Greece is my favourite country on Earth. I’ve been there a dozen times and at the end of every break have become all misty-eyed about leaving, making vague promises to myself that one day I would swap the London rat race for a little stone cottage on some forgotten Aegean isle.
With one exception.
Greece – Kavos to be precise – was also the location of the worst holiday of my life, the only one where I seriously considered fleeing to the airport for an early flight home.
I was 18, in possession of that toxic blend of misplaced cockiness and staggering naivety, and along with a dozen others just like me, embarked on a two-week holiday in one of the Med’s most infamous fleshpots to celebrate the end of school.
You read that correctly. Fourteen days. Precisely 336 hours. In Kavos. Between us, we somehow decided that one week of drunken idiocy was insufficient. Even 10 days was deemed inadequate. No, it was a full fortnight of soused stupidity on the menu.
I actually recall being excited as our jet touched down. That quickly dissipated as the coach pulled up outside our apartment block in the middle of Corfu’s premier hellhole. If you’ve seen the Inbetweeners Movie, you’ll have some inkling as to the standard of the accommodation. There were suspicious stains. There were suspicious scents. There were loose wires. There were cockroaches (and I suspect their number would have been far greater had the discerning ones not scuttled off to find better digs).
No matter. We were there to paint the town red, not to quibble about hygiene standards, so we dropped off our bags and hit the strip.
That first night was sort of fun. We drank enormous fruity concoctions with names like “Zombie”, “Kamikaze” and “Amnesia”, danced to Eminem, Ja Rule and Nelly, and generally revelled in the joy of being completely hammered and a very long way from our parents.
In the cold light of day, however, and with tender heads, the horrendousness of the surroundings set in. There’s no more depressing sight than Kavos the morning after the night before, the streets – and the beach – awash with vomit and detritus. My queasiness was not improved by breakfast at a cafe called ‘Del Boys’, where the full English made Wetherspoons look like the Waldorf.
After a day by the pool in our bleak hotel we had little choice but to do it all again, but what was novel 24 hours previously soon became perfunctory.
“Another bucket cocktail? Great!”
“Oh look, John has chundered again!”
It also became apparent that, as a clutch of nice Buckinghamshire grammar school boys, we were the bottom feeders in this swamp of drunkenness and debauchery. The girls we’d hoped to be beating off with a stick were, for some reason, more interested in the muscular lads from Brentwood or Newcastle. Those muscular lads from Brentwood and Newcastle, in turn, seemed rather keen to let their aggro out on the weakest members of the pack – such as tubby little Oliver from the Home Counties. The threat of violence always simmered beneath the surface – hardly the stuff of happy holidays.
Only once did it boil over, when a detachment from our group managed to wander into the middle of a major dancefloor fracas. They did their best to avoid the swinging fists of the various protagonists, but could not dodge the truncheons of the zealous police unit sent to disperse the troublemakers. My good friend – a completely innocent bystander, honest guv’ – took a hefty blow to the head, and finished his night getting stitches in a local clinic.
We sought to enliven proceedings with a trip to a “foam party”, an inexplicable Nineties phenomenon that involved gallons of suds being ejected from the ceiling onto a room full of revellers. The foam would fall without warning, and – taken by surprise – I managed to inhale a significant portion of one frothy consignment. For 20 long and terrifying seconds I simply couldn’t catch my breath. I genuinely thought I might die – drunk, on a dancefloor in Kavos, and covered in foam. The lads from Brentwood would probably have cheered. “Wahey!”
Fortunately, my lungs jerked back into action, but the holiday remained on life support, and before the halfway point I was already sick to death of the place. A daily diet of junk food, beer, fags and loud music can only be tolerated for so long. I wanted peace and quiet. A good book and a cup of hot chocolate. A solitary evening playing Championship Manager.
I wasn’t alone, and for most of the final week the three chaps I was sharing digs with barely left the apartment. Instead we sat around playing cards, farting, and arguing about whose idea it was to book two weeks in Kavos, and not one (or none).
Curiously, it never occurred to any of us to explore the island beyond our little hovel. Corfu is a wonderful place, with beaches that aren’t strewn with broken glass, and proper authentic Greek restaurants that serve meals that are both tasty and entirely bereft of chips. Why on earth didn’t we hire quad bikes, or hail a taxi, and get out and explore?
Naivety, I presume. These were the days before smartphones, before Tripadvisor, when we weren’t bombarded with travel inspiration on Instagram, Facebook and the rest. There was also the question of money. After blowing our budgets on saccharine cocktails, we were stone broke. All we could do was wait patiently for our two-week sentence to expire.
The story has a depressing – or amusing, if you’re anyone but me – coda. I arrived in Kavos in possession of a girlfriend. My first. I was a fool in love, or so I thought, and remained faithful for the duration of my miserable holiday (not that opportunities to cheat were especially forthcoming). I phoned her each day, from a poolside payphone – leaving me open to ribbing from my travelling pals – and our separation had made the two weeks even more torturous.
She felt differently, it would seem. Three days after my return to Blighty, she dumped me – before embarking on her own boozy break with her mates in Faliraki. A coup de grace for the holiday from hell.