In the course of our holiday we spent a few days on four islands in the south of the Cyclades: Santorini, Naxos, Ano Koufonissi and Amorgos. Each island was very different in terms of size, landscape and the nationalities of the tourists we encountered, and every time we boarded a boat to move on, it felt as though our holiday was starting all over again. Multiple leaps into the unknown added to the excitement. Never before had a two week holiday felt so deliciously long, so limitlessly elastic.
Some things, however, were constant wherever we went. Villages, their white buildings like cubes of feta flung from the sky by the gods, clinging to the slopes of mountains, teetering on cliff edges, nestling in arid inland valleys. Hundreds of chapels with dark blue curved roofs and a collection of different sized bells hanging from a frame adjacent to the entrance. Stray cats of all sizes and colours begging for scraps from our plates when we sat down to eat. The ubiquitous greek salads, saganaki, moussaka, stuffed tomato and aubergine which cropped up on every menu.
And the fact that the further we drove away from civilisation on our rented moped to seek out ever more secluded beaches, the likelihood of encountering people wearing little more than sunscreen increased proportionally.
Having led a somewhat sheltered life, I’d never taken my bikini top off in public before, let alone watched a man snorkelling in a tiny bay, his scrotum bobbing insouciantly on the surface. Under cover of my sunglasses, peering over the top of my book, I looked around with interest at naked bodies of all ages, shapes and sizes.
Once I’d finished marvelling at how asexual this public display of nudity seemed to be, I began conducting informal surveys. My conclusions were as follows: female nudists tend to go for the natural look in terms of pubic topiary, rather than reaching for the wax; elderly people do not necessarily have matching collars and cuffs; absolutely everyone, however skinny, gets folds on their tummy when sitting; there is a very disturbing breed of Italian women who have the lithe bodies of twenty-year-olds, but sun damaged, puckered faces which look decades older.
As for yours truly, my bikini briefs remained firmly in place, which means I am now in the possession of a glow in the dark bottom. But even though my bikini top spent most of its time in my beach bag, I never quite got over my innate British prudishness, nor did I manage to overcome my morbid fear of burnt nipples. (The only flaw in my other holiday book, in my humble opinion, is that a character uses beer bottle tops to protect her nipples while sunbathing on a Greek Island. Surely, being made of metal, they would heat up in the sun and turn into branding irons?)
And so it was that even on day fourteen I found myself instinctively crossing my arms across my chest as I emerged from the water and stepped gingerly across the pebbles to my beach towel, much to the Boy’s amusement.
You can take the girl away from her island and transplant her onto the “continent”, but you can’t, it seems, flush the prudishness out of the petite anglaise…