I go abroad for the 1st time in 6 years and do the 1st piece of journalism in my entire 10 year recovery

 

I recover from my severe OCD enough to go abroad for the first time in 6 years. I go to Athens the capital of Greece to cover the Greek elections and the refugee crisis.

The first and most urgent task when I arrived at the Hotel Carolina in Athens was to work out how I could escape from my prison cell like room (guaranteed to repel attacks by the staff, aliens and serial killers) in the event of fire. This was the only room I could stay in because of my chronic OCD.  But my OCD fear of serial killers was having a punch up with my OCD fear of fire. I opened the window and studied the light well it gave onto, working out how I could use a drainpipe to clamber up the walls of the light well and then escape through the bars on the fourth floor. Quite what I would do once I was hanging off the building on the fourth floor I didn’t go into but presumably the fire brigade have ladders in Greece.  It was like when I was a child and had to not only plan but practise my escape routes from the serial killers in my mother’s house.  Once I had spent half an hour planning my fire exit (ignoring the fact that I could obviously walk out of the room into the corridor and amble down the stairs and out the front door) I slept very well.

As I got down to breakfast on the first day of my stay, I noticed an alarming sight. Among the rows of bread, cakes, cereal, there were no bananas at all. As I am unable to survive without a banana in the morning, I set out in the pleasant sun of Athens on a banana hunt.

In the rich central district of Plaka where the hotel was located people seemed blissfully unaware of the economic crisis in which Greece was threatened with bankruptcy and exit from the Euro. Considering that half the population of Athens drives around on motorbikes with no helmet, an economic crash is not the only one they’ve got to worry about. Athens has no skyscrapers, everything is medium rise. Lofty aspirations with architecture seem to have ended three thousand years ago. There are also unlovely air conditioning units protruding below every window like barnacles on a rock face. There was a lot of graffiti on everything which no had had the time (or money) to clear away. This gave the whole city a slightly run down feel. But because of the fabulous weather the vibe in Athens is extremely upbeat and positive.

The first few people I spoke to did not speak English so when I asked for a fruit shop their expressions were blank. When I then mimed peeling an imaginary banana and eating it in the street they looked at me in disbelief and muttered something in Greek, probably “you need a psychiatrist.”  Undeterred I found one who spoke English who directed me to a fruit shop.  In common with the UK the man selling the bananas at this corner shop seemed to be Pakistani.

After breakfast I rushed to an English speaking meeting of “Divorced from my Drug Dealer Anonymous” where I was welcomed with open arms by all the participants. My friend Toli had sponsored half of them, and had phoned them to tell them I was coming, so everyone was expecting me. The chair was absolutely brilliant (done by me). Nikos, a dark rather good looking man who worked in the shipping industry said scathingly about the elections, which were to take place the next day. “We have OCD with elections, people are fed up of elections it’s the 3rd election in a year, it’s not really going to change anything. Everyone knows they’re fucked.”

Later I went to a meeting of “Vodka for Breakfast Anonymous” on the other side of Athens where I got a totally different view of the economic crisis. “If you went to my neighbourhood, Kypselis,” said Marc a repatriated Greek and carpenter, “I see people begging on the street, digging through dustbins for food. People outside my office are always going through the trash can to eat.”

Ruth, an American married to a Greek, said Greeks had got used to incredibly harsh experiences. “My greengrocer’s mother at the age of 5 or 6 one of her first experiences was burying the bodies of woman and children killed by the Nazis. The Germans shot the men and put the women and children in a church and burnt it to the ground. The next generation had the coup d’etat. It’s always been a question of survival, dodging bullets here.”

The next day, at a polling station in the wealthy central district of Plaka where Cartier and Rolex shops abound, I approached a tall, very good looking, young man who I not only hoped would speak English but invite me out for a coffee after the interview. What came out of his mouth was much more of a surprise: I had found a UKIP supporter in Greece. UKIP, the right wing UK Independence party of course wants Britain to withdraw from the European Union.  If UKIP had a figurehead this attractive in England they’d be two seconds away from Downing Street. Although of course as the Greek God was an EU national they wouldn’t let him in. “I like Nigel Farage” the man, Yannis, the Chief Financial Officer of a company, said of the UKIP leader. “I agree with him about the fact that there is no democracy in Europe. No one in the European Commission has been elected. I don’t know why I vote. This election will only have a minor impact as everything is predetermined by the memorandum that the last government signed with the Eurozone creditors”.

