Friday, 3 February 2012

yes, Yes! YES!!

This post turned out to be a marathon, so I hope you can bear to stick with it!! Just to tempt you, there are some photos further down, so the more tenacious reader will get to them. Now, of course, there'll be those who just skim down until they reach the piccies. No staying power, some people. Anyway, to the story…

You kind of get used to things not panning out as you'd like when you live on a Greek island. For example, whenever a drive to town is required for various fairly important reasons, you make a list of what you want to get done and usually arrive home late the same day with an annoying selection of boxes not ticked. Maybe the shops closed before you could get round to all the ones you wanted to visit. Perhaps some retailer didn't have the part you wanted for your electrical gizmo or whatever and you've had to order it, with the prospect of another unscheduled trip to town being added to the agenda imminently. The fact is, you grudgingly get quite used to everything being a rigmarole and you just grit your teeth and get on with it.

Yesterday, however, the gods were in a good mood and a totally unprecentedently (can I say that?) successful day ensued, well, almost. But even the bit that didn't go well wasn't really attributable to anything Greek. I'll explain all. Are we sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin…

We've been holding off on renewing our Residency Permits for a couple of years. The first (temporary) ones which we'd acquired when we'd first arrived here in 2005 had been a bit of a nightmare in the securing and we'd heard that the requirements for "Xenoi" (foreigners) applying for their permits had changed. First off, it's not a legal requirement to have them. EU citizens can live here quite within the law without Residency Permits but, BUT! If you want to buy either a car or a house you'll be asked to produce yours and, if you don't, it'll slow the process to a dead halt while you argue your rights as a Europoean citizen. It's less stressful (marginally) to have applied for them and have done with it. It's the Police who like us to hold them. Don't even go there. I don't understand it either.

Although we're not very likely to be putting in an offer on a house for the "forseeable", our car (much though we appreciate "Stavro" the Swift! Don't want to upset him) is now eleven years old and we know that if "he" were to conk out we'd be severely hampered in our attempts to get a replacement if we first had to go through the process of getting new Permits. We live up a goat track miles from anywhere and so to get anything done without transport would be a logistical "mare!"

The trouble is, show me anyone (including us!) who's gone through the process of acquiring a Residency Permit and I'll show you a stressed-out, furiously frustrated individual. Anyway, on Monday morning I steeled myself to call the Arhangelos Police Station (they'd given me the number of Mr. Manoli, who does the permits, some time ago) to try and arrange an appointment. I'd been told that this was necessary owing to the fact that you have to be able to show your Bank Pass Book (so quaint, the banks here still issue the passbooks like the old Post Office Savings books we used to have a million years ago in the UK), which must make it evident that you have at least €350 per individual in the bank at the time of your application. This meant that our joint account had to show a balance of €700 or above. That wasn't a problem, I'd moved some currency out here from the UK last Autumn. The real problem is that your bank book has to have been updated within 10 days of your making your application for the permit. Even if you haven't touched the account for six months, the pass book still needs to have been validated as showing the required balance within the past 10 days when you walk into the cop shop. This means you have to go to the bank, and ours is in Rhodes Town.

There are various other bits of paper you need to show, but, to keep it brief (well, briefer) and avoid you losing concentration and nipping off to browse E-Bay or something, I'll dispense with any further dull details. except to say that one of the documents which we needed to present (a British document) needed to have been translated before being taken to the Police Station …by a lawyer.

So, having been apprised of this delightful fact by the grumpy policeman over the phone on Monday afternoon we chewed the cud over what to do about the lawyer thing. I remembered a lawyer who'd translated our Birth and Marriage certificates back in 2005 when we'd applied for our Tax Numbers and thought I'd scan the documents and e-mail them to him. This I did on Tuesday, along with the plea that could he maybe do the deed in time for us to meet him in town (on the courthouse steps in Mandraki) on Wednesday morning. Amazingly enough (perhaps the promise a a few Euros in cash oiled the wheels, perish the thought), he agreed and told us to meet him outside the courthouse at the requested time, 10.00am Wednesday morning. Flummoxed would be a mild description of how we felt on Tuesday evening. Delightedly so, admittedly.

So, we arrive at Wednesday morning. Our list for the day was something like this:

1. Go straight to court house in Mandraki, an hour's drive from home, hence the need to set the alarm and set off by 9.00am.

