Passport Control Greek Style 1984
There is some irony to this story, and that is whilst l have had this title sitting in my Stories and Tales Directory awaiting to be written for the last six months, as l go through my Father’s stories, l find a story called “Where are you Judith Chalmers?” It so happens to be my Father’s account of this very tale. So what l shall do is write my story and then at the bottom, display my Father’s version.
My Father and l did try to firm up some bonding to our relationship in order to improve it on two notable occasions these being 1984 and 2005. The former was relatively successful and the latter was okay. 1984 was for two weeks whilst 2005 was a weekend. In 1984 he had been encouraged by my Mother to at least try with their Son, and in 2005 it was he who suggested that we take a weekend break to get to know each other.
My Father and my Sister and her children enjoyed frequent holidays, from the time that my parents divorced to last year as in 2017. From around 2015 when my Sister’s children were of an age when they didn’t wish to go on holiday with their Mother and their Grandfather, someone remarked to them both in 2016, were they a couple, which my Sister maintained she empathically denied, but my Father just laughed and didn’t answer, just smiled and said ‘what would you like think?” Which to me is somewhat creepy!
As l go through the paperwork of my Father l find strange documents and of the strangest were in fact the conversations between my parents, and these were treated as odd because for years they maintained that they never spoke and were hostile to each other following their 1989 divorce!
One of the letters l read from my Mother to my Father in 2005, was written not long after he and l had had returned from the weekend break to Hadrian’s Wall, and she was most unflattering with regards myself. There was no letter from my Father, he had rung her and she had written back to him. So l can only surmise from her content that he had complained about our few days together! Oh well, so much for trying.
But, with my Father’s paperwork and his love for keeping everything, l find that certain pieces of my life whilst not lost are awarded to me from a different perspective and angle, which is if anything interesting.
Dad and l had decided to travel to Greece for two weeks, and for 1984, it was in fact my second trip, l had gone literally for two weeks in April with Liam Ratcatcher and here l was with my Father in July, and l visited a third time oddly enough a few months after that for a week by myself.
The holiday itself was enjoyable, l do happen to like Greece, and my Father and l shared some bonding moments, and just when you thought you had achieved some kind of break through it was shattered by something he said. One of these moments was after a meal we had in a taverna and we had retired to our room. My Father was a relatively heavy drinker who liked to drink, but as l had experienced when at home he didn’t hold it very well. This was one such night.
I was 21, and whilst l was better with girls than l had been even as little back then at say 18, l was still a little shy, and l was still a virgin. The last subject l really wanted to discuss was sexuality and worse my parents sexuality. I was thinking what is it with my parents why do they feel the need to discuss their sexuality with their Son when they can’t even discuss it between themselves!
I made excuses, l tried to say l was tired, but the blurred and slurred, grumblings of a drunk louder than normal were unbearable! I told him to pipe down! He said NO, only when you listen to what l have to say! So l agreed fine, then can you shut up and try and get some sleep?
He said he would. What followed was a blistering attack on my Mother’s lack of interest towards him and how he had to seek sex elsewhere! Oh my God l thought, if l didn’t want to hear this in the first place, the last thing l need to hear now is this bullshite! But he still continued to tell me, and l tried to switch off, but the permanent damage had been done. My Father was an adulterer, it was that simple and he had been since 1974, and that my Mother knew, but she could do nothing about it!
I was thinking, thank goodness this was our last night in Greece and that come tomorrow night we would be on a plane home to the UK. If l had thought that his confession was the last of it, l then had to listen to his tiresome tirade of what he thought of me.
Oh the joys of the drunken fools l thought! But he continued to say that he was convinced that l was on drugs, that l was probably queer and that l was a very strange young man. That he had lost his virginity at 15. With that last comment l knew how to shut him up.
“No you didn’t Dad, you lost it at 22, a year older than l am now. You lost it to Mum, a year after your marriage. A year, like what gives with that Dad? A full year before you had sex with your bride?”
” That’s not true at all!” He half spat in a slurred response.
“Yes it is, sadly for me, my Mother also confides in me about these things, and she told me. So now that is out of the way, can we please just go to sleep?”
He did shut up after that, and by the next morning, l could see him with his hangover he had remembered nothing of the previous night’s conversation. Good.
Our last day in Greece would have been good had his drunken confession not spoiled it for me the previous night. But as time somehow does and thankfully, the morning soon became the afternoon, and before long it was the evening and were packed and in a taxi heading for the airport. What followed is really the centre point to my tale!
My Father had said to the driver, airport, and so that is where we were driven to. We had wasted the last of our currency on the evening meal before eagerly getting into the taxi. When we arrived we walked into the terminal which was a little empty to say the least which was a little disturbing. My Father even looked a little concerned at the lack of people in the ‘International Airport’.
