It’s a cold October morning and the street I am currently on – a street that is a bustling hive of activity during the summer months – is now projecting the illusion of belonging to a ghost town.
Menacing grey clouds loiter in the Autumnal sky, threatening to cast their deluge upon the abandoned cobbles below, whilst a bitterly cold wind blows from the north, gripping the branches of the threadbare trees and stealing away what little foliage remains on them.
It is 9am on a Sunday and I am sat outside my favourite coffee shop in the centre of Skiathos town with a hot latte sitting in front of me.
I contemplate the quiet and quickly surmise that the residents of Skiathos can be categorised into one of four groups: those that remain in the comfort and warmth of their own beds, seeing little point in venturing outside on such a miserable morning; those that ignore the inclement weather to attend church and thank God for allowing them to breathe another day; those that open up their businesses in the vein hope of making enough money to see them over until the cash-cow tourists return in the Summer, and lastly – but by no means least – the UK ex-pats. This is the camp to which I currently belong and the camp which undoubtedly regards the prevailing weather as somewhat on par with a mild day in British summertime. It certainly doesn’t warrant hiding away indoors.
I sip on my freshly prepared Latte, only to have my silent moments of watching the world go by, temporarily disturbed by the arrival of two men. They take the table immediately next to mine and, as they engage in conversation with each other, I realise – from their loud and somewhat coarse accents – that they are Germans. Not a bad thing I hasten to add, but with the thoughts of the deserted streets still lingering in my mind – coupled with the fact that I have a vivid and often uncontrollable imagination – I couldn’t help but wonder if they were about to approach me – militaria style – and demand to see my papers. Yes, I am fully aware that this is a stereotypical reference to a grotesque time in history and I can only apologise for my literal flippancy. But this simple fact remains: If I was to close my eyes, I could actually visualise them both donning immaculate German Officer uniforms, highly polished, patent leather Jack boots and an ominous black Luger perched inside a dark leather holster. At that moment in time, it actually felt like I was a member of some Greek resistance group gathering intelligence for the greater good, rather than some Manc from the UK jotting down inappropriate nonsense. Ah well, at least I’m entertaining myself.
It is now approaching 10am and I see the church-goers of Skiathos – clothed in their Sunday best – descending slowly onto the street. The church service has clearly finished and their duty to God is over for another week, with most having found absolution from sins committed during the previous seven days.
I often wonder what purpose is found by attending a house of the Lord each and every Sunday. Do people fear the wrath of God for non-attendance or do they fear the disappointment and reprisals from the resident priest more? Seeing how the locals are on this sparsely populated island, I believe it is the latter. I would imagine that upsetting the Padre would lead to the ostracization of the individual causing the upset and that would be unbearable. When I was a child, I attended a fairly strict catholic primary school who – for want of a better word – insisted that their pupils attended mass every Sunday and took confession at least once a month. Now, my continued attendance wasn’t out of a fear of being in God’s bad books, it was a fear of what the teacher would do to me if – on the Monday morning of class – I couldn’t answer the following questions: What time service I attended? Who the presiding priest was? What his sermon was all about? And this is my point. I firmly believe that most people attend church not out of want, but because they fear dire consequences from their peers if they didn’t. Maybe I’m wrong here but it would certainly make for a great debate.
It’s 10.30am and I have finished my second coffee. Not wanting to be bouncing off the walls, I deny myself a third cup and say farewell to the coffee shop owner. As I turn to leave, I inadvertently catch the eye of one of the German blokes who – unexpectedly and in English – bids me goodbye. I’m immediately taken aback and know that I have to think quickly and logically before replying: You see, I remember all too clearly how Gordon Jackson was caught out by the Germans during the Great Escape and I was damned if I was going to fall into the same trap. Eventually, I took a deep breath and with a small, confident nod of the head, delivered my reply:
“Auf weidersehen meine Herren.”
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