Sunday, 12 August 2018

The Human Bungee

I'm sure we've all had occasion to make use of the old 'spider' bungee, if only on a bicycle, right?

Image courtesy of http://boxertiedown.com/

I well remember getting smacked in the face by just such a beast whilst trying to strap something to a bike rack in the days of yore when I was a school-kid. You know the scenario, you're trying to stretch that last piece around the package and you're just not quite getting that hook to engage and  - thwack! the flippin' thing slips out of your grip and whips back over the top and, hey presto, you have a shiner.

Well as we were coming back past Lindos last evening after an excursion to Rhodes Town, I couldn't resist photographing this from the front of the coach as we followed this plucky little pick-up laden with drinks along the road toward the Kalimera Café, or Lindos Reception as it's also known. 

This chap was clinging on for dear life as the load he was trying to secure lurched first this way, then that. I couldn't help wondering how much it might have cost him if he'd let it all drop...




Friday, 10 August 2018

Half, Why That's almost 50%!

Couldn't let this pass - this blog has just passed 500,000 page views. Thanks everyone. I so hope you'll keep coming back.

Regarding the title "Half, why that's almost 50%!" - that's a reference to half a million, just in case anyone out there doesn't see it. The "That's Almost 50%" is an oblique reference to a dim character in an old British sitcom BTW!!

Tackling the Vandals

There are a lot of advantages to living up a kilometre of dirt track. Of course, peace is pretty near the top of the list, plus the fact that one gets to see a thrilling selection of wildlife.

We continually count our blessings too, because there are just two more homes up the hill from us, which are close enough for any of those living up here to be on hand in the event of an emergency, yet not so close as to mean we sacrifice any of our privacy.

The view is, of course, a big factor in the equation. Our sea view is lovely, whilst that of the two houses higher up than us is even more spectacular. With all the new development that's going on along the coastal strip, we are hardly affected at all, which is a huge plus point. Just to illustrate this. There is a UK couple living a couple of kilometres from us, yet their house is only a hundred metres from the beach across what was formerly flat agricultural land. When they moved out here, their rear garden backed on to fields that the farmer used to use to grow aubergines and onions. He would regularly tell the couple that they were welcome to go into the field to salvage leftovers from the crop, which we also were able to do from time to time. There were neglected vines growing along the chainlink fence that bordered the country lanes there, which meant that passers-by could also pluck a nice bunch of grapes as they passed, during the right season.

Recently, however, a huge new all-inclusive hotel has gone up in the area between their back garden and the beach, resulting in them now having a water chute twice the height of their house towering not metres from their fence and emptying out into a very noisy pool, which is so close they can almost feel the spray from the splashes as kids hit the pool after a slide down the chute. Word is going around that the couple were offered the chance to sell up to the developer before it was too late, but no one ever refers to the fact that the developer wanted to give them a pittance for the property.

The issue referred to above is a very, very hot potato and doesn't merit my going into here, but it does highlight the fact that, to the layman like me, it seems that planning and development, and how the infrastructure is meant to cope with all of that, seems very much to be a profit-driven thing here, with scant regard for the consequences of each new development to the locals.

Up here though, at least for the foreseeable future, we still count our blessings. One could argue the case for living in a village. It's largely down to personal choice. For us, the village mentality, which although has its advantages, don't get me wrong, would be a little too claustrophobic.

The downside of living up here? Well, for at least six months of the year it's a virtual impossibility to keep your vehicle clean from the relentless fine, yellow dust, which has an almost flour-like consistency. You could be cleaning your car every single time you get home, since a dust cloud erupts behind you as you drive along the lane. I've recently taken a leaf out of the Rhodean taxi-drivers' book by purchasing one of these...



Having seen taxi drivers busily buffing up their vehicles with these while killing time waiting for fares, I thought, "Aha! That would save a lot of water at home." And you know what? It does. When we get home now, during these dry months when the landscape is tinder-dry and dust is everywhere, in merely two or three minutes I can run this baby over the sides and rear door of the car and it comes up like showroom! With not a single drop of precious water used. So you get the added bonus that they're environmentally responsible too. You just have to remember to bash it against your hand every few sweeps, to remove the dust that builds up on it.

