Tag Archives: Cocktails

Nikos And His Cocktail Shaker…Part 2…

lancaster 2

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?

No.

Are you going to be long?

(Lean over to look at the bag of half empty blood after 3 hours pumping)

(sigh)

Could be a while.

(Rolls eyes)

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,

Window-licker“.

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.

thunderbirds2

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.

The bastards.

thunderbirds

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.

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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,

and

B. The cone around his head and sticky-out teeth really made me laugh.

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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!!)

(vacant look)

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.

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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.

Another Mojito?

Why not.

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..

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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.

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.

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I have to end this here as I fear any further comments will only lead to my special blood group being spilled.

All over.

And I’m not sure there are enough matching special donors out there willing to share theirs…

Nikos and His Cocktail Shaker…Part one..

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Its amazing just how quickly something can become a distant memory when you actually return from a great experience. It seemed but moments ago that I was floating on the edge of the sea on Troulos beach in Skiathos, making the most of my final opportunity to soak up the view before I had to return to my accommodation and pack.

Now, slightly more than a week later, I was sat with a nurse who was fiddling with a needle in my arm, trying to draw blood.

This was my first visit to donate blood, having accompanied my wife several times just to keep her company. I had never had any inclination to donate mainly out of laziness I suppose. I think my wife believed that when I passed out in hospital after knee surgery, it had had a lasting effect.

But I have to admit needles don’t bother me, its the effort involved in donating that does. (And that’s bad, considering I’d be lay down through-out with a cup of tea and all you can eat biscuit pile to go at upon completion)

There’ll be women out there who will recognize immediately the syndrome. It’s the terrible “I’m a man” malady.

In an effort at avoiding possible life-threatening energy loss, I would reason it out with Jane whenever she tried to encourage me to donate.

“I can’t. Its because I’m special Jane. My blood is important.”

Why? Whys it so important?”

“Because its mine. (Der) Its probably rare. I’m probably one of those whaddya call it? Rare blood groups, like a Z or something.”

What are you talking about you idiot? There isn’t a Z blood group. You don’t know what blood group you are!!! Your just lazy! Your probably the most common, common blood group – O positive! Anyway if its rare, you should donate!”

“All the more reason to keep hold of it Jane. What if there’s only two of us with a Z blood group? What if they won’t donate theirs? What if they won’t share?? I’ll bet he’ll be happy to take mine though! I’m not giving some bastard all my blood if he won’t give me any of his! I need all I can get for Christ’s sake! I can’t just be handing it out willy-nilly!!!”

Jane’s snort of disgust would be the end of the conversation.

As it was, I had years ago committed myself to The Anthony Nolan trust after hearing about a young child at my sons school who was suffering from Fanconi’s Anaemia – A genetic disorder that tends to lead to suffers developing cancer, often acute myelogenous leukemia, 90% leading to bone marrow failure – she was 5 and they were searching for possible matches in order to help her.

What would you do?

I was happy to go along with everyone else and give blood samples and register with the trust, in order to give this child an opportunity at a possible cure. After all, I only had to look at my own 3 young children and imagine being in the position that this child’s parents found themselves in. As it was I wasn’t a match. Fortunately though, they did eventually find one and last I heard she was recovering after a successful bone marrow transplant.

After that I never thought anything of it. I think deep down the thought of someone drilling away at me for marrow wasn’t over appealing, and in some ways I was relieved to forget about it. So it was with some surprise I received a letter from the trust telling me I was a possible match for some poor bugger.

I went through the pro’s and cons involved in the procedure and I have to say, the last thing I had expected (and secretly fervently hoped I would never be) was to be discovered as a match for someone suffering with such a serious disease.

It meant a couple of days away in London where I would – most likely – be attached to a machine that would draw Stem Cells from my blood to be donated to the recipient. The other procedure would mean being anaesthetized while they drew marrow from me.

What finally sold it for me was I would be in a nice hotel and be paid to do it.

Result.

Until I stopped fooling around and seriously thought about the implications for the desperate person hanging on at the other side of this requirement.

I had to say yes. There was no other option. It was a case of waiting to see if they needed me after I sent confirmation samples of blood off.

After some weeks the answer came back as a “thank you but you’re no longer required”.

I have to admit I was relieved. I also have to admit I spent a good while thinking about the person who had needed the donation.

See, I never discovered if they found a donor for this person so I don’t know if they survived. I don’t know how old they were, or whether they were a man or a woman or a child. But I think the implications of what I was asked to donate, the implications it meant to some desperate anonymous life, finally hit home.

It wasn’t just stem cells, or marrow that you donate to the trust.

It was a chance at staying alive for the person who needs it.

Finding out it was no longer required and not knowing if they had found someone more suitable to donate or whether the person who needed it survived or not, touched a nerve. It was the anonymity I think, that did it.

Knowing that there was someone out there seriously suffering while I and most of the population went about our business without that dread and worry hanging over our lives. What it meant to those families supporting this person, completely powerless to do anything about their illness unless a donor could be found. If it was a child? A wife or a Husband? A brother, a sister, a father a mother..?

