Adventures of a Beach umbrella

The tiny, overcrowded bus from Santorini’s capital, Firŕ, came to a screeching halt, and unceremoniously dumped its sweaty passengers onto the black volcanic sand of Perissa beach. “God, it’s hot”, observed my cousin Siân, stating the obvious, as Dubliners tend to do, while rivulets of sweat trickled down her neck. Shimmering waves of hot air, oppressive and slow-moving as treacle, rippled along the beach and bleached the colour from the sky. I tried to be optimistic, hoping her spirits wouldn't wilt as fast as her smile now seemed to be in danger of doing. “The meltemi will keep us cool”, I suggested.

Siân was visiting me from Ireland, and she, being fair of skin and blonde of hair, was more in need of sun protection than many of the foreign visitors to the island, and I, being a seasoned resident of Greece for many years, knew that it was absolutely essential to rent an umbrella for a day at the beach. These sunshades, heavy and unwieldy, stand in a plastic base that is weighted with stones to prevent it toppling over if the seasonal meltemi wind happens to blow a bit strongly.

We chose one with bright yellow stripes, and after some trial and error, managed to get it up and take shelter under its ample shade, watching as it swayed and shook in the ever-increasing boisterousness of the wind. “What’ll happen if it falls over?” wondered an increasingly anxious Siân. More cheerfully than confidently, I reassured her that these umbrellas flapped around a lot, but weren’t likely to cause any further problems.

The umbrella had other ideas.

After one particularly enthusiastic gust from the meltemi, it took off, to our dismay. Off it went, almost whooping with joy as it bounced along the beach in its new-found freedom. Round and round it turned, skipping over prostrate bodies and frolicking children, lifting into the air and bouncing down again as it made its merry way along the beach, with a dog or two yelping and bounding along in hot pursuit. “Stop, stop!” I yelled rather foolishly, willing it not to decapitate any unfortunate sunbather who might innocently sit up as it passed. Siân, on the other hand, lay back, paralysed with hysterical laughter at the antics of the umbrella as it receded into the distance.

Now, I'm not a fast runner, especially when challenged to run barefoot over gritty volcanic sand in sizzling 35 degree heat, but that day I broke all known records in my efforts to retrieve the darn thing. I hardly felt the sand and pebbles under my feet as I sped along the beach, jumping over bodies just as the umbrella had done, while calling for help. Some people made ineffectual grabs at it, but it evaded them all, eventually bouncing into the sea, and coming to a stop, upside-down, just out of reach. I plunged in after it, and pulled it back to the beach, where a few people had gathered to help, not including the still paralytic Siân, I might add.

Hot, red-faced and dishevelled, I sheepishly dragged it back to where we were lying, to a round of applause from the sunbathers nearby. Having set it up again, with the help, hindrance and anecdotes of Greek and foreigner alike, I got over my embarrassment and eventually saw the funny side of the whole incident. Ah, memories! My recollections of the beautiful island of Santorini will forever be tarnished with my unshaken belief in the perversity of inanimate objects.

C Behan

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