Monday, 18 July 2011

New Writing Talent

I have enormous pleasure in presenting the following post to you, dear regular Rhodean Ramblers, because it's written by a good friend of mine who asked me what I thought of it. My response was to say that I think she has genuine writing talent as I found it tremendously entertaining and so, I hope, will you.

So here, for your enjoyment, is an installment from what I hope will become the first book by Victoria Anstee. It's called "Bed Bugs and Sweaty Armpits" and I'd love to hear what you think too. The action begins in South Wales and then moves on to Skiathos...

This book has been put together using the many journals we kept of each holiday in Greece, with extra “incidents” donated by my husband Phillip, who often saw a different holiday to the one I happened to be on and was also the chief photographer and was therefore able to help jog other memorable moments into my mind that would otherwise have been lost. Many thanks for his patience.   And kids……… hope we haven’t embarrassed you too much, and if we haven’t ……just you wait for the sequel!

Meet my Family
We’re a funny bunch, not a yummy mummy’s ultimate dream, not daytime-TV-asbo-wannabe’s but a pretty normal family (we think). From the first day we sort of threw our bunch together life has been fun – and at times a little stressful. We work hard and hopefully have instilled that work ethic into our boys. Nobody in “our lot” has ever been in serious trouble. We’ve done the football training, rugby training, anchor boys, boys brigade, swimming galas, chess club, science club, “I wanna guitar and be in a band” club – normal family stuff.
To start there is myself – Victoria Anstee – Vicky until I was twenty-five – then Victoria because I thought it was more grown up and then back to Vicky when my friends said I sounded like a pretentious snob. Lots of jobs and I hate housework with a passion. I have never pretended to understand my kids (they are boys and they smell) but I love them to death, as does my husband Phillip.

So, Phillip could write a book all about himself – he’s got enough stories of his own to tell, He lived the rock roll lifestyle before settling down (but I’m the one with a laptop so he can’t). Christened Phillip Gareth Anstee he spent his entire life known as Gareth (being a Welshman) until we came to Greece, not one Greek person we met could say his name without sounding like they had some nasty flem stuck in their throats, so he swapped to his first name and was duly known as Phillipos forever more.

Joshua “our” eldest. Phillips son from a previous relationship and raised by him (I joined in when he was 10). An only child until my tribe “invaded” he has grown to be a caring and confident man who we are all very very proud of and extremely grateful that being the first of our brood to hit puberty that he sailed through it without any purple hair dye, cigarettes (that we know of) or other parents knocking at our door.
Christopher (one of mine) Blonde hair, blue eyes, those angelic baby pictures tell lies! A little monster that I adore. At the time of writing my little angel has gone “emu”– sorry –“emo” I don’t approve of the black hair or earrings – but I’ve been told I’m “sad” and “don’t know nothing”(what beautiful grammar my children have) so I will shut my mouth and wait till he grows out of it.
And finally to Thomas, a quiet lad (not) quite reserved (not) very helpful around the house (you see were this is going?) I lie – Tom is a vivacious and social lad who never fails to make me laugh at least twice a day, the boy who at the age of four announced he wanted to grow up to be prime minister (the others wanting to be a professional rollerblader and roller coaster designers respectively). The first in our family to become fluent (well know more words than me) in Greek.

Chapter one
Picture the scene: bags packed, house spotless, excited children immaculately dressed, mum eager to start the family adventure, dad making final checks of doors and windows before our leisurely departure. Reality: mum frazzled and in need of a stiff drink (its 4:30am) eldest kids refusing to get dressed, youngest falling asleep, bags overweight (I only finished packing twenty minutes ago) hand luggage not done, fridge still full of food that you know will have become a species in its own right by the time you come home and will have claimed the kitchen for its own, nothing locked up and dad more concerned that he has packed enough cds to listen to (even though it means losing one persons hand allowance to carry his stereo).


