Friday, 16 March 2018

The Flora and the Fauna, ...well, maybe not the Fauna

Jus thought you'd like to see what the countryside around the house is looking like right now. The anemones have just about all gone and these wonderful blood-red flowers I'm reliably informed are actually a kind of poppy, although they closely resemble the anemones in size and form. The poppies always come out as the anemones die off...

Don't forget that all the photos open in a larger view of you click on them.

Pink and white rock roses are also coming into their own right now, as is the bright yellow gorse, which I haven't taken any shots of, sorry. (For the gorse, check out this post from 2012.)

More rock roses in the foreground here.
The cheesecake effect is just coming into its own now with the margaritas.

Looks right pastoral down our lane doesn't it.

Kiotari beach, in expectation of the season's approach.

Ditto. I took the bike out for the first time today since last October. Muscle ache, me? No, entire-body ache more like.

Now to the garden...

Our fig tree looks promising.

Ditto. Looks like come July-August we'll be well-blessed with figs again. I love fig trees, they are very drought-tolerant and there doesn't seem to be any predator or blight that can touch them. 

Who wouldn't want some Gazanias in their garden? They come in a bewildering range of foliage and colour and, even though some say they're a nuisance because they self-seed and can become dominant, all you have to do is pull out the ones you don't want. Even better, give them to someone else! They don't even need a lot of watering either.

We think this is a kind of osteospermum (I've probably said this before). Either way, for just a few weeks every spring it's a joy, a complete joy.

More gorgeous Gazanias

See, remember what I said about the range of colours...

There you go folks, not much rambling, but lots of colour to hopefully brighten your day a little.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Not For Those of a Nervous Disposition

The system that actually gets water to the taps in our house is quite an intricate mixture of holding tanks, power cables, float-switches and relays, splayed out across a hundred and fifty metres or so of steep, partly-forested hillside. All this is necessitated by the fact that we are situated higher up the mountain than the "reservoir" [a concrete silo] that feeds us.

So, when we turn on a tap, or step into the shower, the chances of water coming out an an acceptable pressure depends on a lot of components, many of which are exposed to the elements. To be honest, in recent years the system has proved quite reliable, but we do get the occasional hiccup, one of which occurred a week or two ago. 

Just as it was getting dark on the Saturday evening, the water dried up, exactly at the 'right' moment for us not to be able to go out and take a look for the problem. So we had to wait until first light on the Sunday morning before I and my neighbour David, from a hundred metres up the hill from us, went peering into tanks and touching my 'tester' screwdriver to electrical terminals. We found to our dismay that our main holding tank, which is sunk into the ground a little way above the houses, was completely dry, but the power seemed to check out OK wherever we tried it.

Thus we had to call the electrician who'd initially installed the current system. To his credit he arrived an hour and a half after I'd called him (on a Sunday too folks) and soon got to the bottom of the problem. A relay in the switch box down the valley had blown and - what a star - he had a spare one in his van. Fortunately, they're quite a common component, so he always has some with him. Phew.

It didn't take long for water to once again begin flowing from our taps, but, as I stood there thanking the almighty for something as simple as the ability to fill a kettle, my right wrist began to itch. 

Now, you'll have noted that I called this post "Not For Those of a Nervous Disposition" and for good reason. Anyone familiar with my "Ramblings From Rhodes" series of books will have read the chapter "The Elephant Man" in volume two, "Moussaka to My Ears", where I related the story about when we had a plague of caterpillars all over the drive, the patio, the walls - everywhere. We'd just arrived home from a visit with friends in Northern Greece and it was exactly the same week of the year. If you get anywhere near a pine tree about now, you can't fail to spot the silk nests hanging from the extremes of the branches. These are built by the larvae of the Processionary Moth, which, at caterpillar stage, is a serious health hazard both to the host tree and to humans. 

Photo courtesy of:

If you click on that link and read up about them (they are rare in the UK BTW), you get an idea of why my skin, starting with my right wrist, soon began to look like this (sorry folks, as I said, those with a nervous disposition look away now!) ...

As I related in the book, this is no joke folks, and the last time I had it, as a result of blithely sweeping up vast numbers of the caterpillars from our terrace at the house without wearing a top owing to the hot weather, I suffered with this rash all over my face and body for several weeks. Antihistamines help a little, but not much. The only relief I could get from the pain and the itching was the incredibly wonderful Lane's Tea Tree and Witch Hazel Cream (which seems to also be marketed under the name "Teangi" as well these days). I used up several tubes of it the last time I was afflicted.

Without noticing, and due to the fact that I hadn't had the allergic reaction now for ten years or so (you get complacent), I'd brushed past a tree laden with these nests while running up and down the hillside with my tool box, trying to get to the bottom of the water problem.

I tell you, getting that water problem fixed cost me a lot more than the fifty Euros (which was a bargain for a Sunday call-out, don't you agree?), as only now is the rash finally beginning to disappear after over a week, during which our country walks have had to be severely curtailed as well. Hmmph.

On a very much lighter note. Anyone familiar with Greece will know the tendency that locals have to whizz around everywhere on mopeds, scooters and motorbikes without wearing their helmets. Of course, one of the many reasons they do this is so that they can carry on using their mobile phones while riding, making no attempt to pull over to the side of the road. They'll frequently be seen tootling along at quite a brisk clip, with one hand on the handlebar and the other vigorously tapping away on their phone, or perhaps with the phone pressed to one ear, as they have a nice relaxed natter while buses, juggernauts and 4x4s almost wipe their sleeves, they get that close.