Another slight pain about the lane is the fact that the undergrowth, the local vegetation, is always making incursions from either side as you drive up and down it. Some of the plants and shrubs are OK, quite innocuous, but others, and these are the ones I call the vandals, if not cut back now and then, can seriously scratch your paintwork and thus need showing who's boss.

Thus it was that yesterday, ...no, wait, the day before - it all becomes a blur - when I spent a very sweaty time of it lopping and secateuring this stuff, which had begun to project so far into the lane that we were having to weave about with the car to avoid it. It's gorse, and it takes no prisoners...



Now, those spikes are its leaves. That's why gorse can survive, even become invasive, in dry climates with poor and rocky soil. Not much transpiration. It even scores when there's a fire. Yes it's extremely combustible and burns quickly, but it will also re-sprout from its rootstock within days of the fire having passed. The spikes can be an inch and a half long and they are so hard that they will easily puncture a car tyre if hit at the right angle. I know, because it's happened to us. So the job of cutting it back has to be undertaken now and then. You can imagine how careful one has to be when pruning this beast. We rarely manage a session without sustaining a few punctures of the forearms. You have to try and get in as low as you can with the cutters, then gingerly grab the piece you've lopped, while it does its level best to swing around in the breeze and stab you, and then sling it as far away from the lane as you can, being careful to take into account the wind direction in the process. If it comes back at you, you'd better run. It's vitally important too, to do a visual sweep of the lane afterward to pick up any of the pieces that drop, for fear of your tyres running over them.

Most swords have two edges though. Yes, during the summer months we curse the stuff, yet in winter, as spring approaches, gorse fills the hillsides with not only a glorious display of bright yellow flowers, but also a heady scent too. Taking that side of it into account, I have to say that, although gorse is a vandal intent on running a scratch right along the side of your car, it kind of redeems itself at other times. I suppose you can find some good in everyone if you look hard enough, eh?

You still have to show it who's boss though. So, without further ado and without looking for any more excuses, I'd better grab my loppers and secateurs and get off down the lane for another session. When your lane is a kilometre long, you don't tackle these vandals all in one go, it takes several sessions with factor fifty smeared all over your exposed skin!

Sunday, 5 August 2018

Where Do I Start?

I seem to have so many odds and ends in my mind this time, that I don't know where to start.

I know, travelling back south on the 'Rhodes By Day' excursion yesterday, Nikos was driving the coach and we were talking about this and that. He asked about my visit to the UK and how things had gone, and I told him that, apart from everything else, it's rather odd seeing the British countryside looking the same colour as it does here in Greece, owing to the high temperatures and lack of rainfall this summer over there. I mean, this is a rare sight in the UK...


That's Chico, my brother-in-law's adorable little dog, but look at the colour of the grass.
Nikos, quick as a flash, responded with what I thought was quite a witty quip. He said:

"You know what it is John? This government has sold everything else [the airports to a German company, the energy company to a French one, and so on] so I reckon they've sold our weather too!! They've sold it to Northern Europe."


• 

I'm sad to admit that I've lost my joy in doing my excursions now. I'm not going to explain it all today, maybe not for a few months (owing to some outstanding matters that need to be resolved with certain 'bodies' out here), but there have been some illogical and - to me - unreasonable developments, revolving around the issue of 'demarcation' and pedantics on the part of some, that have robbed me of the pleasure that I used to take from doing them. It's hard to talk about this without explaining in full, but there are sound reasons why I can't just yet. I shall one day though, I shall.



On a lighter note, I've come unstuck again with a few word mixups again of late. I mean, honestly, it's a complete minefield in some areas. I even confuse words I know, but simply say them wrongly in my haste to speak fluently. I'll give you some more examples. I've spelt the Greek words phonetically...

"I've just been to the table to draw out some cash." Table = to trape'zi, bank = ee tra'peza.