 The house descends into darkness.
“What the hell is going on up there?”
“Nothing” choruses the youngest two.
Phillip runs upstairs to find the light fitting in the younger boys bedroom is now lying on the floor.
“Is wasn’t me” cried Thomas, “Christopher was hitting me with a pillow and it just fell down”
“I didn’t touch him, the liar,” protested his older brother “Thomas jumped off the top bunk and grabbed it and it broke”
“It was on accident,” sobbed Tom. (Everything was ”on” accident this year)
“For God sake you two just go and clean your teeth and then get downstairs!” screamed Phillip
“Vic, I’ll switch off the upstairs fuses and fix it when we get back”.
 I’m in too much of a panic over the thought of losing a passport before we get in the car to really care.

This is our first family holiday together. Phillip and Josh are seasoned travellers – especially in Greece. My children are unfortunate that they have never had a proper holiday (we were a day trip and picnics sort before meeting Phillip) I have not travelled since my weeklong school trip to Germany in 1986. So, not only am I extremely nervous about visiting another country I have spent the last month gathering statistics on how likely I am to die before we land at SKIATHOS AIRPORT. You may think that sounds rather over dramatic, but to friends and family alike we are known as the Welsh version of the Simpsons/Spencers (of some mothers do have ‘em fame), and if it can go wrong it usually does for us. My father arrives to take us to Gatwick, I will feel forever guilty that this poor man is having to drive us 5 hours to London, drive back, go to work, go home, pick up my mum and then drive to Scotland to begin their own holiday.

“Mum… close the window it's cold.”
“But I need a cigarette.”
“You’ve smoked five already and we only just gone over the Severn bridge.”
“Mum… Chris is sticking his elbow in me” whined Tom.
“I don’t have enough room, move over” moaned Josh, who is completely oblivious to the fact I’ve spent the last half an hour with a door handle in a place it was never designed to be.
“Will you lot pack it in?” snapped my dad “I’m trying to concentrate.”
Phillip continues to snore – the man who said he wasn’t happy accepting a lift and would rather drive-was fast asleep before we hit the Newport tunnel (20 minutes into our trip).

Airports are bewildering places. You cannot help being nosy, secretly hoping you will be the one to catch a terrorist or spot a celeb and get a photo on your phone before you have to switch it off. Instead you end up listening in to other people’s conversations and thanking God that you are not so common as to make such scenes at an airport.
“What’s the matter now? Right that’s it, I want to see your supervisor.”
“Yes darling I know, and now all these bloody tourists are causing delays and I have a meeting 20 minutes after I land.”
“Who is she to tell me my bags are too heavy? Don’t these people realise how many shoes you need on these hen weekends?”
“Well I didn’t have a problem bringing the chicken in from Delhi.”
“Come on shaz lets go get another pint of lager before we board, and you need to check your tan love cos its running into your sandal.”

