As I said in the previous post Part 1, a week or so after returning from Skiathos I found myself donating blood for the first time.
I had a nurse fiddling with the needle in my arm in order to get the blood flowing, which stopped every time she released it. She had me tensing my legs and then squeezing a ball to encourage the flow, but all this achieved was for the blood to progress three inches or so with each compression.
Lets face it.
A first time donor shouldn’t have to pump his own blood out. So, in the end I had the constant company of three cheerful nurses, rotating in turns, twisting the needle to a just-so position and holding it there, so the blood continued uninterrupted to the bag below me.
And people were lapping me.
New faces were sitting down and having a needle inserted, filling their bags with gusto. Then they were off to my right having a brew and a biscuit and leaving, shaking their heads and casting disapproving glances at me, still reclined, taking up manpower, stubbornly refusing to complete my donation.
I think some 40 people filed past me have successfully donated, transferred to the brew area, then left. Jane having put up with the “I’m obviously a special blood Type” conversation earlier, was sat frowning in my direction (I noticed she didn’t hesitate to have 3 brews and a table of biscuits) while I sat in my chair being siphoned off.
She was mouthing things at me across the room, while holding a coffee in one hand and (another) biscuit in the other.
Are you taking the piss?
Are you going to be long?
(Lean over to look at the bag of half empty blood after 3 hours pumping)
Could be a while.
Your taking so LONG.
Its because I’m special.
(catty smile from Jane)
Special. Yes. A special dickhead.
(me, roll eyes)
Its not like your starving. Have another pack of biscuits. Fatty Bum-Bum.
It degenerated from there
The only redeeming factor, I have to say, is that the nurses were very pleasant, and the chairs you find yourself seated in while donating are very comfortable. Plenty of room to swing your legs in those.
Unlike the seat I found myself sitting in for my holiday flight.
As a kid, seeing a WW2 Lancaster bomber flying over en-route to an air show seemed common place. That and the beautiful Spitfires and Hurricanes with their distinctive Rolls Royce engines. There was always a “Whoooooooaaa!” round-eyed open-mouthed moment as they flew with that deep drone, overhead. I was born at a time where I was young enough to take on board that the effects of WW2, still held a distinctive memory to the generation that took part in that conflict. And to see the planes of that era rumbling overhead, flying in formation, always touched some deep inside me..
I don’t even know how I could impress upon anyone what seeing those aircraft did to me. My grandad had fought in that conflict and been one of the fortunate few to come out the other side unscathed. And stories he impressed upon me were always of what people had had to overcome with sheer determination and stoic heroism.
Those bone shaking aircraft had always seemed an iconic reflection of that traumatic time to me.
What dragged my train of thought down this path was the holiday flight. It was the images of the Lancaster Bombers that initially came into my mind, as they flew on their legendary low level bombing raid on the Mohne, Eder and Sorpe dams in Germany, using Barnes Wallis’s “bouncing bomb”.
That low level bombing raid, rocked by flak and turbulence, struggling to maintain control long enough to deliver the pay-loads and get back home safe. It sounds an extreme comparison but bear with me.
The old lady in front was adamant she was going to stretch all 4 foot of her self in a prone position, in an effort to avoid a blood clot in those vein riddled legs. So having spent an uncomfortably cramped flight, with said woman, reclining her seat luxuriously so her kindly smiling head sat almost in my lap, I was aching to get off the aircraft and stretch my legs.
The clot making its way to my heart, on the other hand, would confirm what the old lady knew. That a leg free trip was the best way to travel.
Looking out of the window of the plane as we began our descent, I spotted a tiny Island off to our right and as we cruised past it I pointed it out to Jane.
“Blimey, look at that tiny place down there. Have you seen the size of that airport? Its dinky!”
The tail end of the island had a narrow strip of tarmac that looked like a thin, very short brush stroke from this distance. The lack of run-way was exaggerated by the view of the rocks that tumbled away from the run-way at either end, disappearing into the sea.
“Christ almighty. Bet that would be a hairy landing.”