The election had been called by the governing left wing SYRIZA party, headed by the gorgeous young Alexis Tsipras, which was seeking a new mandate having agreed to an austerity package with the EU that most Greeks had voted against. “The European Commission are like Nazis with ties,” chipped in Kostas a fifty something goldsmith. This echoes the belief by many Greeks that the bailout terms the government was forced to agree to, largely dictated by Berlin, amounted to a second invasion by Germany.

Everyone I spoke to at the polling station said the election would make little or no difference. But they all felt it was important to vote.. “The main reason for voting is to get rid of corruption,” said Dimitra a small dark haired pensioner, “If we can do that we have an economic future. Corruption needs two parties the companies from Germany, France, USA everywhere give the politicians money. The money from Europe didn’t go in the right place it went for cars, for luxury life, not for making something. It is very sad.”

Greeks are much more politically engaged than in the rest of Europe.  Thus in the UK with a population of 63 million there are 26 national newspapers, in Greece, which has only 11 million people there are a whopping 49. I noticed this difference in the various 12 step fellowships in Greece. After the meetings in the UK everyone discusses “recovery” issues. In Greece they discussed world politics such as the latest shenanigans of Donald Trump. As I was now so totally over my news blackout that I was a positive news junkie, I absolutely loved this and knew I would come back to Greece.

Unlike in the UK where the phenomenon of “shy Conservatives” meant that all the pollsters got the general election result completely wrong, in Greece everyone is only too happy to say who they’ve voted for. “I voted for SYRIZA” said Dimitra, the pensioner. I’m not sure they will do anything about corruption but the others I know won’t.”  A rather attractive election monitor, with an unpronounceable Greek name, said the old people used to turn out in their party’s colours to publicize who they were going to vote for. This has interesting parallels to Jamaica where voters turn up at polling station blazoned in their party’s colours.

Susan, a biologist from England who’s a nationalized Greek and married to a Greek, was also fired up about corruption. “It is all based on nepotism here. They put key people in all the positions there is a lack of meritocracy and an electorate that expects to be looked after and doesn’t want to work for it. It’s very frustrating for quality people who don’t get the positions they deserve. A lot of people go to study abroad and don’t come back. I’m sick of the nepotism of giving jobs to all these people who just sit there. You have a sick society.”

SYRIZA won the election, comfortably. But, weary as it was the third election in a year, the turnout at 56.6% was the lowest ever recorded in a Greek legislative election since the restoration of democracy in 1974. At a traditional Greek restaurant in Plaka, wailing Greek music was playing in the background. But what diners had to say about Greece would make uncomfortable reading for the government. “My reaction is that I can’t believe this is happening all over again,” said Nassos a dark forty something architect. “8 months ago the government took over on an anti-austerity ticket, they offered to take back power from the European Union and give it to the people. Then they went back on everything. But people still voted for them. This is a country with people with very low self-esteem or very low IQs, less than 60. I’m laughing.”

And he said it was the bloated public sector that voted for the government. “We are under the shadow of this public sector which is humongous. One million people sit in offices doing nothing they are deciding for us.”

Andreas, a teacher, said “the main reason people voted for Tsipras is we hope he will not make bad things to the poor Greeks. There are a lot of rich people who are not affected by the crisis. Their money is abroad, they live in Switzerland, pay no taxes. We hope there will be a change in this policy.”

After the hard work of covering the election, my first piece of journalism in my entire 10 years of recovery, I decided to do some sightseeing around Greece’s ancient archeological sites. On arriving at the Acropolis complex, my first sight was a very well preserved Roman amphitheatre. For some reason I couldn’t work out, every seat in the amphitheatre was occupied by a square box wrapped tightly in a dustbin bag. Whether this was some Cubist depiction of a crowd I wasn’t sure or whether the users of the amphitheatre had simply left their (rather large) packed lunches behind.

