The story so far? Music mad, cricket loving Robert Hopebourne has reached half term in his first job teaching drama at a school for “toffs.” A fish out of water, he has nevertheless fallen for PE teacher Miss Dazzle, and started to come to terms with the strange environment where he works. Now he has taken a break with fellow teacher Adonis to the Greek island of Erotes, where a beautiful girl reading on the beach – Venus - has sparked his daydreams.
‘How’s the hangover, lightweight?’ Adonis appears especially perky the next morning. Seems to have put on my cassette player. Loud. The Rolling Stones. My head’s hammering and there’s a faint taste of sick and liquorice in my mouth. ‘You look like shit.’
I manage to take a shower after gulping aspirin and water. Adonis pops his head round the shower curtain. ‘I’m off. See you later. Oh, and I might need the room later, OK?’
‘I’m not sleeping with the donkeys. Turn the music down on your way out.’
Even dark glasses hardly keep the sun at bay, but eventually I gather myself sufficiently to meander into the village. I find a bar and sit outside. ‘Fresh orange juice, please.’ Hangover Central. Has my T-shirt got a stain from the previous night? Streams of day-trippers walk past, window-shopping. I feel like shit.
‘What about here?’
They’re in beach gear, the woman and Venus in sarongs and sandals, the guy in polo shirt, shorts and deck shoes. ‘Let’s get some drink shall we?’ Shit or not, my hangover and clothes are instantly dismissed. ‘You wait here and I’ll get something cold to take with us.’
The woman and Venus sit on the table right next to me giving an uninterrupted view. My heart’s already a set of bongo drums. She’s wearing a pair of glasses. Looks super cute in them. Her golden hair’s tied under a red bandana. I catch her perfume again, trying to guess her age. She isn’t as old as the Yanks, is she? I think of my college contemporaries. Is she that that much different from them? Taking off my shades I can’t stop myself from staring.
The woman’s looking in her hand mirror, primping her hair while Venus pulls out a book from her shoulder bag, a copy of “Silas Marner.” After removing her glasses, I catch Venus glancing over to me.
I jerk my eyes away. I’ve read “Silas Marner” as part of my college course. Perhaps that’s what she’s doing? A course at university? I wish I had my Larkin with me. Would that impress? I peep back and she clocks me instantly.
But those big eyes lock me in. There’s a fresh glow in her cheeks. High cheekbones. Like Jenny Agutter in “Walkabout.” I’ve always fancied Jenny Agutter.
‘Do you know it?’ Her voice is husky, well spoken.
Is she talking to me?
Stunned, I can hear myself stumbling as the mother too looks over. ‘Yes. I read it a couple of years ago. And “Mill On The Floss” actually. Do you know that?’
Venus raises perfect eyebrows. Is she impressed? ‘It’s hundreds of pages long isn’t it?’
I nod and try to sound as casual as I can despite the thumping in my chest that must make my voice wobble. ‘Do you like Eliot?’
Her mother stands up. ‘Just popping to get some more sun lotion.’
Venus watches her leave and my guts melt when she turns back to face me. Big brown eyes. ‘I’ve not read that much by her.’ She pulls a face, her nose cute, eyes wide and sparkling. Sunkissed golden skin.
‘Are you reading it for pleasure, or because you have to?’ Good one, Rob. That should help sort things out. Stop the beating bass drum in my ribs.
‘Because I have to. I’ve got exams next summer.’
Her eyes flick towards where her mother’s disappeared.
‘I’m at art college. But I have to study some English.’ She flashes a lovely smile, snow teeth. ‘I’m not really academic. More into sport and creative things.’
OK! Art college sounds good. And sporty too. Great! So what’s academic?
She raises her wide eyes to mine. I could drown in them. ‘You?’
Shall I tell her I’m a teacher? An academic? It’s hardly the most glamorous career is it? ‘I’m a PE and English student.’ Well, what harm’s there in telling a white lie? My being sporty and well read might impress. And it’s only a holiday thing isn’t it?
