It was early 1968 when I finally arrived back in Crete. The last year and a half had been a time of new experience. When I arrived in London in late 1966 I had managed to get a pretty decent job at the National Union of Students (NUS) Travel office in Euston Road, Kings Cross. Here I learned a bit about the travel business, issuing student cards and airline tickets. I even issued tickets for the Magic Bus, a wonderful gaily painted bus that travelled from London to Athens and back. Although we sold tickets for the bus, I sold very few tickets to Crete. But it was a real learning curve and in the spring of 1967 I found that there were very well paying jobs going for summer work on the north coast of Norway. I had to go. It was hard work in the onshore fish factories and we worked while the sea stayed liquid. When it began to freeze in the autumn, the work would be finished for that year.
It was a tough summer in the Arctic Circle. Yet the pay was superb and I did all the overtime I could get. By the time October had arrived and I had to get the flight back to Oslo, I had earned an astonishingly substantial amount of money. This meant that I could buy a car, a small one, and head for Crete the following March of 1968.
Of course it is remote on the north coast of Norway, but I could not fail to see the news that a military junta had effected a coup in Greece. It happened in April 1967. Many reports from Greece were confusing, some said the king was in exile, others that the king would soon take over again. I read that many famous greek people had gone into exile in Italy, France and Britain. I did not really know what to expect when I returned in the spring of 1968 but it was almost a year since the coup and things had settled down a little. Greece was still a NATO country, there were still existing health and other arrangements between Britain and Greece. Anyway I was heading for Crete. Crete is a long way from Athens.
So early in March I packed my stuff into the car that I had bought. It was a Renault 4. A strong sturdy boxlike vehicle with a dashboard mounted gearstick. Plus it was left hand drive. It was also bright yellow. I packed clothes, sleeping bag, washing and shaving gear, maps and a huge box of tea bags. I had lots of help from my mother as well as various items of tinned food, a tin opener and a pile of sandwiches. I had passport and travellers cheques as before and an inexhaustable supply of hope. I was off.
It was a very long drive. The distance from London to Athens is around fifteen hundred miles as the crow flies, nearly two thousand four hundred kilometres (which is what my car odometer read). In reality driving across Europe was over two thousand miles or more, and that was just to Athens, Crete seemed an awful long way away. I took the ferry to Calais then drove through Belgium and Germany and Austria into Yugoslavia. I had to pay for an entry visa into Yugoslavia and at nearly every petrol station I had to queue waiting for the tanker to arrive. Then I had to pay in dinars. Many, many dinars. I was always asked if I had other currencies, deutchmarks, dollars, whatever. Things seemed to be going wrong in Yugoslavia too.
I slept in the car. It was unique. You could take out the passenger seat, lift up the back seat and sleep longways. Luckily I am not too tall. But I pressed on through Belgrade and headed south. After maybe seven or eight days I arrived at the greek frontier with Yugoslavia. Again I had to show my passport. Another whole page was taken up in greek writing and stamps – mostly about the foreign car that I was bringing into the country. Finally I was allowed entry to Greece. I drove down through Macedonia to just south of Thessalonika on the main road to Athens and I booked a hotel. It was, of course, a government owned hotel as most in Greece were, but it was comfortable and I was very tired so I stayed two nights. Just coming into the country of Greece gives me a warm glow and here, by the Agean sea, I wanted the glow to last. It did.
Walking around the little town, everything seemed normal. Except for one thing, the sign. There was this medium sized metal sign with a picture of a phoenix with flames underneath and a soldier with a bayonet silhouetted in front of it. I was going to see many more of these signs. This was the sign of the military junta, the colonels regime in Greece.
I went into a small kafeneon and asked for a coffee and sat down to watch the sea rolling. There were a few men also sitting there and one of them came up to me and asked if I was a stranger there, in greek. I said that I was and that I was just passing through on my way to Crete. I told him that I was english and had just entered Greece from Yugoslavia.
‘I see’ he said. ‘Do you have a passport?’
‘Of course’ I replied and handed him my British passport. He looked and he showed the other men and then returned it to me. They could see that I had entered the day before.
‘Come and sit with us’ he suggested politely.
‘Of course I will’ I replied. Then we got into a conversation about what had happened since the coup the year before. They said that I spoke greek with a Cretan accent and so I explained that I had spent a lot of the year two years before in Crete and that I was going back there to find a job. They wished me luck and hoped that I found no military police where I was going. I hoped so too. But I did find this conversation strange. They were very guarded until they knew that I couldn’t be some kind of police spy or something. Even then they seemed cautious. It worried me a bit I have to say. This was not what I was used to in Greece.
The next day I was on my way again. Early in the morning I left the little town and headed south through the gates of Thermopylae where the Spartans had held the Persians nearly three thousand years before. I drove finally through Athens to Piraeus and looked for a good priced ticket to Iraklion with car. I found one and at just after eight o’clock I boarded the ferry to Crete. Once again it was the King Minos. Some things never change.