“I know, I wouldn’t fancy that place! It looks like you would run straight off the end!” added Jane.
Just then the Captain broke in.
“For those of you with the splendid view to our right, I’m sure your all aware of Skiathos on that side. If you look carefully you can actually see the run-way! We’re just going to go past it then swing back round to lose enough height so we can come in to land. The runway is a trifle short. It may be a touch bumpy landing..”
I was already fastening my seat belt in a complicated knot, and frantically punching the seat of the old lady in front trying to get enough room to get my head between my knees.
The little old lady in front obviously aware of my discomfort slowly adjusted her seat to an upright position and turned around to look over her glasses, and said with a gentle, and more importantly, completely relaxed smile and said,
“Don’t worry dear, You’ll be fine. I’ve been here lots of times and the trick is to make sure your body has been rested during the flight here….”
At this point mind, the sudden shift in the old lady’s seat had returned circulation to my legs and they were cramping and spasming so one leg was kicking out like I had a neurotic goose step.
“Omg Jane! OMFG!! Where’s my life jacket! I can’t find my life jacket!! Old lady move your seat!! Move your fucking seat!! Don’t smile at me you old bastard!!! DON’T FUCKING SMILE AT ME!! Its alright for you – you’re half-way dead anyway you old witch!!”
I should have remembered from the previous two visits I had made to the island about the run way. But I had forgotten.
We circled away, with the island sliding from our view as we turned, preparing to land. The pilot must have began to reverse his thrusters as we descended because the noise of the engines increased as we dropped lower. Out of the window the Island appeared much closer and passing by much faster. Then with the nose still tipped up the tarmac appeared below us and it was as if the pilot was aware of how little runway was available to him, because it suddenly seemed as though he slammed the undercarriage of the aircraft onto the ground in an effort to get it down quickly.
It actually felt as though we bounced along several times, the nose still up in the air, before he managed to lower the front end of the plane onto the tarmac which was hurtling past, and begin applying the brake. I was acutely aware of how short the runway was and the fact that to over-run it meant landing in the sea. The sheer noise of the plane trying to stop before we shot off the end only heightened in my mind how little runway there had looked to be from our fly-past.
It was the noise of the plane thundering and rattling along trying to slow down that put the Lancasters in my mind. Looking wide eyed to my left across the aisle with the noise of the aircraft trying to stop filling my ears, I spotted a lady gripping the handle on the headrest of the seat in front of her, legs braced on the floor and a rictus-teeth-baring- grin on her face. Then I noticed almost everyone else in similar states around me.
It was only as we continued to judder and bounce along the runway, with the Airport buildings fast sliding by on our right, that I reflected, at times like this seeing an anchor tied to a rope, appear flung from the front of the aircraft, bouncing along until it snatched a hold on the ground could only reassure me.
Gradually though we were slowing down and as we did I realized I was in the same posture. Probably with slightly more sweat involved though, with possibly whiter knuckles.
We had seemingly reached the end of the runway, and I mean the end of the runway because the only place available to us at this point was the turning circle which separated us from the sea. Any further and we would be sliding down inflated slides, pulling cords on life jackets and blowing whistles.
And trampling old lady’s to death with no remorse what-so-ever.
We boarded our coach outside which was slightly late. And as it arrived – this always amazes me – homeward bound people are trying to get off to claim their luggage, their flip-flops making sad, slow, slap-slap noises, as they made their way slowly to remove their cases. While the new-arrivals are literally bustling them out of the way in a rush to force their luggage on board and start their holiday.
It’s like a collision of moods. A wide spectrum ranging from bustling, hyper excitement and impatience from the new arrivals clashing with the misery, dragging feet of the departees, with impatience – being the only common denominator.
The rest of the journey to the apartments was uneventful bar one point. I sadly realized I would never recognize a boyhood dream and become a member of Thunderbirds and fly Thunderbirds 2.
It was as we finally boarded the coach and were on our way that my Thunderbirds epiphany struck. There was a hand rest situated at the side of the seat, tucked down out of the way to allow passengers to enter the seat un-encumbered.
