In some cities, and some towns, and even some villages in the UK you have pubs that come under “new management”. The new owners or leaseholders will knock a few walls through, add a new coat of paint, put some plastic flowers up and then throw open their doors to the public once more.
Only problem is that this invariably alienates the old school regulars who have drunk their for 20 years and resent “The King’s Head” being renamed “The Starlight Express”. The new management may have little or no respect for the old guard, and may impose clothing regulations around caps and gym shoes to exclude the “riff raff” from their establishment. As the money comes in from the new people the old stay away. When the fad wears off the pub wonders why it’s losing money instead of making it and it’s because they have no backbone any more. The foundations have gone and there is no loyalty left in their customers.
In Plakias, Crete, Greece there is a youth hostel. It’s fairly small, can take about 40 people and has no cooking facilities bar a kettle and the odd Calor gas stove that got left behind by a careless backpacker.
From 1996 to 2012 a guy named Chris Bilson ran Youth Hostel Plakias. He was a guest at the original hostel in the village of Mythios nearby. The owner Federicos needed a manager when the premises moved from the reasonably inaccessible heights to the recently flattened olive grove that would become the legend that was YHP.
Chris loved the hostel and he loved making people feel good about being there. He would always welcome new guests with a speech about why the hostel was special and why so many people kept coming back. He’d tell them about the babies that had sprung from summer romances (or even drunken fumbles) in the hostel. He’d wax lyrical about the marriages (10 last I heard) from people who’d met there. The speech didn’t vary from year to year and those of us who’d heard it before knew it virtually word for word.
While we sniggered at the repetitiveness of Chris’s speech and some people expressed frustration at hearing it (one girl said to me “I know he meant well, but I was jet lagged to hell and just wanted to go to bed”) he did this because he CARED about the hostel and he cared about the guests. When an Irish lad named Ger Cashin tried to sneak off at 5am to catch the bus to the airport (feeling down at leaving and not wanting to say goodbye) Chris followed him to the bus stop on his motorbike with a bottle of raki and two shot glasses. He apparently caught up with him and said "you can't go without your farewell raki!"
Returnees would be welcomed with a shot of raki (think Italian grappa’s bastard son) and called by their first name, regardless of how many months or even years since they’d been to the hostel. Chris would always find a bed for a returnee who turned up unexpectedly and one day, when I was working for him in the kitchen cooking breakfasts he beckoned me over silently. Pointing to the tables outside as if we were bird watchers in a blind, about to cop a view of a rare migratory species he whispered “Lance, look. The new guests are getting on with the old crowd. They’re really mingling. Isn’t it brilliant!”
Chris liked a drink and there were a several occasions over the years, where he went face first over the flower bed nearest the reception door, on the way to his apartment after knocking off. I was never privileged to see this phenomenon, but I heard it once. A thud and cursing as he went arse over tit in the foliage. I whirled round to find he’d already sprung to his feet and was walking off with a cat’s sense of pride, pretending nothing had happened.
No matter how pissed he got, he never forgot to lock the beer fridge. Well, apart from once in the late 1990s when he came down next day to find it like something from Mother Hubbard’s cupboard. No one owned up and he bit the bullet, smiled and said “OK, you got me. Have to make sure I lock it next time.”
Chris loved the river walk and one day he told me that years ago a young woman had decided to do the walk in November, when it was getting dark a lot earlier. Chris warned her it was dangerous, especially alone but she insisted and set off at 2pm. By 6 o’clock she hadn’t come back and Chris guessed she was in trouble. He set off with a torch and an hour or so later found her in the pitch darkness, sat on a rock and crying her eyes out. He escorted her back to the hostel.
Chris used to be a carpenter and would work on the hostel in the winters when it was closed, making tables, ceilings, bed frames and even little boxes that he bolted to the sides of the bunk beds just for people to put nick nacks in.
He encouraged people to go out and socialise in town. The hostel lights went out at 10.30pm and that basically meant “piss off and have fun.”