Proving just how widely acceptable this is, we were enjoying watching "Deal" the other night on Greek TV [Do watch the trailer on that link, and you'll see just how different it is here from the rather dull "Deal or No Deal" in the UK], when the host, Christos Ferentinos, told the contestant a joke. Well, not so much a joke as an amusing rhetorical question.

This is how it goes...

"At a crossroads or roundabout, who has the priority when one motorcycle comes from one direction and another approaches from his/her right? The one speaking on his mobile or the one sending an SMS?"

I rest my case! Pass me that tube of Lane's cream will you...

Monday, 5 March 2018

Not so Taxing After All

It's amazing how this country can still surprise one, even after more than 12 years of living here. The bureaucracy is, of course, legendary, and no one who reads stuff like this will be ignorant of the fact that a visit to a government office, or indeed one of the utility companies or perhaps a bank, always requires that one take along a dossier containing one's tax number, one's AMKA number, one's residency/work permit, one's passport, one's previous 5 tax returns, maybe half a dozen passport-sized mugshots, one's driving license, one's inside leg measurement etc.

So, when I received these two flimsy NCR-type letters recently (you know the types, they have that perforated strip of holed-paper all along both side edges) from the government, I was filled with foreboding. Ripping the first one open, all I could see at first was a sum of money printed in the right-hand column in that slightly fuzzy computer-printout sort of grey type. It was something in excess of €400 and I immediately thought, "How the hell can I be owing them this? I haven't ever earned enough from working even to reach the tax threshold!"

However, when I took the time to read the whole thing, it only turns out that the Government was rather happy to repay to me this money, plus a further €60+ in the second and similar letter, for the tax years 2014-2015, when the company I'd been doing excursions for had rather irritatingly taken emergency tax from my pay. Sure enough, there it was in grey (slightly fuzzy grey) and white. The message was that if I were able to pass by the Tax Office with the two letters in hand, then I'd be privileged to receive back from the Greek government a rather handy sum of money that they never should have been given from my pay-packet in the first place.

You'll already know, if you've read the previous post "The Good, the Bad and the Broccoli", that I went to the tax office on the first occasion and came away disappointed. The computer system was down. Well, whaddyaknow! Why was I not too surprised, eh?

Thus, with some degree of skepticism, we set out again last Thursday morning for another attempt at getting my rebates sorted. After almost an hour on the road we went into the building with me armed to the teeth with my plastic box file of 'passport, papers, permits and cards' and were at first amazed by the fact that the front doors had evidently been cleaned. In the other post I mentioned that the glass doors of the building's main entrance had been "so dirty that you could be forgiven for thinking that the building had been abandoned". This time it was a complete transformation as the glass of the doors was clean and shiny and they tended to infuse in one a sense of hope that things might just go OK. The foyer area is still rank though.

We ascended to the second floor and soon found ourselves among a small gaggle of people who were evidently all after the same thing, some money back from the tax man. There were signs that clearly told us we were at the right desk, "Επιστροφή Φόρου" they announced, "Tax refund" desk. Contrary to expectations there were three people actually serving the public, plus, of course, one or two others who were seated in front of screens behind the glass partition and seemingly staring into them as though hypnotised. The fact that there were people standing, well, leaning actually, on the desk and apparently being served, was also a positive. It looked like the computers had been wound up and were really ticking away this time. Yeay!

The were about seven people there when we arrived. Seated on those dull-looking metal chairs along the back wall were one or two, one of which was a bloke who looked like he'd just stepped off a pirate ship. He was dressed in denim, top and bottom, and had that much wiry grey hair on his head, including his face, that he put me in mind of the Muppet Show's manic drummer, Animal. He must have been seventy, if he was a day, and he sported a tatty baseball cap and was fiddling with his mobile phone á là contemporary teenager. He didn't appear to have a shred of paperwork with him and yet soon gave us a smile and, along with the other few customers, took part in our little 'pecking order' chat about who was going to be next, after the current desk-leaners had been served and gone away. 

There was a tall chap at one end who would have had trouble getting on a plane, he looked that much like a member of Islamic State, then there was a couple of scrawny looking people, evidently man and wife, who looked very much like the Americans might call 'trailer trash'. Now, I'm not being judgmental, I'm just trying to paint the mental picture here. But the woman (who was 'no youngster' to put it kindly) was in a mini-skirt over dark tights and knee-length black boots and with a shoulder-length bob of hair that was dyed totally black. Her face was a road map of many decades of tobacco, alcohol and sunshine, but her husband was looking almost normal, except for his dress sense. They were having a heated argument through the glass with the woman who was serving them and pieces of paper were being passed back and forth through the thee-inch gap below the glass and above the desk with furious regularity.

The only other person being served was a smart 30-something young chap who sounded like he had a business and had all his paper neatly organised beside his elbows as he talked in hushed tones with the only male employee on the other side of the glass. Half an hour went by like this.

During that half an hour we'd had our confidence securely shaken about whether this visit was going to bear any fruit. The fella that was evidently going to be served before us was a fifty-something middle-class type, with a friendly smile and manner about him. We fell into a fitful conversation with him, during which we established that he believed that, in order to get your money back you'd have to have brought along your bank passbook. My wife Yvonne-Maria (Yvonne to her British friends and family, Maria to her Greek and Rhodean friends, but then you'll probably already know that) was getting into a lather over the fact that we'd brought just about every official piece of paper and document that we'd ever received since moving here in 2005, but the one thing we'd both forgotten to bring along was the bank passbook. Could it be that we'd come this far, only to fall at the last hurdle. It wouldn't be the first time.