Others look relaxed; their holidays have already begun.
And then there’s us. Do you think cattle feel this scared when they go to their “departure lounge?” Phillip is totally non-plussed. Joshua is hovering around the slot machines, Christopher and Thomas think this “is” their holiday and can they spend all their money in the gift shop? I’ve checked the departure screens thirty times in thirty minutes. Finally after what seems like a caffeine filled eternity we are called for boarding. I’m trying so hard not to be scared but a rabbit in headlights looks more chilled out.
Okay, engines have started; seatbelts are so tight I think I have a hernia; my mind is racing, filled with all the things that could go wrong. Damn I need the loo, never mind my bladder can wait till we land, sod DVT I’m not getting up. Is that the ceiling peeling in the corner? I thought it would be a bit plusher than this. Where’s my safety card? Do they ask us questions to make sure we read it? Oh shit, this is it, are we going backwards? I’m going to faint, breathe, breathe, and keep your eyes shut woman, don’t let them see your fear, think of the kids – you don’t want them to laugh at you.
“Jesus Christ woman! Gerroff me!” screams my usually placid husband.
The plane is silent. Everyone stares. Without even thinking about it I have grabbed Phillips leg. As a chronic nail biter I have no talons, yet I have managed to wrap my hand around his thigh muscle and squeeze so hard that I have burst the blood vessels and have left a perfect set of prints that CID would be proud of.
“I’m sorry,” I whimper.   
“Mum can I get my gameboy out yet?”
“Mum I need the loo.”
“Dad when the woman comes round can I have Pringles and a giant toblerone?”
I ignore everyone because the need to concentrate on my breathing so I don’t freak out far outweighs anybody else’s desires.
I turn to Phillip:
“When the woman comes around can you get me some alcohol?”
“I don’t care what it is, as long as it comes with a diet coke.”
Finally our descent begins. Why do pilots think that because they have a microphone at their disposal and a captive audience that automatically makes them comedians? They are here to do a job and they should just get on with it. Announcing five minutes before landing that you need 425 meters to land and the runway is 415 is NOT funny even if you giggle over the intercom.
The plane doors open and the heat hits me like I’m checking on a Sunday roast. Its only 26`c but it may as well be 46 compared to the miserable 12 degrees and drizzle we have left behind.
Being a small airport we quickly collect our luggage and head for the coaches, no rep in sight yet am I worried? Bloody right I’m worried, will I have to sleep in the terminal for the next fortnight cos I cant speak Greek and don’t know how to ask for help? Josh runs past me and clambers onto the nearest luxury coach, the nicest in the car park, rapidly followed by Chris and Tom.
“Oy you lot get off there!” shouts my husband, who promptly retrieves them.
“This is ours,” he says pointing to the “quaint” 1940’s heap of rust behind it.
As we pull away from the airport we all have our noses glued to the windows as we try to catch glimpses of the island we are invading for the next two weeks.

My husband thinks of us as ‘visitors’ not tourists, he likes to throw himself headfirst into his holiday, absorbing the culture, trying the food and attempting the language. He reads every guide book he can get his hands on to appear knowledgeable (usually resulting in knowing more than the islanders) and for a man who constantly lives by his watch suddenly adopts the Greek attitude of ‘siga siga’ and can often be heard humming ‘don’t worry, be happy’. I imagine myself as a young fresh-faced mum swanning around the Greek islands teaching my young the history of each destination (learning can be fun) whilst slowly acquiring a golden glow. I am not. I am a sleep-deprived wreck who has already burnt her forehead on her way from the airport who couldn’t care less about the scenery cos my flip-flops hurt and I need a shower from all the nervous sweating.
We arrive at our apartment. It’s a reasonably good choice. The hill is a bit steep, but that means better views. Having only one road stretching from one end of the island to the other we have chosen a resort in the middle therefore having equal travelling distance to either end (my suggestion). I make a quick inspection of our rooms. The brochure stated we had a sea view, and we do, if you put the patio chairs on top of the table, stand on tiptoe and wait for the wind to blow the pine tree to one side! I hide my disappointment though; we didn’t come here to stay on the balcony for a fortnight.

“Can we go in the pool?” scream the kids.
“No, we need to unpack” I reply.
“Yes you do” pipes up Christopher “but can we go in the pool?”
“Come on” says Philip, “Lets get something cold to drink and let them cool down”.

We traipse up to the pool and order drinks. I cannot swim and have a morbid fear of water (I’m starting to sound like a case for committal). I have tried very hard not to pass my fear onto the boys. Phillip and Josh are strong swimmers, Chris has had a few lessons at school; Tom has not. Chris protests that he can swim properly, dives straight in and he sinks like a stone. Josh goes into Baywatch mode and dives in to rescue him, Chris and Tom are immediately restricted to the kiddies splash pool. I cannot cope with this near death incident, and retreat to the apartment. I intend to unpack everything, but I fall asleep.
An hour later Phillip who is eager to start exploring wakes me. Under protest the kids are dragged out of the pool and we stroll down the hill to flag down a taxi. We all jump in to a brand new Mercedes looking forward to a leisurely drive to Skiathos town. Boy, were we wrong!
“Do all Greeks drive like this?” I whisper to Phillip as we swerve around a hairpin bend. Every corner was taken like a formula one driver, overtaking anything going slower than 70 miles an hour, oblivious to on coming traffic. I mouthed silently to the kids to put their seatbelts on. I was surprised he could even see the road for all the religious icons adorning the windscreen, and judging by his driving technique he certainly needed that amount. Within minutes we had been deposited on the harbour front. It’s a very cosmopolitan looking place and everyone looks rich! I feel like a tramp, already regretting leaving behind half my wardrobe in favour of my local department stores holiday capsule clothing; all khaki elastic waisted shorts and mumsy skirts. Phillip suggests lunch and everyone hungrily agrees. After finding a taverna and eating our fill we stock up on breakfast provisions and head back. Within fifteen minutes we are all in bed, another fifteen and we are all asleep.

