Wednesday, 25 April 2012

The Awakening

Having flown back home from the UK to Rhodes on Saturday, we awoke on Sunday morning to a bright, crisp, deep blue sky and wandered outside to feel the warmth of an April morning in Kiotari. Even though the night time temperatures are still a little low for the time of year, each day since we got home it's been a very comfortable 23-25ºC during the daylight hours, in quite a sharp contrast to the UK, where in the days before we flew back the temperatures struggled to reach double figures.

The island is slowly re-awakening after the winter months. Looking up yesterday as I was getting stuck into some serious gardening (the weeds have made a serious take-over attempt in our absence) in response to a familiar sound high above I was delighted and mesmerised for a moment to witness the first Bee Eaters swooping above, just arrived for the summer, having over-wintered in tropical Africa, India or even Sri Lanka. The colour in the garden is truly breathtaking at the moment. All the rose bushes, which I pruned so hard just a couple of months ago, are ebullient with fresh wine-red to bottle-green shiny leaves and bursting with flowers and new buds. My wife has already been out to clip a few blossoms, which she's placed in the bathroom not simply to add a splash of colour, but also as a natural air-freshener, smelling as they do of fresh raspberries, yum.


Last evening we took a stroll down to the water's edge in front of the clutch of tavernas on Kiotari front at around 6.00pm. Walking out onto the rocky reef which forms the natural harbour wall of Kiotari's extremely modest little "limanaki", I gazed down into the crystal shallows at new schools of tiny fishes as the water gurgled and gushed, babbled and bubbled through the rough apertures and channels among the rock pools. You can see the signs of the awakening just metres from here, as the tavernas now sport little groups of tables, once again lining the low stone wall above the beach and under the row of trees, which sport new growth after their haircut of a few months ago. Back up on the road, we strolled toward the Pelican's Nest, where its owner and chef George was busy touching up the whitewash on the wall beside the steps which lead up to the dining terrace. As we stopped for a brief chat with him, he welcomed us back from our absence and apologised for not shaking hands, since his were covered in white paint, which he referred to as yogurt.

The awakening is everywhere and it is good. Pass a shop, a taverna, a bar or cafeneion and witness the expectant proprietor standing at the entrance, one hand clutching the other elbow as he or she burns a cigarette in the first two fingers of the other hand, which is held ramrod straight down beside the body. The Greeks are beginning to get the message about smoking, but very, very slowly. Young newly-employed workers can be seen hosing down brightly coloured hire cars, which are now being lined up outside of offices in anticipation of their first temporary keepers' imminent arrival.

The first tourists are already walking about, dressed in stark contrast to the locals, who are togged out in jeans and sweatshirts, whilst the former are in shorts and tops which expose their shoulders, often the men as well as the women. My wife remarked as we did our first bit of shopping yesterday that they looked ridiculous. "It's still cold!" she quipped. To which I replied that she ought to understand, ourselves having just exited a plane after an EasyJet flight from the UK, that these Northern Europeans have been used to daytime temperatures of barely 10º, with the nights still melting into day to reveal a coating of frost on their lawns and their vehicle windscreens. Here it's 13-15 at night now and in the 20's during the daylight hours - positively tropical by comparison to what these early pleasure-seekers are used to.

Our neighbours up the hill invited us to an impromptu lunch yesterday. It was a pleasant surprise and the barbecued swordfish and king prawns went down well with a Greek salad, some home-made tzatziki, olives, fresh bread and chilled white wine. It was just what we needed to remind us of how lucky we are to be living here. Not just on Rhodes, but here in Kiotari, where the views from their terrace are blissful and the peace palpable.

