|Today is Thursday, March 22nd, 2001. It is 5.30am. The weather is promising and we are here at our home in Astratigos, on the Greek Island of Crete. Today we are going to Athens accompanied by a Greek friend, Adonis. Accompanied by Adonis because we think that we might be unable to cope mentally with what the day holds.
Today we are expecting our 16 year old border collie cross to make the journey from Manchester to Athens, where we intend to collect her and bring her home to Crete. While we are very much looking forward to a day in Athens there are many anxieties and maybe even, in the back of our minds, the fear that Candy, ours since she was six weeks old, might not make it. She is very old for a dog; she has a heart murmur;
she has had to go through several major changes including separation from her family and home, where she has lived for all but those first six weeks of her life. Changes which, being very deaf now, she probably did not understand. After 9 days in Kennels in Lincoln, with no sign of our return, yesterday she was collected by a courier and taken to another kennel in Manchester where she waited overnight for
re-collection and delivery to Manchester airport. She has never flown….
Had there been a better way for us we would have taken it. As always in life circumstance has a way of colluding and combining until there is really only one clear choice to make. This had been one of those choices, one of those right decisions so often fraught with the serious risk that even while being right, the result might go disastrously wrong. Today we are going to Athens to collect our Candy…
We meet Adonis at our pre-arranged rendezvous in Tavronitis. His English wife, Chris, has driven him the short distance from their home in the village of Voukolies. We should have met them another minutes drive towards the National Road but we are a minute late and they have already started towards our direction in case we have had a problem. Late Greeks? Don't you believe it. Not when it matters. 12 minutes later we are leaving the National Road to drive through Chania and pick up the airport road. We usually drive to Souda on the National Road, avoiding the traffic and saving time, but the Souda exit is closed because of major road improvement. However, the extra time we have allowed is sufficient and apart from passing a motorcycle accident – the second we have seen in two days – uneventful. It was a sign of my supressed anxiety that I couldn't help remembering the newly dead Alsatian we had seen at the side of the National Road. An omen perhaps?
We check in at the Olympic desk. We drink airport coffee (strong here). We make small talk and have a few laughs – "has Adonis been to Athens before?" (He used to live and work there). ‘No’ he says, ‘he hasn’t. He doesn't know it at all’. We miss-read an excess baggage notice which seemed to say that the price per Kilo is 260,000 drachmae – about 500 pounds Sterling. Candy weighs about ten Kilo`s…… No problem – Adonis has a friend called Mr Visa who will pay for everything! This is the first time Adonis has heard this and he looks seriously puzzled until the drachma drops and he gets the joke, which he likes….. Our flight is good, but then there is one thing you can depend on – Olympic airways has the best pilots in the world, maybe because they do so much actual flying rather than auto-piloting because there are so many Islands. A year or so ago two Olympic flights made perfect emergency landings without nose-wheels, which had failed. At least we have no anxieties about failed nose-wheels causing us problems!
At Athens airport we get directions for Olympic Cargo Centre. "About ten minutes by car – maybe two kilometers’. We decide to walk – the weather, even at 10.30am is beautifully warm. Greek Kilomtres and minutes are the same as Irish ones – they get smaller the larger the car and time gets shorter the faster the watch! The present airport ‘Hellinikon’ is actually two separate terminals on opposite sides (east and west) of the same airfield with the cargo centre sitting on the perimeter between them. To get from one to the other you need either wheels of some sort or, since the cargo centre is about four miles and at least an hours walk away. And by the time you reach there you are very warm and have feet which are somewhat sore, and the nearest airport coffee or whatever you drink at least four miles away. The section we want is busy. Busy like the stock exchange with people bustling about waving papers; arriving; signing forms; getting them stamped; departing amid rapid exchanges in Greek. We were glad of our foresight in bringing Adonis. Being a telephone engineer he is good at uncrossing wires and communicating. And he speaks fluent Greek….
It took him a while but the message was, as we waved our papers, got noticed and had them snatched, surveyed and telephoned, ‘Why did we want our dog brought to cargo – why couldn't she just be taken from the Manchester flight and put on our flight back to Crete?"