‘Derby. Do you know it?’
She shakes her head. ‘I thought you had a different accent.’
Her parents return, bottles in hand. ‘Ready?’ says the mother. ‘Nice to meet you,’ she concludes as Venus stands to leave. I just resist the urge to shout, “don’t go!”
Instead I manage to say, ‘see you around, maybe. How long are you here for?’
She pulls a pretty face and dons her glasses. ‘Home tomorrow.’
‘Bye.’ I catch a whiff of perfume as they disappear.
No sooner has she gone than Adonis is by my side. ‘I saw you.’ He gives another of those annoying whickers. ‘That your bit of stuff, Robby Boy?’
‘No wonder she needs to wear glasses.’
He drains my orange juice before tugging on my arm. ‘Come on then. Let’s get you down to the beach. The Yanks have gone on a round the island tour so you’re safe.’
There’s no sign of Venus on the beach leaving me to fight back intense disappointment. Maybe they’ve gone out in Zorba’s boat again. I spend the morning, head full of the intoxication that Venus is; completely besotted, daydreaming. Fighting an inner rage at the unfairness of her going home. Tomorrow!
Which gives me one afternoon and evening to get an address, anything. Would she give me a photo of herself? Could I pluck up courage to ask her? Bugger. It’s hopeless. The first woman I’ve met for ages that I really fancy, who’s stopped me thinking of Miss Dazzle, and she’s going to be ripped away before I’ve even had a chance.
I pull on my headphones – more Stephen Stills - then search out my Larkin. Find the shortest poem. “As Bad as a Mile.”
“Watching the shied core
Striking the basket, skidding across the floor,
Shows less and less of luck, and more and more
Of failure spreading back up the arm
Earlier and earlier, the unraised hand calm,
The apple unbitten in the palm.”
What’s that all about?
Stephen’s crooning “…Drawn to a flame, she is far away, out of reach…” when I’m spitting sand again.
‘Your bit of stuff not here?’ Adonis is scanning the beach, flapping his towel.
‘You’re so funny. No. Maybe she’s gone out on a boat somewhere.’ I settle back down under a blazing sky, head up arse thinking about Venus. About the annoyingly good looking Zorba. He was going to meet her at the disco last night wasn’t he? And it was his boat they were on wasn’t it? Is he her holiday romance? My blood surges; a raging inferno of jealousy.
“…get yourself high on someone and then wave goodbye, don’t you cry…”
Still, it won’t affect my strategy for the evening. I’ll base myself in the Acropolis bar then find the outdoor disco later. What is there to lose? Adonis has arranged to meet up with Chalk.
‘Well don’t count me in,’ I say. ‘I’m not playing gooseberry any more. You’re on your own.’
As soon as I walk into the Acropolis I spot Venus with her parents. They’re stood at the bar across from Zorba who’s kissing the woman’s hand. I watch as he takes Venus’s and kisses that as well. No! Chemicals rage inside me. Once again the music’s something recognisable rather than “Zorba the Greek”. Bread, “Make It With You.”
“…I may be climbing on rainbows, but baby here goes…”
Venus is wearing a short green skirt that swings round her thighs and a white top with shoestring straps. Twin Peaks, pert. Bare brown arms and legs. Sandals with heels. Fact is she could be wearing a bin liner and I’ll still think she looks gorgeous. She’s beautiful, sporty and creative with a voice like Jenny Agutter. What chance have I got? I have to force my eyes away when I catch her glimpse my way.
I’m tempted to abandon the whole idea of talking to her again, but then gain some courage. Ouzo. What have I got to lose? She can only say no. After all I may never see her again. It doesn’t matter, does it? Come on Rob, you loser. Man up.