I've said this before, but it bears repeating. If you're wondering whether it's "safe" to come here for your holiday this year, there's no need to. Yes there may be a strike or two, but by and large nothing's changed. Standing in the check-out at a store in the UK just days ago, we waited behind a man as the cashier told him that his bill amounted to thirty pounds and one penny. He had to be sure to sift out that one penny. The cashier apologised, but said that she wouldn't be able to go home that night if the till didn't balance. Here in Kiotari we had a similar experience at the local food supermarket on Monday. Irini, the check-out girl, said to my wife, "fourteen Euros and three cents, ...well, fourteen Euros please." It's a given over here that if you tally up to, say, thirteen Euros and 98 cents, you won't wait for your change, but then it's swings and roundabouts, since they'll also not hesitate for an instant to round it down if you're a few cents over.

In the UK everything's got to be so precise hasn't it.

We have the same experience every year now. Come October we can't wait for the last few tourists to depart, having grown sick of the roads being congested with small hire cars cruising at speeds which drive the locals, who have their usual business to go about, crazy. Many of the locals too are very, very tired after having worked seven days a week for six months. There are beaches which become for us "no go" areas in the season, crammed as they are with sunbeds, umbrellas and bodies. Once the hordes depart these beaches are once again idyllic in their solitude (see this post).

But equally, by the time we reach March we're itching to feel the "buzz" again, looking forward to a few more tavernas and bars being open seven days a week and into the small hours too, anticipating reunions with friends we've made either as work colleagues, or as guests spending their hard-earned couple of weeks under a bright blue, Greek sky, where rain is unheard of for several months every summer. Looking forward to a decent bit of people-watching too!

In short, we welcome the awakening.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Double Brandy

"If you're not going to speak to me civilly, or with a modicum of respect, then I am not going to continue this conversation," I said.  I even surprised myself at how assertively I said these words, then turned and walked away from the most unpleasant man with which I was having this conversation, to the sound of clapping from the others in the queue both in front of and behind him. I think I scored a few points there, even if unwittingly.

Aah the joys of doing airport transfers. I did them for two and a half seasons, working for one of the UK's leading independent tour operators and, by and large, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I have to admit (reluctantly) to an incy wincy bit of smugness, because each time I'd seen my coach-load of "going home" guests checked in and then walked through to arrivals to greet the newly landed, as yet pale-skinned arrivals, I always pinched myself and said under my breath: "I haven't got to board a plane! I'm STAYING!!"

I know; not very charitable, but at least I didn't share this smugness with my generally subdued and deflated guests on the coach taking them back to the airport, facing as they were the prospect of a flight home to a much cooler and probably wetter place.

The conversation with which I began this piece happened in the dead of night at Rhodes airport when I'd had to deal with a particularly ignorant man, who ought to have known better, since he was probably about my age, travelling with his wife and young son (I'd have guessed it was a second marriage/relationship, as the boy was only about 12), and hell-bent on complaining at every opportunity. I always had a slight problem if anyone wanted to complain, which fortunately wasn't all that often. I do like to pride myself on my people skills, though I shouldn't blow my own trumpet, I know. The man in question had been staying at Haraki, where the guests were usually quite refined and well-mannered. You don't get a lot of riff-raff staying at Haraki, but this bloke was the exception.

I should have known it was going to be one of those nights, because when the coach pulled up at some time after midnight to collect him and his wife/partner and son from their accommodation, he was ready with his barrage of complaints, starting with the fact that he'd apparently not been given a customer review form by the resort rep. This had obviously infuriated him, since he was evidently ready with a list as long as your arm of things to grumble about, in the hope that he'd be able to screw some compensation or a refund out of the company. All of the reps I worked with were kids. I know, I know, I'm afraid that you'll have to put it down to the way you view things at my age. Their ages probably varied from 18 to 35 but, from my viewpoint, they all looked like they belonged in comprehensive school!! That said, I found most of them very enjoyable company and grew quite fond of some of them. The problem was, that since I was quite evidently a couple of decades older than anyone else on the team, if a client had a question, or even worse, a gripe, they'd address it to me, since they'd assume that I was some kind of manager. I frequently had to explain to guests that I was simply a lowly transfer rep, a mere part-timer, even though I was all uniformed-up and quite senior-looking.