Why? Between us we could probably think of many reasons – if we collected her here we would have her sooner; know that she was Ok; let her know she was safe; help her if necessary; know that she was on our plane to Crete instead of having to wonder. And, I suppose, know the worst if that was all to be known…… Again that hard decision. I think we all knew that this lady, working at some speed and under a lot of pressure was right. If Candy was not Ok there would not be much we could do… if she was then sparing her the additional stress of transfer here and then again out to the terminal was the best decision. She would be Ok and we would have to wait.. But could this lady arrange it and would someone cock it up and lose Candy while we flew home believing her to be with us? It would be too late if we found out back at Chania….. ‘Yes she could arrange it and no it would not be mixed up – she would tell her assistant and it would be done!’ Ok? Ok. She told her assistant immediately, said no we did not have to pay for the extra flight Candy was on to Crete and, addressing Adonis in rapid Greek said, very, very firmly that everything was now arranged; there was nothing at all further to do or say; phone here to check the dog had arrived on the flight from Manchester; and to go now and don't come back to here! It was not necessary!
My anxiety increased – I didn't ask the others about theirs……
We went to Athens center – to Plaka, our favourite place just now. Close to the Acropolis and the Acropolis View Hotel. Our favourite hotel in Athens. The first we stayed at and always return to. The price is good, the friendliness and hospitality superb. The hard boiled eggs at breakfast I swear must be a legend all over the world! There are of course popular alternatives to the eggs but to miss them is to miss a legend! I once signed a shell and then looked for the egg again on my next visit!! But if you want a good place to stay in Athens try for this first. Every room has a view of the very close Acropolis which is magic at night when all is illuminated.
Getting to Athens from cargo was not easy. An airport bus arrived, but because the people at the stop moved as it arrived it simply u-turned and was away without stopping, failing to see or hear our Greek Adonis trying to get the drivers attention. It was too far and warm now to try to walk far, but when Adonis failed to attract a taxi with his mobile telephone and another didn't appear we decided there was no alternative. Halfway between two bus stops a bus appeared, but we obviously couldn't reach the stop in time. Adonis waved and the bus picked us up! Magic! We left the bus at Dafni and took Adonis to the new-metro station, which he hadn't seen before. He was obviously thrilled and amazed at the marble clad station, complete with archeological finds from the tunnel digs during construction. The efficiency; speed; cleanliness and cheapness of the Metro obviously made his day to that point. We metro-ed to Syntagma square. Here we also helped a couple of Greek ladies get a photograph of themselves standing by the some of the exhibits. And since it turned out that their camera failed to work because they had used all the film, I took the picture with my camera and now have to send the picture to Ontario, Canada as they are expatriates living there! Nice to make someone's day…
We walked to our favourite taverna in Plaka – the Byzantino on ******* and even though it was now after 3pm there was only one empty table. My guardian angel was with us… We had a brilliant meal, as always, and it really is something to sit at an outside table and watch the world go by whilst having a lazy meal in the sunshine. It was also time, by the time we had eaten, to check that the Olympic flight from Manchester had left on time. No, Adonis’ mobile reported, it was 1 hour 40minutes late and was still in Manchester. We were all making the same calculation – would Candy arrive before we were due to depart. An unspoken pessimism seemed to be attempting to creep into the day. We would be Ok right now, but if the flight didn't depart in the next half hour it wouldn't make Athens before we were due to depart on the last flight to Crete…. I coped with my anxiety by declaring that if that happened Adonis would return to Crete (He has a family) and we would wait for Candy and try to get back next day - if the flights were full then by ferry. Underneath it all I think we were all worried about the effect of such a happening on Candy.
Adonis wife phoned him. How were we progressing? He told her about things and then the conversation moved to Ginger biscuits from Marks and Sparks on Ermou. A much needed distraction…. I knew where it was …. But I couldn't for the life of me remember the way.
We asked – it was only five minutes away and as soon as I started walking my memory returned. We got the biscuits. I had also purchased a bottle of Ouzo from Brettos in Plaka for one of our friends in London. This is an amazing little store is one of the last of its kind in Athens. It was about to close when it was "Found" by one Matt Barrett and featured in his "athensguide.com" website, which has apparently increased trade and saved the day. If you have Internet have a look at this site. If you go to Athens buy a little something at this store. Trade will keep it open and it is worth keeping a part of old Athens.