The following morning we all awoke still feeling a little tired but looking forward to our first official day in Greece. The welcome meeting was being held at our complex so I dragged Phillip up to the bar.

“But welcome meetings are for tourists” protested Phillip.
“What the bloody hell are we then?” I puzzled.
“Look,” I said, “what will I do if something happens to you and I’m stuck here on my own? Please love, just humour me on this one ok”.

We sat through an hour of information we already knew, Phillip
huffing every time the poor rep told the guests something that wasn’t 100% accurate as stated in his guidebook, although he did shut up when she explained about the bus service (which we didn’t know). In fact, at the end she asked if anyone could guess her nationality and when my fantastically intelligent husband stood up and shouted the correct answer we were presented with a bottle of wine (She was Romanian).
Underneath the apartment complex was a mini-market and after a quick chat with the owners we let them hire us a car from a friend of his, unlike the other guests who had booked through the holiday company, the price was a fraction of what the rep had quoted and would be delivered to our door the following day. The deal done we decided to pack a beach bag, grab the kids and head for water. There was only one place Phillip had in mind; Koukanaries – one of the most famous beaches in Greece and ranked within the top ten beaches in the world.
Having only experienced the British coastline, it took my breath away to see such a long sweeping bay of golden sand and crystal clear waters in shades of blue that until that moment I always thought photographers had enhanced the colours for their brochures and postcards. Being terrified of water I refused to venture in any deeper than my knees and quickly retreated at the sight of fish swimming around my ankles, but the rest of the family were in absolute heaven, splashing around and feeding the fish the leftover bread rolls from lunch. A few hours was all it took for me to decide that this holiday was going to be the most relaxing two weeks of life, lying on my sunlounger, ice tea in one hand, book in the other whilst Phillip entertained the kids; sniggering to myself in a rather superior fashion when a rather loud British family was shouted at by a Greek man for littering and making them come back to pick it all up. By 5:30 the beach was almost deserted yet we had no inclination to move, we wanted to give the boys another hour of ‘burying’ each other in the sand to make sure they were worn out enough and hungry enough to agree with any of our evening plans.

“Arrrrghhhhh!” a piercing scream broke the silence.
“What the…” I thought, as I turned to see a sarong clad woman standing on a sunlounger just a few meters away.

There, listing to one side but obviously dragging its body in our direction, a mauled and bloody rat about the size of a small beaver (well – large). Having clearly been attacked by a cat this poor animal, with approximately 300 loungers to choose from, had opted to play out its final moments underneath Phillip. All maternal instincts thrown out of the window, I leapt several meters to the left, leaving my children exposed to certain death – well rabies at the least, and proceeded to mirror the other woman by standing on a lounger and squealing.

“Get rid of it!” I screamed.
“Don’t touch it” squealed the woman,
“Move it! Move it!” I yelled, the panic rising in my voice.
“Kill it!” screamed the woman.
‘God she’s changed her tune’ I thought.

Without a second thought for his own safety (What was it going to do? Jump up and rip his throat out?) my heroic husband grabbed one of the boys brand new fishing nets and scooped up the unfortunate creature whisking it away to a quiet corner. Picking up a large stick he hit it over the head to put the poor thing out of its misery.
The crowd of holidaymakers that had gathered to watch cheered.

“Hit it again!” shouted the kids “Hit it again!”
“Will you lot shut up” I hissed, the blood rushing to my face.
As Phillip deposited the now deceased animal into the nearest bin, I imagined Greenpeace arriving at any second to escort us from the island for animal cruelty.

