It is a depressing fact that any Mediterranean coastal resort served for any length of time by package tour companies will become just like any other Mediterranean costal resort. So it was with Hersonissos, where the main street consisted of a repeat of the following sequence (with occasional variations) of shops: taverna, car/bike hire place, excursions place, souvenir shop, jewellers, super market. Typically these were all identikit places, except down by the seafront where the tavernas gave way to more “clubby” bars plus the ubiquitous Irish pub.[/B]
Most of the jewellers did not display prices, suggesting that they were happy to barter. Now, I am happy to barter over the price of a shirt or something I buy on a regular basis, but would you barter over the cost of a bracelet that could cost anywhere between £80 and £2,000?
The souvenir places all seemed to sell the same stuff: beachwear, football shirts, t-shirts with corny slogans and so on. For what it is worth, the only English clubs whose shirts featured in these shops were Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool. Some shirts came with the number and player name pre-printed. Who were the most popular footballers? Ronaldinho and Frank Lampard. Fancy that!
We did find one little cloth shop (and bought a table cloth from it) and a book shop to break the monotony, plus a few clothes shops. Mostly, however, it was “Southend-syndrome” where all shops of a similar kind sold similar stock at similar prices and thus relied on happenstance to win custom.
Old Hersonissos, which was within walking distance of our apartment, was a little more interesting; at least it had the benefit of old buildings and twisty alleyways to provide a bit of interest but it consisted mainly of tavernas plus a smattering of local craft shops including, bizarrely, one shop run by Chinese who were selling silk cloths and such like.
Talking of Chinese, we had a Chinese meal in old Hersonissos which ranks as one of the most mundane we have ever tasted. I know it is odd to go to Greece and then have a Chinese meal but the kids are fussy eaters and fancied a Chinese. Besides which, the Chinese who settle in different countries each end up developing a different take on Chinese cuisine; the one we went to clearly thought anything too spicy or flavoured was a bad thing, with the result that the food was largely tasteless. Or maybe they did not have access to monosodium glutamate? Lin’s chow mein, bizarrely, consisted mostly of shredded cabbage.
A somewhat more memorable meal was held on Mrs. Fiendish’s birthday. We walked the length of old Hersonissos looking for a suitable restaurant – ideally one that served lobster which, for some reason, the kids were anxious to have. Perhaps Paul Oakes had taught them his “always order the most expensive thing on the menu” restaurant policy.
One restaurant in particular caught her eye because it, in my words, really should have been located in Essex. It was big, brightly lit, with lots of classical-style statues, hanging vines and lanterns, whilst the waitresses were dressed in ancient Greek garb, even down to the laurels in their hair: completely over the top. This, of course, was the restaurant we ended up in, on the basis that it was the one most likely to have lobster available. This proved to be a shrewd piece of analysis on the part of Mrs. Fiendish as they did indeed have lobster available, and we ended up sharing 2 between the four of us. One was plain, the other cooked in garlic.
Given that we had ordered unusual dishes, the restaurant owner asked if it was a special occasion, to which I replied that it was Mrs. Fiendish’s birthday. This resulted in him recruiting some English girls from another table to sing happy birthday to Mrs. F. at the end of the meal. Unfortunately, he also treated us to some free champagne; I say unfortunately because neither I nor Mrs. Fiendish like the stuff and we subsequently found out that it makes Mrs. F. ill when she drinks it (well it has on the last two occasions, and given that she never drinks more than a mouthful of the stuff we can be fairly sure it is not over imbibing that is causing the illness). By this stage of the evening – 12:30am or so – we were exhausted and desperate to get home to bed, but the legendary Greek hospitality kept us there for another 30 minutes as the kids were treated to complementary ice creams whilst the parents participated in about 10 minutes of hand-shaking, hugging and salutations with the staff. Still, it was a good night, and despite its naff affectations, the restaurant was pretty good. The waitresses came and cleared away crumbs and other detritus between each course and after the lobster dish they appeared with a jug of warm water – I thought they were going to bathe my feet for a minute but, sadly, no – the water was poured from the jug into a small bowl, where we were encouraged to wash our hands.
Tell me about the scuba diving
In contrast to previous holidays where we spoke about doing something adventurous and then never bothered booking anything, on this holiday Mrs. Fiendish was determined we would do more than just sun-bathe and get sloshed.
Now, given we were in the cradle of western civilization, and given that I won a prize at school for being the best student of Greek literature (from a field of …. oooh, 30 students I should imagine – the award was easily on a par with Best Pipe Cleaner Modeller), you might imagine that our activities would include visits to the Minoan palace and the remains of the labyrinth at Knossos. However, for some reason, seeing these remains had little appeal to me and I imagine even less appeal to the kids. Instead our excursions involved doing something active: scuba diving, horse riding, sea fishing.