Joe’s Bar/ Nufaro was the mainstay of the hostel crowd. My Dad said that in the early 2000s you couldn’t fit a credit card between the people in there and drunken dudes were dancing on the tables till 5 or 6am and staggering back completely wasted.
Room 7 (the roof above reception where there’s a mattress where people go for a shag) originally had FOUR mattresses on it. One on each compass point. People sat and played Perudo, or King’s Cup or Fuck the Dealer or Poker…or any other number of silly games. Someone even INVENTED a board game for the hostel. One night a drunk couple had a shag on the roof and fell asleep. The bloke later woke up just in time to see his still-naked date sleep walk off the roof and land head first in the yard. A fractured skull but she survived.
Hence the barrier all the way around.
Another time a woman approached Chris one morning with a hangover to say “my shoulder’s a bit sore.” Chris took one look at her and snapped “get to hospital. NOW!!!” Turned out she’d dislocated her collar bone by crashing her scooter into the stream between the village and the hostel but was so drunk she couldn’t feel it.
Hence the barrier either side of the road.
Chris made the hostel into one of the most popular back packer resorts in the world.
Then in 2012 he retired.
Then a few months later he died.
The replacement manager had been chosen by Chris and his name was…Chris. So we called him New Chris. He did a good job but being chucked in at the deep end of 7 days a week for 7 months wasn’t his cup of tea and he threw in the towel after one season.
Then a 3rd manager took over and decided to initiate the “Pub Overhaul” protocol.
On Facebook in June a good mate of mine named J had posted some rather damning sentiments about the new Youth Hostel Plakias manager. I have only stayed there one night in 5 summers (when I was too pissed to walk home) as I stay with my Dad who lives round the corner, but socialised there all the time just like a lot of Plakias regulars who know and love the place.
The owner needed a new manager for this year at short notice due to New Chris resigning unexpectedly. He hired a regular guest named Uli from the previous years who had pitched for the job last year but lost out to New Chris. He was apparently over the moon about getting it and was looking forward to fulfilling his dream of steering the ship.
I first met this guy in 2010. He was polite and quietly spoken but alarm bells rang one night when me and 2 friends were preparing food for dinner at the hostel. We’d clubbed together for red wine, feta, bread and vegetables and were having a very pleasant and drunken time making a big Greek salad. Mood was interrupted unexpectedly when Uli came over holding a beer mat with a used condom on it that he’d found and said to Melissa “you want the condom?” and laughed before throwing it in the bin. He then sat down at our table.
I’ll just repeat that.
We were preparing food. He approached us with a thing containing other people’s pussy juice and cum and then sat down.
In disbelief I said “now go and wash your hands!!!”
He smiled and said, “it’s ok I didn’t touch it” and then sparked up a conversation with Melissa who offered him a glass of wine.
I sat there staring at him and could feel the anger slowly churning away. The only thought going through my head was, “if he touches the fucking food, I WILL stick my fork through his fucking eye socket!!!”
After 5 minutes of Uli talking about the weather to Melissa I lost it and yelled, “am I the ONLY one who thinks this is fucking wrong!!! Go and wash your FUCKING HANDS!!!”
He harrumphed, got up from the table and went to the bathroom, returning a couple of minutes later theatrically shaking the droplets of water off his hands as if to say, “there you are Mr Fussy!”
Later Melissa said to me, “I was disgusted too, but I didn’t know how to deal with it.”
This year there were rumours that the hostel had adopted a much stricter policy about “externals” socialising there and indeed in April when it first opened were turning people away who weren’t staying there, regardless of if they’d been guests in previous years. A local bar owner then came down and pointed out the stupidity of this as it was simply driving people away from the village itself so the rule was relaxed.
Then J posted a very damning and quite vitriolic piece on Facebook about the place, saying that he’d returned as usual and been partying for a couple of weeks, enjoying himself and hanging out there (like he always did). He took guests on local walks and to beaches (like he always did). He organised a big barbecue with wine and food for everyone at the hostel (like he always did). Then one day the hostel owner turned up, after complaints from Uli, to have a quiet word with J. He told him that if he wished to socialise at the hostel he had to “have a coffee and keep his nose down.” He added that J needed permission from him to take guests on walks or trips. J looked at him in disbelief and asked “why the fuck do I need your permission to do things outside this hostel?”