Anyway, I could go on at some length about this particular "guest" and his extreme unpleasantness, so I'll just move on with the comment that, since he'd been getting very, very heated about something quite trivial whilst waiting in the check-in queue for the return flight, and had begun to "F" and blind at me over the fact that he'd not received his "review" form, I ended up, having displayed a level of patience with him which was well beyond the call of duty, saying the words with which I opened this post. I'd been amazed and delighted when, as I walked away to gather my composure, the other guests around him had given me a round of applause, proving beyond a doubt that most tourists are very patient, nice, amenable people. I knew I'd done the right thing when, about ten minutes later, his young son came up to me whilst I was enjoying a chat with some other guests about their holiday experience, and apologised for his dad and asked me something in a very polite way. I remember commending him and suggesting that he could teach his father a thing or two about manners!

It was on this particular "red-eye" shift, as the Americans would call it, that I finally decided that my luck was in on the "tipple" front, wrong though I later proved to be. Let me explain.
My actual "boss" while I worked for the company was called Steve and he was the company's Manager for the South of the Island, based in Pefkos. A week or two earlier the team had been gathered around him at the airport, awaiting an incoming flight, when he'd whipped a couple of bottles of Metaxa out of his rucksack. There were probably about a dozen of us, all in the age group I mentioned above, with the exception of me, of course. Steve held in his hands two boxed bottles of Metaxa, one was a seven star and the other five. Value-wise they represented a lot of money and even more drinking pleasure. Steve had been given both by a gentlemen who'd found that he couldn't take them through passport control and had realised to his horror that he'd have to find a home for them before entering the departure lounge. Crestfallen he'd eventually simply given them to Steve, who now displayed them to his team with the words, "Anyone want to buy one or both bottles?"

OK, so Steve hadn't paid for them, but I suppose he was doing what lots of others would have done in trying to make a fast buck. I suggested that he may want to keep one or both of them, but he replied that he didn't like brandy. This, of course, was something which didn't compute to me!! Turned out that none of the team liked Brandy either and so his attempts to unload them for a quick profit failed dismally. Having learned that I did indeed have a rather soft spot for the stuff, he tried to get me to part with ten Euros per bottle, which, although representing a substantial saving over the retail price, would have probably got me kicked out of my own home by an enraged wife and sleeping under the car port for a week!! The pay for a transfer rep isn't brilliant and to have come home after having parted with twenty Euros for a luxury would not have scored me any brownie points chaps. Trust me.

A couple of transfers later I asked Steve, whilst signing in my coach-load of returnees once again at the airport office, what had happened to the bottles of Metaxa, hoping in vain that he'd still have them and would perhaps now be more willing to either simply let me have them or at least let me have them for a greatly reduced price. I was mightily saddened when he told me that he'd managed to unload them for a few notes to some bloke who'd arrived from the UK, hence making him very pleased with himself. Well pooey mooey! It just never happens to me I thought. Why don't I ever get some tourist thrusting bottles of the hard stuff at me?

So to the night when the holiday-maker from hell was verbally abusing me. A little later a smallish, balding, heavily tanned sixty-something returnee, who'd just checked in his baggage and needed to make his way to the departure lounge, left his wife at the bottom of the escalator and came up to me sporting a huge grin and an even huger (Huger? Let it go this time, alright?) rucksack.

"Scuse me, John," he said, reading my name-badge in a trice, "do you think you could take this bottle off my hands? Can't take it through to the departure lounge, can I." Wow!! I thought. Finally the gods were favouring me!! A free bottle!! At long last and about time too!!

"No problem," I replied, trying extra-hard to suppress my glee (plus my already-forming visions of cracking open a bottle of something heady as soon as I got home to sample my spoils), "let me have it and I'll see it's disposed of in the appropriate manner." Hah! I remember thinking, wait 'til I tell Steve about this then.

