My favourite friend from the Crown pub (who often sat next to No. 21 half man half bar stool but never fell off) had told me and Marni about Pelekas. “If you’re travelling anywhere, go there, it’s the only place to be,” and we believed him.
The No. 11 to Pelekas arrived and the bus was soon filled with Greeks and a few hippy type travellers carrying brown bags of fruit and veg. Bronzed like they’d come from a summer in India they chatted to each other in different languages. We stood while Greek women dressed in black took the limited seats and the bus chugged round the bendy roads leading to Pelekas village.
A tall man in a red vest was bus surfing, he had tattoos on arms and was drinking from a bottle of Ouzo.
“He’ll do me,” I nodded at Marni. “He reminds me of Fraser”
“Oh God – please no Liz.”
“She’ll be coming round the mountain when she comes,” the man sang in an Irish accent as we swerved round the corner of Pelekas mountain and up the road, past an olive factory, pulling into the centre of the village, opposite the Zanzi bar – the bar our pub friend had told us about – the bar I could use as an address to receive Fraser’s prisons letters.
The man with the Ouzo was first off the bus and stumbled into the bar.
“You’re barred – for good. Get down that beach and sober up.” The English bar woman chased him out, waving a broom and the man stumbled back down the road the bus had just climbed.
The other travellers had dispersed so we followed the man down the steep track towards the beach.
“This is hard core” my right leg was numb and back pack now felt heavy, I was beginning to regret Barbie and Ken’s changes of clothing. I had read that vitamin D was good for MS, I was a sun worshiper, I just needed to get on that beach and I knew everything would be fine. About two thirds of the way down a group of travellers sat around a wooden table to the right of a house, drinking and chatting. The man with the ouzo joined them.
“Yasu.” They cheered at seeing the man.
Outside the yard a wood sign was attached vicariously to the fencing “Wine”. There were chickens and a Greek woman sat at the front of the house, smiling. From the house the Greek man brought out a bottle of wine and a glass for himself and the ouzo man. They chinked glasses and sat with the others at the table.
“Yammas” “Yammas” “Yammas”
We continued down the track, it was becoming more difficult to follow.
“Where the fuck is it? We should have stopped and got pissed with them” I liked the Ouzo man.
“The sea’s there” Marni pointed and ahead of us we could see tents in the olive trees and just to the right of the trees we could see the sea and a taverna.
We put up our tent facing the sea in between other similar tents, there was plenty of space. It was afternoon now but there was no sign of life in the camps.
“We’ve just got to do it” Marni said as we stripped off.
“Let’s do it.” I agreed.
Our Crown friend had told us that Pelekas was a nudist beach, we were prepared by not bringing any swim wear. Marni clutched one of the pink floral sheets and held it up to hide her bits. I tugged at the sheet and pulled enough off Marni to cover my bits and we headed for the sea, climbing down the last small steep path by the side of the taverna. We ran onto the sand and up to the sea, Marni dropped the sheet, threw a stone over it so it wouldn’t blow away, and we jumped into the waves.
“We’re free.” We jumped and splashed about.
“We’re gonna get brown bums”
Pelekas is on the West coast of Corfu, the sun would later set over a huge rock where there were men jumping off and into the turquoise Ionian Sea.
It was choppy that day. A figure further out at sea bobbed about in the waves, we watched as he mounted the next wave-like an Olympic diver, his body surfed towards us at high-speed. We jumped out of his way, laughing hysterically. The wave took him to shore. He stood up, turned round and smiled at us. He was fit, golden brown skin with sun bleached curly long hair. Disappearing beneath the sea his head popped up again, further ahead. We laughed more and ran back onto the sand and lay on the double pink floral sheet. The sand was burning hot but the light pink of the sheet reflected it back and we were comfortable. We watched the man surf more until he came out of the water and crouched at the foot of our sheet – naked. Fine wet sand stuck to his balls. It was fun to look discreetly at what we called his ‘lunch pack’.
“Les” he introduced himself with an unexpectedly slightly posh English accent.
“Where are you from?”
“Cornwall, but I live in and about London mostly, squatting.”
“Have you jumped off that?” I asked pointing at the rock ahead.
“Yes, wanna try it?”
“Dunno” Marni said.
“I might” I said.
“You have to jump quite far out, someone died already this year. I’ll take you up there if you like. Fancy a beer?”
Marni took up the pink floral sheet, we would go back to camp, get some Drachmas and meet Les in the Taverna.
The sand was even hotter now, my feet like were also numb and pins and needlsy, I ran quickly back into the olive groves for fear of burning them. I never moaned or complained about symptoms to Marni, she would instinctively help me get up and down tricky terrain, my balance was shit, I looked drunk when I wasn’t and walked better when I was drunk – which in Pelekas became the norm.
“Oh fucking no, no!”
In the short time we’d left camp almost everything had been stolen from my side of the tent and some of Marni’s. All that was left of my belongings were some cassette tapes, my orange sun dress, the PVC half melted mini skirt and my knickers which were strewn around the tent, erroneously. The thieves had taken my jewellery, leather jacket, money belt and everything that was inside the belt including the travellers cheques that were to last till September. They hadn’t touched Barbie and Ken’s stuff. Marni, not as bereft, went through the cassettes that were missing.
