Our O-level book was My Family and Other Animals written by Gerald Durrell, describing his upbringing in Corfu between the 1st and 2nd World Wars. The book describes a subtropical heaven. Despite the fact that it was a set book I actually was persuaded that it would be a good place to visit.
So there we were, everybody was telling me the thing to do was to book last minute with a company and you got a great deal. I was happily just married and the year was 1982. So I booked last minute to go to Corfu. The flight was guaranteed but the accommodation was unknown. Everybody said you got upgraded to great places.
So it sounded good as my wife and I jetted off to the south. We got up at 4.00am to fly to catch the flight from Birmingham. It didn't seem to be a big deal then. How times change! We arrived on a Sunday September the 20th and got on the package bus. It dropped us off at this place that looked like a mud hut painted white. A plane flew over and you could count the wheel nuts as it made the final approach into Corfu airport. We went in, there were several rooms off a corridor and one bathroom/toilet.
We went into our room which was a basic white box and threw our gear on the bed, which promptly collapsed. The room reverberated again to jet engines as the next plane approached. This happened about every 2.5 minutes. The flight path clearly ran 20 feet above this hovel and this was a busy day. On examining the bed it was made of a wooden frame with planks of wood laid horizontally across and then a mattress thrown on top. The problem was that the planks moved because they weren't fixed in any way whatsoever. Always resourceful, I decided what we needed were some tools and I could fix it. Now Corfu Town on a Sunday was not the diy centre of the universe. In fact there was nowhere at all you could buy anything. Everywhere was shut. So we went back and then tried to forget everything by going out for a meal.
We wandered down to a local Greek taverna who catered for tourists with Greek dancing. We met a couple and got chatting. They smoked and I'd given up. Unfortunately the hovel we were staying in, the jets and the general state of the place persuaded me to accept a cigarette, and then another. By the end of the evening I was drunk and hooked on tobacco, again.
The next morning, hungover, with a sleepless night behind us I made the decision to quit the hovel and find somewhere better. First off we had to let the holiday rep know, which we did. She didn't seem to find it unusual. Then we had to find somewhere to stay.
The only mode of transport seemed to be motor scooter. So I hired one, we took our belongings with us and drove round. Corfu had a fair few nice large hotels but they had all been booked up by the tour companies. So we had to find somewhere else to stay. There were bed and breakfasts around in truly authentic Greek houses run by old Greek women, who resembled witches. This was too truly ethnic for us.
Having driven for miles asking and looking we came across some rooms, which had an ensuite of sorts (the sorts being that you weren’t meant to flush paper down the toilet) and decided to take up the option. I must admit that it rankled having paid once for accommodation to have to pay again. The rooms had a cafe and we ate chicken in the basket every night and heard their one tape of the Eagles greatest hits every night.
So we had landed. We had a scooter and the world of Corfu to explore. We drove around the island on our scooter. One beach we decided to explore was a couple of miles down a sandy track. The scooter had an engine that was prone to stopping when it felt like it. To overcome this problem was a matter of taking the main jet out of the carburettor, cleaning it and replacing it. The engine felt like stopping half way down this track, at noon under a blazing sun. The sweat poured out of me, making the whole process trebly difficult. I had never realised how impossible it was to do anything in the full glare of the sun.
One of the beaches we explored was a nudist one. There were some guys who had obviously been their all summer. Their skin was almost black and the texture of leather. Even there it felt weird swimming with nothing on.
One day we decided to visit the neighbouring island of Paxos (now Paxoi). This required a significant ferry crossing and the ferry started early. To get there we set off early in the morning on the scooter. The only problem was that, because it was early, dew continually formed on my glasses. Helmets weren't much about then (and they weren't even mentioned when we hired the machine) so the choice was complete blindness wearing specs or partial blindness due to my myopia without. I chose the latter. I don't think my wife knew the risk we took. Paxos at the time had about 3 cars and one bus, and was wonderfully peaceful and idyllic.
Wandering around Corfu town we came across the church which Gerald Durrell had described as the church of St Spiridion. He described the ceremony where the faithful were allowed to kiss the feet of the saint. Margot, Geralds sister does and is ill for a couple of weeks afterwards. We stood in the queue waiting to move forward into the staircase where we we would process single file past the bones of the saint. Outside the weather was blindingly sunlit, inside the church was dark and heavy with incense. The faith of the Greeks was evident and their devotion total. We felt like people from a different planet. Our curiosity was fighting with the fact that we were insufficiently pious. Or to put it differently we were heavily spooked by the whole process. We moved with the queue forward step by step. There was coming a point of no return - once we entered the stairwell we would have no option other than to come face to face with the bones of the saint and kiss the air above his feet (there was no way that either of us would have actually really kissed his feet). The tension grew as we approached until at the last possible moment I chickened out and we fled, with as much dignity as we could muster.
There was a beach where they did water sports and the one that looked most dramatic was parascending. I plucked up courage for the last week and I went along and paid the entrance fee. You went out onto a pontoon platform moored a little way of the coast. They strapped me into some kind of harness and that was it - no instruction no nothing. They hooked on the rope and the speedboat set off. The idea was that when you saw the rope about to go tight you ran down the pontoon. It all happened too fast for me. I was yanked off the pontoon down into the sea by the boat. I was towed under water for a distance before the parachute lifted me into the air. Once round the bay we went as I gathered my breath looking down at the world. Then as fast as it started the boat cut it's engines and I was floating down. The first hundred feet or so were very relaxed. Then as I neared the water the world got to normal speed again and I plunged into the sea. Somehow I'd done it