"Aw thanks." he continued, and then unzipped his bag, reached inside and drew out an as yet unopened 1.5 litre bottle of mineral water.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Animal Lovers?

I'm getting all serious here. Sorry folks, but it is quite an important subject, after all…

Some time ago I posted a brief piece on Facebook about animal cruelty. It was prompted largely in response to the "knee-jerk" reaction that I feel is exhibited by many ex-pat Brits living out in Greece to the way in which many Greeks treat their animals.

I'd like to get one thing established right here: I don't agree with cruelty of any kind, whether it be to an animal or to another human being. I certainly think that anyone who willfully inflicts suffering on another sentient being ought to be well and truly punished in whatever is the appropriate manner, commensurate with the pain inflicted.

There exists a campaign, which I believe is run from the UK, which attempts to get British travellers to avoid visiting Greece until she finally enforces her already-existing animal cruelty laws. The attitude seems to be that in Greece the amount of cruelty (which frequently amounts to neglect rather than out and out cruelty) is unacceptable and therefore people should show their disapproval by avoiding the country as a holiday destination until things improve.

Although I understand how these people feel, I believe that they are somewhat misguided. There are other countries which attract large numbers of tourists from the UK where people, not just animals, are ill-treated, being left to beg in extremely humble circumstances, sell their organs, cut off the limbs of their children before placing them on street corners to implore passers-by for cash and so on. No single country has the monopoly on cruelty, neglect or any other of a host of the more unpleasant aspects of humankind's nature.

The propensity which some in Greece display to chain up or tether a dog on a length of chain or rope which is quite clearly not long enough for the poor creature to enjoy a decent life, plus the fact that some people there make a practice of leaving poison in random places, which frequently results in some animal dying in a great deal of pain, is what seems to have raised the "righteous ire" of many British people, who often start up "sanctuaries" or "refuges" for dogs and cats which very soon become over-run with potential canine residents. Some become extremely vocal about how "barbaric" they believe the country to be and they begin to campaign to get Greeks to change their ways when it comes to the treatment of animals. I fully understand how these people feel, but have reservations about just how we ought to be reacting, living as we do as foreigners in their country.

Whilst staying with my mother here in the UK for a few weeks, we've had the opportunity to watch "Countryfile" on the BBC. It's the kind of programme both my wife and I really enjoy. But last week's episode is what prompted me to write this post as it carried a lengthy report about badger baiting. See, here's the thing: we Brits like to think of ourselves as a nation of animal lovers, but it occurs to me that quite a lot of us like our animals killed, chopped up and presented pristinely wrapped in cellophane and styrofoam on the supermarket's chilled cabinet. Even those who don't like to eat animals have the unfortunate tendency to project the impression that we Brits have the monopoly on kindness in the field of animal welfare, when the fact is we have our dark side in equal measure with the Greeks.

The badger baiting piece on Countryfile revealed just how widespread across the UK is this ugly practise. It's not only excessively cruel to the badgers which are tortured and killed in the name of "sport" or "fun", it also causes quite a bit of suffering to the dogs which are sent into the badger sets to confront the terrified badger, which fights back in defense and in the process causes severe injury to the dog's face and head.

What am I getting at here? It's simply this: We Brits ought not (in my opinion, of course) to be so ready to climb onto our high horse, or to assume the high ground in the debate about cruelty to animals. On the BBC website, in the info about the edition of Countryfile to which I refer, they said this: "Badger baiting was outlawed in 1835 but this cruel practice appears to be on the rise. Dragged from their setts by specially-bred dogs, the badgers are forced to fight to the death while the baiters look on, often recording the gruesome scenes on video cameras or mobile phones."

So, in conclusion: Greece may indeed by a place where some awful things are done to animals, but then, so is the UK. Whilst I wholeheartedly condemn cruelty to animals in any form, I prefer to look at the larger picture and give my encouragement and support to the many Greeks I know who are also horrified by the cruelty which some of their compatriots practice. I'm not blinkered enough to project the impression that I come from a nation where our record of animal treatment is any better than that of Greece, because, frankly, it isn't.

