In this tale from the delightfully funny Gullible's Travels, John Carter gets more than he bargained for when a camera crew sets up shop in the gents' toilets at Athens airport. Let the chaos ensue.
This tale is intended to be the literary equivalent of one of those little sorbets they give you when you are having a meal in a posh restaurant. Something to tickle the palate and give you cause to pause before going on to a more substantial dish.
As the incident occurred in Athens, and I have used a restaurant analogy, I had hoped to work in a reference to the ‘four course menu of the Acropolis’, but can see no easy way of doing so… So come with me to Athens airport. Not the Athens airport of today, which is reasonably decent as airports go, but to the one we had to use years ago. The one that was immensely inconvenient, as it had been designed to meet the needs of Olympic Airways rather than the travelling public in general.
If you arrived on an internal flight from one of the islands, which is what we had done, you then had to get yourself and your luggage to the international terminal. This entailed a very long journey around the outside of the airport, and usually meant you missed your connection. And if, like us, you had a lot of filming equipment in addition to your personal bags, there was an extra hassle with Customs.
It was far from convenient. But in those days, nothing about Greece was convenient. And even then, nothing about Greece seemed to obey the rules that applied everywhere else. So here you are, sitting with me and Tom, Robin and Roy. We have somehow managed to get from the Domestic to the International Terminal, checked in for our flights, handing over personal bags and technical boxes after a Grade I haggle with the Customs’ men, and gone through what passes for the security check to get to the departure lounge.
The old Olympic Airlines logo serves to remind John Carter of this chaotic encounter © EQRoy, Shutterstock
In those far off days, Athens airport security was a joke. Because, you see, once you had gone through it and were cleared to board your flight, you had time to visit the souvenir shops, some of which sold really big, ornately decorated daggers which would come in very handy should you and your chums wish to persuade a pilot to fly you to somewhere only you wanted to go.
On this particular occasion, however, the usual chaos was enlivened by the presence of a film crew from one of the local television stations, who were using the departure lounge to record sequences for what seemed to be the Greek equivalent of The Bill. Two or three actors were being filmed as they chased after two or three others, accompanied by a posse of lesser actors dressed as policemen. They ran this way and that, several times. At one point they all rushed up a flight of steps to a fake bar that had been set up on a landing for no other purpose than to have its stools and tables knocked over by the passing plod.
When the actors stopped for a rest — which they did frequently — passengers who had only just arrived, and didn’t know what was going on, climbed the stairs to get a drink at the fake bar and got annoyed when they were turned away. So they complained to the police — who happened to be actors dressed as policemen — and couldn’t understand why this didn’t get them anywhere. It was anarchy on a truly Grecian scale, but the best part came when our detective heroes chased the villains into the gents’ toilet.
Now, at this point any sensible film director would have called a wrap and shot the next bit back in a studio, in a set constructed to look like a gents’ toilet. But not these guys. They lugged the cameras and lights and sound equipment into the toilet and set everything up for the ‘jumping on the villains, wrestling them to the ground and arresting them’ sequence. It was at this point we all decided we needed to go to the toilet, because — as our cameraman pointed out — what they were trying to do was impossible and it would be fun watching them as they realised this.
So in we went to find the Greek cameraman throwing a serious wobbly because there were large mirrors on every wall, reflecting him and his camera and the rest of the crew and their equipment. It was impossible to get a clear shot, which is exactly what our own cameraman had guessed would happen. The director started yelling at everybody, including those of us who weren’t working for him. So we yelled back. Then a man dressed as a policeman came in, so the director turned his attention and his yells on to him — presumably on the grounds that he wasn’t needed in this scene, was cluttering up the place, and should clear off and finish his tea break.
Unfortunately for him, this chap wasn’t an actor dressed as a policeman, but a real policeman who’d come to find out why a crowd of men, desperate for a wee, were milling about outside the toilet, complaining that they couldn’t get in. There was a lot of screaming after that. So we tiptoed away to catch our flight to London. As we climbed up the aircraft steps, brandishing our huge ornamental daggers, we decided that maybe Athens airport wasn’t such a bad place after all.