I complete my first piece of journalism in my entire 10 year recovery covering the Greek elections then go to the Acropolis complex sightseeing where I find a Roman amphitheatre

When I made my way up to the actual Parthenon Acropolis I was surprised to see the Greek government must have been doing a loft conversion as it was covered in scaffolding. I later realised this was a long delayed restoration project. The Athenian skyline is still dominated by the Acropolis which is fitting as, as far as the Glory of Greece was concerned, it was all downhill from there. I noticed on a Greek website on Athens that it referred to everything as the “4th or 5th Century”. In the rest of Europe this would be the 5th Century A.D. But here in Greece they meant the 5th Century BC when Greece was at its height. But it is humbling to think that the Athenians were constructing such a fabulous building, which has been recognised as the most important historical building in Europe, while in Britain people were painting themselves blue and living in huts. And Jamaica was populated by dodos who probably spent their whole time smoking marijuana.

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Athens, although not physically the most beautiful city in Europe, is a lovely place because of the constant blue skies, sun and friendliness of the people. I was asked out to dinner umpteen times by people in the fellowship. And I never got lost because of the mass of kiosk vendors selling things in the street who all had encyclopaedic knowledge of the local area and were only too happy to help a tourist.

As far as the OCD was concerned, I faced a major challenge when I had to move from the “blind” room which was guaranteed against attack by aliens and serial killers to a room with a balcony. The balcony, I realised, was too high up for even the craftiest serial killer to scale. But there was a terrible fault with the window in the bathroom: you couldn’t close it at all.  Although it was high up (and very small) this put me in grave and immediate danger of attack by miniature serial killers.  I tried to counteract this by attempting to use all 100 portable locks I had brought with me on the bathroom door. But because of the way it was constructed, none of them worked. This was a disaster: there was no way I could sleep in the room that night. I phoned up Marianna, from “Divorced from my Drug Dealer Anonymous,” in search of a hardware shop where I could get some wire to temporarily close the window.  Without questioning whether what I was doing was mad or not, she very kindly gave me precise directions to a hardware shop.  I bought enough wire to block off the border of an entire European country. Then wound it round the window to keep out the miniature serial killers.  After spending a bit of time with the Bible and Bunny, and talking to my friend Susanna and neighbour Diane on the phone,  I slept very well that night.

But I was horrified to wake up the following morning to an automated call from my burglar alarm company saying someone had broken into my house at 4am. Please God, no, I thought. If my house has been robbed on the first trip abroad I’ve made for 6 years, I’ll never leave England again. I phoned the burglar alarm company who were unable to tell me whether the police had been round. Then tried to call the police which was impossible from Greece. I knew my friend Vas got up at 5am, so phoned her desperately begging her to phone the police.  She did and the police said they’d been round 2 minutes after the alarm had gone off but hadn’t seen any signs of a break in. I couldn’t get hold of Diane, who had the key, but had to get someone into the house to check it was alright.

My father had had an operation the week before so I was reluctant to wake him but, with no other option, dialled him at 6am. He shot round to the house, getting the key from Diane, and I have to say saved the day. Not only did he confirm that there had been no break in, but met the technician from the burglar alarm company to sort out the fault that had caused the false alarm. I felt quite warm towards him.  I was able to continue with my mission to re-start my journalism career.

Some friendly Greeks helped me with the intricacies of the metro system which, very unusually, has no closed ticket barriers and seems to rely on people’s honesty to buy a ticket. As I got down to the platform of the metro a technicolour monster sped towards me. It was daubed with graffiti or street art and several of the windows were smashed. I had never seen a train like this before, I thought gingerly getting onto it. I wasn’t sure whether the transport authorities thought the graffiti enhanced the passenger experience of whether there was simply no money to get it off.

As I walked into Victorias square in the centre of Athens, a forest of multi-coloured refugee tents accosted my sight. Hundreds of men, women, tiny children and even new born babies were sleeping rough in the square. The conditions they were living in were squalid, at least five people to a tent, with no washing or toilet facilities.