A couple of links, if you're interested in more on the subject:

Don't worry folks, I'll get lighter again with the next post, honest!

Monday, 9 April 2012

Where's He Escaped From?

One of the problems with being an Ex-pat brit living in Rhodes is what happens when you walk into the paper shop when visiting family in the UK.

Since we only spend a few weeks each Spring in the UK, I have the Devil's only job getting to grips with the money. Now, the notes aren't too difficult, as in large friendly numerals and letters each note declares very clearly what its denomination is. Coins on the other hand, are not so easy.

Handling Euros for more than eleven months of the year, I find that I get very embarrassed when approaching the cash desk of any store in the UK. Here I am staying in the West Country where, as soon as I open my mouth to speak, the person to whom I am addressing my remarks recognises me instantaneously as a local. I'm not exactly the youngest bloke on the block either so, when I approach the cashier in the local RadCo supermarket with a newspaper and perhaps a packet of mints, I get really flustered when the girl says something like "One pound forty eight pence, please" and I find myself breaking into a sweat and staring down at my palm, which contains a bunch of coins, none of which I recognise.

Put yourself in her place. She's looking at this apparently grown-up mature (come on, no need for that!!) and evidently local chap, who's unable to work out how to give her a few coins for his paper and a packet of mints. It gets even worse when I give up in frustration, thrust my open palm at her and say: "Would you just take the right amount please? I can't get to grips with this money."

Imagine! I mean, if I sounded foreign there wouldn't be a problem would there. But one look at the cashier's face tells me that she's convinced that any moment now a couple of blokes in white coats will probably come rushing in and, grabbing me by both elbows, say something like, "Aah! There you are! Naughty man, come on now, we'll take you back. Didn't take our tablets this morning now did we?"

An Anglo-Greek Rumination

It's mid morning on Bank Holiday Monday, April 9th. I'm sitting in my mum's conservatory about ten miles South West of Bath, UK, sipping coffee and listening to the raindrops on the roof. Out on Rhodes I don't get much pain in my right hand. Here in the UK I'm reminded that I do have a little arthritis in the joint of the forefinger, since it pains me most days. I can forget it's even there when on Rhodes, thankfully.

The Greeks who live on Rhodes continually bemoan the fact that the island is prone to much more humidity than is experienced on the mainland, Athens in particular. In winter the temperatures on Rhodes are usually warmer than Athens, but in high summer, they're quite few degrees cooler, which accounts for all the Athenian Greeks who take vacations on these islands whenever they can get away during the months of July and August, when it's a cauldron on the streets of the capital. But the humidity on Rhodes is blamed for a whole host of ailments by Rhodean residents. We, however, find that, hailing as we do from the UK, it's hardly worth a passing remark. It can't be as high as the UK generally, otherwise my barometer of a finger joint would remind me, I'm sure.

Having been back here in the UK for a week and a half now, we've had occasion to reflect on the differences in life on Rhodes and life here in the UK. A while back I was "attacked" by one respondent to a post I did called "Hold Your Horses" for, in his or her words, "doing the UK down", although I was pleased to receive quite a few more comments, even from UK residents, who agreed with where I was coming from. So perhaps if that person still reads this blog, they'll find this post a little more "balanced" in their view.

Weather-wise, of course, there's no contest, but it isn't all about weather, is it. Hmm, well, to be honest, the weather is a huge factor in one's general sense of well-being. Better weather enables one to live a more simple, outdoor lifestyle and on a lower budget too. This is so because when it's bright and dry outside, you don't get the urge to go shopping! Or perhaps to decorate, yet again. More often than not we tend to potter around, go for a walk or a swim and leave the car beside the house. Also, not for a Rhodean resident is the light-box needed for those who suffer from S.A.D. syndrome; some friends of ours in the UK being among them. I have to say that the number of days in any 12 month period on Rhodes when you don't even feel like setting foot outside because of the weather can usually be counted on one hand. fifteen love to Rhodes.

