Back in mid – July (which now seems like a lifetime ago), I went to Greece for a holiday.  Having made the decision to go, I also paid the extra however much it is to check in an extra suitcase.  Firstly because I always have a suitcase full of stuff for other people, and secondly because this time I was going for almost three weeks which means I also needed to take stuff for myself.  I had already taken a suitcase full in June when I went on a flying visit, but there is always plenty of stuff to take, and paying the extra £25 is cheaper than overweight at the airport, or sending stuff over.

There was an added dimension to the trip this year.  Unless you have been living in complete isolation with no access to the internet, newspapers, television or radio for the past year, you will have of course realised that Greece is currently a country ‘in Crisis’.  I use the quotation marks not ironically, but to emphasise that for many of us, it is just a saying.  We use the word crisis a lot.  We use it in all sorts of ways, and usually we are talking about something awful, and we tack the word crisis on the end of it and feel like we are attaching the gravitas it deserves.  The Refugee Crisis.  The Economic Crisis.  The Unemployment Crisis.  Greece is a country in Financial Crisis which in turn has led to other crises which are less well-advertised but no less real.  Either way, as I was leaving, the rumour mill and the international press were having a field day.  There were stories about how Greece was about to run out of money, fuel and time in no particular order.  People started worrying about how they were going to get from island to island if there was no fuel.  Rumours of empty shelves in supermarkets and shortages all over Greece had tourists planning holidays in Greece calling their hotels and asking if there was enough toilet paper.  In short, it was a dicey situation that needed clarifying.

Unwilling to rely on twitter, CNN and the BBC for information, and mindful of the fact that every day there were at least 20 new rumours about whether or not there would be a Grexit, if indeed Varoufakis was a Vulcan and not actually human (might explain a thing or two).  Did Tsipras really go to the Russians and ask for money so that he could leave the euro?  These wildly differing stories were coming out every hour on the hour.  It was impossible to fathom what exactly was going on over there.  I called family and friends.  They all said the same thing.  It’s fine.  There are no shortages.  Our credit cards are working. The shops are working. We are all at home all day watching our (German) televisions and waiting to hear if the banks will re-open, if we will be able to access our money.  If there is going to be a haircut across the board, and we will lose money to the government.

My parents who live there had been calling me daily to check if I was still coming.  I assured them that I was, after all it seemed evident that the one way to help out was to go over there and spend money.  Everyone I spoke to and the UK foreign office had recommended taking over lots of cash.  Although foreign credit cards could be used, not everywhere accepted them, and the people who were providing the services needed cash to continue to run their businesses.  I had done some research and went and ordered currency from the bank.  I was due to pick it up the morning I was travelling.

The morning of the trip to Greece, I started to pack.  I had everything ready, but had been really busy in the week leading up to the trip and so hadn’t actually packed.  (I can actually feel my mother’s heart rate picking up as she reads this – It’s ok Mum, I made it, don’t panic).  As I said earlier, I was taking two suitcases – one full of my clothes etc. and another full of all the things one can’t get in Greece such as  bin liners, olive oil and taramosalata (don’t ask – it’s a long story and it makes me cry).  I also had all of my niece’s birthday presents wrapped and ready. I unearthed my old suitcase and got it down from where it is stored in the laundry room above the door which involved a fair amount of manoeuvering, and filled it with the gifts etc,  The cab was due at 2pm so at around 10:30ish I went into the spare room to retireve my suitcase from the cupboard,  The high cupboards in that room all have push and release openings.  I stood on tiptoe and pushed the door in to release it.  It pushed in and stayed in. Shit.

I tried again hopefully.  Nothing.  I went into the kitchen, got the ladder and went to my room and got this long, pointed letter opener, and went back in to do battle with the door.  I climbed up, slid the knife into the crack (stop it) and teased, cajoled, twisted and forced.  Still nothing.

My chilled and relaxed morning was feeling a bit more pressured at this point.  I got a rounded knife and pushed it against the locking device hoping to release it.  No dice.