We were instructed to lift this into place as we left the airport to help secure passengers and stop them rolling into the aisle. Could I get this thing up? No. No chance at all. I yanked, I pulled, I twisted, all under the watchful eye of the young man opposite me. I became more flustered as I tugged at it, becoming aware of other people – who had successfully lifted their arm rests into place – watching me with the look of pity reserved for suffering half-wits. And all the time I had Jane whispering smugly over my shoulder,
In the end, the young man opposite could take no more. He leaned over and took hold of the handle and rolled it out into the aisle in a curling motion so that it rolled up and back in towards me, coming to rest with a “click” in its final position.
I muttered my thanks and turned to look out of the window on my side, and brusquely began pointing out to Jane, leaves, sky, the sun, a limping dog, a cat and all the time avoiding eye-contact with her.
As I sat glaring out of the window I finally had to face facts.
In the time it would take for Thunderbirds 1 and 3 pilots to race down secret subterranean tunnels, to be deposited in their aircraft, to fire up the thrusters and flick an array of switches, adjust head sets as they took off in a burst of noise and flame, rocketing off to rescue who-ever, I would be sat in my underground enclosure, listening to the comms of the departing Thunderbird 1 and 3.
“Thunderbird 1 is a GO!”
“Thunderbird 3 is a GO!”
While inside Thunderbird 2 I would be revving the engine, spinning the steering wheel and finally shouting,
“Where the fuck, is the GO button?”
I would still be where they left me, as those distant heroic pin-pricks rapidly re-grew in size as they returned, dropping down on landing pads, suspensions compressing as they absorbed the weight of the aircraft, mission accomplished, lives saved.
Driven by two dummies, all square-jawed and dimpled chinned..
While I would be attaching jump leads to a door-nob just for the look of the thing.
It was obvious, I just didn’t have the right stuff to be a Thunderbird 2 pilot…
Jane and I had been looking forward to eating out at a variety of good food venues during our stay. The area where we were staying on the island was called Troulos, and there’s no real center to the place. Its kind of scattered over an area which adds to the lovely quiet about the place. There is a main road that runs the length of the island travelling from the airport, skirting the islands modern capital Skiathos town, then running along the coast with tributaries of various roads leading in-land, over the tops of the hills to other parts of the island.
You could only get to these points if you hired a car or moped really. Any minor road that feeds off the long coast road goes almost vertical within 25 yards of leaving the main drag. These roads would be too inaccessible and those places on the other side of the island too far to walk otherwise.
A regular bus service travels along the main coastal road, stopping at the small venues along the way. It runs from the bus station in Skiathos town, terminating at the opposite side of the island at koukounaries, a curving beach about a mile long of pure fine sand and crystal clear aqua-marine water.
Its an incredibly beautiful spot, if a little crowded with sun loungers, as you can imagine, it attracts a lot of visitors.
Our main aim during our stay was not to stress over our son, Callum, who was home alone looking after Ben, our rescue dog. I initially had had many reservations about taking on board a pet and only did so after hurrying along the holding pens at the dogs home and seizing upon Ben because,
A. He was huddled up in a corner completely silent, very skinny and sad looking, and surrounded by manic, bouncing yappers,
B. The cone around his head and sticky-out teeth really made me laugh.
So when we took him home with said cone round his noggin, and (we discovered shortly after) he had a kennel cough that left him hacking and firing flem all over the shop. At this point I was very (alone in being) concerned we had made a huge mistake. But as his health improved, the cough and flem cleared, the cone of shame came off and licking his balls must have had a cheering effect because he settled in no time and became a very pleasant dog indeed..
I have to admit, his border terrier cross looks, prominent bottom jaw and him often being the first member of the house to be genuinely pleased to see me, touched a nerve, and I gradually felt it wasn’t such a mistake after all.