A million refugees mainly from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq have entered Greece from Turkey in less than a year. The Greek government, facing bankruptcy, is unable to cope with the flood of refugeesAlmost all of them were from Afghanistan and were waiting for family to send them money to move on to Germany or Sweden.  “Too many people here are hungry,” said Saber Nazari, a tall pale youth with a cleft lip who wanted to leave Afghanistan so he could study, which he said was impossible under the Taliban. “Syria war, Afghanistan war you come here you need help. We want help from the government of Greece from the UN.  We are humans not animals.”  Far from giving help the Greek government reportedly threatened to fine people 100 Euros if they helped the refugees. But ignoring this, there has been a phenomenal response to the refugees on the Greek islands such as Cos and Lesbos, which have been engulfed by refugees, who the local people have fed and clothed.  There is a petition on Twitter to award the Greek islanders the Nobel Peace Prize for helping the refugees which I definitely support.

No aid workers were visible in Victorias square but there were a lot of Vodafone representatives in red t-shirts who must have been selling sim cards. I’d read that the refugees were using smart phones to communicate information about routes and blockages, to avoid the machinations of people smugglers. So maybe the SIM cards were as highly prized as more basic necessities such as food and water.

Saber’s friend E Azim said: “ we have been sleeping here for 10 nights. We are all sleeping in the tube station. 20 of us are sleeping down there. I left Afghanistan because it was dangerous for me, for my family, for everyone. Every day killing the persons, it is not possible to live.  Nobody wants to stay in Greece, people come here for 2 or 3 days then gone. People here are waiting for money. Here they don’t give us permission to stay. People have been here for 6 years and they have not the passport yet.”

But Layla Said Ahmad, who was in the camp with her three teenage sisters, said they had been there for months. “2 months ago we came from Kabul. Because of the war we can’t stay in Afghanistan. We lost everything, house, clothes, everything. We don’t have money so we stay here. We don’t want to stay here because there are no jobs here. We could not stay in Turkey either.”

Fatima was a teacher of Farsi literature in Afghanistan but: “here I am jobless. We have four sisters my mother my brother six persons in a tent. We don’t have money to go anywhere we are waiting for money.”

I was shocked by the conditions these refugees were living in. But Greece, facing bankruptcy and one of the worst economic crises in its history, clearly does not have the resources to deal with the almost a million refugees that have poured onto its shores. Although the refrain of many Greeks was that there were “too many Syrians” in Greece, in Athens, unlike the Greek islands, hijabs were few and far between and the population was very homogenous and mainly white.

I said a fond farewell to Maria, the afternoon receptionist at the Hotel Carolina, who’d been incredibly understanding about the OCD. I took the wire off the bathroom window, obviously because some one in the hotel could cut their hands and sue me. I kept the wire thinking I may need it in future to protect me on my next holiday. But I’d had a major breakthrough during the holiday – I had stopped searching in the wardrobe at night for any serial killers, whether maxi or miniature.

I overcome my severe OCD to take my first trip abroad for over 6 years. I stay at the Hotel Carolina in Athens where they are very understanding about the OCD.

At Athens airport, unlike Heathrow, there are no Chanel or Gucci stores. The most expensive shop was diffusion range Emporio Armani. But, like iron filings to a magnet, a shopping representative attached herself to me offering to show me round. But my shopping days are over so I declined her seductive advances.

The security at Athens airport was cursory in comparison to the forensic investigation of every pair of knickers at Heathrow. But I was now a seasoned traveller, after my one trip, and didn’t have anything over 100ml. The explosives on my luggage had disappeared, evaporated in the Athenian sun. I had achieved my goal, my first voyage abroad for over 6 years, and it had been a fabulous trip, enhancing my independence and recovery. I was itching to travel again.

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Next week: my life changing recovery from 25 years of depression.

 

 

Falling asleep anytime, any place, anywhere and major mishaps with myopic men in Rome

iphone pix car 19 06 2015 009

Madrid Spain 1995

I woke up, from an unwise session mixing cider and vodka, with my face submerged in my handbag. The bar was so noisy it was amazing I’d gone to sleep. The bag must have been functioning as a pair of ear muffs, or a mini tent. This falling asleep in public, when I’d overindulged, had been a key element of my behaviour since I’d started drinking alcohol. I had fallen asleep at clubs, next to blaring speakers, or in the middle of the dance floor. Indeed when I went to a party the first thing I’d do was identify where I would later go to sleep, which was usually the host’s bed, not entirely welcomed by them. “Wake up,” said my friend Susanna, shaking my arm, “the bar’s closing we’re going to have to go home now.”   Susanna had moved to Spain and I was visiting her as well as covering a story about the independence movement in the Basque country. I’d already got into trouble in Madrid, scouring the streets for ecstasy with a Moroccan drug dealer, and ending up in San Blas, an area so dodgy the dealer said “we must leave.” I’d never experienced racism in Spain, as people thought I was a rich South American, but when I was walking around Madrid with the Moroccan people looked at me like I was dirt.

