August

The month is nearly over, but I’ll tell you what’s happened so far.

I decided at the end of July that I needed to purge my soul by buggering off by myself for a week, so I booked a cheap last minute week on Rhodes for the second week of August. Go me. As I finished sorting out the details, my sister called to tell me that we’d lost yet another relative to cancer.¬†This time it was our cousin, a beautiful girl a year older than me, who we’d grown up with in North London in the sixties, and then when we moved down here to the coast, she and our aunt used to come and spend long summer holidays with us. We had very happy times and some of my best memories of childhood feature the stuff we all used to get up to. So the evil one has taken another of us.

It’s a bit of a theme this year. In January we had a week in Prague and I had a text while there that a cousin up in Liverpool had died of a brain tumour, then in Prague again in April and I heard my uncle had died of leukaemia, and when I was on my way to Corfu in June my sister messaged that Jane our cousin had taken a turn for the worse, and as I sort out my trip to Rhodes I hear that she’s gone. Why is my holiday schedule thinning out my family so thoroughly I wonder?

So, it was in a somewhat sombre mood that I took off for a week in the sun. It was a good week though, in a wee little fishing village that goes by the name of Stegna, on the North East coast of the island, a couple of miles up the road from the lovely little village of Haraki where I stayed last year. I was the only person staying in a small block of studio apartments next door to a seafood taverna which was hidden twenty paces up a side alley from the seafront. Most days were spent to a routine of morning and evening swimming and lounging sessions on the beach, a couple of hours at a time, interspersed with idle strolls along the length of the ville. Occasionally I would wander out into the hinterlands of the village, but really couldn’t be arsed to go on any longer treks.

There was one morning bus a day to Rhodes town, which I caught one day, and had a good day in the capital, visiting the street of the Knights and then wandering the still ancient and dusty echoing streets of La Juderia to find myself in the Kahal Shalom Synagogue, where I sat wearing my little white silk kippah hoping to look devout, and then visited the museum in the old womens’ prayer rooms. then I returned to the Nea Agora to indulge in some of the food and drink that I find so irresistible. I bought Anita a lovely silver and blue opal necklace there. I had a swim in the sea as soon as I got back to Stegna that day too. I mostly lived on seafood of all description – molluscs, bivalves and scaled vertebrates, Mythos beer and fruit juice. The odd bit of meat crept into my diet, along with the gorgeous grilled Mediterranean vegetables. One thing I particularly liked about the village was the fact that I didn’t hear any English voices there, other than on two or three occasions. It’s a destination mostly for Greeks, pert Italians seeking all-over tans and long limbed Germans.

The evening before my return home saw the peak of the Perseid meteorite shower so I spent a couple of hours on the roof terrace with a bottle of Mythos or two, stretched out on a couple of creaking wicker chairs, enjoying the spectacle of shooting stars hurtling through the clear black skies, some simple white streaks, and some fizzing big ones, trailing showers of golden and silver sparks in their wake but all doomed to extinction fifty miles up. I had lovely night flights to Rhodes and back but one of the good things about solo holidays is that sometimes you get two or three seats to yourself on the plane and I was lucky enough for that to happen both ways, so was able to stretch out and get some facsimile of a doze. The plane flew through a thunderstorm over the channel, so I was happy to land back at dear old Gatwick, even though all was grey and damp after the heat and shimmering light of the Aegean. Here’s to next year.

Then yesterday it was Jane’s funeral, in a rain soaked village which looked like it had been lifted from a picture postcard ¬†showing some rural idyll in 1935, but was actually near Winchester in 2015. I went with my sister and one of my brothers. We were struck but hardly surprised by how many friends our cousin had, and also by how few of our family are left alive on my mum’s side. I met one of few remaining cousins on the distaff side for the first time in fifty years. Last time we met I was a scrawny five or six year old and he was a tall gangly beanpole, just about to start secondary school. Now he’s turned into my grandad who died in 1972. Lots of love shone through all the tears and it was a sad but very fond farewell to a beautiful person.

It will be September soon.