We decided to start back to the airport via the Acropolis station. Again Adonis seemed amazed at the exhibits as we headed for the train to Dafni. We knew this route and had no trouble getting airport bus tickets for the Express bus, the E191, only 20 minutes ride away. Confusion - I had made a mistake – we were not going to the international airport, which this bus serves and which we had done only a few weeks ago en-route to the UK, but to the domestic. There was no bus to the domestic terminal from this stop. I declared a taxi… Adonis used the Greek method of getting one, which usually fails at this time of day and I persuaded us to go the (informal) taxi rank opposite. We arrived at the right airport terminal only 15minutes or so later for about 2.50pounds sterling. Something right was happening for us now. At the airport we discovered that the flight from Manchester was in fact only 40 minutes, not I hour 40 minutes, late and Candy would be with us a good 20 minutes before we were due to leave. Good news.
We had a welcome drink, coke and sprites, and then sat on the airport steps outside, in the manner of all good hippies, because it was too warm inside.
The Manchester flight arrived a few minutes later. Adonis went back to plan ‘A’ and ‘phoned, as instructed at Cargo that morning, the cargo office to confirm that Candy was being transferred to our flight home. ‘We must come to Cargo’ was the response, even though we had been told we should not go back by the boss that a.m. Spirits dropped. Mine did anyway. We took a cab. Cargo was much quieter. A different shift was on duty. Adonis managed the situation – papers; explanations and askance of any problems. At one point I thought that the worst had happened and that they were just making sure it was our dog before saying anything. I wandered up and down in the manner, I am sure, of a worried person. I noticed a distinctly English looking man stood nearby listening to the conversation.
His name is Nick. He said later (not speaking Greek) that he was desperately listening for someone to say ‘Manchester.’
It turned out that the dogs – two of his and one of ours – Candy, had arrived on the flight from Manchester and was waiting shipment to our flight to Crete, in our case as arranged. Spirits rose. Well, ours did, but there was still a problem. Cargo were insisting that Nick's dogs were go to Crete. He was going to Rhodes! Cargo would not release his dogs because he could not persuade them that there had been a mix-up and that they were to go to Rhodes with him. He had been trying to convince them since 2pm in the afternoon…. Underneath he must have been distraught, though he only looked anxious. Adonis, our magnificent Adonis, worked with the cargo boss, who phoned her colleague from the morning shift; re-organized the necessary ‘final destinations’ without which she would have sent his dogs to Crete. Still on the `phone, she suddenly declared with a flourish of our necessary papers –"all is arranged – everything is Ok. Your dog will go to Crete and your dogs will go to Rhodes." Both flights were scheduled for 9.10pm. Maybe, just maybe, there would be three dogs in Crete! Or maybe Rhodes….. Or maybe Beirut!! And we wouldn't know until we reached Crete……
Nick hadn't got any transport so we all returned to the domestic terminal in our cab. Nick tried to pay some of the very reasonable fare to us which since he hadn't cost us anything we refused. He refused to take his contribution back and in the ensuing melee I gave the extra money to the taxi driver, who had been watching people refusing to accept money from each other with a bemused expression on his face. Or maybe he knew what the outcome would be – he certainly didn't refuse it when I pushed it into his hands…..
We all had another cold drink and then went through to the gate for our flights. By coincidence we were seated on the aircraft over the cargo hold door, but it was too dark to see what was being loaded, so there was still the nagging anxiety that things might go wrong. We had even given Nick our telephone number – just in case. There was also still the worry about Candy's age, the stress she must still be experiencing and another flight for her, even though it would be only 40 minutes at the most. I found myself mentally telling her that she was Ok and that we were right above, though there was no way of communicating with her.
I felt every tiny bump in the runway at takeoff, every bit of the little turbulence we experienced, hoping that it was not distressing Candy. Adonis was fast asleep and Pam nodding. The landing was the best I have experienced for maybe 12 years, absolutely smooth – I didn't realise, it being dark, that we were over the runway until the last few seconds when the landing lights showed the concrete rushing past. There was no ‘bump’ down, only a smooth slowing which helped to ally my fears for Candy somewhat.
We seemed to be at the baggage carousel in no time.
No dog box. No dog…. Where was she….? Adonis went through to the front desk – maybe she was there. After the baggage carousel was stopped and closed I followed, certain that that was where she was.