Nonetheless, I had a deep affection for Spain, as I had lived in Spain for four months when I was 18 in 1988. It was the first time I’d been happy in my entire teenage years. In England I felt miserable and ugly, in Spain I felt attractive and like I fitted in. I’d travelled all over Spain learning Spanish, Barcelona, Madrid, Seville, Granada and Salamanca. People said I spoke Spanish so well I must be a spy. I met the first man I fancied, a German who, rather dubiously, said he liked SS uniforms as they looked so good on blondes. I snogged him but obviously couldn’t have sex. He wrote to me from Germany but, of course, wasn’t available as he had a girlfriend there. When I got back from Spain and was doing my Spanish S level oral exam, the examiner asked me what monuments I’d visited in Salamanca. “None,” I said shame faced, “I spent my whole time getting pissed in bars.” “Well you must have done something right, your Spanish is amazing,” she said. “Well it’s amazing what you can learn with a double vodka in your hand.” Of course I’d sometimes got into problems with alcohol in Spain, a presage of things to come, as the measures were so enormous compared to British pubs. But, in typical denial, I just thought this was a problem with Spain and Spanish bars, not that I had a problem with alcohol.

I went to the Basque country to do the feature for the BBC and, amazingly for me, nothing actually went wrong. I got all the interviews, didn’t leave any of them in the back of a cab, and was warmly welcomed by the Basques. I was a bit horrified though when I was recording a pro-independence rally in Bilbao that all the demonstrators started shouting for “coche bombas en Madrid,” car bombs in Madrid. ETA, the Basque nationalist/terrorist/independence group (depending on your perspective) was still active and supported by a significant minority.

I went back to Madrid to say goodbye to Susanna, who’d saved my life when she’d phoned when I was about to cut my throat. She’d sat with me in the depths of my clinical depression, trying to make me talk. But all I could do was stare at the walls. Susanna and I had been friends since I was 10, when we bonded intensely at Wycombe Abbey, an all girls’ boarding school. Night after night all the little girls in the dormitory would howl themselves to sleep, desperately missing their parents and families. One night we had a screaming contest so loud we all had to be put in the sanatorium. I had been keen to go to boarding school, conned by tales of Enid Blyton and Mallory Towers. But there were no midnight feasts at Wycombe Abbey. Just hours of homework which we had to finish with a torch under our duvets every night. We had tiny moments of joy, greeting the stern matron with our knickers on our heads but we couldn’t even indulge in my childish passion, shoplifting Hello Kitty toys, as we weren’t allowed out alone. Solitary only children, Susanna and I became inseparable in the first term. And although I left after a year, we were still very close throughout my teenage years. Susanna was one of the only people I told the full horror of what was happening during my parents’ divorce. To my other school friends, I pretended my parents were still together and said nothing at all. Susanna was like me, chaotic, and our friendship was characterised by frequent mishaps. But we loved each other and it is still one of the most important relationships in my life.

Rome 1987 Me: 17 Susanna: 18.

MADRIDPICTURES

 

“Will you do threesome?” said a fat, hairy, man in the front car of a convoy of vehicles pursuing us down the street. “You are very pretty, how much do you want? I’ll pay you a thousand lire.” How much? we thought panicking and rushed off down the street. But in fact a thousand lire was about 50p. We’d set out dressed appropriately so we didn’t have any trouble with men. In virginal outfits with white lace tops and skirts. We were clearly street smart, mature and experienced and thought looking like a virgin was a turn off to men. As the convoy of cars had swelled to 15, including a tank and a juggernaut, we realised we’d made a slight mistake.