"What a lovely string!" String - mia skoini', scene - mia skini'. String is actually spelt with a Greek 'χ' rather than a 'k', but apart from the 'o' being before the 'i' when you spell it, it's pronounced almost the same. The word for 'tent' is also 'skini', but spelt slightly differently. So, you may say tent, string or scene in any number of a whole bunch of contexts!! Let your listeners decide what you meant to say.

I told someone the other day that I'd tied my bed, when I meant to say I'd tied my tie (as in that thing you put around the collar of a shirt and do up with a Windsor knot).
bed - to creva'ti, tie - i grava'ta.

And, finally, when I wanted to say I was so sorry, fortunately not while speaking to my recently-widowed brother-in-law (not the one I was staying with), but with one of our Greek relatives, I said 'we're missing.'
I'm sorry (as in, for your/our loss) - lipa'meh, we're missing - leap'oomeh.

If you can't see me it's because the ground has opened up and swallowed me. 



I had a rather nice German lady on my trip last week, along with her five-year-old son, who was a sweetie with a jaunty Fedora, which he wore all day long, sensible chap. His mum was probably in her early thirties and spoke pretty good English. She was sitting with me and chatting in the Top Three while we were waiting for the coach to arrive for our return to the South and she remarked on Spiro's collection of football scarves. This led to our discussing the recent football world cup, which had interested me about as much as a verruca, to be honest. You know it's there, but you don't want to be bothered with it.

Anyway, she asked me, in all earnestness, "Why was it the 'England' team? Why you have different teams? In Germany we only have one team. I may be from Bavaria, but we still have only the one team, Germany. But you British have England, Wales, Scotland - why is this?"

Now, before you go into a lather of nationalistic outrage, this illustrates to me how so many other nationalities perceive us Brits, the Irish and our islands. The Greeks, for example, will always say of anyone from the UK, "Einai Anglezi." They have a poor perception of the nature of the UK and how it works. They don't understand at all that Wales, Scotland, Ireland and England are in fact, different countries under the kind of 'umbrella' of the British Isles. Thus, you may be Welsh or Scottish, but to a Greek, generally you'll be perceived as an 'Anglezos,' or an 'Anglos.' I find this with a lot of Americans too. You may be too young to remember the old Roger Miller song, "England Swings" (That would mean something else today too!), but it makes the point about how Americans perceive the UK. Americans by and large talk about going to "England', when they most likely mean Britain.

Of course we don't help matters do we? I mean there are certain athletic tournaments where there will be a "team GB" and others where the individual countries field their own teams independently. Small wonder that my German lady guest couldn't get her head around it at all, even after I'd tried to explain.



And, finally, to the subject of the frappé, or iced coffee. It seems that the self-righteous have latched on to the frappé as a golden opportunity to lecture me on how 'unhealthy' instant coffee is. It's so bad for our health, apparently. Don't I know that a Freddo Espresso is much better for me, since it's made from ground coffee, which is not processed like the instant stuff? Of course I damn well do.

Now, I'm not one to boast, but I do rather bask in the glory of my wife's expertise in all things dietary. She knows all there is to know about nutrition, the benefits of pulses and unprocessed foods, the very evident links between red meat and colon cancer and a whole host of other stuff. I could make a very extensive list here, but suffice it to say that we eat much more healthily than just about anyone else we know, apart perhaps from my wife's brother Paul, in the UK, who's a very earnest vegan. So, to order a frappé in the company of some carnivore or other who also smokes (the slower way to commit suicide folks, but it works nevertheless) and then have them say "You know that's bad for you" - galls to say the least!

We're not the types to lecture others on what they should or shouldn't take into their bodies, but if someone asks, then yes we'll explain our stance. But we're also firm believers in the principle that to indulge in the occasional 'bad' or 'naughty' thing, as long as one knows one's limits of course, isn't going to make a lot of difference.

So, next time I order a frappé, if you're in my company, I'd be grateful if you keep your opinion to yourself, eh?

Sorry folks - I just wanted to get that last one off my chest.