There were two passengers occupying the only woman on the desk about lost baggage off the same flight. Pam was afraid Candy was still on the aircraft which was the final flight for the day – back to Athens. Adonis, being Greek, did'nt wait longer. He took himself into the office behind the desks and engaged management direct. I was afraid that Candy could be anywhere else. I was muttering, a bad sign, in more than one very unflattering language about it surely being ***** impossible to loose a ******* dog, and so on…. I sincerely hope that if any candid camera picked up my comments the listener will have understood my feelings. Pam was very quiet and I think her eyes a little red. I that think we were both dreadfully worried. Adonis and the manager suddenly headed for the door leading outside to the apron. I went to follow but was told to ‘stay here’. There were several agonizing minutes wondering all sorts of happenings and what was happening, of serious worry and frustration.
Then the manager returned holding the papers from a container and said, I think, "she is here - Adonis has your dog. He has her outside, you must sign here……." I signed here and went outside. And guess what? There was god-bless our Adonis, complete with a huge animal container on a baggage trolley.
And guess what he said?……… "She's here."
Sequel to today? When Candy realized that we were there she cried. And cried and cried.
All the way to the car and a lot of the way home. Pam cuddled her in a towel to help keep her warm all the way back to Astratigos. We dropped Adonis at his home just before midnight – his armour wasn't shining quite as brightly as it had been at 7.46am when we picked him up that morning, but he hadn't lost one battle. Well, he had actually -temporarily. The crate Candy had arrived in (a very good and not inexpensive traveling dog-home) from the UK had been too big for the car and I had insisted that he abandon it to the airport so that we could get Candy home. He returned to the airport next day and was back on his mobile, this time to me, asking me what to do with the dog house, by 10.30am. I gave it to him. Candy is home now, here with us and has made successful friends with a much younger companion, Indy. She is very well, is eating, drinking and sleeping well. She has more space than in the UK. She will undoubtedly miss our family in the UK, but will hopefully see them later in the year when they visit.
Like us she is now in retirement. "Yes, but what will she do in the day though?"
Well, all we can say is that was what we did on that day though. And today? Well, for all of us, yesterday didn't end until after 2.30am today, which is already tomorrow, and has already begun. This being the case it is difficult to say what we will do in the day though, and in any case we probably won't have time to do anything because of everything else!
One thing is absolutely certain. Today will not be empty. Oh, dear me no, never, never empty. Such is our luck!
Today is October 31st. Candy has now been here for 7 successful months. She is of course getting on a bit - well into her sixteenth year now, and a month or so back we thought that she was starting to lose some of her fire. An event reversed, if it had been the case, by the arrival of our daughter and her family, with whom she had of course lived for the past few years in the UK. She seems settled now she knows she has not lost them. She has enjoyed the superb Cretan summer and probably wonders only about our son, who she has not seen for a while. What we can't tell her, she being rather deaf, is that she will see him early in the new year!
|The Final Chapter.... April 4th 2002
Candy spent a superb first year in the Mediterranean sunshine, guarding our home with her young protégé, Indy, (who she unashamedly bossed, particularly at mealtimes when she obviously felt that Indy lacked respect and manners); greeting our visiting guests and seeing them to the door to say farewell when they left; and generally enjoying a dignified retirement, even though she slept much more as she got older. We spent every Christmas together for 17 glorious years.
She enjoyed visits from our family - our daughter Nicola with whom she Candy had lived at our home in the UK before we brought her to Crete; Nicola's husband Heath, who Candy worshipped and our grandson Harry, a toddler who had been just a few months old when she last saw him. Only a few weeks ago Tracey, our son Adrian's partner had given him a belated Christmas present of a visit to Crete - primarily to see Candy! They spent two weeks with us. All of which seemed to convince Candy that she had not, after all, lost them.
On April 2nd 2002, only two days after a visit by Adonis, who had done so much to help us get Candy here, his wife Chris and son Daniel, Candy's physical health began to decline rapidly.
Pam spent most of the night of 3rd/4th April nursing her in her arms because if she put her on her bed she would bark very softly until picked up again. I relieved her at 6.45am for a short time. By 9.30am we were able to put her on her bed in the sunshine streaming through the front window, talking to her and petting her, keeping her comfortable, giving her a small drink from a syringe.....
Candy collapsed at 11.48am and died 2 minutes later at 11.50am without regaining consciousness.
What did we do today then?....
After more than 17 glorious years, we buried our Candy in Pam's rose garden, in the fading sunshine of April 4th, 2002. High above the bay of Chania at our home in Astratigos, surrounded by the spring-flower decked Cretan mountainside. Sleep well Candy, we all love you.
One thing is certain. For once our day seemed empty... So very, very, empty........