Simply forced to watch them travel that road and support them along it until they received the help they required.

Or they didn’t.

Implications that some unknowing healthy person out there could change. For someone.

Anyway, it was due to this that I finally decided to donate blood. And had the conversation with Jane about how special I must be…

We had just returned from our first holiday abroad in 6 years. And I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed it. Some three weeks prior to sitting where I was now I was preparing to journey to Greece. Skiathos. A small, very green Island in the Aegean sea. Its some 7 miles long and 4 miles wide and its quiet. Its my third visit and the peace and quiet never fails to envelope me.

Iphone Skiaphos 009

We had spent a busy weekend before travelling visiting both our daughters, Emily and Holly before we went away. Both were at university at either side of the country so it meant a bit of travelling on a bank holiday weekend. We wanted to make sure we spent some time with them before we went, making sure they were both ok and see if either could pop home at some point and check up on Callum.

Also, the reasoning being that if the plane went down at least they both got a hug and a sandwich before we went, and would be aware that Cal was in charge of Ben the dog at home, and he may need feeding by then..

We had had some reservations going, as it meant our first holiday away alone would mean leaving our son Callum home-alone. Now Cal is 17, almost 18, but I think him cooking anything is a recently acquired ability that has plenty of room for improvement. Walking into waves of heat in a swelteringly hot kitchen, with the oxygen all but gone, to find the oven still on and the gas on the hob in the process of melting the extractor, created some reservations.

Him also asking if the dog needed feeding “Everyday?” and being mildly surprised to find this was the case, didn’t inspire confidence

So I had taken to trying to show him how to cook some meals, just so that I would know he would eat something reasonably healthy. And not move into a Pizza shop.

I prepared a Bolognese sauce for him, reasoning that him cooking the spaghetti wasn’t much of an ask and would encourage him to see how easy it would be to prepare something nourishing.

“Ok with this Cal?”

“Yep no problem dad.”

“Spaghetti in pan, add hot water….”

“Dad. I’m not an idiot.”

Fair play son, I thought, and left him to it.

Sat in the other room, I became aware of some frenzied activity coming from the kitchen, a clatter and a banging I wouldn’t normally associate with cooking spaghetti. I mean, Spaghetti in pan, add hot water, boil, drain…How hard can it be? But I was still hesitant about intruding, thinking he just needed the opportunity to organize himself. Lets face it, The sauce was done, ready and waiting, all he had to do was cook the spaghetti.

Finally he was finished and I edged into the kitchen.

“Ok Cal?”

“Yeah, yeah. Fine Dad.”

“Lets see it then?”

He edged over to quickly flourish the plate then began to turn away. I caught a glimpse of a mountain of pure sauce and briefly noticed that poking from under it, were an alarming number blackened, charcoal like strands.

“Jesus Cal! You only had to boil the spaghetti! How did you burn it??”

“It wasn’t my fault! The pan was too small!”

“Too small! It was the biggest bloody pan! Did you leave the spaghetti hanging out? You bloody did didn’t you!”

It didn’t occur to him that the gas didn’t need to be on full, nor that the spaghetti hanging over the lip of the pan ready for the hot water, needed to be encouraged to fold into the pot as he added it. Instead he poured the water in, turned the gas up full, then stood back and began sorting his plate out.

The spaghetti, left unattended, did fold over, over the lip of the pan where it was licked by the flames from the high gas. Finally, over the shoulder of Gordon Ramsay – picking out his favourate fork, it caught fire and went up like so many fuses.. Eventually the smoke or the smell caught his attention. The clatter and banging had been him trying to run the tap on a Tee towel so he could flog the flames out.

He had then broken off the really badly burnt strands and tried to stretch the remainder into a meal.

I had done everything bar stand there and watch it boil. I had Loaded the actual amount of spaghetti in the pan, boiled the water in the kettle, and left him with simple, step-by-step cooking instructions. I was left with the dreadful realization that he was going to be home alone for 2 weeks fending for himself.

Jesus. He was going to burn the fucking house down and kill the dog.

We arrived at the airport ready to forget about everything and just enjoy our break alone. 2 weeks stress-free. Doing, what-ever we wanted to. It had been a long time coming and we were both determined to make the most of it.

The best start to my holiday has always been – for me- arriving early at the airport and getting rid of our bags and just relaxing in the knowledge that we were on our way. We had worked our way through the airport in a snaking queue that I hadn’t encountered before. It led from check-in to security where our hand luggage would be checked prior to entering the departure lounge and duty free area. It was just before we reached the security area that a dawning realization hit me.

I tried to quietly get Jane’s attention before we moved forward and placed our bags on the conveyor belt that would draw our hand luggage into the X-ray machine. Mumbling out of the side of my mouth,

“Jane. Jane!”

“What?”

I’ve got a knife in my bag!”

“What! What are you doing with a knife here?? Who carries a bloody knife in an airport!!!”

“I’ll say its a bottle opener! I have a bottle opener in there too!”

A fucking bottle opener??? Why have you brought a knife you idiot????”

Its only a little knife!!!”