“Considering the time of night Dad, isn’t this a little quiet?”
“Yeah, sure looks it, l did expect it be a little busier, hang l’ll ask the lady over there.”
With that, leaving me with the luggage, he sauntered over to the counter and spoke to the terminal assistant. I watched and inwardly chuckled, oh here we go, he is chatting her up already, this man never ceases to amaze me! However the more l watched, the more l saw my Father’s brow furrow. Something was wrong! Which was soon confirmed when he ran back over to me and said …
“We have a problem Rory! We are at the wrong airport, this is Domestic, we need the International, and that’s a little further than walking distance! How much money do you have on you?”
Fuck, l knew it, l thought it had been too quiet. But now there was a bigger problem, l too had blown most of my drachma on presents! We walked outside of the terminal and counted our combined monies! In all, we had less than we needed, we both knew that!
As chance would have it, someone was smiling down on us, a Greek policeman walked passed and he had a Union Jack on his shoulder badge. This meant he was English speaking, a real blessing in an emergency.. I said we had a problem, and he then stood and listened to my Father’s story, to which at the end he gave some of the best advice l have ever heard. “Which side of the bridge do you wish to be on? Because if it was me, l would cross that bridge and face the problems the other end especially if you need to be on the other side, yes?”
Perfectly good logic, and l could almost see the light bulb, the epiphany as it struck my Father. We did not have Drachmas but he had traveller’s cheques. So we hailed a taxi, and said International airport please and on the way, my Dad was saying don’t panic, l will not be long. I told him l wasn’t panicked. When he arrived, my Father held up his traveller’s cheques and made the gesture for wait a moment and then got out of the car. The taxi driver was in a tither, and l smiled and pointed to my chest and made the motion of l am staying her. We both watched my Father run off at top speed into the terminal.
I didn’t speak Greek, and the driver didn’t speak English, but somehow as was my way even then, l could talk to anyone, and so in a space of not much longer than five minutes we made light conversation. Smiles, laughter and jokes l have come to firmly believe is an all time international language.
My Father arrived back looking absolutely shattered! He said he had run all the way, and handed to the laughing driver a bundle of notes way over the odds, grabbed me and said we had to leg it in, as they were calling our flight to the departure lounge.
We had crossed that bridge, however we were not yet over it, due to me taking umbrage with the way my passport was handled. I learned a valuable lesson that night and it is very simple “Shut the fuck up when in another country going through passport control!”
As we were queuing up with the rest of the tired looking holiday makers awaiting our passports to be stamped, so we could get onto the plane. I noticed that the lady up ahead doing the checking and stamping was probably pretty tired. I hoped that was the situation. But everytime she stamped a British passport in particular, instead of handing it back to the owner she slung them down on the counter so hard and with such force, that they slid off and hit the floor! Each time a disgruntled traveller, had to bend down and pick them up!!
When it came to my turn, my Father whispered to me “Just don’t say anything Rory!”
I smiled at the lady, she just stared at me and said “Passporta!”
“Here we go, guess you are having a tough evening?”
“What did you say English man?”
“Nothing, l was just, erm, um, just commenting that you looked tired, that’s all.”
“Yes, tired, tired of all you English in our country, no respect!” With that she then said something in Greek and gave my passport to a seriously big chap who came and grabbed me out of the line and bustled me into the arms of three other security guards who then frog marched me into a curtained area?
“Strip now!” The big guy yelled at me.
“What?” I stammered.
“Strip, take off your clothese smart English man, now!” he yelled.
Outside l could hear my Father, protesting my innocence saying that l was a little slow, but l meant no harm! Which looking back was kind of funny, but at the time was not helping. “Listen, l am sorry, l didn’t mean to appear rude.”
“Take off clothes now boy!” The second guard then shouted at me.
Slowly l took off my tee shirt, then unbuckled my jeans, took off my sneakers, let my jeans fall to the ground and went to take them off, when l heard the guards all chuckling, and when l looked around at them, they were all smiling and pointing at me. “Get dressed boy. Next time don’t be rude, this our country not yours. Remember that, you are only visitors, who we don’t like, now go!! Go back to your country!”
I quickly dressed and hurried outside and found my Father relieved but livid at the same time, “Next time l say don’t say anything, l mean SHUT UP, got it?”
We had to run to get on the plane, and when we got there, people looked at me and smiled and even some clapped, and others commented that they had been thinking of saying something, so good on me for taking the initiative!
Whilst that was all well and good, l didn’t actually appreciate any of it, until we were in the air! A valuable lesson learned indeed.
Now that’s how l remember Greece Father/Son Bonding Holiday 1984. Below, is how my Father recalls it.