I now feel that although he is – undoubtedly – a retard at heart, (You wouldn’t want to be stuck down a well looking up and seeing his furry face silhouetted against the sky and discover he was your only chance of a rescue)
(Get help Ben! Help Ben! GET HELP – Ahaha. Oh Jesus – I can’t take those sticky out teeth seriously – Get help you stupid dog!!)
I have come to accept he is a part of the family.
So we were relieved that our daughter Holly stayed the first week, then my sister Kerry who I have frequently written about (See all the French blogs Ostrich heaven, Bush Trimmer, Vive Le Garlic and many more) stayed the second week that we were away.
So we could relax without fear of coming home to a canine equivalent of a new gold-fish, and just concentrate on lazing around, eating out and visiting old haunts from our previous visits to the island.
One of those places was Nectar and Ambrosia and its lovely proprietor Aspa.
Last time we came to the island some 5 years earlier we had read reviews about the restaurant, set up on the hill side with views across the valley. We only visited it on the final part of the holiday and regretted not going sooner immediately.
Aspa is a bubbly, urgent lady, constantly bustling round her restaurant checking up on her customers. There’s a slightly breathless anxious edge to her as she hovers around each table, with a flurry of queries, checking everything is ok with your meal. Which is incredibly sweet when you finally have the opportunity to tell her just how fantastic the food is and see how much it means to her. The end of your meal is often accompanied by Aspa bringing over her latest creamy concoction of a desert, which she would place between Jane and I with two spoons to accompany it.
For all my protestations that I was full, I wouldn’t be able to resist it for long, and as I would watch Jane savouring each mouthful I would have to snatch up a spoon and a race would then follow to make sure we each had a fare share.
Obviously Jane always won.
But what also added to Aspa’s restaurant were the sweeping views of the valley across the area of Troulos. The 50 steps that led up to the dining area were well worth the effort, when you sat down and began to take the rewarding panorama of the clear blue sky against the verdant green of the hills, which seemed to become more prominent as the sun set beyond them.
I can only say out of the 14 days we spent there I think we ate there some 7 times. And only a hand full of times at other places scattered around the area. Highly recommended.
Our holiday I have to admit was spent either lazing around on Troulos beach, doing next to nothing, or we were in Skiathos town sat at our favourate crepes bar on the high street or wandering the surrounding narrow alleys that had signs scattered around warning that all mopeds and other vehicles were banned from the narrow streets.
Only, in a fabulously quirky way, we discovered almost a herd of those very vehicles weaving through the crowds of people in those narrow areas in a fabulous two-fingered salute to bureaucracy.
From there we would head back to Troulos and the beach situated there to sunbathe, snorkel, and people watch..
There was an extremely large lady who was staying at our accommodation with her friend who had tried to latch onto Jane and I some days earlier. I have to admit I’m not the most sociable person on holiday. I like to relax and observe people and see what they get up to, but not actually get involved very often. I like to watch life and little pockets of it happening around me, from the life guards chatting up the young women, mum’s and dad’s trying to occupy the kids, to the Germans who sunbathe stood up talking at the edge of the sea.
While all us lazy Brits are lay flat out all over the sand like so many sea-lions.
What I became aware of was that the really seriously organized German actually strikes a pose, stands stiffly to attention, chest out, with knuckles on hips, eyes closed, soaking in the sun.
Its quite impressive.
I do enjoy observing people. Its why I write these blogs.
It was as I was fishing that I caught sight of these two ladies entering the center of the beach, then recognized the larger of the two as the lady from our apartment, walking puffing and panting, with obvious difficulty due to her size. She was wearing a large pair of shorts and enormous baggy tee-shirt. A hat sat on her head protecting her short back and sides from the sun.
I am kind-of ashamed to say I hoped she didn’t recognize us. I was happy casting away in the sea, trying to avoid getting a bite and I really didn’t wanted any company and polite conversation.
I have to admit I was surprised she had managed the walk to the beach from the apartment at all, as it is a reasonable distance. My heart fell somewhat when I realized she had spotted Jane and I, and was making a bee-line for us. I chose to continue fishing and not notice her arrival, or her placing her towels next to ours, or engaging Jane in conversation or her making her way behind me, or, lighting up a cigarette and blowing the smoke across me.
