The Jelly Baby

Our hotel in Theologos, Rhodes is great. It is small, in the midst of olive groves and fields, a short walk to the beach and has a very mixed international crowd. Our first morning is the one where I discover I have definitely still got chemo brain. The adaptor we bought is not for Europe but for the US. (When I get home and put our passports away, I find a perfectly good Europe adaptor sitting snugly in the same drawer). I have forgotten to bring beach towels. My much-loved Fitflops decide this is a good moment to break and, having only brought a pair of trainers with me, I am without sandals in a country where the weather is touching 30 degrees. Not a good start. Our hotel has a tiny shop, though, where we can buy an adaptor and beach towels – Spiderman for me, butterflies for Mr Mason. We are partially sorted.

Watching our fellow travellers is always a joy. We have a large group of ladies from Liverpool. Ladies of a certain age – probably in their late 40’s but acting like they are in their 20’s. They are the first to crack and ask me about my lymphoedema sleeve and glove. The least raucous lady touches me on my shoulder at breakfast and says “Are you English?” I confirm I am and she asks about the sleeve. “We thought it might be something to do with the sun and we’ve been saying ‘Look at that poor girl'” she says with a ‘poor you’ face on. I explain what it’s about and she latches onto the word ‘cancer’ and I think that is all she hears. After that, the Liverpudlians give me a ‘poor you’ face every time we meet which gets a bit wearing. At karaoke night (we stay up late because we think it will be like a slow car crash to watch) they are enthusiastic in their singing which gets more and more out of control in time with the amount of alcohol they are drinking. By the time they come to their last song – Perfect – some of them forget to face the screen and one turns to the audience to shout “I don’t know what this is. How does it go? Where are the words?” A very unlikely singer is the retired man with a moustache who gets up early to sing ‘The Wonder of You’ to his wife. Very cute. We also have a man who seems like an X-Factor reject but he likes himself a lot, probably more than the audience does. He pronounces loudly on what he thinks all week.

As we sort through the other guests, matching up who goes with who, we are left with an odd one out. There is, and I’m sorry to say this, a Fat Ugly Kid. I suspect every hotel has one of these and that there may be an agency churning them out at vast profit. At each meal, we see him eat nothing. No breakfast, no lunch and no dinner. Except when there is jelly for dessert when he has several helpings. The only thing we see him eat are crisps from a huge bag. We wonder who he is with. Sometimes he sits in the restaurant alone with a bread roll in front of him which, obviously, he doesn’t eat. No-one seems to be with him and he sits with different people at other meals. We are confused. Eventually Fat Ugly Kid goes home and we watch him board the coach with an assortment of other guests but we still can’t make out who is his mother/aunt/grandmother. It’s quite sad as he doesn’t appear to have had any affection shown to him or been played with. Fat Ugly Kid lives on jelly and crisps.

Other guests are Russian, Dutch, French, Italian and German. Complaining loudly over his beer one night, a man from Nottingham says he doesn’t like the foreign people. He says the hotel is swamped by Russian mafia. Mr Mason gives me a sly glance. “If they are Russian mafia”, he says, “they are not doing very well.” He also knows I look like a Russian mafia hit woman in my passport photo. I am sure some of the Dutch people are swingers. They are very friendly and, of course, speak perfect English but I am sure they are swapping their hotel room keys at night. OK, this is all just pure nonsense but it entertains me.

We decide to get the bus into Rhodes Town to remedy the sandal disaster. Getting the bus there is easy as it pulls into the hotel car park at 9.30 every morning. We wander around the old part of the town which is beautiful and stumble upon a shop that sells exactly what I need. No more Fitflops but a leather pair of sandals which fit and feel comfortable from the outset. This is perfect. There are plenty of cats there who are friendly and who we pet, only to discover later we have been bitten by fleas. Getting bitten by anything on the arm I have lymphoedema in is a big no-no but I restrain myself from scratching and they don’t become infected. I have antibiotics at the ready just in case. Getting back from Rhodes Town is entertaining. We ask at the bus station kiosk what number the bus to Theologos is. “I don’t know” says the woman, smiling. “It will be here at 4.30.” So we wait and discover that the buses don’t seem to have numbers but the staff shout loudly all the destinations to the waiting hordes. Boarding the bus is like being at the forefront of a tidal wave as we are swept on board by a cohort of elderly Greek women in black. Once seated though, the trip is lovely and goes by the coastal road giving us a very pretty view. We see there are bus stops only on one side of the road and wonder how we can catch a bus going the other way. We want to go to Kameiros and are told the bus stops at the petrol station. At the petrol station, with no stop in sight, we ask where it might be. Fifty metres down the road, we are told. We walk fifty metres and still can find no bus stop. We ask in a shop. Outside the Lemon Tree, we are told. Still no bus stop but we duly loiter outside the Lemon Tree until we see a bus hurtling down the road. We just wave our arms and he stops for us which we think is miraculous and that the system obviously works. The bus driver drops people off at seemingly random places and when we return from a trip out, the bus drivers always drop us off at the end of the road to our hotel instead of the prominent bus stop 100 metres back. It seems a very community-based system and we like it, despite having no real idea of where to catch a bus going West. It reminds me a little of travelling through the Sinai desert several years ago. Periodically we would see proper pavements and at one or two, there were bus stops. The pavement would disappear after a few metres and we couldn’t work out why they were there in the first place. We saw a man standing on the pavement at one place as though he was waiting for a bus in the middle of a vast desert in searing heat. It looked so wrong when the most popular form of transport was camel and the only other pedestrians we saw were sitting in the shade of the occasional tree. Perhaps he was hitching a ride on a camel. Can you hitch hike a camel? Answers on a postcard, please.