The staples of my daily alcohol consumption on the cruise were champagne, gin, red wine and Polish vodka. One morning I woke up in my cabin more hungover than usual, also depressed. Turning my head to the side and looking through the gap in the curtains I saw that we were no longer at sea but docked in yet another Mediterranean island port with barren sun-bleached hills above and beyond. Reaching for my daily news-sheet, delivered to the cabin the night before, I read that what I was looking at this morning was Heraklion in Crete. Further reading informed me that if I returned to the ship from the shore excursion early I could go to the ‘Walk-in wrinkle solution’ on deck 9 at 2 p.m. Turning next to the Spectator cruise itinerary pamphlet, I read that, at 3 p.m. in Hemispheres nightclub on deck 11, Taki would be speaking for an hour on his 30 years as the Spectator High life columnist. I threw on some daywear and tottered upstairs to the breakfast buffet in the Lido restaurant on deck 10.
In the scrum for the coffee machine I encountered one of the 31 Spectator readers. Without any preamble she said to me: ‘There are days when you wake up feeling lifeless and depressed, right? You get up and realise that you aren’t quite in your right mind?’ The Spectator readers on the ship hailed from all walks of life. Every possible kind of human activity seemed to have its representative among them. Now I’m talking to a psychic, apparently. I looked at her in astonishment. ‘As a matter of fact, I’m having one of those days today,’ I admitted. She handed me a white A4 envelope folded in half. ‘Jeremy, I have one word for you,’ she said. ‘Modafinil. It’s one of the new smart drugs. If you take one of these you won’t feel high, but you will feel your best, most alert self. The French and US military use it, astronauts in the European Space Station use it, university students use it for exams. Mod-af-in-il. It’s the greatest drug ever. I’ve been taking it for three years. Ever heard of it?’ I hadn’t. I popped one into my mouth greedily and sluiced it down with a mug of black coffee. About half an hour later, cleaning my teeth before going ashore, I noticed that I was indeed feeling pretty bloody marvellous.
One of the few passengers on the shuttle bus to the cruise terminal was Taki. The morning was improving in leaps and bounds. At the cruise-terminal taxi rank, Taki went over to negotiate our fare to Knossos in fluent Greek with a gang of sullen-looking drivers; hilariously, apparently, for they were all shouting with disbelieving laughter after five seconds. We climbed aboard the taxi indicated: Taki in front next to the driver, I in the back. The car radio was on and loud. It was a phone-in show. The caller had completely lost his rag and was ranting and raving interminably. Even with no understanding of what the guy was talking about, the raging current of his emotion held my interest. After a minute or so, I leaned forward and asked Taki what it was that the caller was so incensed about. Austerity, perhaps? No, said Taki, he was complaining about dogs on the runway at Heraklion airport.
As we left the port behind and emerged into countryside thickly planted with olive groves, the driver switched off the radio and tried with his broken English to inform us about his beloved island. ‘You see these trees? These are olive trees. In Crete we have four and one half million olive trees. Many many olive trees,’ he said, pressing home his point.
Taki said to him, ‘We have heard enough now about olive trees. No more olive trees. Do you think we are Americans? Do you think we are like Paris Hilton who stood on top of the Acropolis and said to her mother, “Gee, Mom, I can see the Hilton from here”?’
The driver accepted the admonishment with cheerfulness and that was the last we heard about Crete’s many olive trees. Joyful now to be alive, and on Crete, and riding to Knossos in a taxi with the great Taki and the windows wound down, I settled back to enjoy the ride. Modafinil, ladies and gentlemen. Recommended. Modafinil with Taki sitting in front — even better.