“Did you see its eye hanging out?”  Relished Christopher
“Gross” said Josh, “but cool.”
“Mum, my new net is in the bin. Can I go and get it?” asked Tom.
“No! We’ll get you a new one.”
“Cool” replied Tom.
“Can we go now? I’m hungry.” said Chris.

My appetite had definitely disappeared.

The following morning we awoke to clear skies without a breath of wind and ate a leisurely breakfast on the balcony. Whilst Phillip organised the boys I went to get dressed. Opening the wardrobe door I came face to face with an orange dragon! Well ok, a big lizard, but having never been to Greece before and after the previous days events I wasn’t prepared to take any chances.
“PHILLIP!” I shouted.
“What’s wrong?” he puffed, running into our room.
All I could do was point into the wardrobe.
After five minutes of investigation Phillip turned to me and said “Are you sure there was a lizard?”
“I’m not blind you know.”
“Well it’s not in there now, you probably scared the poor thing away”
Feeling rather foolish I started to dress.
“OH MY GOD!” screamed Phillip.
Running into the kitchen my only thoughts were ‘Hah! The lizard must be in there! Now who’s imagining things?”
Instead, I find myself standing in a pool of water. Phillip had filled the sink to start the dishes and had left the tap running when he answered my screams for help. Before we even had a chance to turn off the taps there was a knock at the door. The cleaners had arrived. Dying of embarrassment we murmured ‘Kali Mera’ (good morning) rapidly follow by a ‘Signomi’ (sorry) but by the looks on these two women’s faces we didn’t expect a pleasant response. As the kids retreated into their rooms, Phillip attempted to take the mop off one woman but it was snatched back with a look of disgust at him from one and a pitying look aimed at me from the other. They whispered something to each other in Greek that we didn’t understand but had the feeling it wasn’t  ‘oh what a lovely family, we will really enjoy looking after this lot’. Quickly grabbing bags, maps and suntan lotion we ushered the kids outside to await our hire car, wanting to get as far away from the complex as possible before word spread of the calamitous family in room 5.
The front of the main complex building was awash with families all patiently awaiting their hire cars. Killing time, we stood and chatted with the owners, who being very proud of ‘their’ island, advised us on places to visit that were not on the usual tourist trails and made us promise to come back in the evening to tell them where we had been. Our gut feeling not to book through the rep was quickly confirmed as a correct decision, as a fleet of rusty small cars pulled up, all looking worse for wear, not one with a full compliment of wing mirrors, but a nagging feeling in the back of mind was screaming ‘if this is what they are getting – what about us?’ Families jumped in and one by one disappeared down the hill. We were left looking rather forlorn. The owners popped into their office to phone their friend and twenty minutes later a brand new, shiny blue car pulled up outside.
“Thank God for that” I whispered to Phillip, “I had visions of a donkey pulling a trailer”
Shouting our thanks we piled into the car and skirted the coastline, investigating small coves and then stopping for a picnic lunch. As I sat watching the sun tickling the sea the gentle breeze wafting over us I turned to Phillip and sighed “this is bliss, I’m so glad we came”.
The following morning we decided to head for Skiathos Town as we had only seen it by twilight so far. Wandering through the back streets we came across the local butchers. Now being from the UK we are used to scrupulously clean shops with hairnets and health and safety signs, so it was a little shocking to come across a spit and sawdust shop, a rather large man dressed in an apron that looked like something left over from a massacre and a huge old fashioned wooden chopping block so well used it bowed in the middle.

“Kalimera.” he gruffed through a haze of cigarette smoke
“Kalimera.” we replied, I’m keeping a close eye on where that fag ash is falling.
“We would like some bacon.”
“Ti?”      (what?)
“We would like some bacon.”
Great…he doesn’t speak English…. why do we always assume everyone speaks English? We are such a lazy nation when it comes to languages.
I forgot to mention that my ever resourceful better half used to be a butcher, and with this he proceeded to gesticulate which part of the pig we wanted and in extremely pigeon Greek explain that British people eat it between slices of bread.
The butcher burst out laughing.
“What did you say?”
“I just asked for bacon.”
“Then why is he laughing?”
“I don’t know.”
“Perhaps you said it wrong?” (I still to this day have no idea what he found so amusing especially when we later found out that bacon is bacon in Greek! – although years later I had a whole group of locals in stitches when I proudly announced in Greek that I had three cucumbers instead of three sons!).