But the other day Yvonne [Maria] and I were strolling around the walkways which surround my mother's home  here in Midsomer Norton and we found ourselves remarking on the sheer variety of birdsong which surrounded us. It's not that we don't have a pretty good variety of bird life around us in Kiotari, it's rather that, for whatever reason, we don't hear so many different songs at such close proximity as we do when staying with my mum. As small country towns go, Norton-Radstock has a lot going for it. When I was a young lad in the 1950's the last of the coal mines were being closed down around here. Somerset finally ceased being a mining area as late as 1973, but by far the majority of the pits had been closed long before that. A fascinating piece about this can be read here. Why do I refer to the industrial past of this area? The answer is, that, where there formerly was a criss-crossing network of railway lines to service the coal industry, those former train tracks are now wonderful nature walks and cycleways which have been colonised, not only by lycra-clad joggers and cyclists, but also by a fascinating variety of wildlife - and everything's so green! In Rhodes, towards the end of the winter, the landscape does eventually turn as green as it is in the UK, but upon close examination one sees that the grass is still quite coarse and wouldn't take a picnic blanket very well at all. The landscape in rural Rhodes, whilst fascinating and beautiful, isn't picnic-friendly folks, it usually hurts! Fifteen all then.

The UK also has something else going for it. It's organised. The Greeks, however hard they try, just can't seem to get their heads around advance planning. I mean, to illustrate in a very simple fashion: We sometimes receive an invitation from some Greek friends on Rhodes to go around for an evening meal, but the invitation is usually given on the same morning as the meal in question! Now, call us dyed-in-the-wool Brits if you like, but we like a little more warning. But you're just not going to get that in Greece I'm afraid. This characteristic extends to local government level too.

Walking up through the area called Westfield a couple of days ago we were struck by the bus stops/shelters here, all of which sport electronic digital read-outs informing passengers of any delays which may be expected. If the buses are running on time, the LEDs say something like "no warnings in force, consult timetable for bus times". I probably didn't get that exactly right, but the essence is there. What amazed us too, was the fact that these electronic signboards at the roadside bus-stops were in good working order and hadn't been vandalised. Seems that there are areas of the UK where one can overdo the "crime" paranoia. On Rhodes the bus stops are an ancient piece of metal, with faded orange writing on them which is just about still evident enough at the top of a usually-leaning pole to inform the would-be bus passenger that it is indeed a bus stop. Mind you, at least the buses are modern and comfortable. Nevertheless, 30-15 to the UK.

I'm often asked, would I/we move back to the UK to live? It's a daft question really. The fact is that we're very settled where we live on Rhodes and enjoy our simple, yet enjoyable lifestyle. But my mum may some day in the not-too-distant future need one or both of us with her on an indefinite basis. We would have no hesitation about providing whatever help and company she may need at that time. If we had to live over here for a time, there are a lot worse areas than this, I'm sure. In fact, climate notwithstanding, we have both agreed that we could live here quite happily. Last week we went out with my mum's neighbours for a pub meal at the Jolliffe, in the pretty village of Kilmerston which, incidentally, is where the nursery rhyme about Jack and Jill is said to have originated (is this blog educational or what?). We hadn't been out to eat in a British pub for a good long while and so asked Adrian and Gemma to make the decision as to where we'd be going. It was a good decision. The food was wonderful, the helpings huge and, best of all chaps - the beer!! In Greece you can get a British ale, but only if you're willing to endure the environment of somewhere like Faliraki, which I am most definitely not! Otherwise it's lager, lager, or lager. Now, when the temperature's nudging 40ºC, I admit that I'm partial to a glass of Mythos/Heineken/Amstel etc. But I do occasionally, especially during winter on Rhodes, long for a good pint from the pump at the bar, yes good flat warm British real ale. Hmm, one could be forgiven for thinking that the UK is going to win the match here.

