“Oh, how lovely to be back,” says Nessie, unpacking her welcome hamper at Villa Aphrodite, while Anthony, her husband, deals with the suitcases. This is their 12th year running in Corfu and their fifth at Aphrodite, a hillside villa just outside San Stefanos.
Flora and Jake, reminisces Nessie, were barely more than toddlers when they first came here. How distant those days seem now. Aged 15 and 17 respectively, Flora and Jake are already on the loungers, lathering up with Piz Buin and frantically updating their BBM and Facebook statuses. Nessie has persuaded Anthony that each child should be allowed to bring a friend – “If the kids are happy, we’ll be able to relax” – so Rose and Harry are also there by the pool, plugged into their headphones.
It’s hot, boiling hot. The August sun is beating down, the air is scented with pine and the cicadas hum. From across the bougainvillea-drenched fence that divides Aphrodite from the next-door villa drifts a familiar voice: “George, darling… Rory, Celia… Can you help your father with the barbecue?”
“Is that the Carringtons I hear?” says Nessie, emerging from the kitchen. “How marvellous they’re back.”
Anthony, meanwhile, has walked into town to meet Stavros, the boat owner.
A boat is de rigueur on this corner of the island; there is no better way of exploring the coastline, finding deserted coves or reaching the best tavernas. When the children were small, they had made do with a tiny thing with a canopy and a meagre 15hp outboard motor. But this year he has his speedboat licence and has had Stavros find him a punchy, 150hp, six-metre Rib. “Those kids will love me for this,” he thinks. “And at least if they’re on the boat we can keep an eye on them.”
Back at Aphrodite the Carrington children have appeared, with more hangers-on. Amid the clarion call of instant messaging to all like-minded English teenagers in the area, plans are hatched for the evening’s revelries. First stop: the Wave Bar in San Stefanos where Flora, Jake, Rose and Harry join an ever-burgeoning mêlée of teenagers. Some they know, and some they don’t, but the English public-school system seems a common thread – as does a penchant for vodka and Coke.
Anthony and Nessie have met up with some chums too (the Baldwins, their Notting Hill neighbours) and over calamari and Greek salad are busy planning daytime rendezvous and agreeing curfew times for the children (Nessie is particularly keen to avoid a replay of last year’s debacle, when Flora had an ill-fated introduction to retsina and ended up with her head suspended over one of Aphrodite’s white-porcelain loos for an hour). Lunch is to be at Toula’s Taverna at Agni, a favourite spot for crispy courgettes, ouzo and seeing who’s who in Corfu. Then picnics, rock-jumping competitions and evening barbecues in one villa or the next. Flora, if asked, would have added “late-night skinny-dipping and dancing till dawn at Passion” – which is exactly what the teenage gang is off to do tonight, with yet more friends and friends of friends, in the nearby town of Kassiopi.
Later, having seen them off in a taxi, Nessie and Anthony settle poolside with the Carringtons, the Baldwins and a few bottles of “interesting” Greek wine. (“Home by 3am, no later! And not too much to drink!” Nessie shrilled at the retreating tail lights, with knowing smiles all around as, thanks to Nessie, Flora’s form with Ionian revelry is a familiar topic to the assembled company.) Soft moonlight glows on the water, time ticks gently by and the conversation fluctuates from A-levels versus Pre-U’s to Clegg versus Cameron.
“It’s such a joy to get away from it all,” murmurs Nessie. “Such a…” A few seconds go by. Then a few more. Anthony, admiring the moon, waits patiently for whatever sentiment his wife might be grasping for. After several more moments, he glances round to see Nessie staring straight ahead, eyes glazed, face the colour of retsina. “A…” she says, and slumps out of her chair. One second too late, Bea Baldwin rushes over with a bucket she’s spotted next to the patio doors. “Funny,” muses Anthony as his wife moans on the flagstones, “I’d rather left that out for Flora.”