After returning from Argentina, I worked in a lawyer’s office and became friends with another clerk there, David Sprecher. He asked me if I’d join him and his brother for a holiday on the Costa Brava. When he went to book it at his local tourist office, the package holidays to Spain had sold out. Fate was going to take me somewhere else.
Instead of Spain, it was ten days on a Yugoslav island. He showed me the tickets. ‘It’s spelled wrong,’ I said. ‘It’s missing a vowel.’
The island was called Krk. I hardly knew where Yugoslavia was, let alone this unpronounceable island. The cost was £35. This covered the return train journey from Victoria station to the Adriatic coast, ferry to the island and full board at the Hotel Malin in the village of Malinska.
I had been in South America, but had never travelled across Europe so the journey was exciting. After a night in Rijeka, we took the ferry across the Adriatic to Krk. We dumped our suitcases at the hotel and headed for the beach.
‘Beatles, Beatles!’ followed us wherever we went. It was 1964 and
Beatlemania was at its peak, but our haircuts weren’t that moppish so maybe it was our pale skin or because we spoke English.
We used our novelty value to attach ourselves to a group of girls, one of whom was a foxy young woman named, curiously enough, Renata. She was wearing a yellow bikini. At the beach-side café I made sure to sit as close to her as I could, but we had problems communicating because she hardly spoke any English and I didn’t speak a word of Serbo-Croat.
As the son of German-Jewish refugees, I roped David in as my translator. It was all basic stuff as I hardly knew how to express myself to this pretty girl in English, let alone through a translator. ‘Bist du oft hier?’ and ‘Du hast schöne Augen.’ Towards the end of the ten days the romance had graduated to ‘Kuss mich,’ and ‘Schatzi, Ich liebe dich.’
She taught me some words in her language and I taught her some in mine. We would sing Beatles songs and she would ask me the meaning of the words. Try translating ‘A Hard Day’s Night’.
Everyone swam in a small bay below the hotel. To the side of it was a water slide, six metres high with a rickety wooden ladder. Because it had missing rungs, the climb up was as hazardous as the journey down was thrilling. The metal slide would have been dangerous without the water that flowed from a pipe at the top, preventing people from burning themselves on the baking metal.
‘Idemo,’ Renata said. I wasn’t sure what she meant, but I guessed it was ‘Let’s do it’, as she was looking up at the top of the slide. She moved her right hand in a swooping motion and shouted, ‘Whoosh.
You and me, yes?’
I climbed up first and sat down at the top. It seemed a long way down. The shoot was steep. I hesitated.
‘Go, go,’ she said and began climbing the ladder behind me.
I closed my eyes and let go. Gravity did the rest. I was hurled a few metres into the water. As I rose to the surface, Renata landed on top of me. We were both laughing as she grabbed my arms and entangled her legs with mine.
‘Again?’ I asked, coughing water.
‘Yes,’ she said, pointing at herself. ‘I first. On stomach.’
I was ready to go as soon as she had launched. This time I landed on her back.
On the last three days of our stay the water pipe wasn’t working. There was a sign on the bottom of the ladder. OPASNO. Dangerous. No more slide, but by then it didn’t matter. We were physically entangled without the need for any watery props.
We were wet with love – skinny dipping to the distant sounds of a band, Glup Dje aci – Silly Boys – who played each evening on a platform above the sea. When we got back to land, there were the children’s swings in the pine woods behind the beach. We held hands and stared at the rocking stars.
The night before we left the island, Renata invited me to a barbeque at her home. Her parents had a small house with a vine-covered terrace. The tiny garden was full of vegetables. While her father’s sea bass sizzled on the grill, I helped Renata’s mother pick enormous tomatoes for the salad. After we’d finished eating, neighbours came by as her father brought out his homemade rakija, played his accordion and sang sad Dalmatian songs. No one was flinging themselves on the sherry and made to go home at eight o’clock. I was now in love with more than