Tuesday, June 17, 2008

With the Beatles No. 4

Our Visit to Greece

By Mal and Neil

In all our holiday party numbered twelve people. Four flew to Athens on the Thursday--George and Pattie, Ringo and Neil. The remaining eight followed two days later--John, Cynthia and Julian, Paul and Jane, Pattie's 16-year-old sister Paula, Alistair Taylor from the NEMS office and Mal.

Apparently the photographers at the airport in Athens hadn't a clue who Paula was. One newspaper back home in London decided to identify her very vaguely, but they had an idea she was Cynthia Lennon!

There was a 13th man in our group--in fact the whole trip was his idea in the first place. His name is Alexis, a young and very clever electronics man, a Greek who became a close personal friend of the Beatles in London a few months ago. Alex took care of us all in Greece, translating when it was necessary, and we stayed at his house in a suburban part of Athens.

White Yacht

The plan was to move onto a big white motor yacht at the weekend as soon as everyone had settled in. But the rented boat was delayed on another cruise, stuck somewhere near Crete in high winds which prevented her sailing. In the end the boat--named the m.v. Arvi--arrived at Athens on the Monday and we went on board on the Tuesday. Minus Ringo who headed home with Neil that day. Maureen hadn't been able to join us because the baby was nearly due so Ringo didn't want to be away from her too long.

Anyway we made good use of the extra days in Athens before starting the cruise. On Sunday we all piled into a convoy of cars--a big Mercedes and a couple of huge old American taxis! For three hours we drove through the countryside in the blistering hot sunshine. Suddenly the rest of us realised that the taxi carrying Paul, Jane and Neil was missing. Apparently the extreme heat had been too much for it. Thick black smoke poured out as the engine all but caught figure. So Ringo's taxi turned back to look for them--and found the trio walking happily along the dusty road towards the village we'd stopped at for lunch!

Everyone spent an hour or so looking round the village, admiring the tiny shops, buying beads, Greek antiques and odd bits of clothing. Then we were taken to lunch at a lovely house high up in the hills, and while we ate, a guitarist and a clarinet player provided colourful accompaniment with their folk music. We all tried a bit of Greek dancing on the patio to work off some of that marvellous meal!

We left the village loaded down with presents. The girls were given Greek dresses with classical patterns. Julian got a foot-high doll (a Greek soldier) and the boys received long slip-on shirts.


Before going any further we decided it was time we bought something to carry all the gear in. Obviously we were going to do a lot of shopping during the week! So everybody picked up brightly-patterned hand-woven shoulder bags and started filling them with beads, old Turkish and Greek jewellery.

We drove for another hot and sticky hour before coming to rest on a beautiful beach where Paul helped Julian to construct one of the finest sandcastles you ever saw.

The same evening Alex had hoped we'd visit the old Delphi theatre but there were so many people waiting for us when we arrived that we split and headed home to Athens rather than face all those crowds. News of our whereabouts and our plans seemed to spread round like wildfire!

On the Monday George and Paul decided to have a quiet day. They stayed behind and played guitars while the rest of the party went into the shopping centre. John wanted to buy the local equivalent of a guitar. A huge crowd of fans and sightseeing tourists gathered round the instrument shop we tramped into. To our surprise the shop was stocked with a wide range of modern electric equipment--Vox amplifiers and the lot! "It's just like going into Sound City in London" observed John as we looked around. But he found the instrument he wanted in the store's antique department!

Cunning Ringo

Ringo devised a cunning way of by-passing the crowds. He'd wait until John and the rest of us went into one shop, then he'd sneak quietly away into the one next door while the crowds gathered round John. His scheme came unstuck when he spent a bit too long choosing a pair of sandals. Forty photographers and umpteen Americans descended upon him ("Say, isn't that crazy? We travel all the way from Chicago and find Ringo Starr in a Greek shoe shop!").

All the shopkeepers of Athens expert you to argue about the price of everything. The boys got pretty good at this bartering game and managed to pick up a load of bargains from the tiny rows of antique shops in the old part of the city. But whether we wanted to buy or not the shopkeepers urged us in very broken English to "just come in and look around so we can tell people Beatles was here!"

All the time we were in Greece we had wonderful food. One evening we stopped for dinner in a small village and sat down at tables under the trees in the square. Paul, Ringo and Jane decided to test the local cooks by asking for an English meal just for a change. They had one of the best egg and chip meals they'd ever tasted--garnished (like every Greek dish) with tomatoes in olive oil and lashings of cheese. The rest of us had delicious kebabs--skewered chunks of lamb beautifully cooked.

All the while quiet Greek music was pouring out of a little loudspeaker in the tree above our tables. Suddenly they changed the record AND PUT ON "A HARD DAY'S NIGHT" BY THE BEATLES. The owner of the cafe stood at the top of the steps beaming brightly and we all had a good laugh before signing some autographs and heading for home!

Greek Flutes

On Tuesday we set sail in the gleaming white motor yacht Arvi. It had 24 berths and, apart from the captain, a crew of seven including a chef and two stewards. The captain had purchased a brand new red ensign to fly on his mast to show he had a party of Englishmen on board. That evening we gathered up on deck to watch the sun setting over the islands. What a pity Ringo and Neil missed that! It was a fantastic sight. Still, the rest of us took many pictures and our movie cameras whirled away like mad.

At two o'clock in the morning we anchored under a full moon. Beside us was a mighty rock with the Temple of Neptune on top of it. The pillars were outlined in the moonlight--another unforgettable sight.

The days that followed were all swimming and laziness and beautiful sunshine.

Hindu Chants

After sunset each night we'd gather together on the top deck and sing until two or three. George played his ukelele, John got out his Greek guitar and we'd sing strange Hindu chants over and over again for hours on end!

We came home to London in two relays. George and Pattie wanted to go a little early--to pack again and leave for California--so Mal flew home with them on the following Sunday. Then on Monday Paul, Jane, John, Cyn, Julian, Paula and Alexis headed for London. Alexis just about had time to pack a fresh set of clothes in time to leave for Los Angeles on the Tuesday with George, Pattie and Neil!

There's no room here to tell you about the Harrison holiday in Hollywood so that will have to wait till next month.

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