“They’ve left Napalm Death, Slime Boy and Rolf Harris.” We could still listen to Rolf ‘I never gargled I never gambled, I never smoked at all, until I met my two close amigos Nick O Teen and Al K Hol” Oh deary dear Rolf.
“Let’s go for a beer and find Les” Marni said.
I put on my orange dress and we headed to the taverna. Les was at the bar in the queue for beer.
“We’ve been fucked over,” I told him as a man walked into the taverna holding two passports.
“Ive fand diese” of course they were mine and Marni’s. “In den Olivenhainen” The man was checking the photos.
“Thanks,” I took them from him, he laughed.
“Wo ist dein Haar?” he pointed at Marni’s head, then at my newly shaven sides, my blonde wet Mohican falling flat at the back. Marni had long spiked hair in her passport photo, since having typhoid we continued to shave her head while less traumatized hair had a chance to grow back.
“Fuck off” I said to the man who was touching my hair. I wasn’t used to the Pelekas good spirit.
“The passport’s the main thing, don’t worry about the rest, we’ll sort you out.” Les paid for 3 Amstel beers and we sat on a table facing out to sea. A group of travellers joined us with tales of Greek and Albanian thieves who were on the rampage. One had been caught red-handed by the Dutch man who lived in one of the bamboo huts on the beach, he’d chased him up the cliff waving a knife and the Greek jumped off and hit the rock. That was the story – we listened to many stories that night.
“I’ll take you up the village and introduce you to Sofia” Les offered “She works in the travel agent. She’ll sort you out and tomorrow we’ll go into Corfu to the police and embassy. Best thing now is to get drunk, it’s your first night in Pelekas.” And we did.
“Do you fancy Les?” I asked Marni when we were tucked under the sheet ready for sleep.
“Dunno, do you?”
“Dunno. Shall we share him for a bit? See what happens.”
“We’ll share Les, he’s sweet.”
Les dealt in black resin and supplied most of the beach smokers. He would do a bi weekly run from Gatwick to Corfu, eat lumps in cellophane then shit it out with laxatives and bury the packets in a secret place in the olive groves. He suggested we bury our valuables we kept on the beach, apart from the ones we would leave with Sofia.
The next day, after a long and laborious time in Corfu Les and I met up again with Marni in Pelekas village. She’d come straight from the beach, neither of us were dressed for a night out but decided to have our first village night life experience.
“You’re zoning out” I said to Les, he’d been puffing too much. We’d been drinking and smoking on a bench opposite the Zanzi Bar. Marni disappeared and returned with a bottle of retsina and can of sprite, we needed a kick. We slammed our drinks, trying not to break the flimsy plastic cups.
“I’ll take you to the Coca club” Les said and we followed him further up the village, stopping to buy a bottle of ouzo in a shop along the way, then into the basement of a taverna or something. We didn’t notice what the building was , the Coca Club would become an obscurity that we visited and left in the dark.
Inside the club we danced like crazy to the Doors, Violent Femmes and the Cure. At 4am lights abruptly came on and we were kicked out, Marni slumped on the wall outside the club, drunker than me. She could sleep anytime, anywhere, standing up, sitting down, within a few seconds she was half leaning, half standing already comatose as half empty plastic cups taken from the club were balanced on her head by other club goers. There soon was a large group watching the tower on Marni’s head grow. As she woke and moved her head the cups fell down and the crowd cheered. We finished any leftover drinks we could find and Les, Marni and I began the long walk back down the mountain singing “follow the yellow brick road”. Then an hour or so later.
“This isn’t Pelekas beach” Les laughed as we set foot on the beach “We’re on Glyfada.” Too drunk and knackered to make sense of our mistake, Marni took out the pink floral sheet from her back pack and the 3 of us cuddled up on the beach under it, Les in the middle.
“What the fuck” a hand groped my boob, I shook it off. Les laughed a dirty laugh.
“What are doing? Get off my bum.” Marni shrieked. Les laughed a dirty laugh.
We woke about 9am, sticky and stinky with grits of sand in and around our orifices. Still drunk, we laughed, looking up at the mountain we’d have to climb back up. Marni had a half bottle of ouzo with a splash of water in it, left over’s from what we’d taken into the club. I swigged at it then spat out some of the sand. We finished the bottle and began our long ascent, singing our way Wizard of Oz style up the mountain, arms linked, Les in the middle.
“You are naughty Les, trying it on like that. Taking advantage of drunk Essex girls” Marni laughed. “You are a naughty, naughty, naughty Les”
“Naughty hand wanderer” I said.
“You’re a naughty, naughty hand wanderer” Marni caught on. And the name stuck. By the time we’d reached the top of the mountain we’d renamed Les ‘Hand Wanderer’, and by the time we’d got back down to Pelekas beach we’d renamed him ‘The Wicked Wanderer’ it went with the ‘Witch is dead’ song I’d been singing (Klaus Nomi style) singing took the focus away from my right leg. This mountain climbing lark was helping the ‘mind over matter’ approach to MS. That and laughing. I hadn’t laughed so much since the 1980 scout jamboree.
Apart from us, I don’t think Les had any other relationships that year in Pelekas – but we did, we’d only just begun.