Sunday, 29 July 2018

Size Matters (and other Stuff)

Right, so there I was a couple of weeks ago raving about our grapes. Remember? For the first time ever we had grapes we could eat on our vine beside the patio and we were well pleased and excited. If you didn't see it, check out this post. I suppose we probably had a kilo or two, which at the time I was pretty chuffed with.

Today we dropped by to see our friend Eva, who's the head chef at the Coralli, near Pefkos, by the way. She and her family have a vine which provides lots of shade in front of her parents' house, which is two doors along from her own. As we were leaving, she said, "Take some grapes with you, we can't eat them all."

Now, just as a reminder, here again was our complete harvest (minus a bunch we gave to Wendy, next door) ...



Ever had that feeling that you've been slightly outdone? Ours were about the size of a large fingernail, Eva's? Ahem, well...



Puts our little harvest into perspective, doesn't it? Plus, these are what you'd actually call grapes. Size-wise they're almost too big to pop one into your mouth whole. It's easier to take a bite out of them first. Size matters, even in grape-world.



Time to be thankful if you live in the UK. As you'll know, I was over there a week or so ago and - yes indeed - it was warm. I have to say, though, that overnight is where you feel the difference between there and Rhodes. Whereas from around 11.00am until about 5.00pm the temperature in the UK was indeed touching something like what we get here, it was 28ºC after midnight when I landed back on Rhodes last week, whilst it was a wonderfully cool 18ºC overnight in Bath. Be grateful UK folk. 

Plus, I see that parts of the UK have now had some much-needed rain, which we'd give our eye teeth for here during July. 

I was sitting in the Top Three yesterday when Spiros' and Maria's son Dimitris turned up to start work. As I was busy checking my emails on the iPad at the time, I simply raised my head and called out a greeting to him. Dimitris, though, called to me to look up for some reason, and so I did. He was nodding his head in a sideways direction, as if to say, "Look!"

At first it didn't register, what I was I supposed to be looking at? Then it hit me...



The black Ford is Dimitri's car. I hadn't seen it for three months because he'd had a road accident, which had been entirely the fault of the other driver, who'd hit his car hard in the front left wing, the one nearest to me in the photo above. The windscreen had been shattered and the whole front end made quite a mess of. Now, like in the UK, car insurance in Greece is compulsory, and I'd say the premiums are fairly similar cost-wise. 

There is, however, a whopping difference between car insurance in Greece and that in the UK. Looking at the car in the photo, I have to admit, the body shop did an amazing job. I remarked on the quality of the paint job especially, which truly looked exceptional. But it had taken three months for him to have it back on the road. He told me that there was still a piece that goes under the engine, you know, that kind of guard affair that protects the sump from glancing blows, which was still not fitted as it had to be ordered from Germany and hadn't come yet. 

That's not what I'm on about though. The real difference is this: You have a smash, right? So, if the insurance agrees to cover it, you'd think that would bring you great relief. 

Think again.

In this case Dimitris told me that the cost of this repair had been in the thousands. I'll not be more specific than that. There's no need. What I want to stress is the fact that, even if the insurance company agrees to cover the costs, you have to pay first. Yes, you pay the garage and then submit your claim for reimbursement to the insurance company. Ouch.

This means that, if you haven't got the spare cash, you may even have to borrow it, assuming you can that is, if you want your wheels back on the road. I knew a couple some years ago whose car caught fire while they were driving in Lothiarika, near Lardos. It was only many months after the insurance company had agreed to pay for the write-off (or, as the Americans would say a 'total') that the couple eventually received the money from the company. During all that time they'd had to borrow from friends to get another car. In fact, the whole affair cost them a friendship in the end, owing (no pun!) to how long the whole matter took to be resolved.

Kind of makes you all the more vigilant while driving, especially when, here on Rhodes, there's a major road accident occurring almost daily during the summer season.

I don't think I'll go out in the car right now, I think I'll just eat some grapes and sip a cool drink in the shade on the patio.

Drive carefully.

Tuesday, 24 July 2018

Seeds?