After about 15 minutes of trying to get the door open, I conceded defeat,  I looked around the house for another suitcase,  There weren’t any.

I could hear my sisters’ voices berating me – “We told you not to throw out the suitcases with the broken handles.  You could be using one of those right now…”

I got up on the ladder a further three times and tried softly and violently.  Nothing happened,  If anything the door seemed to settle stubbornly into a ‘Forget -it-mate’ position.  Nothing for it I thought, I will have to nip out and buy a suitcase.

I got dressed and went out and realised that it was a wet and miserable day and I was in a T-shirt.  I also realised that I had forgotten to bring some letters for posting, and my ID for collecting the euros at the bank.  I went back upstairs, got what I needed and came back down to leave as P was coming in.

“Where are you going?”

I explained the situation.

“Let’s try again.” she said.  I was all for not buying a new case.  I followed her back upstairs.

“Did you try using a knife?”

I told her that I had.

“Did you get up on the ladder?”

Yes.

“Did you really give it a good try?”

No, I gazed wistfully at the door wishing it would open and when it didn’t, thought what a lovely time to go out luggage shopping.  That last bit was in my head.  Aloud I said yes.

She climbed up.  She teased, cajoled, twisted and forced.

“It’s stuck.” she pronounced.

Basil Fawlty’s mastermind comment flashed across my consciousness. (“Next contestant: Mrs Sybil Fawlty from Torquay.  Specialist subject: The bleeding obvious”)

“Oh wait!” she said.  “Did you try pushing against the lock with a rounded knife?”

I told her that I had.

She had a go anyway.  It opened.

I took a deep breath.  Of course it opened I was thinking uncharitably, after I warmed it up for you.  This was like the time I tried to let myself into my brother’s house with his ‘sticky keys’.

“Hurray!” I said aloud.  “I’ll go and pack.  Thank you so much!”

Packing done, I went off to the bank to collect my euros.  They handed me a wad of cash in a plastic bag reminiscent of the ones you buy croissants in and heat sealed in much the same way.  When I got it home, I opened it and realised my mistake.  The bank in its infinite wisdom had given me loads of large denomination notes.  Very quickly I realised that I was probably not going to be able to use the notes.  Had I been going to stay at a hotel, it would have been fine,I could have paid my hotel bill with them and thought nothing further of it.  However, I usually spend my money on souvlakia and ice cream and handing over a 200 euro note to pay for a 2 euro souvlaki doesn’t go down well, let me assure you.  Anyway, these are first world problems, I gathered it all, put it in my wallet and off I went.

Armed with my two suitcases, everywhere I went, people were asking me –

“Are you going to Greece?  Which suitcase has all the cash in it?!”

It was all fun and games, but after the fifth person joked about it, it did make me nervous because the general (and correct) assumption was that people were carrying lots of cash on them and I was travelling alone.  Anyway, I worried about it for about 30 seconds and then got over it.  What could I do about it?  Worrying about it would just make me act squirrelly and nervous, and I believe that if you act that way you attract attention to yourself.

So I got to the airport in plenty of time and the first thing the check in person said to me after the obligatory which suitcase has all the cash in it, was:

“The flight has been delayed for an hour or so, we don’t have a gate number, just go ahead and wait in the lounge, we’ll have more information at 4:30.”

Great.  4:30 was the flight time.  Oh well, nothing for it, off I went into the departure lounge, through security with the people offering me plastic bags and not believing me when I said I had no liquids.

The guy in front of me at airport security.

The guy in front of me at airport security.

Sidebar – fellow travellers, please explain something to me.  It is rare that I am behind someone in the security queue that has never travelled by air before.  To me, this implies that people know the routine.  In other words, when you travel, keep it simple.  Or, if you can’t then  if you see a rotund woman behind you wearing pyjamas, please let her pass.  Because I am pretty tired of witnessing all the stripteases at the airport.  It’s an airport, at some point, you are going to be asked to pass through a machine that detects metal.  LEAVE THE CHAINMAIL AT HOME.  PLEASE! I mean I understand a watch and a bracelet or two (in D’s case about 20) but really, if you insist on wearing steel capped boots, a huge belt buckle, a watch, several bangles, big earrings and an iron beret, expect security to take a little longer than you anticipated.