When it came time for 'Animal' to be served he had to ask the counter-clerk to hold on while he finished whatever it was he was doing with his mobile phone. I was momentarily distracted by something out the window and, when I looked back he'd sprung up and approached the desk and begun his 'negotiations' with the clerk. All the while that he'd been slouched on one of those chairs (they're just like the ones you see at airport departure gates. You know, three or four grey metal curved affairs with a Formica table built into the who arrangement), all the while he'd been sat there he didn't appear to have a shred of paperwork with him. Now, standing at the desk he had a pile of the stuff, including a file the size of a foot-thick Filofax, which he'd produced from goodness only knows where. I was fascinated at where it had all come from.

After about an hour it was finally our turn, and by now there were a further half a dozen depressed folk queueing up behind us. Fortunately for us we got the chirpiest clerk, a blond woman of probably around 40 who seemed to be nice natured and smily. I passed my two letters through to her and she set about enthusiastically tapping on her keyboard. I had at the ready my official tax number certificate, my AMKA number, my passport and my residency/work permit. I was sure that at some point she would be asking me fore these. After a goods five minutes without any exchange of words, she asked, still staring at the monitor...

"Would you like it paid into the same bank account that we have on record?"

Almost too happy to keep both feet on the ground and not float off into some fluffy clouds somewhere, I replied, whilst casting a sideways glance at my wife with the look of "Oh ye of little faith" about it, "Yes, fine, that would be great."

It still didn't make her indoors too ecstatic though. She'd had visions of us walking out counting a wad of notes and hightailing it into town to visit the last dregs of the winter sales. Nevertheless, it gave us the indication that we would indeed be able to conclude the whole business on this visit, and for that I was exceedingly grateful and not a little amazed.

After a further five minutes of our helper continuing to bang away at the keys while watching her monitor, I ventured to ask her:

"Will you be wanting to see my passport?"

To which her reply was a 'tch' and a slight nod of the head backwards, which is, of course, the Greek for 'no'.

"Residency Permit?"


To cut this part of the story short, all she required of me was the two NCR letters that I'd received through the post. Nothing more. This almost didn't compute. When, in the history of the modern Greek bureaucratic jungle, did we ever visit a government office without having to carry a dossier of papers? Never, that's when. Of course, the fact that our bank details were on the system meant that no one else could receive the rebate apart from me, so I suppose it made no sense for some shyster to turn up with my letters and fiendishly save me a lot of bother.

After probably fifteen minutes of keyboard bashing, she got up and walked a metre to her left where a large printer began whirring and clanking before spewing out a bunch of new papers. Grabbing these, she stapled a few sheet together, gathered them all up with still others (in an assortment of fetching colours) that were laying on the desk in front of her and passed me that much paperwork I could have wallpapered a respectably-sized wall with it.

"Take this to the man behind that counter along the corridor." She said with a warm smile as she pointed toward the man in question. Seeing that I was just a little incredulous, she added: "That's it. All done."

So, collecting this formidable pile of papers from the desk, and having visions of wallpaper tables and paste brushes, I thanked her and the two of us walked along the corridor, through a side door that took us into an area behind yet another counter where there were two desks, one 'manned' by a woman and the other by this chap to whom I had to give my papers. He accepted them from me and said, "Thank you. I'll be keeping these." Then he added, with a helpful smile (could this really be a Greek government office?) "The money will be in your bank within two days."

"Umm, don't I have to take anything away with me? You know, a receipt or something?" I asked. Dolt.

"Nope. I keep all of these, thank you. Kalispera!"

And, would you believe it, out we went.

Now, that was lunchtime on Thursday. Bearing in mind that there would be only one working day before the weekend, I fully expected not to see the cash in the account when I checked in via on-line banking until at the very least the following Monday. As it happened, I had to get up at 4.00am on the Saturday to take our neighbours to the airport, so I decided, since I was well ahead time-wise, to have a quick glance at our account balance on-line.

The cash was in! The refund had been made.

Now, tell me that nothing ever goes right in Greece!

On that very evening, Saturday March 3rd, our water supply dried up just as it was getting dark. There was nothing coming out of our taps. Nothing going into the toilet cistern when we flushed it. Oops.

You might just have an inkling about what the next post will be, eh?

Monday, 26 February 2018

A Babbling Brook

This post will be heavy on photos, but with just a few comments to begin with about the weather.

I know; sounds very British doesn't it, to be preoccupied with the weather. TBH, I'm not usually that concerned what it's doing outside, except perhaps when it causes us to change our plans, which isn't often.

The reason I wanted to briefly mention it though, is to illustrate yet again the difference between the British ex-pats who live here and the local Greeks. By and large, I find that the Brits whinge perpetually when it's cloudy or raining during the winter months. The Greeks, however, virtually to man (or woman, just to be PC here) never complain, in fact more often than not express gratitude for the rains. I agree with them. Let's face it, we get month after month of dry, arid weather here every summer. The dry season on Rhodes is longer than most other parts of Greece too, thus exacerbating the problems when a dry winter (and we've now had three) leaves the island with a severe water problem during the summer months.

Last summer it came to a head when owing to (as fleetingly mentioned above) several unusually dry winters we were facing water shut-offs all over the island. Several villages and parts of Rhodes town were without water for days on end toward the end of the season. Other areas (including here in Kiotari for a while) had what amounted to sea water coming out of their taps, which killed plants in gardens, including precious vegetables.