As we rushed down the street, all the men in the cars started flipping their hands as if we were gay. Oh my god, I thought with horror, not only do these men think we’re prostitutes but they think we’re MEN as well. It was then that I realised what my mother’s stern words not to go to a hotel near the station in Rome had meant. We were in the middle of the red light district and these men thought we were transvestite prostitutes. I suddenly noticed the lurid neon signs on the bars around, clearly pointing to a thriving trade in lady boys. I had never questioned our identity as girls, until now, and being mistaken for (very convincing) girly men was not a compliment.

I had just left an all girls’ boarding school, Roedean, at the age of 17. I was very academic and had passed the entrance exam to Oxford when I was sixteen. I only needed two Es in my A levels to get in. But I was definitely still a virgin and had barely been kissed. I was practically a child at 17. I had still been playing with my teddies, when I was sixteen, running an supremely efficient toy hospital. This inter-railing trip around Europe was the first adult experience I’d had in my life. I was travelling with Susanna, who was slightly more clued up than me. But our naivete had been a magnet for trouble with men everywhere we went.

We ran away from the line of cars following us, taking shelter in a bar. The man in the bar, who had nose hair as long as a beard, gave us an oleaginous look, scanning us up and down and saying that girls like us, “would have a great future in films. “ From his leering looks it was obvious what kind of films he was talking about. He also ran a strip club and invited us to come along and participate.

“We’re not interested in things like that,” I stuttered, blushing deep red.

“Well what about water sports, or a tiny bit of S and M.”

“I don’t like scuba diving and I’m too full for sausage and mash.”

“Can you say that on camera,” he oozed at my face, “you’ve got such a great voice.”

Although not as pretty as my luscious, blonde, best friend, I was a virgin, very busty and extremely innocent. Even in my naïve, childlike, state I could see that this would be an attractive commodity in the world of porn. Not that I had any experience of porn, the only kind of sex I’d looked at was my parents seventies bible, the Joy Of Sex.   This prompted me to write a pornographic novel at the age of 10 which had limited scope as I had no idea what a vagina was and thought babies came out of your bum.

Shaken by our experience in the red light district, we decided perhaps going out alone was unwise. There were three young men working in our hotel who had asked us to go out for the night. They must be safe, I wisely said, as they all had thick glasses on. Short sightedness was clearly a recipe for moral probity, I thought. Also, as there were three of them, perhaps it wasn’t a date.

When they arrived that night there were two of them and they’d taken their glasses off. We went out with them to a fun fair outside Rome but we decided we’d better lose them as their eyesight had improved. We then ended up surrounded by an angry and threatening group of men, facing possible gang rape, until we ran, hysterical, to the car of an Italian family.

“What are you doing out here alone?” said the mother, once we were in the car.

“Our friends took off their glasses,” I said, “we had to get away.”

“Italian men are bad news,” the woman said.

“I know,” I said, “they’re as bad news as a force 9 earthquake on the Richter scale.”

We’d had problems with men going right back to France. Men kept hassling us asking why we were alone. So we’d invented two imaginary friends, Hubert and Napoleon, who accompanied us everywhere. This was inspired by a schizophrenic we saw having an animated conversation with no one in the street. But the men didn’t care whether we were mad or not, they still wanted to sleep with us. I say “us,” in fact they all wanted to sleep with my blonde best friend and got me, with my fluent French, to work as a free interpreter. This lack of attention from men, when Susanna was around, had caused certain problems in our relationship. The situation wasn’t helped by my father who’d always told me I “would never be as pretty as Susanna.” Tiny jealousies niggled between us and on Susanna’s 18th birthday I tried to set fire to her hair. I put the little flame out with a bottle of champagne.

We arrived in Juan Les Pins on the south coast of France too late to go to a bank. The place was rammed and we couldn’t find a hotel anyway. So we decided to sleep on the beach. We were soon moved on by the police. When we asked them where we could go they said, “sleep on a park bench.” We took refuge on an empty boat, thinking we could rest there for the night. Until interrupted by a group of thirteen year old French boys who wanted to have sex with us. I say “us,” one of them did fancy me, although his friends said he was mad and should shag Susanna instead. We ended up sleeping, as the police had suggested, on a wooden bench. The resilience of youth!

