I flew to Athens yesterday which brought to mind another flight to the same destination. I had decided to move to Greece about 5 years ago to see if I could become a ‘real Greek’ after being born and raised in the UK. Greek Greeks have a natural dislike and mistrust of Greeks who live and work abroad, but in particular, London Greeks are viewed with extra suspicion. I can only imagine it is because they don’t understand why people would voluntarily live outside of the motherland. All the conversations about living in Greece as opposed to London seem to go as follows:

“If you lived in Greece, you could be on a different island every weekend. The weather is so much better, it doesn’t rain as much, and even if it is cold, the sun shines.”
“Yes, but in London, I get the benefits of an organised society (efficient public services etc.etc.) And there are theatres, and the museums, and the cultural diversity… And if I want to island hop, I holiday in Greece.”

Both of the above are valid points. However, I am someone who has lived in the UK and (briefly) Greece, and I go to the theatre about once every two years (massively expensive) and to museums even less frequently. I also never left Athens when I lived here, but that may be because I was here during winter, and also because when you have a home on the island of your origin, you tend to visit there instead of being adventurous. I do know many people who avail themselves of all of the above. The truth is, both places have their merits and disadvantages. After 3 months of a harsh English winter, I have been in a T-shirt since I got here, the sun is shining and it is a balmy 20 degrees. I cannot express how important the sunshine is to me, I often say that I am solar-powered, and the lack of sunshine in London is a major source of depression for me. Still though, for me the deciding factor was that I felt like a fish out of water in Greece, whereas in the UK I am in familiar and comfortable territory. Also at the time, all of my immediate family were in London and I missed them something awful.

I have to say that my quest to be a ‘real Greek’ was probably doomed from the start. I am from an island, and I don’t eat fish. I don’t eat olives, or taramasalata, neither do I eat seasoned offal wrapped in goat or lamb intestines (kokoretsi) so it was already fairly obvious that I am a failed Greek. Still, I thought I would give it a go, after all, I speak the language, have a place to live and family and friends there; it seemed more logical than say Tashkent or Djibouti. I found work before I went although I should have been more concerned when I tried to talk about my pay and the comment was:
“Ok, ok, we can discuss all that other stuff when you get here…” (A sign of things to come if there ever was one.)

Anyway, I set out one morning in January. The irony was that I started work on a specific date, and had to be back the following weekend to celebrate my parents’ 40th wedding anniversary. So my two sisters, my brother-in-law and my Mum took me to the airport. There were tears and a ridiculously over the top farewell which never fails to make me laugh whenever I think of it. I won’t describe it here, it’s not the point. The point – what was the point?

Oh yes, the flight. I boarded the plane at Heathrow and the man in front of me (big gentleman, around 60 years old) started flirting slimily with the flight attendants. I shuddered inwardly. I hope he isn’t sitting next to me, I thought. (See tempting fate)

Sure enough, he came and sat next to me. Well not next to me per se, but on me. He lifted the armrest and rested his not inconsiderable frame onto half of my also not inconsiderable frame. Movement was not an option for me after that. He looks over casually and stars to chat. Now, I like chatting just as much as the next person, but in an enclosed space with a creepy weirdo? Not so much.
I tried everything. I put on my headphones, feigned sleep and considered feigning a heart attack or a stroke, but was worried they’d turn the flight around.. All my hints went untaken and he carried on with the chatter. It wasn’t the kind of chatter you can just tune out either. It was the kind which requires a response and – more to the point – the response he was looking for. The conversation went from small talk to this-guy-should-be-electronically-tagged very quickly.

The small talk revealed that he was 58, (which I obviously was made to guess – I hate that. Why do people ask you how old you think they are? I always get it wrong). His name was Hercules. He was single. He had been married, but while he was away at sea (he was a merchant marine) his wife died and no one noticed until the smell drifted out into the corridor. The comment after that was:
“You can’t imagine the time and effort it takes to get rid of the smell. I had to throw out some furniture let me tell you. Not to mention the red tape.”
My jaw dropped.
He didn’t skip a beat.
“I’ve had girlfriends since, obviously, but I’m only dating people I meet through friends now. The last girl I went out with was a witch. A calculating, money-grabbing unfaithful bitch.”
I am still making like a fish at this point.
“She cheated on me. On me! Do you think it’s that easy to find a good boyfriend like me? I know how to treat a woman. My wife never lacked for anything. Everything she wanted she had.”
Except a husband present enough to notice when she snuffed it on the couch, I thought.
“Anyway, this witch/bitch was all sweetness and light, but then I discovered she had a second mobile. I read her messages and she had been sexting and meeting up with this trucker whenever he passed through town. Can you believe it? You just cannot find decent, honest woman these days, don’t you agree? “
I nodded helplessly.
“Anyway, I showed her what for.” he said. “She’ll never cheat again, that’s for sure.”
I gulped.
He continued:
“She’s just lucky I didn’t drive her up into the mountains, sort her out with my friends and leave her for the bears.”
At this point I was wishing there was a parachute under my seat instead of a life jacket. I would have jumped. Had I heard correctly? Had he just told me that his former girlfriend was lucky that he hadn’t taken her up into the woods, beat on her and gang raped her with his hunting buddies and left her for bear food? Was he expecting me to congratulate him on his restraint?
I had heard correctly. There was a slight pause while I absorbed this information. He turns to me conversationally and says:
“Are you married?”
Here is what I should have said:

“Yes, I am married to a wonderful 6 foot plus man with a black belt in karate.”

Here’s what I actually said:

“No.”

What can I say? Hindsight is a bitch.

He switched from sociopath to smoothdog:

“You should give me your number. I could take you out to some nice places. Nothing fancy, but nice. We could get something to eat, drink a few cocktails.”

I threw up in my mouth a little.

“How come you aren’t married already anyway? Do you have problems or something? You must be in your 30s right? What’s the deal?”

“Er – haven’t met the right person.” I mumbled.

“Give me your number.” he said.

Self-preservation kicked in.

“Sorry I don’t have a Greek mobile,” I lied desperately, “Why don’t you give me yours and I’ll call you?”

He gave me his number. “Don’t forget to call me” he said. “We could have a good time.”

Then he burped loudly and looked around. There were empty seats behind us and he got up to lie down. I remained where I was, waiting for the numbness to leave my leg and side where he’d been crushing me. The flight attendant came over.

“Are you alright Miss? You look distressed.”

Where were you 20 minutes ago? I thought wildly. I answered, “No, I’m ok now, thanks.”

He didn’t bother me for the rest of the flight or return to his seat. At the end of the flight as he passed by, he said:

“Call me. Don’t forget. Hercules.” holding his hand up to his ear as if he were talking on the phone.

Well I haven’t forgotten him.

I also haven’t called him.

The next weekend I was flying back to London when I saw him with a friend at Athens Airport. I hit the ground as if I had been shot. If he noticed a trolley moving without anyone pushing it he didn’t say anything. Fortunately I haven’t seen him since.

And that is how I came to have the number of a psychopathic lothario called Hercules in my phone.

All this does is illustrate my theory that I attract weirdos like moths to a flame. What is it about me? I know I have one of those tell-me-all-your-problems faces. Ordinarily I don’t mind. I like listening to people, finding out what makes them tick, learning about them etc etc.

I get that sometimes it’s nice to unburden yourself to an impartial stranger.

And sometimes – you meet an asshole of Herculean proportions.

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