“…I really think that we could make it girl…”
I go up to the bar and stand close by. Zorba’s talking to them, something about flight times. ‘I’ll double check, sir.’ He mixes drinks as I hover, before handing a large tangerine cocktail to Venus.
‘Don’t get too tiddly, darling,’ says the mother. ‘You’ve already had Cinzano and wine.’ Then spots me. ‘Oh hello again.’
You beauty. I could kiss her there and then.
‘Hello.’ Lame. What next? Venus has lifted her eyes from the cocktail, smiling.
Be brave, Rob. ‘That looks colourful. How’s the book coming on?’
She lowers her lashes briefly. She’s scrumdiddlyumptious. ‘I’ve not read much today I’m afraid.’ Then transfixes me in those wide eyes. ‘I’ll save it for the flight home tomorrow.’
Zorba breaks in, all gleaming teeth. ‘Will I see you at the disco later?’
She flashes him a glance. ‘Yes.’ Takes a glug from her glass.
Zorba beams. ‘Great.’ I could cheerfully murder him there and then. Instead he turns to me. ‘What do you want?’ Do I detect a certain animosity?
The family moves away to a table. I order a beer and mooch at the bar, trying not to stare at Venus. What next?
“…life can be short or long, love can be right or wrong…”
I must stand out like a sore thumb. Norman No Mates. ‘Another beer, please.’ I wander round the terrace keeping an eye on their table, until familiar voices drift my way. It’s Adonis and Chalk. No Cheese.
I hurry over. ‘Hi.’
Adonis raises his eyebrows. ‘This is where you’re hanging out is it?’ He glances round the room and gives me a nudge. ‘Oh I see.’ He turns to Chalk. ‘His bit of stuff’s here.’
Ha bloody ha.
We order drinks. Chalk’s pretty drunk, leaning into me, swaying. Adonis tells me they’re going to the disco. ‘Why don’t you ask your bit of stuff? She’s not wearing her glasses so you might be in with a shout.’ There are times when he can be more than just mildly annoying.
‘Need a piss.’
When I get back Venus’s table’s empty. No! How have I missed them? Where have they gone?
‘You coming to the disco or not?’ says Adonis. ‘Heard your bit of stuff say she’s going there.’
The sound of Steve Miller’s coming from the disco. “Swingtown.”
“…the night is falling and the music’s calling…”
It’s crowded with visitors, bronzed holidaymakers enjoying themselves, the air spiralled with smoke. I frantically gaze round the place.
Yes. Thank you.
Venus and her parents are at a table. A bottle open. Glasses full. I order a double ouzo and down it.
‘Here.’ Adonis hands me drinks. ‘Look after these. We’re going to dance.’
I contemplate the two ouzos and down them before taking a deep breath and wandering over to Venus’s table. Well, why not? She’s going home tomorrow. Now or never.
‘Hello again.’ I peer at Venus. Go on then. Stop swooning. ‘Do you fancy a dance?’
She breaks into a bright smile. Pearl teeth. Wide eyed and lovely. ‘Yes. If you like.’
My heart’s a bucking bronco, the chemicals inside me in overdrive as we wander out on to the floor.
“…come on baby, let’s dance…”
It’s too loud to talk. She moves with the kind of easy grace I can’t emulate. A natural. Once I catch sight of Adonis with Chalk. He gives me the thumbs up and mouths something, licking his lips lasciviously.
The music morphs into something slower. 10cc’s “I’m Not In Love.” The ultimate smooch. Will Venus leave me? But no, she melts into my arms and we rock slowly to the music. Without her heels she’d be quite a bit shorter than me.
“…I’m not in love, it’s just a silly phase I’m going through…”
I tell her I like her perfume. ‘What’s it called?’
‘”Esperance”,’ she says. ‘French.’
I hold her firmness against me and am aware that her Twin Peaks are tight against my chest. Can she feel my heart drumming? The urge to kiss her bare brown shoulders and neck is almost overwhelming.
