The Bitter Sweetness of Holidays Once Again

(Reading time: 4 - 8 minutes)

Packing and Unpacking

August came and, as we have done for years immemorial –barring those times abroad– we loaded up the cars and dutifully trooped down to our little cave (as such I view the mini-flat) at Porto Rafti. Jenny took the suitcases while I took the electrics and cats, with the other extras divided between us according to packing space available. On arrival, again according to prescribed tradition, we opened the cat boxes and let them dive under the settee, where they would stay for the next few hours until they’d sussed out the new surroundings and allowed their memories to recall that the new ambiance was cooler, smaller, and no more traumatic than the one they’d left.

Then, unpacking started – but did not end; as the fridge, now denuded of the two bottles of beer we always leave to celebrate the annual return, had little to soften our hunger pangs. So we trooped out once again, but this time to a favourite taverna; an exercise that, lubricated by enough ouzo - and a sense of relief at having finally left Athens without the sky falling on our heads - made us quite incapable of any further work and prepared us for immediate beddybies on our late return.

Next Day

The cat licked my nose. I twitched and turned over. The cat carefully moved over to the other side and licked it once again. I opened one eye. “Miaow!” said Sushi, a carefully modulated sound that conveyed several messages at once: first, I am hungry, second, good morning, and third -and most important – get out of bed and get my breakfast. All conveyed through one little miaow! Of our two cats, Sushi was the demanding one. Both sat on the bed after 7 am, but only Sushi initiated the process of getting me out of bed. Betty just sat there looking at me, in a demure, patient manner. Definitely the most ladylike of the two; and I often wondered if they had made a seniority pact between themselves with Sushi saying: “I’m the oldest of the two, I give the messages. OK, little Number two bitch?” But I was still sleepy. Screw the cat. I wanted some shut eye, so I turned over once again and pulled the sheet over my head. 

That flummoxed Sushi for about 60 seconds. Then, with a wriggle she was under the sheet and violently licking my nose again. “OK, OK, OK, I surrender,” I thought, as I mentally raised my hands. Pulling on my slippers, I tiptoed into the kitchen that periodically vibrated from Jenny’s snores. Thank the Lord for small mercies, she was still asleep and I could still have a bit of peace with my coffee. That is, after I had finished ministering to the feline digestion. Carrying the coffee over to the PC, I checked to see if it had finished downloading last night’s episode of the “White Queen.” It had. “Good,” I thought, “something to watch with my breakfast,” as I tiptoed back to the kitchen for some cheese and marmalade on toast. But then, Jenny awoke.

“Why do you always get up so early? I am on holiday, too, you know. You have absolutely no respect for my feelings. Oh, and while you’re in the kitchen check the floor for any cat vomit or hairballs and make sure you’re wearing your slippers. I don’t want to see any footprints on the tiles!” For a moment I wondered whether the footprints applied to me or the cats, then I returned to reality. “Oh, dear. I think my peace has just ended,” I softly muttered to myself, as I moved towards the kitchen. “That is, unless she goes back to sleep.”

“And go to the bathroom and put some deodorant on, you stink,” she added. “How on earth can you smell me from the other side of the room?” I retorted. “I have friends coming at 11 o’clock and I don’t want them to have to smell you.” “It’s 7 am and I haven’t had a shower yet. Please, just let me have my breakfast in peace, first.” She turned over and soon I heard her snores punctuating the silence. Luckily I had earphones to watch the White Queen (a historical play about the women in the Wars of the Roses) with my toast and coffee. Why is it that the older we get, the more women seem to want to rip their partners to pieces? Is the fact that our sex drives are moving down a few gears and not revving away like they used to? I’ve often asked myself this question, usually after a good reason to, but have never found a reasonable answer. 

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An hour later, Jenny again remembered she had guests coming at 11; and that we had nothing in the fridge. Orders streamed from her mouth as she raced for the bathroom, intermittently calling out additions to the voluminous shopping list that had to be completed before their arrival; and chivvying me vociferously for being slow and unable to write a list, wash myself in the kitchen sink (remember, she occupied the tiny bathroom), dress and do the breakfast washing up all at the same time. “Ha,” she snorted, “only a woman can multitask properly!”

Finally, we were both ready – Jenny to tidy the flat, me to do the shopping. I had no qualms at that division of labour and always preferred shopping alone. That way I could buy whatever I wanted personally without any loud comments as to what it was going to do for my waistline and cholesterol levels! I will always remember to my dying day the torture she subjected me to on one such expedition, when she ordered me to put a nice Brie back on the shelf, then continued a closer inspection of my basket. “And what’s this I see, paprika salami, German sausage, mortadella, bacon! Oh, we are doing well today, aren’t we – all high cholesterol,” she bayed, in a loud voice that could be heard all over the supermarket.

Other shoppers turned and looked at the lecturing matron, and some grinned sympathetically at me. I knew it had been a mistake to take her shopping. Shopping alone, at least I had the freedom to buy my goodies and keep the arguments for the house; when we could shout at each other over the kitchen table or, even better, hide them somewhere strategic I could get to when she was out. But here, in public, her lecturing was baring my most closely guarded gastronomic secrets to the eavesdropping ears of every other middle aged matron gathering ammunition to hit her unsuspecting spouse with, and also earning me the pity of all those other husbands wearily tagging on behind their wives.

Even worse, it was, concurrently, offering free lessons to the sexy, unmarried girls clandestinely whispering over by the perfume counter, of what to do in 40 years when they were looking for ways of offloading chagrin that the hero of their youth had turned into just another balding, slightly pot-bellied middle-aged guy that matched their over stuffed bosoms, well padded thighs and large posteriors! No, it was humiliating and I had mental visions of picking her up and stuffing her into the freezer, well hidden beneath the chicken, pizzas and succulent slices of pork belly!

No, I most certainly did not want a repeat performance of that episode. Besides, I had worked out a nice system for leaving whatever she disapproved of in the car; only later brought into the flat and hidden carefully. Her friends came, chatted, chatted and chatted, drank coffee, ate cake and did all those things a group of middle-aged ladies do when they meet, while I put my earphones on and continued watching another chunk of “the White Queen.” All of us were happy in our respective pursuits; and the ladies were so engrossed that nobody noticed when I sidled to the kitchen and made myself a classic summer cheese sandwich: Brie topped with tomato, cucumber and Branston Pickle; all slid gracefully between a foot long measure of fresh baguette, still warm and smelling of the oven. Ah, pure heaven!

Yes, summer holidays had started once again. School could be forgotten, bureaucracy cast into the attic and the days filled with sweet thoughts of swimming, eating and all those things we dreamed of doing when thinking about holidays, in midwinter. Then a cloud appeared. With the disastrous effect of the year’s most unwelcome and heavy taxation (to be added to the unwelcome of the previous year) could we now afford any of those dreams?


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