Whilst I was enjoying the lovely weather in the UK, despite the saddest of reasons for having to go there, I was given a few old photos of my mother-in-law from her days in Athens before moving to the UK.

Here they are...


Helena (Lela) Tziortziou (various spellings allowed!), Athens circa 1946

The bloke with the sunglasses is my father-in-law, Kenneth, who was a Warrant Officer in the British Army stationed in Athens at the end of the war. Next to him you'll recognise my mother-in-law. To her left is her brother Theodorakis, who played a mean accordion. I have fond memories of long, warm evenings in the 70's and 80's at a taverna with Theo playing whilst everyone sang along to old traditional songs.

Effie, Lela and Katie. Three sisters in Athens circa 1946.

...and here's one my other half will murder me for posting, but I so love it...


This was taken about 6 months before I met my wife, who's second from right in this photo. To her left is cousin John, who is the son of aunty Katie (seen in the picture above this one, to my mother-in-law's left). On the left in this one is my wife's brother Paul, her mum of course, and little brother Philip, who's now in his fifties!

And this is the same photo after I've 'repaired' it.
These photos were a wonderful gift and, as it happens, some of the information I learned while in the UK will help with the formation of the structure of the next novel. My sister-in-law, who died, was married for a second to time really nice guy whom we all came to love. At the funeral, despite his finding it extremely difficult to continue at times, he gave a moving, personal eulogy to his wife, which contained information about her birth in Athens and other things that I was hearing for the very first time. Why is it that we so often forget to talk about stuff that, once we lose someone, we desperately want to know?

Anyway, not to get too moribund, I just wanted to share the fact that the next novel will have elements of my wife's family history in it. Of course it will be a work of pure fiction, but what my mother-in-law went through in Athens from 1939-45 and how she came to live in the UK will parallel to some degree the main character in the book, which is going to be called (provisionally) Panayiota.

As usual, I plan to build a few twists into the story, hopefully to surprise the reader. It's interesting that in my previous books, I've always built in what I thought were unexpected twists, and the majority of reviewers have expressed surprise and commented that they never expected them. But there's always, it seems, one that will post a review and say: "Predictable. Saw it coming." You know what I think? One can always theorise what's going to happen. Now, just suppose you do that and what you theorise actually does take place. Isn't that going to make you think that it was easy to work out? Of course, chances are you could have got it wrong, but coincidence is bound to happen now and again and, like I said, when it does, someone may think that they're just dead clever to have worked it out. I don't know if I'm explaining myself very well, but I think you get my drift.

Suffice it to say, novel number 6 is beginning to take shape at 'blueprint' stage. My visit to the UK has aided in planting some seeds for the development of the story. Maybe I'll dedicate the book, when it finally sees the light of day, to my late sister-in-law. 

Sunday, 22 July 2018

There and Back Again

On top of Kelston Roundhill, about half a mile from Bath Racecourse, UK.

Well, I've been back in the UK for a week and returned home to Rhodes last Wed-Thursday, touching down at just after midnight Thursday morning, the 19th. As always, I have mixed emotions about this 'flying' visit, as it was primarily to be at the funeral of my dear wife's sister, who sadly died at the early age of 68. She looked much younger too, which makes the whole thing even more tragic.

Seven days staying on the outskirts of my home town (or rather, to be precise - 'city') of Bath meant I was able to do some superb walks along the Cotswold Way, which skirts the area where my brother-in-law lives, known as Upper Weston, and trails up to the Bath Racecourse and beyond (it's actually over a hundred miles long in its entirety). On more than one occasion I was able to take my brother-in-law's oh-so-lovable dog Chico with me...




What I was struck by this time, was the fact that much of the English countryside and the roadside verges were almost the same colour as the Rhodean hills and fields this summer, owing to the lack of rainfall there.

Viewpoint from the far corner of Bath Racecourse, with Kelston Roundhill clearly visible.

The British countryside hasn't looked this "Greek" for many a summer.