So, this winter, thankfully, there appears to be a return to normality, with rains coming frequently and often heavily on a weekly basis at the moment. Even having said that, we had almost three weeks with no rain at the end of January/early February. In fact, as you'll know if you read my drivel with any regularity, I've mentioned one particular walk which me and the better half do in the hills behind the house, which takes us through olive groves and forest and twice crosses the same stream-bed, which in normal years flows like a babbling brook from about now through to some time during April.

It must be three of four years since that stream-bed last flowed continually, as in not simply for a few hours after a rainstorm. At least once a week we do that walk and expectantly approach the spot through the pines as we descend a steep hill and, if it's running, we can hear it even before we see it. In previous years when it had flowed as per usual, it even had frog spawn in it for a while, thus helping the island population of amphibians to survive. 

So, this winter we've been making that walk every week and, until yesterday, that stream still hasn't been flowing. Yesterday though, low and behold...

That was at one crossing point. This was at the other...

(If they don't play on your device, click these links: Vid A, Vid B)

Good eh? See, it gets me a bit when ex-pats go on about how grotty the weather is when it rains here. Do any of us really want to turn on a tap, or maybe the shower, on a hot, Greek summer's day and have nothing come out of it? I think not!

So I'll always be with the Greeks on this one. Rain? Bring it on. After all, come the summer we'll be lucky to see a cloud for several months.

And so to some photos...

Come on, have you ever seen a nicer lemon tree? This one (I'm not jealous. I'M NOT JEALOUS!) is in the garden of a friend whose garden we help maintain now and again.

Same again.

Despite the more regular rains this winter, we still get days like this. This was taken during one of our walks, just down the road from us in Kiotari.

Can you spot him? There's a stag in this shot (Don't forget, you can click for a larger view). The rather fetching foreground with the pallets etc. is the former pigpen where the shepherd now keeps his sheep when they're grazing in our valley during January. Just beyond the pallets is a small green patch where the deer love to hang out during the early evening. It's only fifty metres down the lane from our front gate.

A lovely example of a wild French Lavender plant just up the lane behind the house.

Close-up of the French Lavender.

The other day, Thursday morning February 22nd in fact, we had one of the biggest thunder storms we've experienced in over twelve years of living here. Lightning struck our TV antenna and the result? 

Tune in for the next exciting episode folks...

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Your Stop

Christos is a bus driver. I've known him for probably seven or eight years now and, during the summer, he's to be seen piloting one of the more modern single decker buses that ply the island's roads, up and down from Rhodes Town in the far north to as far south as Plimiri. I always know when it's Christos' bus, because plastered all over the side is a huge advert for the Water Park, complete with ten-foot high bikini-clad girl waving her arms as she sits on the shoulders of a hunky bloke and the two of them express in actions just how splendid is the experience of getting soaked to the skin whilst also being scared witless.

Christos is probably about fifty and he likes to talk. He's not at all, though, to be confused with those folk who like the sound of their own voice. You know the types, always dominating the conversation because they have far too much to say about any topic you care to raise, and often brooking no argument with their point of view. No, Christos talks out of exuberance and enthusiasm. I'm pretty good at understanding Greeks when they speak to me these days, even bearing in mind that most of those I see on a regular basis have local accents. Christos, however, speaks - as we used to say in the West Country in the UK - 'fifteen to the dozen". In other words, he's so desperate to get it all out that he slurs his words together big time, and all too often I find myself asking him to slow down or repeat himself when we're having a one-to-one conversation. It's the measure of his nature though that this never seems to annoy him.

So, the reason why I mention Christos is because he's always full of amusing anecdotes from his experiences as a bus driver, especially during the tourist season. And I want to pass on to you one particular experience that had a group of us clutching our sides with laughter recently.

A couple of Fridays back we had occasion to go out as a group of fourteen, comprising of husbands, wives and a couple of singles, to a pizza restaurant that's entirely new to me. Frankly, I'd never have found it if we hadn't been going out with Greek friends, most of whom live in Rhodes Town, because the restaurant is not in the centre of town, but rather on the periphery, in what could best be described as residential suburbia. If you're on Rhodes (or are going to be) this may help you find it...

The red spot pinpoints the location of Crusty Gourmet Pizza.

If you know Rhodes at all, then you'll know that driving into town on the 'kentriko dromo', or 'main road' from Lindos to Town, you eventually come downhill to the traffic lights at Rodini Park, then along a tree-lined street that's sprinkled with various business premises and private apartment blocks. This street is often where you end up bumper-to-bumper, especially in the season at busy times. After a few hundred metres on that road you reach the next set of lights, where you can either go right or straight on, but you can't go left up Ethnikis Antistaseos, which is one way, as you can only come from the other direction.

Go straight on and eventually you reach a large crossroads, shown on the map as Πλ. Μαρτύρων. There are traffic lights here too. Take a right here and it's a few hundred metres along on the left hand side.

Before I come to Christos' story, I ought to say how good our meal was at the Crusty Gourmet Pizza restaurant. We received a selection of complimentary food and drinks and the pizza my wife and I ordered was one of the best we've ever eaten. We ordered the one called Pizza Vegetasty (if my memory is correct). I can highly recommend it, as it seriously competes with the other best pizzas we've ever eaten, which were in Pizzadelia on the island of Naxos (check out this post too).

Anyway, as the atmosphere of bonhomie prevailed after we'd all eaten aplenty and imbibed a little retsina or a few beers, as the restaurateur gave each and every one of us a free Mastika to sip as a digestif, Christos got everyone's attention, not for the first time during the evening.