Not the best answer you may agree. But it was. A little knife. A pen-knife in fact. It was the knife I peeled my apple with everyday. But lets face it, in this climate, you’re not going to do yourself any favours by flourishing a blade – big or small – at an airport.

And here I was, stood looking apprehensively at the serious faces of security, their eyes scanning people as they approached the conveyor belt, each person placing a bag on the belt to be x-rayed, and emptying pockets and removing hats and belts. Whilst security hovered, eagle-eyed, looking for potential problems. Just waiting for an alarm to go off so they could leap into action and quietly taser and frog march someone off to a subterranean room where they would be professionally beaten…

In this case me, with my shorts round my ankles, because another thing had occurred to me to heighten my stress levels to nails-drawn-across-blackboard levels.

I was wearing a pair of favourate shorts. The only problem being with them was they had metal buttons. These continuously sheered off and had to be re-sewn on. I had lost the top button from the shorts and had asked Jane a couple of days earlier to sew it back on for me and she had forgotten. So I removed the belt and the shorts automatically began to fall down and I was left clutching them to my waist as I waited to place my bag on the conveyor belt and for my knife to be spotted.

I knew I would be seized, and undoubtedly thrashed in a tiny room until I confessed.

And I would have.

To anything.

And believe me I’d have sold my mother down the river on the way to that subterranean room, never mind admit to the knife. She has no idea how close she came to having MI5 kicking her back door in and hauling her off some where. These people had no idea how much information they would have had out of me over the first 20 feet of assisted shuffled steps. I’d have leaked like a sprinkler, I’d have dropped anyone in it as long as it wasn’t me that ended up in chokey…

I’m too pretty for jail.

So I walked through trying to be pleasant and smiley, hoping I wouldn’t be asked any questions or be searched. Because if I was, I would undoubtedly crack and say the first, most stupid thing that came to mind.

“Ahahaha. I’m not a bloody terrorist you know! I haven’t got a bomb under my jumper! I’ve only got a knife..”

My God, this wasn’t going to end well at all.

Jane obviously thought the same thing because as the guard beckoned me forward, she skipped past me to place her bag on the conveyor belt and hissed,

“Just shut up. They may not notice it. Ican’tbelieveyoubroughtabloodyknife!!!”

I was left goggling at her back as she stepped away and abandoned me, creating some distance between herself and me. It was obvious she didn’t want to impede the security guards when they realized I was armed and charged in to take me down.

My turn followed and I stepped forward to place my bag on the belt, watching it head into the X-ray machine, all the while hanging onto my shorts..

I looked at Jane and mouthed,

My pants are falling down

Jane, further along the conveyor belt, by now removing her bag, just rolled her eyes and visibly stepped further away, then turned to watch with interest.

My imagination was running away with me. All I could picture was myself being restrained with my shorts round my ankles, with security shouting,

“He’s tried to hide it up his arse! Get the gloves on!!”

security2

My wife having created her bubble of safety, was obviously rehearsing expressions and reply’s. I believe she was prepared to be tearful and state she was forced along at knife-point and could they please save her from the bad man….

I moved through to wait for my bag to come out of the machine and make its way towards my waiting arms. Which it did and just as I reached for it, it slid sideways and down another shoot to a waiting security guard, who beckoned me around everybody else who had successfully navigated their way past the X-ray machine. Have you ever noticed how quickly you become a point of interest to all those who are safely through? I approached her side trying to act like this happened everyday.

Sweat was beading my brow at this point and I was absently wondering if she’d let me remove my inhaler and have a blast on it, letting her know I was asthmatic. My reasoning being she may possible go more gently with her approach before slapping the cuffs on and knocking the crap out of me.

Instead she greeted me with a bright and airy,

“Hello sir! Is this your bag? Is there anything in there that you want to disclose to me?”

“Yes! Yes I do!! I have a knife! Its only a little knife for peeling apples! I’m not going to stab you!! My pants are falling down!! Please God don’t stick anything up my bum!!! There’s nothing up there!! I had a camera up it once! A nurse said it was like a flute!! My wife knew I had the knife!! She’s over there!!!”

Fuck it. If I was going down I’d take Jane with me.

That was the initial jumble of words ready to spill from my mouth. But as she asked me so gently and apologetically, it took the wind from my sails somewhat. Instead I said,

“I have to say, I think my penknife is in there. I’m so sorry I forgot to remove it. I use it at work for peeling my apple everyday!”

(Nudge nudge)

I had Jane poking me, trying to shut me up before my mouth completely ran away with me.

“Ok Sir that’s fine, but I’m really sorry I’m going to have to remove it. You can’t travel on board with this in your bag I’m afraid.”

She said looking up at me.

“What? Is that it? Jesus take the bloody thing! That’s Fine!! Thank you – your so kind…”

(Nudge nudge nudge)

“Phew. I won’t make that mistake again. I’ll buy one over there. Not that I’ll bring it back mind!!”

(Nudgenudgenudge)

“…ah..yes.. ok I’ll just move on then..?”

And finally we made it through to the departure lounge.

Next step, after Jane finished telling me off, all I had to do was get on the plane, fly 4 hours and land at the incredibly short run-way that was Skiathos airport..