It was only as I went to recast that I turned and found her sat ensconced directly behind me perched on the rocks.
“Am I in your way?” She asked, balancing herself on the rocks behind me, gesturing at the space with her cigarette.
Well. Actually. Yes! I’d say 3 foot behind someone blowing smoke over them as they try to fish IS a mite fucking close..
Was what I wanted to say, but Jane is always telling me to be more tolerant with people so I looked to her for reassurance only to see her abandoning me and swimming out to sea.
“I have to sit down, see? I can’t lie down because I can’t get back up..”
I resigned myself to small talk, realizing she wouldn’t last long on the beach as she wouldn’t be able to stand up for long either. In the end I excused my self and went over to my towel to lie down and read, keeping an eye out on jane now some 300 yards out to sea treading water.
I think the lady finally got the message and left me to read, while she changed positions on the rock smoking away. Her friend kept inquiring if she was ok in a resigned voice to be told “I don’t know why we came to the beach, You know I can’t lie down. It’s hot too..”
In the end even her friend had enough and went off to wade along the shore weaving in and out of vertically static Germans.
I just continued to fix my eyes on my book focusing my attention determinedly, while keeping one eye on and Jane wishing she’d head back in and help me pass the strained moments. Which she finally did and I watched her progress with anticipation until she came within 50 yards of the beach and swiftly turned and swam briskly back out to the 400 yards mark like Johnny Weissmuller.
I just thought “come onnnnnn” until a movement from my new large friend caught my eye and I turned to look. Only to find she had stripped down to a huge pair of speedo-like bottoms and now stood with her back to me, with no top on and two huge pancake like breasts like burst air-bags, hanging from under her arms.
It took a matter of moments for Jane to find me frantically treading water alongside, wailing to her,
“My eyes Jane! Are they Bleeding??? I think they’re fucking bleeding!!!!”
Our evenings were spent at either Aspa’s restaurant or at various others, tending to head down to Christakis’ bar where I met Nikos.
Nikos was the bar tender.
King of the cocktails, the bar he worked being situated outside by the pool.
Its the perfect place to be on those hot nights. Out in the fresh air as the evening gradually cools down. I love the low lighting and slight breeze that creeps across the pool area. And as I’ve found almost all over Skiathos, there are always a contingent of cats, wandering in and around the place.
But back to Nikos. Talking to him I discovered the holiday season was a non-stop work routine for him from the initial start of the break time to its end. It was a 24/7 existence.
Once it was over he would spend the winter months himself either travelling or on his fishing boat just enjoying himself.
Not a bad existence you have to agree.
“Mike what are you drinking?”
He would ask as I settled at his bar outside.
“Tonight Nikos, a Cocktail I think! Mojito! That’s the one for me!”
And he would set to mixing a number of items to form my drink.
Crushed Ice in a glass, sugar, lime juice, lemon juice, chilled club soda, light rum and the all important sprigs of fresh mint leaves.
He would set to mixing then wander along the flowers poolside, fish out the mint, chop and drop into the drink. A quick shake and it was served with a flourish, that always putting me in mind of a Flamenco dancer, as he finishes the routine with a foot stamp and click of fingers.
It was first name terms early on, and a friendly shout during the day if you were passing by.
In the mean time it was full on work, late nights at the bar dealing with this weeks tourists. And I have to say you never felt like you were part of a temporary visiting group, there to be milked for your money.
It was always a lovely warm personal greeting from Christakis – who owned the bar and apartments behind. He would make his way around the bar and pool area during the night greeting the people there. I happened to mention to him my daughter Emily had visited his bar regularly a couple of years earlier with her boyfriend Vinny.
“Ah! Emily! Vinny! He didn’t drink? Yes? Come with me, see over here!”
And he led me off to his computer by the bar. Switching it on he turned it to his website.
“There! See? Emily!! Ha! Your Emily yes?”