"Not long ago," he began, "I was loading up at the bus station in Rhodes, the bus was going to be full right from the start, and I was going on this occasion as far as Gennadi, before turning around and heading back to town. Tourists were still around in great numbers and one in particular grabbed my attention, as he appeared to be on his own and a little the worse for drink. If he'd been aggressive or noisy, of course, I wouldn't have let him on to the bus anyway, but he seemed quite harmless, if a little unsteady on his feet.

As he bought his ticket for Arhangelos he asked with some degree of anxiety, 'You will let me know when we get to Arhangelos won't you? I won't have a clue otherwise.'

I assured him that I have a microphone and I announce over the vehicle's tannoy when we get to each and every stop. So I said he had no need to worry, because he'd hear me say when we got to the centre of the village of Arhangelos and then he'd know to get off the bus. That seemed to satisfy his worry and off he went to find a seat.

I set out and of course I had to pass through Faliraki, Afandou, Kolymbia, then Arhangelos, before heading on down to Malona, Massari, Kalathos, Lindos, Lardos, Kiotari and finally Gennadi, which would be the terminus for this run, and arrival there would be some two hours after leaving Mandraki.' 

If you've ever used the buses on Rhodes, you'll know that there are a few variations to this route, sometimes taking in Pefkos and Pilona, for example, and sometimes not, plus the bus has to turn off the main road and go into the centre of each village en route, which is why it takes twice as long as the trip would take in a car to reach Gennadi in the south.

Anyway, allowing Christos to continue with his story:

"I quite forgot about this man who was worried that he'd miss getting off at Arhangelos as the bus was so busy with people getting on and off. But then, I do announce every stop, so surely he'd hear. For most of the trip this time around I was almost full. Only when I got to Lardos and began to head south to Kiotari did I see the passenger numbers thinning out and, to my horror, looking in my mirror I could see that half-way down the bus there was this chap, snoring away with his head resting against the window, still on board, way south of where he wanted to be.

What ought I to do? If I woke him up then and there he might be be mad with me. Maybe he would lose it and cause a scene. And I could hardly put him off the bus here, with him not having any idea where he was. So I thought, 'I know, I'll let him sleep and see what happens.'

I got all the way to Gennadi, where I have to park up and wait for ten minutes before starting the route back towards Rhodes Town. I went for a pee, got myself a frappé and still he slept on. I could only hope he'd stay that way for another hour or so yet.

As luck would have it, he was still asleep when I turned on to the road leading into Arhangelos village on the return leg, probably now at least two hours after we'd passed through here on the way down. When I got to the centre of the village, I announced extra loudly over the tannoy: "ARHANGELOS! ARHANGELOS!!"

Would you believe it, but he didn't stir. So I had to open the door to my little driver's cubbyhole and go back to shake him by the shoulder. He came around, slightly dazed, and I pointed out of the window and said, "Arhangelos! This is it!"

He got up, thanked me with a vigorous handshake and made his way to the door. By the time I was back behind the wheel, he'd drawn level with me on the pavement and then gave me a cheerful wave and a thumbs-up as I pulled away. He seemed well satisfied that I'd done as he asked and made sure he got off at the right place.

I never was to know if he ever wondered why it took him so long to get there though!"

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

The Good, the Bad, and the Broccoli

Not so long ago I wrote a post about how sometimes it all goes right. It had to do with the fact that every time we need to make an expedition to Rhodes Town, we go there with a list of things that we need to get done and usually return home with half of them unaccomplished, for various reasons. I've just been trawling through the posts for the past year or so and do you think I can find that post? 

Ah, well, there you go. I do remember, though, waxing lyrical about how we'd returned home on that occasion floating on air with the fact that we'd been able to tick off everything on the list and could hardly believe the fact that we'd had a successful sortie.

Thus, it was with a degree of optimism that we set out on Tuesday, February 13th, once again with a formidable list of things to do, thinking that it ought to be a successful day, ...didn't it?

I had received recently a couple of letters from the Greek Tax Authorities informing me of a fairly substantial rebate to which I was due, from tax that had been taken a few years ago. I'd given up all hope of ever seeing that cash again, when, well - whaddayah know - these flimsy NCR letters turned up bearing the good tidings. At the bottom of each letter it informed me that all I needed to do was to drop by the Tax Office in town and they'd be happy to send me packing with a wad of cash in my palm. Great!

I also wanted to drop into the Skoda dealership and see if I could order a new set of floor mats for the car. See, I'm that irritating kind of bloke who likes to try and keep his car in pristine condition. Thus, when one of the round, plastic, popper-type-doobries that anchors the mat to its fixed position on the floor and prevents it riding up under the pedals (yeah, see, you've been there, haven't you?) breaks apart and bits come off it, I don't sit comfortably with that. Plus, the driver's side mat that features a rigid plastic rectangle, you know, the bit that gets all the wear from your heels while you're working the pedals, is now cracked and curled and catches on my heel while I'm driving. Can't be doing with that. And I'm afraid I just don't do that whole "buy a set of mats anywhere, the 'universal' type that fits all models" philosophy. Once you get a set of those in the car it's frustration city, plus it makes you feel that your car's getting on a bit. Mine may be a 2011 model, but it's still shiny and new-looking, and me and the better half work long and hard to put up a strong defence against the rigours of the one-kilometre-long dusty and occasionally muddy lane that we have to drive up and down every time we go out.

