We stopped off in Chania’s main square. Trezza ordered our daily coffees at Decatria (no. 13) while I dashed across the road hoping that even though the hour was, in my view, exceptionally early (nine) that the International Times might yet have arrived at my regular newsagent – ‘News Stand’ – a tidy little shop run by a slight, dessicated man with a trim beard. I have never seen my man without a cigarette burning away in an ashtray that he keeps beside the till and quite often with one between his fingers or on his lips as well. Two doors away I picked up a spinach pasty, a doughnut, and a cream pie to keep us going if we got stranded or anything.
The docks were a twenty mile drive away. After purchasing tickets at the kiosk we walked towards the liner where we were stopped by a man in uniform who gave a short speech about how they took care to keep the beaches clean on the beautiful journey upon which we were about to embark – cost: 1 Euro a head, compulsory contribution. Up the stairs through the loading bay on our embarkation we were halted once more to have our pictures taken as we stood between two teenagers, a boy and girl, each dressed in a ‘national costume’ the like of which I had never seen anyone wear. The boy was especially dashing in white knee-high boots and a blue tunic from a costume hire shop and with the addition of suspicious, stick-on eyebrows. While he put me in mind of some sort of ersatz Cossack, she was an odd brand of sultry Heidi. Trezza pulled a face for camera, though I did not discover this until later.
On deck it was rather busy. With it being late season (though perhaps the first two weeks of September do not quite fit that description) I had expected maybe thirty or forty people, but there were more than this. Still, though we had no private cabin we managed to find a couple of spaces in the shade on the ‘orange plastic seats.’ There was some dreadful music playing quite loudly over the speaker system, songs that were terrible when they were current and sound no better thirty years later: Daddy Cool, by Boney M, for instance. Out of the corner of my eye (I was prepared to chance a glance) I could see Trezza fuming so for the next thirty minutes I buried my head in the International Times. As it was a Monday they had all the match reports at length. As I explained to Trezza, Sunday’s papers only tell you what happened, it’s on a Monday that they contextualise and analyse the consequences of what happened. That got me through the thirty minutes to weighing anchor. Beside us were four young Russians playing cards. These included the one couple that any voyage like this must include, the pair that you bump into six times more wherever you are, even if you are snorkeling naked round the headland they will be coming round the corner together in a giant rubber ring. He was wearing a pink businessman’s shirt and later, on the beach – where we were all marveling at the size of a beetle that Trezza had discovered in the shade of a tree (his girlfriend and Trezza were in a competition to see who could stay the whitest under the Cretan sun) – I was quietly satisfied to note that he had kept things conceptually intact by having a pink towel to match his shirt.
When I finally felt it safe to come out from behind the paper it was true to say that we had actually managed to stay on the boat long enough for it to pull away. Trezza sat on deck saying they must have an absolute crack squad of cleaners out there because there were about 600 passengers on board now which is about four grand a week for beach cleaning at a Euro each. How have they managed to get the Greek economy into such an ailing condition when there are schemes like this on the go? I started to do a typical writer’s calculation imagining how much money you would take if you owned this boat. I made it two million a summer before I even began to take account of the restaurant and bar. I need to own a ship, that’s what I need to do, I thought. Once I had collected the money in the hut I could write a book anyway, while they were all out there, enjoying themselves. The sun burned high in the blue sky, the grey bands of volcanic rock rolled by in a continuous haze. The ship cut the wave in a gentle rhythm. This was going to be our home for about eight hours now, with two scheduled stops for swimming and exploration. Had I made a mistake, I wondered, to trap us like this? A fat man across the starboard side in luminescent shorts cracked another can of Amstel.