Number two son wanted to do scuba diving and though I have never been that interested in the idea it wasn’t totally repellent to me, so we booked an introductory session for the morning and a monitored dive from a boat in the afternoon. Mrs. Fiendish and number 3 son, meanwhile, lounged nearby on the beach.
Before we did the training we had to sign a waiver form. There was one section that caught my eye, pertaining to people over 45 years of age (guilty). The long and the short of it is, if you have high cholesterol or a history of heart disease in your family then you can only do the training if you have dispensation from your doctor. (There were other pre-conditions but these were the ones that applied to me, in as much as I have high cholesterol, my mother died of a stroke and my father had – as the old joke has it – acute angina).
So, naturally, when completing the form I lied about this but it did put the wind up me a bit, as it dawned on me that the activity might be a bit more dangerous than a gentle swim in the sea.
We were then shown a safety video, detailing all the things to remember about scuba diving which, so far as I can remember, boils down to the following:
1.Breathe through your mouth
2.Press one button on your jacket to increase buoyancy
3.Press a different button to decrease buoyancy
4.Learn how to clear the regulator by sending a blast of air through it (best done by saying the word “two” into the mouthpiece)
5.Don’t hold your breath. Even if the regulator is not in your mouth, keep breathing out bubbles of air.
6.Don’t go any deeper until the air in your lung, nose and throat is balanced. “Pop” your jaw in order to do this.
7.Various hand signals to aid underwater communication
After the video, we were kitted out in a rubber fetishist’s dream outfit and taken out to a fairly rough sea for our training. I must admit, I had expected to learn in a swimming pool. I had real problems putting on my fins (flippers) in the sea and had swallowed half a pint of extremely salty sea-water even before I got down to the serious business of diving.
There then followed a spell of learning to breathe underwater through the regulator. This was easy enough and I quickly got to grips with breathing only through my mouth. Before I knew it, I was guided down to the sea bed where my ears felt like someone had placed my head in a vice. I was busy trying to remember how to balance the pressure in my lungs and head, all the while experiencing inordinate difficulty in balancing on the sea-bed. I’d like to say it was because of the rough sea but number 2 son seemed to manage it all right; I was flopping about like a rag doll. The instructor kept placing me upright, and tightening various bits of equipment, and once I had achieved an upright status it was time to go through the drill of practising clearing the regulator. This entailed removing it from one’s mouth, then reinserting it, then spitting the word “two” into the mouthpiece. I did all this, but evidently not well enough because my next breath through the regulator consisted mainly of sea water rather than air. My immediate reaction was to spit out the regulator and hold my breath. The tutor quickly placed the regulator back in my mouth and proceeded to start flicking V signs at me. “Well you can fuck off too!” I thought to myself, instantly forgetting that two fingers held up meant “clear the regulator by spitting the word ‘two’ into the mouthpiece”. I signalled I was in some distress, and he brought me gently to the surface, where I coughed up sea water. I then mentioned I wasn’t enjoying this very much, and he responded “Not for you, huh?”. Now, I hadn’t intended quitting when I surfaced but he seemed to be inviting me to do so, and I took up his invitation.
It was probably a seminal moment in number 2 son’s life, where he proved more adept at an “adult” activity than his Dad. Or maybe it was a seminal moment in my life, where my athletic prowess was easily surpassed by a thirteen year old boy, though to be honest, ever since the day my then 10-year-old son beat me in a 100 metres sprint at a cubs’ sports day I’ve had no illusions about my nigh on extinguished sporting prowess. Or maybe I should stop watching re-runs of “The Wonder Years” and acknowledge that life is not always accompanied by an interior monologue.
(Actually, I think number 2 son was more chuffed about beating me at St. Petersburg on last year’s holiday).
Number 2 son completed the morning course but ducked out of the second course. He didn’t find diving that interesting either, even without the salt-water diet. The scuba diving people were fantastic about it (they were almost all Germans of a distressingly Aryan manner) and gave us a full refund for the afternoon session. I suspect a British outfit would have taken the view that we had paid for the afternoon session and it was our own fault if we were too wimpish to go through with it.
The deep sea fishing proved more interesting. I have never fished in my life, so was largely expecting this to be a glorified sea cruise for me, interspersed with periods of me taking people’s eyes out with my fish hooks, but I really enjoyed it. It helped that the boat had some sort of gizmo (sonar? radar?) that told it where the fish were, and so even the most incompetent fisherman (i.e. me) managed to catch something, though once again number 2 son comprehensively outdid me.
We finished the day with some snorkelling (much better than scuba!) whilst the boat owner barbecued some fish on the beach. The fish tasted excellent and I consumed all of it except the head and the skeleton. This I chucked over the side where it was picked clean inside 40 seconds by a whirling ball of fish.
I didn’t actually do the horse riding. That was an activity for Mrs. Fiendish and number 3 son. The latter proved very adept and with his diminutive stature might even have a future as a jockey, were it not for his complete inability to get up in the morning and his addiction to chocolate spread sandwiches and other junk foods.
Part III to follow, sometime