“…I know you know it doesn’t mean that much to me…”
Instead, glancing across to her table, I can see Zorba has arrived and is leaning over, talking to the mother who’s pointing towards us. When the song finishes, the half dozen ouzos I’ve drunk speak. ‘Fancy a walk on the beach?’
She sways a little; a bit tipsy perhaps. Peeps over to her table, before turning her big brown eyes to me. ‘I can’t be too long.’
We link arms as much to hold each other up as anything else, and she tells me that her father works abroad a lot, that her mum’s a journalist. ‘They’re both really busy.’ I talk up my cricket and hockey. Ask about her art.
‘Oh, I just like fashion really. Fabrics, accessories and stuff.’
‘You’ve got great dress sense,’ I say, and she laughs prettily, turning me to putty. ‘And I love you in glasses too.’
‘Thanks.’ She squeezes my arm. ‘I can kid people I’m intelligent.’
The Aegean Sea breathes close by, the Milky Way gazing down, the scent of lemons faint. The insinuation of “Esperance” everywhere. Delirious. Delicious.
‘I’d seen you looking at me,’ she says.
Oops. ‘I couldn’t help it.’
‘Didn’t you see me looking at you?’
‘At me?’ Me? ‘No!’
‘Well I was.’
Oh Venus. I can feel my heart start to rev up again.
‘Is that musk you wear?’ she asks, eyes full on me.
‘Patchouli. It’s quite common actually. Do you like it?’
She wrinkles her nose. ‘On you, yes.’
We stand and face each other. Close. Just the sound of waves lapping over the pumping of blood in my ears. ‘I can’t believe this,’ I manage. Lamely. ‘To be honest, I thought you and the barman from The Acropolis might be…well, you know.’
‘Oh no,’ she says. ‘He’s a bit of a creep actually. He must try it on with everybody.’
‘I’m glad you’re not.’
And then, as if it’s the most natural thing, despite the pounding in my chest, we’re leaning towards each other, gently meeting lips, beginning to kiss, a short soft snog at first, tongues flickering, then long and slow, arms gradually wrapping round each other, tight. We fit together like two jigsaw pieces. No awkward readjusting of angles. ‘You’re a great kisser,’ I say at one point. Lame but true. And she laughs, before melting her lips on mine once more.
In time I run exploring hands down her back, fondling through her hair, which hangs down, luxuriating in the feel of every fibre, and in response, she holds me round the back of my neck. I can sense a stirring in my boxers.
Clive’s waking up.
Inevitable she’ll feel him through my shorts as he begins to stand up. Should I be embarrassed? One of her hands is inside my T-shirt, scratching at my back. I gently run my fingers down bare arms and search for curves through her dress, squeezing, kneading. She grabs me more roughly.
Clive’s limbering up.
By now my hand has switched to a Twin Peak. Small, soft and sensual, a button firming through gossamer clothing. We’re kissing madly now, no shame, saliva everywhere. She grabs at my shorts and finds Clive.
I groan, then reach under her skirt. We’re both breathing as if we’ve just completed a marathon and she moans. ‘Oh!’
I can’t remember the last time my heart was drumming so hard and fast. A racing timpani. Excited breath coming in gasps and pants.
She moans again, then, just as it seems we’re reaching a point of no return, suddenly, without warning, she pulls away. ‘Sorry.’
She’s frantically rearranging her clothes. ‘So sorry. But I’ve got to go. There’ll be a search party out if I’m not careful.’
What? No! I rake hair into place. Try to still my beating, beating heart.
She’s tying her locks back, cheeks blowing. ‘Really sorry.’
My breath comes in snatches. ‘Can I see you again?’ How desperate do I sound?
‘I’m going home tomorrow.’
‘I know. But can I at least have your address? Or a photo?’
Pretty please. With knobs on.
She glances back down the beach. ‘I don’t have one with me, but I’ll give you my address.’ Then turns to hurry away.