The regulation refreshment stop, of course primarily to give Chico a bowl of water. But I had to pass the time while I was waiting somehow. This is the garden of the Blathwayt Arms, situated right beside Bath Racecourse.
During my stay, apart from spending long hours simply talking with my host, I was also able to wander into the city for a few odds and ends that I wanted to bring back with me. Just some small stuff was needed, since I was travelling only with hand luggage, which is so much less stressful if you can do it. But whilst in the city I was faced with a dilemma that reminded me of how uncivilised it still is in cafés and cake shops in the UK. I don't want to knock it unduly, I still love the place of my birth and thoroughly enjoyed the vibrancy of the street scene there. The city centre is brimming with outdoor areas for enjoying a snack or a drink. There are street musicians and fire eaters, human statues that would knock those you see here in Rhodes into a cocked hat and side stalls selling crafts and local produce. There are several excellent music venues, one of which is playing host on August 3rd to the excellent blues-rock band Catfish, who I had the pleasure of watching on the lawn at the Lindos Athena hotel a few weeks ago. If you're in the Bath area during early August, I thoroughly recommend getting along to the Komedia (formerly the Beau Nash cinema) to see them. I was blown away.

No, returning to my comment about what I consider to be 'uncivilised', I'll illustrate. If you're alone and you feel like taking the weight off your feet while you enjoy a cup of coffee at an outdoor table, you are faced with a major problem. Here in Greece, and indeed across most of Europe, you simply find a free table, park your bum and await the table service. The only exception here in Rhodes that I'm aware of to this entirely logical and 'civilised' way of doing things is at the Rhodes branch of Starbucks, and I won't go in there on principle.

In the UK though, you have no choice but to enter the store/café/establishment an queue at the counter to be served your choice of drink or snack. I arrived at the bottom of Burton Street and noted that outside the West Cornwall Pasty Co's premises there were two empty tables. Now, there was no way I could guarantee that I'd be able to sit at one of these because I first had to go inside, order my Americana and then be told once I'd paid (talk about illogical), "We'll bring it out to you."

By the time I'd been through this ritual, one of the free tables already had a couple of people sitting at it, while another of their party had come inside to queue beside me. Exiting the building, having now paid for my coffee, I was relieved beyond belief to just make it to the other table before a couple of other people nabbed it. See, it's OK (in a way) if you're with company, because then one or more of your party can nab the table while someone else goes in to place the order and pay, but if you're on your own, well, I was faced with the real possibility of some young spotty waiter or waitress (not sure if one could really call them that, since they don't actually 'wait' at tables) exiting the building with my coffee on a tray, only to find that I had nowhere to sit. I ask you, in all sincerity, when are the café and bar owners in the UK going to get it? I mean, if they can bring your drink out to you while you hopefully grab a table in expectation, then why the hell can't they simply take your order at the table anyway? 

I 'get' one fear that I'm sure is a factor here -  they fully expect a percentage of people to scarper without paying. But there's a simple remedy to that, and it's the one employed in Cardiff's vibrant 'café quarter', and that's simply to take payment along with the order. It's a sad state of affairs, though, when fear of people clearing off without paying overrides the desire to provide a civilised service. All across the continent, and - of course - here in Rhodes, the system works on an element of trust, and by far the majority of customers deposit the money on the table when they get up to leave. In the UK they'll happily bring your drink out to you, plus clear the table after you've left, but actually wait at table to take your order, well that appears to still be beyond them. Grrr!

So there you are, that's my gripe out of the way. One thing I did love about being in the UK this time was the temperatures. Everyone was complaining about the heat, but it felt to me like I had the air-conditioning on all the time - out of doors. Lots are comparing this summer in the UK to the summer of 1976. Frankly, in my opinion that's a bit too hopeful. I was living in Bath back then and I remember that the skies were cloudless for three months. It was a truly Mediterranean summer in 1976. This year, yes it's not rained all that much, yes it's warm, but the skies are frequently cloudy with sunny intervals. I rarely saw a completely blue sky whilst I was there.

Not that it mattered much, since it was, nevertheless, wonderful to be able to eat breakfast and evening meal out on my brother-n-law's secluded patio.

Next post will probably be back to life on Rhodes...