It was in Venice that we both had our first experience of dope. We had gate-crashed a party in an amazing apartment and someone had handed a spliff to us. At that point the police raided the apartment, causing us to take refuge under a bed. We passed the spliff from one to the other stretched out under the bed, trying not to drop ash in our mouth. Walk on the wild side was playing on the stereo as the police crashed around the room arresting everyone in sight. But luckily they didn’t notice us silently stoned under the bed.

We had more trouble with men on our way down to the Italian coast. A geriatric man who kept telling us to be quiet, tried to snog me on the night train as I was asleep. I was horrified, turning on the light, that someone so old could be trying it on. But it was not the last time I would be molested in my bed.

When we arrived at the coast we’d fucked up our money again, missing the bank and not able to change our travellers cheques. We started stealing bread from tables at a restaurant, and a kindly Italian family invited us to join their meal. When they found out I was only 17 they were horrified saying, “you’re a minor, how can your parents let you travel alone? “

Little did they know that my parents had been in a reverse custody battle for me since their divorce when I was 12. I say reverse as neither of them wanted me. “Go and live with your father,” said my mother trying to eject me from the house at the age of 13. But he couldn’t have me either, he said.

My mother had sent me back to boarding school after the exit from Wycombe Abbey, as she wanted me out of the house. This ejection to boarding school turned out to be a lucky escape. After my father left I was so frightened of my mother I thought I would be murdered in my bed. I spent the whole time checking the house for serial killers, under my bed, in my cupboards, even the cutlery drawer and the deep freeze. They were resilient and flexible creatures these serial killers I thought. Checking wasn’t enough, I also had to find hiding places from the serial killers, such as concealed panels behind the walls, and practice all my escape routes which involved leaping out of the attic window and running along the roof. This was the origin of the OCD that in later years almost wrecked my life. It was only recently I realised that there were no serial killers at Roedean, they only existed at my mother’s house. If I’d been forced to stay at home I could have become like my uncle, who thought he’d discovered a palatial Roman bath, under a traffic light in Knightsbridge, which he thought he owned.

We went from the Italian coast by ferry to Greece, Susanna getting all the attention on the ferry, of course. Bemused by the Greek language signs all over the place, we hopped on a train to meet some friends of Susanna’s at Tholon, a tourist resort. Of course as the signs, unintelligible squiggles to us, went by, we didn’t know whether we were getting any nearer to our destination or not. We kept asking “are we near to Tholon?” and eventually someone said we were there.

We marched into the town stopping by a bar to ask for directions to the hotel. “Hotel?” they said in bemused tones, “this village doesn’t even have a road.” We looked around, the dearth of tourists was clear to see. A farmer wandered by with a donkey, carrying a bale of hay. Confused, we said we were looking for Tholon, but this didn’t seem to be it. “Tholon,” they laughed hysterically, “that’s on the other side of Greece.”

“So where are we going to stay?” we wailed.

“There are a few people camped on the beach,” they said, “but you haven’t got a tent.”

“No,” I said.

“Well you’ll have to sleep under a tree.”

“A tree?” I choked being shaken back to one of the most traumatic memories of my childhood and the origin of my problem with serial killers. I was eight, in Jamaica, watching Friday the 13th. A woman had run away from the killer and looked like she’d escaped, out of breath, leaning against a tree. Suddenly the killer reached round and cut her throat. I’d had an obsessive fear of having my throat cut since then. I barely slept a wink that night. You may wonder why I wanted to cut my own throat. Apart from desiring death, this was also, logically, to prevent the serial killers from getting in there first.

We eventually made it to Tholon, where we slept under a roof instead of a plant. But it was idyllic in Tolon beautiful and unspoilt. And no one had come onto us. In Tholon we were surrounded by sweaty youths. And I was totally ignored as I didn’t speak Greek.

Susanna and I returned to the UK, my Afro hair turned to straw by neglect, looking like Worzel Gummidge in a hurricane. But our return was not without controversy. One of us had lost our ticket and we had to vault over the barriers at Kings Cross. After this wild adventure when we’d barely emerged alive, I settled back into the madness of life at home.