2. Top up my mobile phone.

3. Search in "Multirama" (a computer store) for an adapter which I was hoping to not have to order by mail from the internet.

4. Go to the plastic/can/glass recycling machine in the old Harbour in order to reduce the burgeoning collection of "stuff" in huge plastic bags in our shed out the back.

5.Go to "Jumbo" a huge store on the edge of town which no parent in their right mind should ever take their kids to. It's like Toys R Us with knobs on. Plus it does loads of household stuff, like rugs, throws, cushions, all kinds of trendy glass ornaments, picture frames, sports equipment (I could go on here for ages…). The reason for our visit was to find a gift for our friends Kosta and Dina who'd recently produced a sprog (as they say in South Wales). They now have a one month old daughter called Melina and we hadn't yet cooed over her.

6. Take the beer bottles (which my thrifty and environmentally conscious missus regularly collects from the roadside when we're out for walks) back to the bottle bank at AB (a kind of Sainsbury's) where she gets 14 cents a bottle and usually has enough to redeem more cash than needed to buy the flour from which she bakes our bread. Then nip over the road to Lidl for a top-up trip round the aisles.

7. Drop in on Kosta and Dina to present the baby's gift and do hommage to the new human in their home.

8. If time on the way home, go to Arhangelos Police Station to see Mr. Manoli and apply for our permits, and…

9. Nip along to Agathi Beach as we're passing on our weary way home and snap a shot in response to "Porridge Oats'" request in her comment on this post.

As you can see, an impressive list and one which we were quite sure was going to go awry and see us coming home with the usual furrowed brows. But, now to the good stuff. If you're no comatose already, read on…

We got to Mandraki at a minute after 10, and I even found a place to park the car, just round by the Harbour entrance - a minor miracle in itself. (Cue for first photos...). 

 Click to enlarge the one below and you'll notice the snow visible on the Turkish mountains, quite beautiful

Sure enough, as Y-Maria strolled along the front and up the side street (Nikolao Plastira) to the bank in Plateia Kyprou, Makis the trusty Lawyer exited the building and locked eyes with me. Realising that it was the bloke he'd not seen for five years, he descended the steps, shook my hand, passed me the documents, all smart in a legal folder and appropriately "stamped" and signed to make them valid and expressed his surprise that it was, in fact, the bloke he'd talked with five years ago who couldn't speak Greek. All modesty swept swiftly to one side here, he told me that when I'd e-mailed him he racked his brain to think who this could be, since the bloke he remembered couldn't speak very much Greek at all. Now, here he was reading an e-mail in his language from an ex-pat Brit and his curiosity was well and truly piqued! In fact, so piqued was he that he insisted that we go meet my significant other and have a coffee together while he got to the bottom of how I'd managed to learn the lingo, when 99% of the Brits out here give up. I tell you, six years of hard graft has paid off. A lawyer bought us coffee!! This of course reduced the modest sum we'd just paid him by probably 40%. Turns out he's now got a 2nd home not a stone's throw from where we live and so we may well end up having lunch somewhere locally with him and the family some time soon. I tell you, eh? What?!

Having bid our new legal ally farewell, we'd  not walked more than two hundred yards when we passed the modest little cafe in Nikolao Plastira which is run by a very nice lady called Maria. She'd not long opened it when we first came to Rhodes and, since in those days we used to go to town probably three times a month (as opposed to three time a year these days! Excepting necessary trips that is) and so took our frappes there regularly. She'd not seen us together for probably a couple of years and, as we passed, she hailed us and told us to come in for a - yes, you've got it - a free coffee on the house!! We told her we just wanted to get a couple of things done (top up my mobile phone and visit Multirama), but that we'd be back directly, which we were. There then passed a very pleasant half-hour with her and her hubby Nikos, who was busying himself behind the counter. Turns out they're in the process of selling the place owing to it placing too many demands on their time these days. So, if you fancy running a nice little cafe in the centre of Rhodes town, let me know.