After some more chat he told the guy to stick it up his arse and walked out.
He wasn’t at that point banned but became the first Hostel Banned Club member after telling that story plus some quite eye opening other facts about Uli, on Facebook.
The second HBC member was a Scottish regular from the hostel who wasn’t there but reacted with his usual direct (and very sweary) manner on Facebook after finding out that Uli had got the job (the politest bit being “you are FUCKING joking me?!!”)
Banned in absentia.
So I got there and was pleasantly surprised that Uli appeared to be doing a very good job. People seemed happy and every night he’d take some or all of the guests to a local taverna or restaurant. I set up a tab for beer, wine and breakfasts (like I always did) and hung out there playing Perudo and socialising (like I always did). I also went out for dinner a few times with Uli and the guys and he knew his food and good restaurants. His advice if with a big group of people was to say to the waiter “just bring food” and let them serve you with whatever they thought was good (i.e. everything). With a group of 16 to 20 people the bill never came to more than 15 Euros each for a huge meal and a lot of wine.
After a week I walked down with Uli after dinner and said to him “you know, you are doing a very good job. J’s a mate but you seem to have everyone enjoying themselves.” I then shook his hand and after that he’d always invite me to eat dinner with his group and we chatted when I came down there for breakfasts in the morning.
Then the cracks began to appear again.
An 18 year old female guest complained to me and others that she’d gone on a walk to a local beach with Uli and some other people and when they got there she turned around to find he was naked. She realised this was just his form of sunbathing but summed it up with “he’s old enough to be my father. I wouldn’t have minded if he’d just fucking warned me first. I didn’t feel comfortable with it.”
Then he began taking photos of women on the river walk naked or topless. One woman genuinely didn’t care and appreciated the pictures as Uli is a very good professional photographer and she has a cracking body. However there had been rumours of this in the summers before (when he was a guest) and I later found out that a total of 6 women this year had so far made written complaints about him asking them to take their tops off for photos and that he even got an erection while doing it. It was gossip before but now I’d had someone say it to my face.
J hated his guts, I was still unsure where the compass should point to…and then one night I became the Hostel Banned Club’s third member.
Me and about 15 others were out for dinner and after a riotously good time in a local taverna (where ironically I had followed Uli’s advice and just said “bring food” to the waiter) we came back to find he’d left the beer fridge unlocked and the lights on. Thinking he must be on site somewhere (as NO ONE would EVER, EVER accidentally leave Youth Hostel Plakias’s beer fridge open at 10pm) I took one and said to the others “make sure you tell him if you drink a beer.” The whole system is based on honesty anyway and Chris, New Chris and Uli would sometimes stick a piece of paper on it with a pen dangling down, inviting people to write what they’d taken, if they were round the back or in the manager’s apartment. I had one beer then went out for the night without seeing him.
Next day at about 3pm I came down and saw him staring at me from one of the hammocks on the lawn. I approached him and laughed, adding “someone forgot to lock the fridge last night.” I was about to add “put a beer on my tab” when he yelled,
“I’VE PUT ALL THE MISSING BEERS ON YOUR TAB!!!”
Annoyed by his tone I snapped back “woah, woah! I took ONE FUCKING beer!”
“I heard that you said to everyone ‘hey free beer’”
“Err no, bollocks. I thought you were around somewhere, as did everyone else. I will pay you for the beer I took. How many did you lose?”
He then sighed and said “Ten. I think you need to stay away from here. We tried to relax the rules on “externals” coming here but things like this happen.”
I glared at him and snapped “I took one fucking beer and I’ve just come down here now to tell you to put it on my tab.”
He relaxed infinitesimally and said “Ok, I’ll only charge you for one beer.”
“Well, that’s good for you because I would only have paid for one!”
He sighed again and said “it’s not just the beer, there’s been other complaints too.”
I stare at him in disbelief and went “about what?!!”