Sorry, I had to get that off my chest.  Where was I?  Oh yes, I went to get a sandwich and something to drink.  There was a woman in front of me in the queue who was dressed as if she was going to a yoga class – an outfit I whole-heartedly approve of seeing as I know it is a) comfy and b) not likely to necessitate too much undressing at security.  She stood next to me, eyeing my baguette, crisps and water as if I had ordered the last wild boar at Obelix’s birthday party.  I smiled at her, and she turned her head away in disgust.  Wow, I thought, she must be really hungry if she is prepared to hate a total stranger because of her lunch choices.  She was buying one of those cartons of coconut water.  I stood in line, paid for my stuff, and wondered downstairs to have a seat and wait for the announcement.

After I had sat down, I looked up and realised that I had inadvertently plonked myself directly opposite the coconut water lady.  Great.  I thought about moving, but then thought there was no law against sitting anywhere you like in the airport and enjoying your lunch.  I noticed as I sat down that the chairs at the airport have been designed for the smaller behind.  Let’s just say I fit, but I also filled the space.  She had folded herself into the size of a small bird and was sitting cross-legged with her legs up on the seat and made hers look like a sofa.  For some reason this depressed me.  I reached into my bag and got out the sandwich and crisps.  I started eating.  Every bite I took made her flinch and roll her eyes.  It was getting on my nerves.  Again I thought about moving but I reminded myself that even fat people are allowed to travel (hear that Katie Hopkins?) and that there is no law about where you should eat.  Anyway if my food was offending her so much, she could get up and leave.  (I had forgotten to take into account that maybe the position she had gotten herself into was difficult to get out of, maybe that’s why she stayed.).  I finished the crisps and resisted the urge to tear open the package and lick the salt and vinegar off the packet.  I felt this might be considered too aggressively provocative.  Halfway through the sandwich, I closed it back up, and put it in my bag for later.  I started reading.

This is an exaggerated version of yoga bunny's position.

This is an exaggerated version of yoga bunny’s position.

About 5 minutes later, she started extricating herself from the yoga pose and she got up to dispose of her coconut water carton.  She lowered her legs to the floor, stood and sashayed over to the bin. And I mean sashayed.  The hips were going from side to side, the legs were crossing in front of each other, I half expected a half turn and look over the shoulder, or a hair toss.  I had had enough.  I got up and – having been in the same (seated) position for more than 15 minutes – limped off to somewhere else where I could be as large as I like without the disdain.  Whoever you are yoga lady, good luck to you, and when you decide you want a sandwich, I will make you one and not stare at you while you enjoy it.  I promise.

Anyway, they finally called the flight, and we boarded the plane. There was an empty seat between me and the guy by the window and I sent up a prayer that the flight wouldn’t be full.  I was out of luck.  A hand came out of the sky and stroked my back.  I looked up and saw an extremely tall blonde woman smiling at me.

“I will be sitting there” she said, pointing at the seat next to me.

I made to get up.

“Don’t get up yet.  I’ll be back.”

About 10 minutes later, just when I had started to hope that she had found a seat somewhere else, she stroked my back again.  I mean really stroked.  Like we knew each other.  Well.

I got up and she trailed her hand around my waist before shuffling into her seat.  I know this is beginning to sound like an erotic novel or the extremely vanilla gay version of fifty shades, but I can’t over-emphasise the level of caress I was getting.

I sat down next to her and started reading my book.

She was looking around and craning her neck to see two rows in front, where there was a woman and a young child sitting.  It transpired that the young child was her grandson.  She spent the rest of the flight asking the flight attendants to tend to him/take him something/ do something for him.  She dismantled her dinner tray and sent a lot of it over to the boy.  She shouted instructions over to him about how he should be sitting and what he should be eating.  Every time she moved her arm, she would almost hit me in the face.  Three out of every five times this happened, she would notice, put her hand on my breast and apologise.  I mean, I have never been so thoroughly and innocently felt up in public in my life.  Actually not even in private really.  The last person who got so close and personal was my osteopath.

