Monday, 11 August 2014

While The Cat's Away...

Talking to a couple of friends the other day, Jilly told us a tale concerning a past visit to Crete. It made us smile and reminded us of just how much the culture here differed from that of the UK just a few decades ago, in the 1970's.

In chapter 13 of Feta Compli! I related the story of how my wife's cousin's husband went off with a few cohorts under cover of darkness to gather grapes to make retsina in a manner that wasn't altogether "kosher". Well, Jilly's husband Ted had a similar experience whilst they were staying in a modest studio in western Crete. Having visited the same accommodation several times they'd (as one does) become 'part of the family' that owned the rooms and frequently found themselves involved in activities that they hadn't planned. These were things that the landlord, his wife, or some other near relative had schemed up and - of course - Ted and Jilly would be doing it too, like they didn't have a choice. Well, the fact is, they didn't really.

Ted said that the landlord and a few other family members were planning a nighttime sortie to pick grapes for the making of Raki, that stuff that's so strong you could use it as barbecue lighting fluid. Ted was instructed that he'd be going to help out and, unlike yours truly who didn't want to sample Greek prison cuisine and so made my excuses and suffered the ridicule that followed, Ted just acceded, donned his fatigues and woolly hat, blacked up his face with camouflage paint and set off with the expedition. OK, so I may have exaggerated about the blacking up his face bit.

Aha! Said Jilly and her sister, since then men are off galavanting and we're going to be left alone for an evening, we'll have a G&T on the terrace, put on our glad rags and hit the local bars and discos.

A couple of hours later (you know women, eh? Yeah I know, dangerous ground, but you have to live dangerously now and then) they were all ready to set off along the street, party dresses on, high heels clicking and clacking on the paving slabs and make-up all sorted. They hadn't got more than three metres from the front gate when they heard the landlord, whom we shall call Stelios, calling out, "Where you going ladies?"

It seems that Stelios had organised the Raki expedition, but then commissioned his son Dimitri to lead it, whilst dad stayed home to read the paper and watch TV. Of course, as is so often the case during a Greek summer, folk can sit out on their terrace beside the oilcloth-covered table on which sits their drink, ashtray and possibly reading material, and watch the TV in the lounge from outside. It's cooler. It's only a simple matter of positioning the TV correctly and fixing the correct angle for the patio chair. Simples!

Jilly and her sister turned and gazed back over the oleander bushes to see their very protective landlord, now standing, awaiting their reply. "We're off out for a few drinks, maybe a dance. After all, the men have deserted us for the evening!" They called back.

"You WAIT! PLEASE!" Called Stelios.

"What on earth can he have in mind?"
wondered our heroines. They didn't have long to wait to find out. Perhaps he was going to come out and pin a lovely fragrant gardenia as a kind of natural brooch on each of their dresses, or was he going to thrust a card or two in their hands advertising some bar or other run by a relative. None of those.

After they'd waited five minutes while Stelios, who was probably about 70 years old, although pretty spritely still, ducked inside the house, he re-emerged in a white shirt, black trousers and his greying yet still thick mane of hair combed back with a liberal helping of hair cream to keep it in place and came out into the street where his female guests were waiting.

"I take you dancing!" Declared their host. He would brook no argument, although none was forthcoming anyway from his stunned charges, and set off with a woman on either arm, strutting for all the world like a cockerel in the chicken run. After a soft drink in a fairly sedate kafeneion, Stelios took the sisters to a taverna where there was a modest dance floor among the tables and a small raised platform in the corner, on which was positioned a whole load of sound equipment, chairs and musical instruments, awaiting their owners to come out and put them to good use.

Some time after 9.30pm the two-man band on the stage set off with gusto, playing a selection of old traditional Greek dance tunes and Stelios was one of the first on the floor. All the while he was ensuring that our two heroines were well supplied with drinks. He didn't ask them what they wanted, he just kept the lemonade, fruit juice and water coming!! There was no sign of anything alcoholic, much to the dismay of Jilly and her sister. After a first couple of forays out on to the floor he was dragging Jilly and her sis up too, both of which would have found it much easier to comply had they been allowed to imbibe a couple of G&T's first, rather than lemonade, water and fruit juice, none of which have the same effect at relaxing the brain's embarrassment muscle. Out came a white handkerchief and soon he was twisting and twirling, ducking and diving on the end of it while the girls walked around the floor behind him. Stelios was evidently quite convinced that he was showing the women a good, if somewhat dry, time.

At something approaching eleven thirty in the evening, after a bemused couple of hours, the two women found themselves once more on each of Stelios' arms as they walked home and he escorted them gallantly to their rooms.

"OK, good!" he triumphantly declared with a palpable air of relief too at a successfully accomplished moral mission, "Now you stay here 'til the husbands he come home! Kali-nichta pedia!" and he was off down the stairs to resume his position in the chair on the terrace, this time with a glass of Metaxa to keep him company.

Jilly and her sister were trying to work out quite what they'd experienced and came to this quite correct conclusion: In Stelios' mind it was most unacceptable for two women from under his roof to be venturing out for a good time in the evening unchaperoned. Shocking!! What would his neighbours say? What would be whispered behind the backs of other mens' hands across the dominoes game and the Ellinikos in the Kafeneion next morning? No way was Kyrios Stelios going to be a laughing stock, or to give the impression that he harboured the wrong types of women in his guest rooms. No, he was going to ensure that all passed off with decorum and no alcohol was going to pass the lips of his female guests whilst their spouses weren't around.

In the wee hours of the next morning, while both women lay in their respective beds reading crime novels, the two husbands could be heard scrambling up the stairs and thumping the walls in vain attempts to operate the time switches for the hallway lights. Jilly wasn't aware quite what happened next door at the time that Ted finally drummed his fingers on the bedroom door, but rising to open it to her fairly inebriated hubby, and watching him almost fall into the room with a sublime grin on his face and his breath reeking of something decidedly stronger than lemonade, she had a fairly good idea that a similar scenario was being played out the other side of the wall.

Ted managed a few lighthearted words, which much to his puzzlement didn't receive the expected response from his frustrated other half:

"What hoh, luv!! Bet you two mice had a damned good play while we cats were away, heh?"

..whereupon he fell across the bed and descended into a deep, contented, snoring slumber.

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