We decided that bacon was a no go and pointed at some chops instead, and the butcher turned around and left.
“Huh? Where’s he gone now?”
“Perhaps he doesn’t want to serve us.”
“How rude, shall we go?”
As we turned to leave he promptly stepped back into the shop carrying half a pig over his shoulder and slammed it onto the chopping block.
“You did say chops and not whole carcass didn’t you?”, but my better half is on the ball and realised that this was much fresher pork than on display and the butcher had obviously taken a liking to us.

Cleaver in hand he started hacking away at the unfortunate beast.
“Stop!” cried Phillip.
With the amazing language of hand gestures and pointing Phillip proceeded around the other side of the counter and pointed at the cleaver and then himself. Puzzled, the butcher handed it over with a second thought…obviously amused at this turn of events, not a normal working day in any country I suppose.
With the dexterity of a surgeon he proceeded to carve 5 beautiful chops. The butcher roared with laughter.
“Bravo, bravo!” he cheered. (I am now blushing furiously…nothing that we do is ever normal – who goes into a shop and serves themselves?)
Chops wrapped in paper and a handful of other things from the cold counter (sliced cheese and a bag of frozen prawns – yes prawns!) we paid a pitiful small amount of money (£7) and left, Phillip grinning and shouting “efharisto” (thank you) whilst the butcher proceeded to light another cigarette and carrying on hacking at the pig in front of him.
A quick and uneventful (thank goodness) visit to the bakery and we drove back to drop everything off at the apartment.

With a handful of the prawns and ten ton of fishing tackle and rods we head for a tiny beach, so small it didn’t have a name. After parking on the cliff top we stumbled down the embankment, steep going down, even steeper going back!
Within twenty minutes Phillip had his first bite…”ooh” I thought, fresh fish for tea, as he proudly “hauled” ashore the tiniest fish I have ever seen. Not wanting to show my disappointment I shouted “yay” along with the rest of the family but quickly stuck my head back in my book while he cut up the poor creature to use as his next bit of bait.
“I’ve got a bite!” screeched Phillip.
I ignore him.
“Pass me a net quick!”
I still ignore him while the kids all run to his aid..
“Whoa!” gasp the kids in unison.
“Argggghhhhh” screams Phillip.
From the corner of my eye I see Phillip jumping away from the waters edge with his hands in the air. I prop myself up in time to see him wildly thrashing around with an OCTOPUS wrapped around his right arm!!
The kids are screaming, the few other holiday makers on the beach are all standing up like meerkats trying to see what all the commotion is, looking on puzzled as to why this guy is waving his arm in big circles shouting for help!
“MUM…MUM…come and help!” screamed Christopher.
Not on your Nelly I thought, ignoring him completely glancing around with the other holidaymakers pretending to also look for “mum”.
Minutes later a beetroot red Phillip appeared at my side clutching the now removed Octopus in a well-known supermarkets carrier bag.
“Why didn’t you help?” asked Phillip
I shrugged my shoulders. “Look at my arm” Big welts from the Octopus are circling his wrist.
“You will have to put some cream on that” I muttered. In a split second several tentacles fly out of the bag and wrap themselves around his other arm!
So tentacles firmly stuck, body still in the carrier bag Phillip is throwing his arm in the air again in circles trying to get the thing off while I sink deeper down onto my towel. Rushing to the waters edge he unties the bag with his free hand, the Octopus senses freedom, releases Phillip and with a huge squirt of ink darts away!
“Did you see that?” shouts one swimmer.
“Size of a dustbin lid” answered another.
“ I thought it was going for my face – but it wasn’t going to beat me” proclaimed Phillip proudly.
“Can we go?” I whispered, folding up my towel, “I’ve had enough for one day”.