He looks up at the sunglasses I have pushed up to the top of my head and says “you stole Florian’s sunglasses!”
I take them off and hold them. “These?” He nods.
“These are mine you daft bastard. There’s a video on YouTube from last year of me wearing them here if you want to see it.”
He blushes, stammers and goes, “Oh well, but there’s been other complaints about you too. A woman complained about you.”
I stare at him and go “about what?” and his stream of verbal diahorrea then makes it clear he is simply talking out of his arse.
“She said you were too pushy and you were pressurising her to go out and do things.”
“What was her name?”
“Not telling you.”
“What did she look like?”
“What language did she speak?”
“English speaking. Australian, American or English but definitely English speaking. I wasn’t going to say anything as I thought she was just being too sensitive.”
I glare at a guy who asks women to go topless for photos and gets his cock out in front of teenagers and say slowly “I’ll get my shit and leave.”
“And the owner keeps asking me who you are and why you’re here.”
“I. WILL. GET. MY. SHIT. AND. LEAVE”
I stormed out and stewed on this for a couple of hours. I then came back and saw him sitting at a table with a guy we both know.
“Can I talk to you both for a minute?” I ask, wanting a witness.
We sit down at another table. Uli, despite being much bigger than me looks clearly worried.
“Right I will respect your decision to stay away from here but I don’t want to hear ANY fucking stories about me stealing or women being scared off by me. We both know you are making that shit up.”
The other guy looks confused and then realises I’m referring to taking a beer. He then interjects with “but Lance, you knew you shouldn’t have done that.”
“Errr, no. We thought he was on site. This is YHP.” I turn to Uli again. “You left the beer fridge open at 10 o’clock. What the fuck did you think we would do? Sing ‘Kumbaya My Lord’ and hold hands till we sobered up. I intended to pay you as did the others…or at least I told them to. Like I said. You want me to stay away then fine, but it’s because I took a beer without permission NOT any of your other bullshit.”
He looks nervous but adds, “it’s not bullshit Lance. Another woman also complained. She said she was afraid of you.”
“Fuck off! Another woman eh? Funny how you never mentioned her earlier when I spoke to you. You’d think something that unpleasant would be first thing on your mind. Considering what I’ve read about you on Facebook and your peeping tom behaviour you are the last person on EARTH to go around making allegations like that. What will this devolve into? That I flew in on a dragon and set fire to the lawn before lobbing my knob out and slapping some chick round the face with it? Christ I’d hate you to be a witness for anyone in court!”
He looks away, looking very uncomfortable. I then say quietly.
“If you’d simply said ‘Lance, it’s gone a bit wrong, can you stay away please’ then I would have respected that. But all this is bullshit and you know it. I took a beer, that’s it. If I hear ANYTHING else about why you’ve banned me then you and me are going to have a serious problem.”
I stand up and shake the other guy’s hand. “Look me up for a beer soon yeah” I say and he nods. I start to walk out but then turn back to Uli. “And don’t say the owner doesn’t know me. He’s known my father for 17 years and he calls me by my first name!”
Uli looks away again. I walk out.
Now the party rockers have drifted away. The hardcore are gone. Now we have nice people doing nice things like a dinner, a glass of wine and some guitar music or maybe a quiet game of Perudo.
The saddest epitaph to all this, was a comment that turned up on Facebook in October.
“Hello everyone. You may recall we had a fund for Chris which was to help pay his medical expenses. I believe the current balance is around $400 US dollars and it would be good to put this to good use. The original plan was to buy a simple wooden bench and place it by the tree we planted last November. I just had a chat with the owner about this and, unfortunately, he’s not happy with this idea. I don’t want to go into his reasons here but we have to respect his wishes. My new suggestion is that we donate the money to two of Chris’ favourite charities,first to adopt a Loggerhead turtle and the rest for the local animal protection people who look after the local cats. I believe Chris would approve of this but I wondered if anyone else who contributed to the fund has any other ideas or suggestions. Best wishes to all from a very relaxed YHP.”
End of an era...and not just for me.