Going on a bit there wasn't I? Sorry, but anyway, on our list was this quick visit to the dealership to see about the mats. Also on the list was the need to visit the main Post office in Mandraki Harbour to send off two packages, one to Ohio, USA and the other to Melbourne, Australia. Plus I had a letter containing a boring form about tax numbers and the like that needed returning to my UK Bank as well. There were a couple of other items too, and the compulsory visit to a café for a coffee and a serious people-watching session.

Our accountant's office is in Kalathos and we drive right past it about 15 km after leaving home. There was just this outside chance that he'd be in there at 10 o'clock of a morning and, if he had been, it would have been worth our dropping in and asking him about the tax rebate. After all, in years past he'd arranged for tax that had been taken wrongly to be paid back directly into our Greek bank account. If he'd been there on Tuesday morning and agreed to do that again, it would of course have eliminated the need for me to go to the Tax Office in town. He wasn't. All the vertical blinds across his posh glass door were closed. Should have realised, that was a sign that all would not go according to plan.

Never mind, we proceeded north towards town, a cheery mood prevailing. First stop, forty minutes up the road would be the Skoda dealership's parts department. 

Now, I'm sure I'll strike a chord with anyone on the planet who's ever gone to the parts department of a car dealership when I say that one very quickly loses the will to live after entering such a place. I know exactly how Dante felt, I can assure you. As I pulled up outside and stepped out of the car, the beloved having decided to wait there, a smart young chap with a black polo shirt bearing the Skoda logo on his right breast was just seeing someone off and he followed me inside. I approached the desk, kind of expecting this chap to catch my eye and offer to help me with my requirements. No such luck. As I took in the familiar organised (and, of course, dusty) chaos that now surrounded me, I saw that there was one chap already leaning on the chest-high counter, mobile phone and bank debit card in his hands as he tapped them absently on the counter surface, and one older guy behind the counter, doing his best to stare at a monitor to avoid eye contact with anyone who may be considered a customer.

The bloke before me remained like that for a good fifteen minutes, during which time the older fella behind the counter never once acknowledged his existence. The younger chap I'd entered with soon disappeared at the back of the store behind racks of shelving stacked with all kinds of boxes presumably containing stuff that had been ordered back in the day when they actually served customers, and was soon lost in the bowels of the building. I never saw him again and began to consider him as a figment of my over-enthusiastic imagination.

All the while I stood there nothing happened, except for one stocky, middle-aged Greek fella who pulled up outside in a tired looking Octavia, strode in and exchanged a joke or two with the fella at the monitor, looked at me with a huge "Aren't we all having fun" kind of grin and promptly left again, just before I was ready to interject with an "Excuse me, but we were here first". After twenty minutes of this I turned and walked out, having decided that the other apparent 'customer' might well have been a waxwork placed there to make it look like someone needed serving before me and thus persuade me that there was no point in actually expecting to be served any time during the next week or so.

As I slid back behind the steering wheel, the beloved looked my way anxiously, and asked, "Everything OK? You took long enough. Did they have to order them?" My response took the form of a facial expression that she interpreted perfectly. We have been married for quite a few decades, after all.

Right, then. Now, at this point let me say - I am not in the least superstitious. I don't believe in luck or fate and I wouldn't think that my box if I were a contestant on "Deal, or No Deal" [and why on earth would I be?] must contain the €60,000 merely because it was my favourite number, or the date of the cat's birthday or anything like that.

Yet we did drive away from the Skoda garage and off in the direction of the Tax Office with a degree of pessimism, I must admit. 

Across the road from the Tax Office there is a store that my sweetie loves. It's even called "Joy", would you believe? It sells all kinds of lifestyle things at very attractive prices. Thus, as we parked up by the kerb and I got out clutching my file containing every legal paper that I've ever been handed since first coming the Greece in 2005 (you can't go into a Government Office here without all of it. You can guarantee that the one A4 photocopy you left at home will be the one they need from you), she made for the front door of Joy with a "You'll  manage OK, won't you darling?"

Seems like I'd have to. The front doors of the Tax Office block, south of the new marina in Rhodes, are all glass and so dirty that you could be forgiven for thinking that the building had been abandoned. If it weren't for the steady stream of people going in and out, up and down the front steps, you'd conclude that you'd come to the wrong place. Once inside the dimly lit foyer, that sense of the place being an unused remnant from a bygone age is further intensified. There are roller blinds tightly closed over counters that haven't been used in decades it seems. But, over in one corner was this obese bloke, sitting at a small table with the most important piece of equipment any Greek needs, a half-consumed frappé, resting on it, and little else. He looked my way and so I thought I'd ask him where I needed to go to see about a tax rebate.

"Second floor," he told me, pointing towards the corridor that led to the stairs. Oh well then, maybe this would be a tick in the 'plus' column by the time we were heading home later in the day after all. I bounded up the stairs, passing people who all looked like they'd experienced a bereavement coming in the other direction, confident that whatever piece of paper, document or permit that they asked me for I'd be able to whip out and place triumphantly before them, and arrived at the floor I needed. There was the familiar gaggle of forlorn local residents, all clutching wads of papers and looking terminally resigned to having to spend most of their day in this place.

So I asked a helpful looking lady, "Excuse me, which counter deals with tax rebates, please?"

Wait for it, wait for it! Yes, you've guessed it, her reply was: "Oh they aren't issuing rebates today. In fact looks like not for the whole week. the computer system's down."

So much for an unexpected windfall resulting a a session of gay abandon in the sales in town a little later on. I won't even go down the road of discussing what my better half said when I caught up with her between the fake oil paintings and the multi-coloured scatter cushions inside 'Joy".