And it was. It was the sincerity of Chris that sold me. To have remembered my daughter two years on made me realize how much each person that came to his bar meant to him.
Back at the bar I discovered a liking for Mojitos. And even though there was an awful lot of effort in mixing the drink I had a acquired a taste for, Nikos was backwards and forwards uncomplainingly over the next few nights, plucking mint and mixing drinks, while they went down like lemonade.
It was only towards the final few nights that I was again sat pool side with Jane, slumped in my chair contentment marred by the fact we were due to leave in a matter of days.
Nikos caught my eye with a quiet moment at the bar. The raised eyebrows asked silent question.
And he set off to pluck the mint.
As I sat watching him mix it, another movement caught my eye. It was one of the cats wandering over by the mint plants, that slow snaking movement, tail erect, back arching as it rubbed itself up against anything and everything. It was with dawning comprehension that I realized what was happening over at the mint pot.
I think it was Nikos placing my drink down with his usual flourish that snapped me out of the opened mouthed stare as I witnessed what the cat was doing.
“For you Mike! Your favourate drink! Cheers!!”
There was nothing for it. I took hold of the straw and took a good pull on my drink and had to admit, what the hell it was as good as ever.
Because I didn’t have the heart to turn it away after watching the enthusiasm he put into the mixing of those drinks for me personally. I must admit it still tasted good.
After all, I hadn’t tasted the cat piss in any of the others..
I must admit I took a particular shine to Nikos, he was just such good company. The hug I got off him when we called in to say farewell really touched me. He was just such a nice sincere person.
So if you read this Nikos, please, have a Mojito and think of me.
But for Christ’s sake, wash the mint mate.
Finally in this epic blog, I come towards the end.
I have to say, it was just so nice being alone with Jane, having the opportunity to just spend time with each other. Its something that makes me a little sad the more distant the occasion becomes and the normal rush-around existence of being home reasserts itself.
She often complains that I don’t paint her in a good light in these blogs.
“You always call me “The Wife” ” she informs me.
But I love jane very much.
And think we have been fortunate in having developed a wonderful relationship over the passing years. I just happen to believe she’s only happy when she’s wagging a finger under my nose and telling me off for:
having too much to drink/saying something I shouldn’t/not giving blood fast enough/breathing
Laughing in her face as she berates me only fans the flames and then she discovers she can’t walk and talk and wag her finger all at the same time and she grinds to a halt in the middle of a street to really impart some abuse.
It makes me smile just to think of it.
I have to admit I antagonize her to breaking point just so she has to stop and frantically finger wag and make me listen to her..
But, she’s my Jane. And I wouldn’t be without her.
You won’t be surprised to know, she dictated most of these last few lines.
You’ll also be interested to find out that I received the results back from my blood donation a week or so after giving my arm-full. All the effort I went through to fill up that bag, literally pumping my own blood from my arm was worth it. The 3 nurses who hovered over me taking turns to hold the needle just so, to ensure that it continued to flow, must have sensed how special I was.
I began the Nikos blog initially talking about my status as a new blood donor. I know Jane had been determinedly derogatory about my firm conviction that I was “special”, with the possibility of my having a rare “Z” blood group.
I think she had been waiting with anticipation of the moment she could turn to me and say,
“See! You dickhead! Your not special! I told you “Z” doesn’t exist!! You’re just a common “O” group. You couldn’t be more common!!!”
Unfortunately to her surprise (and mine actually) I’m an “A-” which makes me if not completely verging on the endangered list, a damn site more special than Janes blood group. Part of the 6% of the population who is “A-” actually.
Instead I have discovered I am verging on being Spiderman.
It hasn’t gone down well with Jane.
My debit card ID and official letter (to be laminated) declaring my special status, especially catches in her throat.
Jane on the other hand is part of the huge 36% of the population with the same, throw-away-paper-ID, very ordinary, very common, blood group.
Ben has since discovered he has a rarer blood group than Jane.
I have to end this here as I fear any further comments will only lead to my special blood group being spilled.
And I’m not sure there are enough matching special donors out there willing to share theirs…