Barry and Gary

We once had a cat called Malcolm whose specialty was meeting and greeting. Whenever people came to the house, he would always greet them at the door saying “How lovely to see you again. Do come this way” and escort them into the house. He often sat on the pillars next to the garden gate and greeted people in the street. We were never surprised to see total strangers giving him a cuddle. He was a real people-cat. At our hotel in Greece, we have 2 cats to entertain us. Barry is a ginger tom with very large accoutrements and lies on the floor in a position I have never seen another cat adopt before.


Barry is a little aloof but enjoys being fed at meal times. He circulates around the outdoor tables and graciously accepts scraps from us. He is definitely an alpha cat. One morning, he doesn’t appear and instead we are entertained by Gary, another ginger tom but much younger and kittenish. Gary is cheeky and likes to be cuddled. He appears desperate for food and also has a mad five minutes occasionally which see him scooting up the olive trees and then dangling precariously from its branches. He is adept at stealing food. A dropped sausage is like manna to him and he is there, quick as lightning, to pilfer it. He uses his cute looks to climb onto chairs so he will be at food height, always open to the lure of an unattended plate. At night, he can be heard sometimes shouting to be let in but nobody does. Hotel cats in Greece live a different life to house cats in the UK.


On a Friday morning, we catch the bus to Rhodes Town. The sky is blue, the sun is shining and it is another beautiful day. The bus is packed with people who all have similar ideas to our own – to wander around the town and have lunch although we have an additional purpose. My mother died at the beginning of September and we had to decide whether to continue with our long-planned holiday or cancel. It’s a delicate decision but we decide, on balance, that we will continue with our holiday plans and so on this, the day of her funeral, we find somewhere nice to sit and reflect. Near the gate to the port are the ruins of a mediaeval church and at the same time the funeral is happening in England, I sit quietly in the sun. Afterwards, we take a walk through the gate to look at the ships and huge liners in the bay. We get another surprise. There is an elderly gentleman, naked but for a carrier bag belted to his waist, rolling about in the shallows at the edge of the sea. I have not seen such attire since our friend, LK, devised a pair of carrier bag pants for sitting on garden furniture after a shower of rain. But I digress. We sneak forward to investigate further on the pretext of looking at some of the ships. By the sea wall there is a bag with clothes in it and I realise he is probably just having a bath in the sea. Perhaps he is homeless and has no other option. We see a lot of young children begging which we haven’t noticed on previous trips to Greece.


At our hotel, the receptionist tells us there is 30% unemployment in Greece at the present time and that seasonal workers can no longer claim any kind of benefit to help them once the season finishes. It sounds a very tough way to live and makes it more likely that the gentleman taking the alfresco bath was not doing so out of pleasure.

We arrive back at the hotel to see an impromptu juggling exhibition by Barry who has caught a mouse and is busy seeing how high he can throw it and still catch it. About 3 feet, Barry, about 3 feet. Well done.

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.

Captain Stinkypants

In an effort to make our long-awaited holiday as relaxing as possible,  I decide to book a cab to take us to the airport. There is a huge palaver when one company agrees the fare, I pay over the phone with my card and they then decide they have quoted me the wrong fare. “It was a trainee” the woman explains, sounding peeved. I explain this does not look very professional and may have a negative impact on how I view their company but she is cheerfully unrepentant. I then use the same cab website to book the same trip but with another company. I am offered another good fare online and go to pay but the site rejects my card. It also rejects a credit card. Almost immediately I receive an automated call from the bank who are checking whether my card has been used fraudulently or not. I answer all the questions successfully and it tells me to go back to the website and I will be able to pay. I input all the information again only for my card to be rejected again.

 I phone the bank to ask what is going on and they tell me it may take a while for things to filter through the system but that I should probably phone the cab company and book it that way. While I am talking to the bank, the credit card company phones to go through fraud procedures with them. I tell them to call back later. I have a cab to book. I phone the cab company I have chosen from the web and ask to book the trip. They do not take card payments. I explain what has happened on the website and the helpful man tells me that I will almost certainly be barred from making card payments with cab companies the length and breadth of the country as it will be flagged up with the cab company police (or something similar). At this point, I decide I will book my cab another day.

On the day we fly, the cab arrives on time with a very pleasant driver. On the way to the airport, he tells us he is exhausted and has been driving for over 10 hours. This doesn’t inspire confidence but we arrive safe and sound. At the airport, we play the ‘wonder who is going where we’re going?’ game. The flight is quite busy but we’re given seats together. Behind us is a small child with his parents. Dubbed ‘Captain Stinkypants’ by me, he manages to emit a smell like an over-ripe piece of Stilton. I apologise if any of you privately use this epithet to describe yourself or one of your loved ones but this boy is an outright winner. He has great skills in seepage, that’s all I am going to say.

The woman in front of me appears to have some kind of fit whilst watched over anxiously by her partner. I realise she is frightened of flying when she starts shaking and sobbing uncontrollably. I feel sorry for her and watch as they try to quell her fears by consuming large amounts of wine. By the time we land, she is unconscious and her partner carefully folds her tray table away so as not to wake her. Alas, landing wakes her whereupon she unleashes a torrent of abuse on him, shouting and berating him so I feel much less sorry for her.

We are whisked off the plane, put onto a bus and then passed through passport control at lightning speed without so much as a cursory glance at our passports. Given that I look like a female member of a Russian mafia gang in my passport (a photograph taken when I had very little hair), I am surprised I am not hauled off for intimate inspection just on the basis of it. Again, we size up our companions to see who is going to the same hotel as us. Captain Stinkypants? No, he is not on the same bus which, given the heat of the night is something of a relief. As it happens, none of our travelling companions are headed for the same hotel. We are on our own.