Where are you, Judith Chalmers, when l need you?
As I poured the last of the wine, I think we were in a fairly mellow mood. It had been a pretty good holiday, we both agreed on that, and as we savoured the dry white Greek wine we reminisced about the last two weeks. Two days in Athens had been followed by a slow, eighteen hour ferry ride through the Aegean, for most of the time within sight of the twinkling lights of the myriad Greek Islands. Rhodes had been a magical experience with its centuries of history evident everywhere, but worn lightly.
Five days there had been followed by a nerve wracking flight to Heraklion in Crete. The aircraft seemed to predate the Second World War, but it took off and landed successfully, which is what is required. Crete was thoroughly explored for a week in an open jeep, the pair of us browning nicely in the hot sun as we explored the island’s treasures, lay on its beaches and sampled its food and drink.
It was, I realised in retrospect, the last time my son and I would be this close for a number of years. The fact that father and twenty one year old son were holidaying together was an indication that Rory’s parents’ marriage was in terminal decline. But the future was unknown as we tumbled out of the restaurant and dragged our suitcases the 800 yards back to Athens Airport where we had arrived from Crete about two hours earlier. I was feeling very smug, having blown most of our now useless drachmae on this last meal. This feeling was soon to be shattered.
She was very pretty, black hair framing an attractive face with sexy dark eyes. I presented our flight tickets. She handed them back. “You can’t check in here. Go to the International terminal. This is domestic.” She turned away dismissively.
“Sorry, where is the International Terminal?”
The girl turned back to me, with a look on her face that said, “Are you still here?” “It’s on the other side of the Airport.” She turned away again to talk to her colleague.
“How do we get there?”
The face did not look so attractive now. “What?”
“How do we get there? Can we walk? Is there a bus?”
She was almost snarling now, the pretty face but a memory, the dark eyes cold. “You can walk, but it’s about eight kilometres. There is a bus, but it stops running at 10pm. Take a taxi.”
We turned away. It was one in the morning. We had plenty of time but our money was in a restaurant till half a mile away.
“What are we going to do, Dad?”
Fair enough. Fathers were supposed to know everything, weren’t they? “Count how much money we have left, mate.”
We sat on a wall outside the terminal building searching bags, suitcases and the corners of our pockets to assemble 1237 draks, about five pounds. Would it be enough? It was humid and I could smell the rising anxiety in my sweat.
It was then we saw a policeman, with, wonder of wonders, a small Union Jack badge on the shoulder of his uniform.
“Excuse me. Do you speak English?”
He glanced at the little flag on his shoulder. “Yes. Can I help you?”
“We have a problem.”
“Tell me about it.”
I told him the story, finishing with “How much will the taxi cost to the International Terminal?”
“Hmmm, about 1500 or 1600 draks.”
“Will the driver take a credit card?”
He shook his head. “No, only cash. This is not England you know.”
I decided not to tell him that few cabbies in England took credit cards either.
“Is there a bank anywhere on the Airport. I could cash a travellers cheque.”
“There is a bank in the International Terminal, but not here.” He looked at his watch doubtfully. “I don’t know if it will be open at this time.”
I was stumped, totally. It was then that my admiration for the Athens Police rose hugely.
“Look,” he said. “You don’t have enough money for the taxi. Right?”
We nodded glumly.
“So you will have an argument with the taxi driver. Where would you prefer to have that argument? Here, at Domestic, or at the International Terminal?”
A light bulb clicked on above my head. “Don’t tell him until we get there?”
He nodded. “Right. Don’t tell him.”
It was wonderful advice and we followed it to the letter. At International I waved my travellers cheques in front of the driver but he had no English and I had no Greek. As I leapt from the taxi he seized Rory by the arm and wouldn’t let him leave the cab. I tore into the terminal. Yes, the bank was open, but it was airside. This required more animated talking, production of ticket and passport before I stood, breathless at the bank counter. I was only three or four hundred drachmae short, but I had to change a ten-pound cheque. It didn’t matter.
Back I raced, once more talking my way through Customs and Immigration, wondering whether the cabby had lost patience and driven off with my only son to dump his mutilated body on a deserted beach somewhere. They were still there, conversing in an amiable manner, neither understanding a single word the other said. I thrust all the ransom money into the man’s hand, acknowledged his wide smile, rescued my son, grabbed our luggage and scuttled away.
It wasn’t all over yet. Rory was a bit lippy to the female police officer at Immigration and was whipped off by her male colleagues to be strip searched while I stood fuming but helpless. At last we were on the plane, and longing for take off. Britain was very sweet when we arrived home. The last two hours we spent in Greece came close, but could not quite spoil the pleasure of the earlier two weeks.
Written by my Father B.M 1984