK”, has to be very firmly resisted. Tongue almost severed from biting back any kind of comment – but, really – you would have to have a heart of stone not to laugh. The tears of silent laughter are going to give me away – hasten to the bathroom to mop up. You would all have been proud of my admirable restraint. We are still on good terms (but let’s change the subject and head off to lunch before I crack up).
Greetings and hugs from old friends at the taverna down by the sea – a glass of retsina soon to hand. Time to enjoy. Days of idleness. We don’t do much at all, as we let the stresses ebb away. Swimming at dawn in the sea – at least for me – Anne bizarrely prefers the pool in the heat of the day. A trip up to the historic harbour at Kassiopi one day, sheltering beneath the old Venetian fortress. A jaunt up into the mountains through the ancient olive groves another – lunch beneath a stately elm tree in a quiet village. The distinctive Corfiot landscape, olive trees dotted with cypress here and there. The houses all apricot, ochre, terracotta – the paintwork the ubiquitous forest green. How delicious this all is.
The twice weekly boat across the bay to Kerkyra another day. Always a delightful town, especially lovable for the cricket green (a relic of the British protectorate) right at its heart. I’ve never actually seen anyone playing cricket here, although evidently they do – there are eleven teams on the island I’m told. I stroll out to inspect the pitch (as one does). I suspect I’d rather bat than bowl on this artificial mat, especially with those short boundaries square of the wicket. The threat to the parked cars and the line of cafes along Kapodistriou Street (Liston Square) would have the game banned in an instant by health-and-safety muppets over here.
Anne’s decided to go shopping in the narrow lanes. My offer of assistance is politely declined – well, not that politely – we all know my limitations on the shopping front. ‘Brusquely’ might be a better word. So I wander down by the sea to the archaeological museum, only to find that it is what is politely called “closed for renovation” for three years. I peek through the fence and it seems to be being demolished rather than renovated – again ‘brusquely’ might be a better word.
I return to Kapodistriou Street, where the Durrell family’s horse-drawn cab “shambled to a halt outside a doorway over which hung a board with Pension Suisse inscribed on it” all those years ago. And there we meet up for an excellent lunch in the square behind the town hall – the trees in flower (what is that lovely lilac one?) There’s even a wedding going on – oddly, an English wedding. We watch the photographs being taken outside the town hall. We watch the wedding party being seated a couple of tables away – but we can’t for the life of us figure out who it is that has just got married. It’s usually fairly obvious who the bride and groom are, but we had to ask in the end – and we had it all wrong. It was the nice young woman in the floral dress we asked who turned out to be the bride. Congratulations to her.
An excellent holiday – and our sincere thanks to you all.