So, to swing things back a bit. I'm still typing and the rain's still hammering down (heavier than ever in fact) on the conservatory roof. My wife's given up and gone into the lounge to watch "60 Minute Makeover". Yuk. In Rhodes we hardly remember what a TV is from the moment the clocks go forward in March until the day when they go back again in October. In the UK you can usually bet on the weather scuppering your plans when the bank holiday comes around. As I mentioned in the "Brrrrr!" piece on the "News and Stuff" page, the unreliability of the weather in the UK, whilst making for a beautifully rich landscape - agreed, can be extremely irritating. My mum's neighbours are at this very instant cooped up with their two small toddlers in a caravan somewhere down near Bridport as it stair-rods down outside, having planned this week away based on the fact that during 2010 and 2011 the weather was perfect for virtually the entire month of April.

Game, set and match to Rhodes I'm afraid.

(Now, the above is meant to be taken light-heartedly, before any paranoid reader decides that I'm "diss-ing" the UK again!!!!)

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Ad Madness

Visiting the UK (as we are) for a while, we're reminded of how lightly the residents of the UK get off in the TV commercial stakes. I suppose that we have to accept that TV commercials are a fact of life, however irritating it can be to have a programme interrupted just when you're getting really involved by someone telling you that they can throw thousands into your pocket in a trice if you're ever had an accident. Just call this number, NOW.

Umm, no, just give me my programme back please, NOW!

Actually, I am a bit of a hypocrite here. I mean I zone everything else out once a meerkat ad comes up (That won't mean anything to non-UK readers, sorry). They're just so cleverly done. They remind me for cleverness of the Aardman animations, like Creature Comforts and the marvellous Wallace and Gromit stuff. You have to look all over the screen for all the little extra touches, which are the things that make me want to watch them over and over again. Each time I do I see something else, marvellous.

But, as per usual, I digress. Just a few days before we packed up and locked up before leaving for the UK, we got a bit excited over a new quiz show which had been hyped up on one of the Greek channels. There isn't much worth watching on Greek TV, it has to be said. The Greek channels are clogged up with shows where people just sit around either on sofas or at tables and talk incessantly about trivia, or about other shows where people just sit around all the time talking about trivia. They show clips of other shows incessantly and repeat these over and over while the people on the show argue over every little aspect of the said clip for an eternity. Then the ads cut in.

In the UK, when the ads cut in, you usually get a quick visual of the show's name and then a top and tail of the ads telling you what channel you're watching, right? Not so in Greece. The picture will cut straight from some crucial moment in the drama you're watching to some mobile phone ad (of which there are far too many on Greek TV) without so much as a breath or a blink. Suddenly, just when you're waiting for the girl to drop a bombshell about why she can't stay with her fella 'cos she's his half-sister or something, you'll find yourself watching some bloke grinning stupidly at you to the soundtrack of some old 80's hit single from a British band like the Proclaimers or something (which, incidentally, is probably the ad's only saving grace) whilst the voice-over tells you why you need to switch to Vodafone if you want to stay cool in front of all your friends.

The way in which they cut to the ads is the least of your problems. The ads here (well, whilst I'm typing this in the UK, I ought to say "there") don't only cut in without any ceremony whatsoever, but they go on for about three years. During any one-hour period on Greek TV, you can easily reckon on 20 minutes being occupied by the ads. Once the ads begin, you can safely take a shower, go shopping, build an extension, go on holiday or take an Open University course (only I don't think they do them in Greece!) and still be back on the sofa in time for the next all-too-brief section of the show you-re watching. All right, I am exaggerating a little, but only a little.