‘Promise? What time are you going tomorrow?’ I trail like a puppy in her wake, trying to ignore Clive who’s a thrusting pole. Now’s not the time for that.
‘Ten o’ clock from the main square.’
‘I’ll be there.’
She smiles but sounds anxious, scurrying, sending sand spurting. ‘I really have to go. Sorry.’
And I’m left watching her as she breaks into a run, skirt swinging, as she heads for the disco entrance.
It’s just not fair!
Back there, I can see Zorba’s still waiting by her parents’ table. Does the dad tap his watch? She scurries over, and there’s some animated conversation before they all rise and leave, not before I see Zorba clock me. Dark and brooding eyes. Hmmm.
There’s no sign of Adonis and Chalk.
Nothing for it, I struggle back to the room, Clive beaten down. When I reach the door, there’s the unmistakable sound of giggling, snorting and heavy panting from inside that can only mean one thing. ‘Oooh! Naughty boy!’
I might be sleeping with the donkeys. Alone.
I howl at the inequity of it all, then walk for ages, revisiting the beach, recalling the few minutes of ecstasy I’ve enjoyed there, trying to quell the immense sense of disappointment at her leaving. It’s not fair! To meet someone so lovely, with potentially so much in common, to obviously have that chemistry, and for it all to be ripped away before it even has a chance to develop. I might as well have been kicked in the balls.
Oh well, at least I’ll get an address, somewhere, which I’ll be able to write to. Every day if necessary. And my shirt still smells of her perfume. “Esperance.” And I’ll see her again. Tomorrow.
When I get back to the room this time, all’s quiet. No sign of life. I fall into bed breathing once more the lingering remains of “Esperance” on my shirt.
Next morning I wake with a jolt. There’s a shutter banging somewhere and there’s a metallic taste in my mouth, disturbing rumbles from my tummy. The sky outside is sullen, rain gusting. My watch reads half past nine. ‘Shit!’ After rushing under the shower, leaving Adonis fast asleep, snoring, grumbling, I hurry up to the main square, trying to avoid puddles. Excited. Nervous. Heart thumping. When I reach there it’s practically deserted. Huddling under an awning I peep at my watch.
Five to ten. Nothing.
But she promised. The minutes tick inexorably. Maybe I’ve got it wrong. At ten I have to make a decision. Zorba had said something about double-checking. Maybe there’s been a change of plan and they’re going from the Acropolis bar. Please.
I splash round through deserted streets until reaching the Acropolis. There’s only a girl mopping the floor. Piped music. Demis fucking Roussos.
“…ever and ever forever and ever you’ll be the one…”
‘Excuse me, but do you know where the English family is that’s going to the airport this morning?’ I’m breathing hard.
She looks blank.
“…you’re my dream come true, my consolation…”
Oh come on you stupid girl.
‘Ah!’ She nods. ‘They go nine o’ clock.’
‘Yes. The flight…er…’
‘Changed? The flight was changed?’ No!
She nods again. ‘You want address? The girl, she leave it.’
“…ever and ever forever and ever my destiny…”
Yes! I could kiss her. ‘Great.’ I wander outside oblivious to the rain, peeping at the piece of paper with neat handwriting and an address on it.
Oh for fuck’s sake. I don’t even know her name. I bay to the grey skies. ‘No!’
It rains all morning and most of the afternoon before a watery sun returns. Adonis doesn’t leave his bed. ‘What’s up with you?’
I mooch gloomily around, take another shot at some Larkin.
“The glare of that much mentioned brilliance, love,
Broke out, to show
Its bright incipience sailing above,
Still promising to solve, and satisfy,
And set unchangeably in order.”
Is that a positive? The words of a misogynist?
I go shopping for writing paper. At least that’s something I can do to connect with Venus.
