What a week! Imagine, there you are minding your own business when suddenly you stumble on the fact that not only is there an island that shares your name but there have been three great sea battles – near that island – which share it too. An honour or a shame? It’s not at all bad, mind you: Lissa is apparently a small islet in the Adriatic; known as Vis in Croatian, it’s one of the Dalmatian chain, though nothing doggy or spotted about it. And I can think of many worse locations to be lazing in a calm azure sea. Mmmmm.
As for the Battles of Lissa, well the most famous one appears to have been in 1866, between the Italians and Austrians – guess who won!
For this Lissa, however, last week’s battles were on a smaller scale: to get going after the New Year, and to try for theatre tickets to see Mark Rylance in Jerusalem in its final week in London’s West End. Why do we leave these things till the ultimate days? It’s so predictable – you make a token gesture towards going sooner but are easily distracted. And by the time it’s now or never, the only hope is to queue for day tickets. In the spirit of great sea battles, I was undeterred by the start of the cold snap – though I did draw the line at camping out overnight, as I found some people had. Since I was in London anyway, I turned out bright, breezy and far too early for my taste, the sky shimmering like the Adriatic at dawn, to find a sizeable queue well established. Well, I was there, so I might as well wait and see. In the nature of queues – think Soviet bread lines? – more people followed. We took it in turns to count those in front and calculate the odds, and it soon became clear we weren’t going to get tickets. And yet… and yet… very few of us actually walked away.
Then came the drunks. Wandering the clear morning streets, brandishing a bottle yet chilled to the bone, seeking conversation and cigarettes. What were we queuing for? Was it Shakespeare? What was it about? Why did we want to see it if we didn’t really know?
Most we spurned, but there was one diminutive young man (of subcontinent ethnicity, if that’s an acceptable way to put it!) clutching a bottle of Southern Comfort and cranberry juice who proved persistent – and talked sense. Clearly not sloshed as such, just enough Dutch courage to probe his fellow humans about every aspect of their lives. “I’m a Muslim,” he declared. “I split up with my girlfriend and I’ve been in the casino all night. She was Russian, Orthodox Christian, and my mum was furious that I was going out with her. But most girls nowadays… they’re not intellectual like you [waves arm], they don’t have any common sense. I’m 22 but I want to have kids in time to know my children’s children. My dad says life goes much more quickly when you’re over 30 – is that true? Is it?” And so the queue became a debate on Life as the cold of the paving slabs seeped through my boots.
“You know,” said our philosopher at length, waving his Southern Comfort bottle, now nearly empty, and chortling at the memory, “in the casino they thought I was a terrorist when they saw me holding something by my side, but it was just this!”
By then the box office was open, the overnight campers were emerging triumphant – and the tickets ran out eight people in front of me. Lissa had been soundly trounced in this particular battle! Yet I left with a spring in my step. Mr Southern Comfort, meanwhile, was happily pitching up to the counter. “Can I have a ticket?” he asked optimistically.