The Beatles had a summer of love in Greece in 1967. I had something similar a little later, although sand in the sleeping bag proved to be more in evidence than love.
This came back to me on reading a report in the Observer (Sunday, October 1, 2023) asking if the Beatles had been used as a propaganda tool by Greece’s military junta.
Those army officers didn’t much like summer-loving hippies, so it was an odd match when John Lennon told a local reporter that Greece was “a wonderful country, fantastic climate, great climate… and that’s why we are thinking of buying a small Greek island and setting up our own hippy commune…”
Looking back, if something unites that wild-haired and fairly clueless student and the world’s most famous Liverpudlians, it must be naivety. The Beatles because they were seemingly used to offset the country’s international isolation caused by reports of torture and political persecution. And me because, well, I was just naïve.
My make-do Greek holidays began ten or more years later, at a time when I had no idea (that sentence could stop there); no idea, for sure, that only a decade or so earlier, Greece had been ruled by a military junta. Did I even know what one of those was? Probably not.
All I knew was that Greece was where mildly adventurous young people went on holiday. Packing was light – sleeping bag (tick); tent (if you went posh); a few T-shirts (tick and tick again), plus passport, drachmas and travellers cheques. Oh, and an ill-defined sense of hope (tick again).
There were a few times when I roamed the beaches of Greece. Grains of memory remain, although experiences from so long ago sometimes blur. I once hitch-hiked all the way through France and over the border into Spain, a trip that left disappointingly few outlines in the mental scrapbook.
Writing nothing down and taking no photographs was clearly a great plan.
Did that small epic of lift cadging take place before or after my first encounter with a sandy mattress in Greece? It’s hard to say for sure, but certainly one Greek trip was with a schoolfriend who’d not been abroad much if at all.
That was to Crete. Near our sleeping-bag quarters was a café-bar where we went for breakfast of coffee and bread, maybe fruit too, the details slip.
I went on solo beach-bedding trips to Crete (again), Paros, Santorini, and other islands. Sleeping on beaches wasn’t exactly condoned, and often you had to show you had booked a night in a room before you were allowed off the plane.
A few years later, I went back with my new girlfriend, later wife. No sleeping bags that time, but we did book a night (possibly two, we can’t pin that memory down between us) in Athens before taking a ferry to Spetses where local children gathered at the harbour, chanting “You want rooms?” We followed a boy to his house, where the family had moved upstairs, leaving downstairs for tourists.
We saw wild tortoises on the island, which was quite the sight; and an overweight British man having lager and boiled eggs for breakfast, while his thin wife smoked, which was not.
Shortly afterwards, we left the island and headed to the Peloponnese region, where we had a proper adventure, staying in Monemvasia with its vertiginous clifftop fort, going on hazardous bus rides, walking in the countryside where men in military-style clothes carried rifles and shot birds, which was unsettling. After one night in a hellish hostel, we treated ourselves to a real hotel. Before that we stayed in a crumbling but grand hotel. Our room had a balcony where I read about the miners’ strike in the Daily Mirror.
We returned to Greece earlier this year, on a package holiday; less adventurous but more reliable.
As for those more distant sandy-sheeted Greek holidays, the only sleeping on beaches I would do now is to take an afternoon kip (other locations are available, sofas will do nicely).
The Beatles never bought that island, but I did buy a new sleeping bag. In other news, we have just thrown away the family’s sleeping bags with their cocooned familial DND of holidays, stay-overs, teenagers at rock festivals and nights on hard floors.