You know what, though? Despite the setbacks described above, the day didn't turn out all bad. For instance, I didn't have to wait longer than ten minutes in the Post Office and we were able to stroll through a very quiet Old Town for a while...

Looks beautiful doesn't it? Actually it is, or rather would be, were it not for the fact that at this time of the year you can't walk the Old Town without a flaming scooter, moped or motorbike zipping past you literally every thirty seconds. You almost need a face mask to deal with the two-stroke exhaust. I had to work fast to snap those two shots without a scooter being in one of them. You even get residents bringing their cars along some of these streets, their door mirrors missing the side walls by millimetres. When that happens you have to find a doorway to step into to avoid involuntarily hitching a lift on someone's bonnet (hood, guys, hood).

I think the general tenor of the day was wearing off on me.

We eventually got home in the late afternoon, unloaded all the shopping and got the kettle on for a good cup of Earl Grey and the day took a turn for the better in two ways. Firstly, The missus said to me, "Look, you're always banging on about how you can get anything on line. How come you haven't Googled 'car accessories' for a Greek company that sells Skoda Fabia car mats?"

I was soon sipping my tea and dunking my digestive while typing "Patakia Skoda Fabia 2011" into 'Patakia' is what they call car mats here in Greece, but then you'd worked that out hadn't you? You have to be careful though, insert an extra a or t and you end up with 'patatakia', which means potato crisps (OK, chips guys). Within minutes I'd messaged a company that had a huge range of accessories, including some very attractive and competitively priced bespoke mats for our car. By the time darkness fell I 'd heard back from them, ordered a set of mats and been told that they'd be arriving in a few days, when I could pay the courier. What a result! Her indoors always loves it when I don't pay in advance, 'More peace of mind' she says. All in all - perfect.

Plus, I'd emailed my accountant about the tax rebate issue. I asked him if he'd be able to get the rebate paid back into the bank, as I mentioned earlier. I'll call him to follow that up in a day or two, since he rarely replies to my emails. I know he gets them, because he always tells me so when he sees me. He just can't bring himself to write back, that's all.

The icing on the cake of a day that had been in part both good and bad, was that my wife made her very own wholemeal-base organic vegetarian pizza (with vegan cheese!) for tea. It was scrumptiousness personified. One of the vegetables she used on it was our very own broccoli that I'd picked early that morning...

Now THAT my friends is a huge success story for me. I've tried growing broccoli on several occasions in the past and each time failed spectacularly. No sooner had they grown to around two or three inches, they were eaten to death by caterpillars or covered in a silky web, full of little black things, no bigger than a full stop, that moved. This time I made up my mind to go and inspect the plants every couple of days and to follow the advice given by the excellent Monty Don on the UK TV series "Gardener's World", who says 'pinch the caterpillars off by hand whenever you see them.' They're horribly gooey when you crush them between your fingers, but you can wash your hand afterward after all.

Plus, when I saw that silky-web-like stuff making a start at covering the tiny flowerheads, I literally ran my fingers all over them to rub it all off. The rewards though? Look at that photo. I've never been so over the moon about anything I've grown* in my entire life!

Yup, a lot went wrong yesterday. But all in all, some things went very right too. So, well, can't complain, can I?

(*Well, maybe excepting my beard, rather than bumfluff I mean)

Finally, last Saturday we were in Pefkos, so I took these to show just how spectacular the anemones have been this year (Plus one shot of a view that Pefkos regulars may recognise)...

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Four Candles

Anyone from the UK who's old enough will well remember a classic comedy sketch from the 1970's by the Two Ronnies, where Ronnie Barker walks into a very old-fashioned ironmongers/hardware/general store and proceeds to inadvertently wind up the shopkeeper (played by Ronnie Corbett) whilst all the time looking bemused at the fact that his requests are persistently confusing and hence misunderstood. If you've never seen this sketch, you can remedy that right now by clicking HERE.

Now, having acquainted yourself with that kind of store, you can imagine to some degree what it's like to go shopping at the DIY store in the village of Gennadi, four km south of us. The store is run by a couple who must be approaching retirement age, or else they look a lot older than they are. Maria and Pandelis are both what I would describe as 'portly' in shape and both would slot more seamlessly into a kafeneion scene, maybe a bakery, rather than a DIY/building materials store that's attempting to supply the locals with all the latest in u-bends, electrical appliances, paints, varnishes, brushes, saws and a whole host of other stuff in similar vein.

When you enter the store from the slightly bumpy, gravelled parking area out front you are immediately struck by how abundantly stocked it is. I have often remarked to Pandeli, as he's trotted off along one of the narrow aisles between very high racks of screws, locks, hinges and electrical fittings, in search of a specific varnish that I've requested, that I am always amazed that he can find his way around in there. I keep expecting to find customers with several days' growth of beard still wandering around in the bowels of the place, wondering if they'll ever see the light of day again.

Everywhere you look there is chaos, although exhibiting just enough order to enable Pandelis to find that specific can of paint, or size of wood-screw that I've asked him for. He'll often be serving three or four people at once, because, if there's one thing the Greeks don't do, it's wait patiently for the customer before them to be leaving the store contentedly before they declare what they've come in for. I've lost count of the number of times I've been half-way through my modest little list, with Pandelis all the while trotting off in this direction or that, soon to become invisible behind rack after rack of dusty packaging and cardboard boxes, frequently with their contents spilling out either on the floor or the shelf next to them, when some local farmer or builder has walked in, bellowed Pandeli's name and caused him to return to the desk and greet this newly arrived client.