By now we were not only on a high at having imbibed not one but two free coffees (and it was only about 11.45am), but we were also in bladder-bursting mode since both had been accompanied by the traditional glass of water too, which we always drink. No sweat, after a swift visit to the recycling machine, which was actually still working, ten minutes in the car took us to the aforementioned Jumbo store where we darted upstairs to the customer toilets sooner than you could say "spoiled brat's paradise". Of course, the lights in the gents cubicle didn't work did they, so I had to aim by feel. A bit tricky but pleased to report no damp patches on the jeans when I exited, phew. 

To return, though, to the comment about the recycling machine still working. If you live out here you get used to the fact that every new installation is great at the outset, but once it goes wrong invariably is left to rot. I often used to remark caustically about the firm I'd worked for before leaving the UK. They had the habit of doing something similar. To illustrate: they had a brand new all-singing-all-dancing coffee machine installed in the staff kitchen at the HQ offices where I worked. One morning I walked in there to fill up our little office kettle to see this gleaming technical wonder on the worktop, all plugged in and with little glowing lights telling me that all I had to do was select from a collection of plastic "cartridges" saying things like "Cappuccino", "Hot chocolate", Hot Chocolate with Caramel [yum-mie!], "English Breakfast tea" or even "spicy vegetable soup with chocolate flake" or something, pop one into the receptacle, slam down the cover-type thingie and in no time the best drink since sliced bread-flavoured cocoa would be dripping into my "Best snooker player on the planet" mug [a man can dream].

Gleefully I threw my aging office kettle into the trash and began a halcyon period of enjoying a veritable cornucopia of different mid-morning delights. That was until the blessed thing broke down wasn't it. Then it very quickly acquired a tatty stick-on label saying "out of order" and proceeded to occupy a huge area of already-limited office-kitchen worktop totally uselessly for an indefinite period. Back to boiling a kettle (I even had to bring another one in from home) and the same old cheap coffee again. The company in question, although huge, was still run by a family. I swore they had Greek blood in them somewhere. So, the fact that the recycling machine in Rhodes Town had been serviced and greedily swallowed all the cans and plastic bottles we'd brought along was astounding.

Above: Once again, click on this one to see the snow-capped peaks

Later, with several cute little baby garments tucked under my arm in their nice little gift bag, we exited Jumbo and I called Kosta to see if an unexpected visit to the apartment would be a possibility. That organised, we turned up and got to shake hands with one month old Melina, who actually is one of the prettiest babies we've ever seen. During the conversation we, of course, asked how they were coping. It seems that the little one likes to feed every two hours or so, 24/7 at present. Ah, so THAT was why they both looked so ragged. Kostas, ever on the ball with a joke, still told us about the successful businessman who'd been asked how he slept, what with all the worries of trying to pay his staff, get the cash in, keep sales figures healthy and so on. "Like a baby," replied the tycoon, "I wake every two hours and I cry a lot!"

Leaving them after not too long a visit, trying to be considerate and all that, we headed off to AB and Lidl feeling well pleased with how the day was going, although ever cautious of what could yet de-rail things.

Following the shopping pitstop we drove south towards Arhangelos, congratulating ourselves on having remembered to bring all the other paraphernalia required to apply for our Residency Permits, plus the fact that our ETA at the cop shop would be around 3.45pm, and this was the only day in the week when Mr. Manolis was in residence during the afternoon and evening. Every other day of the week he's in during the mornings only. Could we actually get the applications done and dusted that very day? Surely not. After all, you get used to the fact that during such procedures the person sitting across the desk from you will almost certainly say at some point (trying to suppress a smirk usually) something like: "Ah, well, now, you haven't got your pre-institute underwriting agreement clause. That'll need to accompany this application. You'll have to come back another time." At which if you lose it they'll get even more awkward.

4.00pm saw us being invited into Mr. Manolis' inner sanctum at Arhangelos Police Station. Sitting at his desk we handed him everything which we thought he'd need, proudly waving the lawyer's papers under his nose to head off the potential stalling tactic. Now this bloke is famous among the British living in the South of Rhodes for being snotty and irritable. This was the first time in over 5 years that we'd been face to face with him so we made sure to talk entirely in Greek. Whatever, maybe that wasn't it, but we think that it did the trick. 

