‘Seventeen British tourists have appeared before a prosecutor on the Greek island of Crete after being arrested for dressing up in nun costumes and suspender belts.’ Yahoo News, 25th May 2009.Rather an odd thing to get nicked for, that. The offense was perpetrated in Malia, a seaside hell hole popular with that sub-species of Brit that goes on holiday to chain-drink bottles of Heineken from blearily rising to crashing into flatulent sleep some thirteen hours later. The seventeen ‘nuns’ were eventually freed because nobody showed up to testify that their behaviour had been offensive. The people of Malia have seen worse than men dressed up as nuns, and no doubt they also know which side their bread is buttered. I don’t know this, of course, but I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that dressing up as nuns was the least distasteful action of the Suspender Belt Seventeen’s evening. If I know Malia, insulting the locals and puking in the street may well have featured too, but if the fuzz pinched everybody who publicly chundered their day’s intake of booze, that would kill Malia’s tourist trade stone dead.
I spent two weeks in Crete in 1987, based in Malia, staying with a Greek friend who was scraping a living by selling crepes from a small cart in the street. Voula would set up her stall around seven in the evening outside one of the bars that lined a dirt road leading from Malia’s main street to the sea. By eight the road was busy, and by ten it was heaving with British and German visitors, with many a Brit thoroughly soused. One thirty-something couple in particular was nightly gazeboed by about nine o’ clock and was to be observed arm in arm, eyes like sucked humbugs, advancing slowly towards the main street, each footfall as tentative as if the road were thin ice. By two, Voula would consider shutting up for the night, because she no longer felt safe.
There had been a death at a house near Voula’s building, and the lid of the coffin was propped up outside the door, a sign that family was holding vigil for the deceased. People visit the family to offer condolences and wish ‘ζωή σε σας’, ‘life to you’. On this occasion they had to do so within spitting distance of a bunch of pissed-up British louts installed outside a café for the day, each encircled by his steadily growing collection of empties. They called out occasionally, slurred condolences that would probably have been heard as insults. Nothing happened, nothing came of this. The older locals seemed to have developed an ability just to tune out such boors as these. This is what is so embarrassing to the rest of us – it’s merely what the Cretans expected. Younger locals, nightly employed as barmen and waiters and therefore required every evening to serve drink after drink to the dregs of England, were less able to look past them. The atmosphere in the bars along the dirt road to the beach was one of palpable hostility and contempt.
‘Why do they do it?’ Voula would ask, mystified. ‘Why can’t they relax or enjoy themselves without getting drunk and incapable?’ You would think alcohol had just been invented, and its effects still largely unknown.
Well, the pity is, ρε Voula, we just have this shit-ignorant underclass. They are what A.A. Gill would later call ‘the lumpen and louty, coarse, unsubtle, beady-eyed, beefy-bummed herd of England.’ I think Gill intended this to apply to all of us, and of course I do not. It is, however, a perfect description of the shirtless, flabby, lard-white and brick-red boors soaking up beer and trouncing the sensibilities of foreigners in Malia, Hersonisos, Agios Nikolaos and the like. In the days before most people suspected that swilling gallons of booze might not be good for you, the British arrived at an unfortunate conclusion: whereas the Greeks decided that a drunk is a weakling who cannot handle an everyday substance, working class Brits especially evolved the view that drunkenness was a) funny and b) the mark of a real man.
Cassio:And that's what we are stuck with. When the ill-educated and incurious are tanked up with booze, they they behave the way these tourists behave. There are, of course, ill-educated and incurious Greeks, but they have not grown up to see booze as indispensible to having a good time and proving their masculinity.
Is your Englishman so expert in his drinking?
Why, he drinks you, with facility, your Dane dead
drunk; he sweats not to overthrow your Alamain; he
gives your Hollander a vomit, ere the next pottle can be filled.
Good God, I’m getting dreadfully crusty in my middle age… If I start calling for the return of National Service and the birch, hire someone to bump me off.
I only heard 'gazeboed' for 'drunk' last week. Two of my young female colleagues were planning their weekend, and it was their intention to get 'gazeboed' in celebration of someone's birthday. They explained that you can take any 'posh word' and add -ed, and it shall henceforth mean 'inebriated'. So we played about with it a bit.
'Come on, let's get antimacassared.'
'Pfwor, he was like well vestibuled, was Darren.'
'Can't remember a thing, I was that fuckin extrapolated...'
'One sniff of the cork, Megan, and she's laminated.'
Well, as I said, we just can't get over the idea that drunkenness is a larf.
I am reluctant to post a link to the Daily Mail, indeed I am wearing a paper bag over my head as I do so, but this article, even allowing for the Mail's usual combination of scandal-relishing censoriousness, suggests that the Malia of today is much worse than the relatively innocent Malia of 1987. The drunkenness is more desperate, the drunks a good decade younger. The bar owners seem to be making cocktails with the pure alcohol that's widely available in Greece for cleaning and disinfecting.
Looking at the Facebook photos of an ex-student of mine, who is now eighteen, I was surprised to see him gleefully brandishing bottles of Stolly at the camera, a most un-Greek thing to do, I thought. I'm used to attending Greek celebrations such as wedding receptions where lavish amounts of spirits are provided, but hardly touched. A friend informed me the other night that these days young Greeks are more prone to boozing than their elders were. Her daughter's generation would go out to clubs to dance, and had little interest in drinking. Now it seems the hooch is becoming more important.