Many of these folk seem to have the idea that, since perhaps they only want a few fittings for the plumbing job they're doing, or a few metres of green curtain screening for the protection of some fruit trees, I won't mind in the least waiting while Pandelis breaks off from serving me and sorts out their requirements first.

Despite the huge amount of stock he has in there, he invariably can't find exactly what I'm asking for either. Over the years that we've lived here, I've needed to varnish our wooden garden furniture, or the gable-ends of the car ports (both ours and the landlords' on their side of the property) on lots of occasions. Each time I've run out of varnish, I've gone to see Pandeli with the now empty old tin, so as to be sure to get the same brand and finish, maybe tint, again, only to come away with an entirely different brand name that he's assured me is much better that the one I bought (from him) before, and will without doubt do the same job.

He'll bid me follow him as he strides down a congested aisle to the racks that contain wood varnish, where he'll start picking up tin after tin, reading the lids or labels to see if it's gloss or matt, tinted or clear, water-based or the kind that requires the use of white spirit or even thinners to clean the brushes after the job's done. He'll swear blind that he has the right stuff in stock, and in all fairness, sometimes does, but often I'll end up saying, "OK we'll leave that and go to the next item on my list", after he's promised to order some in, and assured me that it would be there in a day or two. 

The last time I visited was to obtain a selection of fittings for the irrigation system in the garden. He keeps all the plastic compression fittings down in the basement, where these days he doesn't generally suggest that his clients follow. He'll listen while I tell him, for example, that I want six straight fittings with shut-off taps in them, six simple straights for joining lengths of plastic pipe together and a few right-angled elbows. I listen as he patters off down the stairs, after throwing a switch on the wall at ground level to turn on the lights down below. Then, as I peruse the selection of fishing accessories and long-life lightbulbs that adorn the area around the desk where he keeps the till, I'll hear his voice as he curses and rattles cardboard box after cardboard box in his search for the fittings I've asked for. I'll hear him declare with excitement, "Ah see? There you are! I knew you were here somewhere." Then he'll count out the number I need and eventually re-emerge at the top of the stairs, just about managing to hold on to a clutch of black and blue PVC fittings that are slightly too bulky for even his large hands to keep a hold of.

I often walk into the store to see no one around anywhere. Maria is not behind the till and Pandeli doesn't answer when I call. The till (cash register) is three or four metres from the permanently-open sliding front door and yet there is never any worry about security. On occasions like this I'll drift through the store to the second 'showroom' area to the far right, which is piled high with 40 litre tubs of emulsion paint, and the pair of them will be seated at the table they keep in there, chomping on their macaroni lunch, their small scrubbing brush of a dog keeping them company.

"Ach, kalos to!" They'll exclaim, making no attempt to get up from the modest table, but rather will ask after my wife and how things are going generally, fully expecting that I'll of course want to wait until they finish their meal before getting up to serve me.

What is really good about their store, is the fact that they continually surprise me with what odd items I can get in there. My chainsaw, for example, is now over a decade old and I've been through a few chains in that time. Now, though, the guide-bar needs replacing and I was fretting over the possible need to drive to the chainsaw specialists at Malona, some 20 k north, where in all probability they'd have to order one the right size for my saw, thus necessitating a couple of trips. So, the other day, while I was in Pandeli's, I thought I may as well ask. "No problem," he replied, and off he went whistling an old bouzouki tune, only to return five minutes later with two different sized bars, to see which one would hopefully fit the saw, which I'd taken with me just in case.

As it happened, he had several sizes, but not the one I needed.

"I'll order it this afternoon," he told me. This was a week ago last Friday. "Couple of days, it'll be here." 

"Great," I told him, and left, intending to return the following Wednesday, to be sure that the bar would had arrived. So I returned as promised, waited fifteen minutes while Maria, seated at the counter as she was this time, called out on several occasions, "Pandeli!! Exei cosmos!!" [Pandeli! There are people! The word 'cosmos' can mean a crowd, crowded, people, customers, in fact any time when a group of people from just two or three to maybe hundreds needs describing]. 

By the time he appeared from the darkest depths of the basement, with an old codger in tow, there were three of us all standing around studying the pond-pumps, electrical extension leads and secateurs while we waited. Eventually he beamed his disarming smile at me and I asked, "Has my part arrived?"

"Oh, no," he replied, "Not yet. I ordered it yesterday though, Should only be a day or two."

It was there and then that I realised for the first time that I'd never had his telephone number. Working hard to conceal my frustration, I asked if I could have one of his business cards, so that I could call before possibly making a wasted trip next time. By this time his wife Maria had waddled off somewhere and he began rummaging around behind the counter.

"Where did she put those cards? I saw them, I know I did!" he grumbled. Eventually, I suggested that he simply write the number on a scrap of paper for me, since I'd now been there for approaching half an hour.

"Right, good idea," he replied. "Got a pen?"

The thing is, despite the occasional frustration, the both of them are such nice people. They invariably suggest I pay them another time if we have a problem over change. They always tot up my purchases in their heads, or on a scrap of paper and invariably round it down. They do, I must point out though (walls have ears, after all) give me a printed till receipt.

Anyway, better get my next list written out. Now then, what do I need? Oh yes, fork handles...

[Incidentally, although the sketch to which I supplied the link at the top of this piece has often been voted the UK's favourite comedy sketch, my personal favourite from the Two Ronnies is this one.]