… very good practical reasons for choosing Greece when I made my escape in December, not least of which was the possibility of setting up my dummy company and bank account without a great deal of difficulty. However, my unspoken reason had more to do with a sort of romantic view of Greece, and this island in particular, which was partly due to a wonderful trip I took in my last year at University.
My companion on this trip was – let us call him Lionel Lazare (his real name included Monseigneur le Compte in front of it). Lionel’s family had lost its lands some three generations earlier and he was a penurious student like myself, but wielded an air of aristocracy in his every action. His height, voice, accent and bearing exuded authority. He genuinely felt that his position entitled him to jump queues on all occasions, to interface with shop proprietors rather than assistants and to run up bills and overdrafts without formality. He managed this, mostly, without causing rancour in those he inconvenienced. He would always pay his debts eventually, and in full, but he really did keep them hanging on for months or even years. He did his shopping in the very highest class of establishment. To his friends, he was exceptionally generous when he could afford to be. His company was always extremely stimulating.
Lacking the funds to fund our vacation properly, we gathered what money we could get our hands on, I forget how much, but it wouldn’t have kept the two of us alive in Edinburgh for the five weeks we were planning to be away. We hitch-hiked from Edinburgh to Athens in an astonishing five days, including a ghastly day in Yugoslavia when we got no lift at all, and a half-day stopover in Thessaloniki to sell our blood.
At the time, you could sell a pint of blood in Greece for an attractive sum – enough to eat modestly for a week. I’m pretty sure there’s a transfusion service now. I do remember that the process was horrifyingly quick. As a blood donor in the UK, you can be lying around for twenty minutes. I don’t know whether they tapped an artery or not, but my memory is that the blood was pink and foamy and the bottle was full in twenty seconds. Then a glass of peach juice and out the door.
We had numerous minor adventures with police and other officials, most of them solved by Lionel with that wonderful influence he always had over people he had just met. Something about his manner turned away hostility and suspicion, and encouraged co-operation.
We had originally intended to come here, to this very island, but money was short and, on another hitch-hiker’s recommendation, we took a short bus ride from Athens to a congenial beach and pitched our tiny tent. It was a blissful period, reading, talking, living from hand to mouth with bread, wine, olives, feta and other simple fare. We met and flirted with a pair of British girls who were living like toffs, comparatively speaking, in a local hotel and who smuggled rolls and bananas out to us from their inclusive breakfast. When Lionel and I argued, which we did frequently, it was about Books, Movies, Art, Philosophy, Law, Science – not day to day concerns.
We enjoyed it so much that we didn’t leave until our money was nearly gone, intending to sell blood on the way home again. For some reason, I forget why, we weren’t able to do so. We had about five pounds, our Channel ferry tickets, a loaf of bread and a jar of pineapple jam when we left Athens. Hitching was desperately slow on the way back, and it was two starving creatures who staggered off the boat at Dover and hobbled to a fish and chip shop for the treat we’d been promising ourselves since Stuttgart.
When you share a trip like that with someone and don’t fall out over it, you form a life-long bond. However, Lionel went to live in Canada after he graduated. We both married. We stopped writing.
But when Lionel walked up to me outside the newspaper shop in town today, the intervening years vanished, and we just talked as though we’d seen each other last week. All the private language you have with a fast friend came back. He is here on holiday with his wife. He, too, I think, is sort of re-creating our own trip, and finally getting here, just as we promised ourselves. Given that, our meeting here is not so very unlikely.
Being a fugitive, I’d planned, in the event that I was seen by anyone who knew me, just to deny my identity angrily and ignore them. It would be impossible, emotionally and practically, to do that with Lionel. So we agreed to have dinner at the posh place near the new marina tonight. I have to keep him away from all the people who know me by a different name. I’m happy to see him, but it’s a bit of a nightmare. I’m tempted to just vanish, but he’s here for a fortnight and he’ll turn the place upside down looking for me if I try that. I know what Lionel’s like.