I played the English card.  I mustered up my clearest English accent and spoke only in English. I read, avoided being hit in the face as much as possible and tried to sleep but again it is hard to sleep when you have a large older blonde lady stage whispering in your ear.

“Did you eat?  Bravo.  What are you doing?  Sit down!  The plane is moving!  What is it?  Do you want to go to the toilet?” She would put her hand on my thigh and twist around to see if there was a queue. “Not now, the trolley is coming.  Can you hold it? Good.  What did your Mummy eat?  Are you OK? Try to sit still you will disturb the other passengers …” The last bit was said completely without irony by the way.  Well you get the idea.  This monologue and the laying of hands on my person was the constant background to my three and a half hour flight.

I have never been more grateful to hear the “Ladies and gentlemen we have started our descent towards Athina Eleftherios Venizelos Airport….”

Finally, we get there.  I get up and she gets up straight after me and practically bullies her way in front of me.  I allow her to pass and absorb the tuts of disapproval from the passengers behind me in the queue.  At Athens airport, getting off the plane quickly makes no difference.  Passengers disembark from the front and rear exits and get onto buses which then take them to the terminal.  The buses leave when they are full and not before.  Pushing others out of the way to get there first makes precious little difference to the length of time of your journey.

Try telling that to the Greeks.  If there is a goal to be reached, then it is no fun to reach it if you haven’t trampled on a few people on the way.  And it isn’t always the young people taking advantage of the frailty of older people (although that happens a lot).  It is the old people who elbow you and stand close enough for you to start to feel claustrophobic and then stamp on your foot, smile at you and then go right ahead and jump the “queue”.  You’ll notice my use of inverted commas there.  Queue is not a word frequently used in Greece.  I mean we have that in common with a lot of places, but really Greek queues consist of a large number of people pushing forwards in a 8 person wide 10 person deep type of phalanx rather than single or double file.  I don’t know what it is except for the innate belief of Greeks that queues and rules can’t possibly be meant to include them too.

Old people queue-jumping reminds of a trip to Venice in my 20s.  We stood in line for hours waiting to visit St Mark’s Basilica.  A Northern couple were in front of us in the queue making out like they were alone in the world.  Two little old Italian ladies joined the queue between them and the  people in front of them.  This enraged the couple so much that they broke apart briefly.  “Hey” said the man.  The ladies looked up and smiled at him.  “Va bene, va bene.”  They said, smiling away.  Clearly the man had had enough of queuing at this point and wanted to get back to his mapping of his partner’s uvula.  He pointed with his thumb over his shoulder to the back of the queue and said: “No Va Bene Ladies.  Fuck off.”  (All this in a thick Yorkshire accent – it was fabulous).  The ladies fucked off and went two or three people behind us.  Those people were either Italian or too embarrassed to send old ladies to the back of the queue so they let them in.  These old ladies exemplify the Mediterranean culture for me.  It is the “Well I know there is a queue, but it isn’t for me” mentality that makes us who we are.  Annoying and adorable at the same time.

Anyway, as I was standing there, off-balance and leaning heavily against the person behind me (sorry mate), I asked the lady if she needed any help.  I asked her in Greek, forgetting that I had been pretending to be English throughout the flight.

“Oh, oh, thanks!” she said, reaching out and cupping my cheek , “Oh, yes please, you’re Greek!  You should have said, we could have chatted all the way here.”

I took down her case, handed it to her with a smile, and neglected to mention that that wasn’t an accidental omission on my part.

Travelling never ceases to provide me with fodder for these tales.  I don’t know quite what it is, but whatever it is, I am constantly surprised at how often I arrive at my destination and the journey has been as diverting as the vacation.

I shall have to travel more to work it out…

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