F'r instance, picking up our photographs (the same as passport ones), which were printed out (I'd done it myself) on a block of four in each case, he remarked, "I only need one from each of you," which caused me and the beloved to exchange glances which involved eyes rolling up into eyelids before she turned to him and said, as patiently as she could, "Well, ...cut it then!" Here's the good bit: he did! Whipping out a little guillotine (about A6 size) he proceeded to go through the procedure of cutting out one from each sheet and threw the remaining ones across the desk for us to reclaim.  Then, as he arose to take our bank book and passports over to the photocopier, he even flashed a brief smile. Well, alright then, a hint of a smile. In his case that's a slam-dunk in our favour. Not ten minutes after sitting down he rose, handed back the stuff we'd brought along and shook our hands.

"That's it. All done," he quipped, whereupon we risked the dangerous question as to when the permits would be ready. Now I should insert at this juncture, that it almost always involves a wait of about a week. You'll be told, "Now come along next Tuesday morning," and when you do, there'll be some other Policeman there with a rather un-missable gun in a holster at his waist who'll tell you, "He's isn't here." If you attempt to remark that you'd been told to come at that day and time, he'll look you in the eye and say, "No good asking me. It's his department and he won't be in now until tomorrow." Ho hum, another wasted trip.

This time, though, we almost leapt for exultation and joy when he told us, "Come back tomorrow morning, they'll be ready before noon." We walked out of that Police Station in total disbelief. Surely it wouldn't be that easy. It couldn't be, could it? Why, Mr. Grumpy had even been almost chatty with us.

Heading down the long hill towards Kalathos Bay we even had time to cut along to Agathi Beach and snap the shot below (Take note Porridge Oats!) just before the sun disappeared behind the beach. We got home at around 5.00pm, feeling ecstatic at our first ever 100% successful town-trip. The phone went just as I was taking off my jacket. 

It was my niece from England. My 84 year-old mum's in hospital and asking for me to come. Also, that evening, for the first time ever, we had a problem with the flue on our log-burner and were less than delighted to spend the entire evening waving cloths around and opening doors and windows to dissipate the smoke!

Thursday morning we returned to Arhangelos and walked out in total disbelief carrying our new indefinite permits. It wasn't even a wasted trip because I had a bit of business to discuss with our friend Josie, who lives five minutes away from the Police Station.

To return to the marathon Wednesday though. The entire trip had been a resounding success, a first in fact. What happened when we got home just goes to show that the "gods" have a warped sense of humour.


  1. I made it, right to the end. Nail-biting stuff, John! Particularly liked the 'freudian slip'in paragraph 7,
    'buy the grumpy policeman over the phone'
    Do hope your mum is okay.

    1. "Freudian" slip now corrected, thanks for flagging it up, I do so hate getting such things wrong!! My mum's picked up and, since we already have tickets booked for 28th March, we're still hoping that she'll feel OK to wait until then. It's too long a story to explain here, but thanks for the thought.

    2. I thought it fitted rather well with the tone, though heaven forbid any 'uniform' should read it and think you were suggesting anything!
      My elderly father (91) is one reason I can't bring myself to contemplate permanent residence abroad............not as brave as you, clearly. Have a safe trip

  2. Flipping 'eck, i'm exhausted after all that mullarky!!! i have a similar feeling to yours (looking across the desk at the said "permit passer" not daring to say the wrong thing or look at him the wrong way,well "CUT IT" dear Henry, dear Henry and all that), , when i come through customs at the airport, when i know i'm innocent hummmm!!! The photo was lovely and i really appreciate your efforts to provide it!!! your kindness will be rewarded!!!! Sorry to hear about your mum, i hope all goes well,do wrap up, it was minus 10 in Wales last night :(

    Regards "Porridge Oats"

  3. Just as well we have some porridge to warm us up from the inside before we go then... Mind you, I'd hope that it'll be a little bit warmer by the time we get there!

  4. John. We can echo your log burner problem
    We had so much smoke in our house on Saturday, that come Sunday we chose not to light the burner
    On Monday morning after a phone call our landlord came to help de coke all the pipework
    The u bend outside was almost completely blocked with cresote & the pipework also contained a lot of this stuff
    The quantity we removed filled a 5 litre bucket
    Hardly surprising. This was the 1st time we had cleaned the pipework in 2 winters
    Note to ourselves.Do this job twice in every heating season

    PS. A reminder we are picking you & Maria up on 11 February to do lunch

    1. Don't worry, that's not the kind of thing we'd forget!! Hope the log burner's going OK now. See you on the 11th.