Wandering round I see a chemists and on impulse go in, searching the perfume shelves. There it is. “Esperance.” Grabbing the tester, I pinch some cotton wool that’s on the shelf and spray it. Yes. Venus comes back to me clear as a bell and I feel a welling of immense frustration.
Don’t you dare cry.
When I get back to the room Adonis is just out of the shower. ‘Phoa! What’s that pong? You smell like a tart’s brothel.’
‘What’s your French like?’
‘Any idea what “Esperance” might mean?’
He continues to rub himself down with his towel. ‘It means expectation, promise, that sort of thing. Why?’
‘Just wondered.’ I pull out the pinch of cotton wool and lift it to my nose, before settling down to my writing pad. “Dear Venus,”.
The most I can do; given my circumstances.
Soundtrack - The Back Story!
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2000 Light Years From Home – The Rolling Stones
The Stones’ answer to The Beatles “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” this is another album with a monster cover. That 3D effect…very ahead of its time! And the gatefold inside…the huge moon and Saturn…cosmic!
As for the music, well it’s certainly drug-soaked stuff. “She’s A Rainbow” and “2000 Light Years from Home” stand out for me. It’ll always remind me of teenage years; times when I understood that there were great changes afoot; just didn’t feel a part of it.
Drawn To A Flame – Stephen Stills
No apologies for including this song from Stephen Stills first solo album – the one with the cool image of him playing guitar in the snow. For those who follow “Smoke Rings” on this platform, you’ll already have heard it. Love the strings, Ringo’s drumming and the fab last line…”it’s like saying goodbye to Paris for the first time.” Oh yes.
Make It With You - Bread
Can there be any more schmaltzy gooey record than this? My memory of this is firmly entrenched in college days back in 1977 when my room-mate Nick had just broken up with his girlfriend…he won’t thank me for reminding him (again!) about that Sunday afternoon when he sat in the window, moping and listening over and over to “The Best Of Bread.” Sorry mate…but actually it’s a great song!
Swingtown – Steve Miller
Love Steve Miller at the end of the 70’s; and yes, I know I’ve included other stuff on here, but, hey, why not? I went to Greece – Lindos on the island of Rhodes – back in 1978, before the donkey tracks were paved and the neon bars crept in. A true magic taste of old Greece. The outdoor bar/disco was run by a young guy called Demetre, and he played great music including loads of Steve Miller. And then there was the girl from the beach…Ah holiday romances!! Is there anything to beat them when you’re young and fancy free?
I’m Not In Love – 10cc.
Oh come on! It’s just one of the great love songs of all time isn’t it? What a sound! So original at the time. 10cc were a highly innovative band with a wide repertoire of sounds, from “Rubber Bullets” through to “Wallstreet Shuffle.” If any Greatest Hits album should make its way onto your playlist, it surely should be from this lot!?
This is a seminal late 70’s end of disco classic. Countless college Saturday nights must have ended with this…or started?!
Ever and Ever - Demis Roussos
All right, all right…it’s pap Greek style…annoyingly catchy and one of those sun-soaked holiday hits that occasionally pop up in the charts. Released in 1973 it hit the heights in several European countries. As for Demis himself, he first popped up in a band called Aphrodite’s Child which also featured Vangelis. A proper Greek supergroup! For me this song will also mean watching the play “Abigail’s Party” by Mike Leigh – a proper black comedy which featured it in a cringeworthy scene.
About the Curator: Richard Parsons
I’ve been fascinated with writing since I was a youngster; creative writing in English lessons was my favourite part of school life along with swapping music with mates or playing sport.
When I decided to quit teaching after many happy years, I applied for and won a scholarship to do a Masters at Plymouth Uni in Creative Writing. Drama was really the main string to my bow, but I soon became hooked on the idea of crafting short stories, and, eventually, the longer form of narrative. After graduating with a distinction, I cut my teeth writing for women’s magazines, but this was never in my own “voice” and was always formulaic. “Given Circumstances” is the real me.
Hope you enjoy it!