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Bodkins and Rainbows: the continuing Albanian Adventure of Shivering Sheep

Joni the Fish (that’s Joni as in Johnny Depp, not Joni Mitchell) was a bit despondent. He was going through the motions – approaching couples strolling along the esplanade past his small eatery, drawing their attention to the menu.

‘Nobody is interested,’ he sighed. In need of shade and respite from the stonking heat, and feeling a bit sorry for him, we succumbed to the lure of his ice-cream list.

‘Well, you still have a few weeks of the season to go,’ Sue consoled him as we installed ourselves gratefully under the parasol. It was the first week of September.

‘Not really, maybe only two weeks.’

It seemed that the Albanian tourist trade was not exactly flourishing.

He asked where we were from.

‘England is the best place,’ he said enviously. ‘That’s where I want to go. I would work hard there for ten years then come back home and look after my family.'

‘What will you do when this season is over?’

He shrugged. ‘I will go to Athens to work in the night-clubs. It is rough and dangerous work. I will only do that until I am 26.’ Joni obviously had very specific ideas about his future. I thought of the picture of the Albanian night-club scene displayed in the window of the tourist office. If the Greek clubs were rougher than that, he would certainly be in trouble.

‘Would you go to live in Greece?’ I asked.

‘No!’ he replied, affronted. ‘I am Albanian.’

Yesterday, in anticipation of our visit, we had looked up the words of the Albanian National Anthem – well, you have to do something on these long sailing trips. Now Joni’s proud declaration seemed to echo the rather bellicose spirit of the national song.

Only he who is a born traitor

Averts from the struggle.

He who is brave is not daunted,

But falls - a martyr to the cause.

It had occurred to us that both the lyrics and the sentiments might benefit from a little refurbishment, just to bring the whole thing up-to-date a bit. Our end result rambled on for about 18 verses and was more factual than emotionally stirring, as is often the way when one’s only source of information is Wikipedia. But who knows: we may have inadvertently invented a new revision source for anybody doing European geography for GCSE.

Albania, Albania

The land of manganese

Where asphalt exports flourisheth,

Likewise our fisheries.

(Continue in same vein to the tune of ‘We Plough the Fields and Scatter’)

Having decided to give the Albanian Night Out a miss, it was soon time for our return trip on the hydrofoil. Again, we were first in the queue which gave us plenty of time to read the notices of rules and regulations. Thankfully, and quite understandably, it seemed that sharp pointed items which could be used as weapons were prohibited but I was surprised to see that the first on this list was ‘bodkins’. With its connotations of pleasant domesticity, it sat rather incongruously with crossbows, crossbow bolts, long bow arrows, blunt weapons including knuckle dusters, clubs, coshes, batons, flails or nunchaku, and spear guns or their spears. Had there once been a spate of Bodkin attacks? Perhaps by the notorious Balkan Bodkin gang? I tried to imagine a scene in which somebody might resort to brandishing such an implement.

‘Drop the bodkin!’

‘Place the novelty letter-opener on the floor then back away with your hands up!’

‘Step away from the tweezers!’

The queue started to move – but what was this? We were heading for the ferry quay, not the hydrofoil at all. A proper look at our tickets, which involved retrieval of my glasses from the recesses of my rucksack, confirmed this was indeed correct – we were due to sail on Marina the boat, not Santa the hydrofoil. Though initially disappointed, we soon found ourselves under the fringed awning of the upper deck of the good ship Marina, caught up in quite a party atmosphere. Perhaps it was the overdose of sun addling my brain, but the passengers all had such distinct characteristics that they looked like they had stepped out from the pages of their own eponymous novels. The well-stocked bar was doing brisk trade. Cut-Throat Jake and Capt Ahab tried to outdrink each other, egged on by a selection of clamorous minor characters from War and Peace. The mousy woman in the corner kept to herself, too self-effacing, too watchful – either a Virginia Woolf character or a Le Carré spy. Some young Albanian women were having a party all to themselves, no sign of dominoes I was pleased to see. The hilarity was led by a girl with amazing corkscrew red hair and dungarees who could have stepped out of the Wizard of Oz. The guy with a pony-tail had a cratered face, maybe a convict from Great Expectations. A scar zig-zagged down one cheek: the victim of a bodkin attack?

Then something wonderful happened. Out of a clear blue sky, a rainbow formed. It was a perfect circle, its nadir buried somewhere in the backdrop of those brutal beige mountains which were distantly fringed with a curtain of rain. The evening sun was still hot, the water blue and the rainbow glowed like a pennant streamed from a medieval pavilion. The realisation of its existence spread from one group of passengers to another until everyone was lining the starboard rail with cameras out taking selfies, clicking, snapping, trying to capture the uncapturable. I wondered if the boat might capsize from the uneven distribution of weight.

The corkscrew-haired girl was in raptures. ‘So lucky! This is so lucky!’ She handed the camera to Russ and posed while he took her photo.

The ferry journey took one-and-a-quarter hours compared with half an hour on the hydrofoil – 13 knots rather than 31 for the amphibious craft. As we closed in on Corfu Town, we saw Santa racing ahead of us heading into the centre of that rainbow.

The last bit is a lie; but all the rest is true.

For information about Ionian Seaways, click here.

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