What's worse is that on most of the channels a billed programme will never start anywhere near the time at which the schedule promises and thus I arrive at the experience which prompted this post (sound of readers heaving huge sighs of relief)…

I mentioned above about the new quiz show (well, it looked from the trailers like it was going to be a quiz show) which we thought we'd give a try. Advertised to be starting on a recent Thursday evening at 9.00pm, straight after the news and weather, we  switched on at around 8.55, settled down with a bar of Lidl's 70% dark chocolate (so we didn't have to feel too naughty) and a cup of peppermint tea and built up our expectations of firing at the telly our answers to a plethora of general knowledge questions, which we expected would be posed by Grigoris Arnaoutoglou (Γρηγόρης Αρναούτογλου) Who hosts just about every show of this type on this particular channel.

The News wound up at the stroke of nine and so began a series of TV ads. After five minutes of car ads, mobile phone-stroke-internet ads, some ads for a couple of Greek banks and stuff, my wife said: "The weather's supposed to come on first." There then followed a couple of trailers for upcoming programmes, most of which are imported from the USA; things like CSI Friday or suchlike - you know, the ones where they think you're just dying (quite an appropriate use of word perhaps) to see what happens inside a person when they're shot at point-blank range by some firearm or other. Hmm, still not even a weather forecast and it's now approaching ten past nine. Oh, no, wait, it's a filler where they show you the TV channel's logo and attempt to remind the viewer just why they need to watch this channel above all others - so maybe the weather'll be on next.

Naah, false alarm. Now it's an interminably long trailer for some football tournament or other, Euro-Champions-Overpaid Prima Donnas in Shorts 2012 or something. Following that there begins yet another run of ads for soaps, shampoos, mobile phones, cars (like a common or garden Greek can afford a new car at the moment!!) and more mobile phones. Eventually, at just after 9.15, the weather forecast comes on, raising our hopes just a tad. As the brief forecast ends, we check the clock and sip our peppermint tea, then break off a chunk of choccy and note with dismay that it's now gone 9.17pm and there's still no sign of a programme which was billed to begin at 9.00pm.

There was nothing for it. We finished the choccy, drank up our tea and retreated to the bathroom to clean our teeth. Then we zipped into the bedroom to get undressed and don our dressing gowns. Re-emerging into the lounge and flopping back down on the sofa, the clock now reading 9.23pm, we were not altogether surprised to see that the ads had now given way to another round of programme trailers, followed by yet more previews of upcoming sporting events; probably basketball, that's huge in Greece. It's second only, by a very narrow margin, to football, which is a hair's breadth short of Greek Orthodox in the religious popularity stakes.

You may believe this or not, but the opening credits of the new show finally began at 9.28pm, for a show which was supposed to begin at 9 o'clock!! What was worse, once it got under way it turned out not to be a question-based show at all, but rather one of those where the contestants do stupid life-threatening things in the "I can be more daring than you" bracket in order to win some cash.

We both looked at each other with that "why didn't we just go to bed and read half an hour ago" look ...and went to bed to read.

So here I am sitting in my mum's lounge in Midsomer Norton, Somerset, UK, remarking ecstatically and far too often for my mum's taste on the fact the the TV ads are seemingly over before they begin on commercial TV in the UK. I mean, when the ads are this brief you do tend to hang around and watch them don't you? If you don't, you may never find out who committed the latest Midsomer Murder. And before you remark on that, Midsomer has nothing to do with Midsomer Norton. I know this because there are far too many people left alive here.

When are the Greek TV companies and advertisers going to catch on to the fact that, since they run the ads for such a long time, no one watches them? I've watched the occasional (very occasional I might add) football match in a cafe in Greece, mainly because if Greece are playing then the atmosphere's brill, and noted that, the instant that half-time begins, the bloke at the bar will reach for the remote and mute the sound, since they never show the punters discussing what's happened so far and who's played well or who's been useless. No, they simply show 15 minutes of ads, which no one watches at all. But the second the teams re-emerge from the tunnel, on goes the sound again and the crowd in the bar are instantly rapt.

So, whilst I miss many things about my home and life on Rhodes whilst in the UK, bring on the TV ads. With any luck I'll get my meerkat fix in a mo…