Monday, 28 May 2012

Turtles and Other Distractions

If you check the previous post you'll see toward the end that I refer to the turtles which breed in a small lake near the beach here in Kiotari. Well, on Saturday I went back down there with the old digital camera and, low and behold (apologies for the quality of the close-ups, as they're snapped with my very modest zoom at maximum and then cropped on the Mac to try and show the little darlings as something more than a small smudge in a vast area of green water)…


After feeling well pleased that the baby turtles had put in an appearance I repaired to the Gre Cafe up the road for a spot of serious people-watching. It was a good session. Shame my wife wasn't with me. She was working. Well, someone has to. See now I've gone and reminded myself of Spike Milligan's book, "Adolf Hitler, My Part in His Downfall". He describes how, when he was a child just before the war, he and his dad were standing at the back door of their house while his mother was out in the garden digging the ditch for their Anderson Shelter. "She's a wonderful little woman your mother," his dad says, as she throws shovelfuls of dirt out of the ever deepening hole, "and getting smaller all the time." Reminds me what a tough life I lead…

I hadn't been sipping at the newly-arrived frappe which George had deposited before me for long, when I got my eye in. It wasn't hard, as two fifty-something blokes ambled up to the tables and sat down. They were of similar build, which I'd describe as slight and wiry, average height (and it IS height and not heighth, OK!? In the same way as the letter "H" is pronounced "aitch" and not "haitch" - which really drives me scatty. Almost as bad as all those wrongly inserted apostrophes one sees on plurals these days. I blame the teachers…) …and both either had dyed their hair or were amazingly lacking in grey for their age. One sported a jaunty straw fedora with a navy blue band and the other didn't. They both smoked continually and I tried not to stereotype them, but they had me in check-mate.

See, it's not good to stereotype people, I know, I know. Everyone's an individual and all that stuff; but these guys, who I decided were either brothers or lovers (the jury stayed out on that one), both wore t-shirts which were predominantly white, but had dark blue horizontal stripes all over them at regular intervals, the stripes being about an inch and a half apart and probably a centimetre thick. They both wore dark tracksuit bottoms and their feet were in the ubiquitous trainers. But the t-shirts shouted very loudly at me. The moment I clapped eyes on them my brain echoed the old "haw-hee-haw-hee-haw, Monsieur" and I said, FRENCH. Guess what. They were French. All they needed were a couple of berets and they could have been extras in a Pink Panther movie.

Whilst I was being entertained by trying to catch snippets of their conversation the floor show began. Oh, how I love this aspect of the Greeks. A few doors down is a pharmacy and it's run by a bloke who doesn't really know me, after all I've only ever been in there maybe twice in several years. But I know him as he's always about if I'm there, usually ordering yet another iced coffee from the cafe to take back to the shop with him. Either that or outside the door taking a little fresh air while polluting it with a cigarette. He looks exactly like Uncle Fester from the original Addams family TV series from the 1960's. Remember? "Their house is a museum, when people come to see 'em, it really is a scre-am, the Addams family." Now if only those lyricists could be cajoled into writing the next UK Eurovision song. He is totally bald and has very dark patches under both eyes. Not altogether the best advert for a pharmacist I suppose. Still, he acts like he's pretty healthy, so maybe he just burns the candle, I don't profess to know. He doesn't wear the Uncle Fester floor-length overcoat though, opting instead for your more "safe" blue jeans and faded t-shirt.

He trotted up to the cafe and stood by the bar right beside me and shouted for a frappe. Meanwhile a young stoutly-built Greek woman with hair which was cut to a no. 1, ears perforated with innumerable studs and a distinctly masculine air about her struck up a conversation with him from a nearby table.

Now, there are occasions when I'm quite pleased that I don't look particularly Greek. This is because they don't expect me to be able to understand their conversations if I keep myself to myself and just listen. Within a few milliseconds they were on to the subject of the elections, the austerity measures and politicians in general. This was when it got really good. Both had very firm opinions and were sure going to express them.

"That Papandreou has destroyed this country!" This comment betraying a woeful lack of understanding the facts about what kind of situation the country's finances were in when Mr. Panandreou came into office.

"Tsipras is your man!"

"No, NO! I'd rather see Samaras in the driving seat than HIM. And Samaras is the worse thing to happen to the ND party in decades anyway."

"They're all doing OK that lot in Parliament. They've still got their Mercedes. It's the small man who's suffering. You couldn't describe Venizelos as small though."

"This country's finished if it stays in Europe."

"It's finished if it leaves."

And so it went on. Uncle Fester remained standing, the whole time pacing to and fro and talking so loud as to give the distinct impression that, had he been able to find a soap box, he'd have used it and drawn a crowd. His sparring partner held her ground and her seat whilst he flailed his arms all over the place, betraying that attitude that we all do when we get going. We know how to solve all the problems, if the politicians don't. What's great about such scenes is that, to you and I as foreigners, it looks like it's all going to end in blows, or at least tears and ruptured friendships; but no, it never does. Once "Fest" had received his frappe and taken a couple of sips from the straw, he bade his adversary cheerio with a "Yah!" (commonly used as a shortened version of "Yia sou") and cheerfully strode back to service the next person with a pharmaceutical need.

The Greeks discuss politics with the same enthusiasm as we Brits do the weather, only with much more animation. Mind you, the forecast is a bit iffy...

Saturday, 26 May 2012

"Nonplussed" When there's No Sun

At this time of the year it's still a bit of a novelty to see the early sun-seekers strolling the pavements (sidewalks, guys) in their holiday togs. I suppose that those who come here at this time of the year know that they're likely to get a bit of changeable weather into the bargain. After all, that's why their trip is a bargain, because the weather sometimes isn't as settled as it's going to be during the high months of June to September. But it's still patently obvious that many of them are at a loss as to how to pass the day when the wind comes up or the clouds hover above and obscure the sun, or when the temperature drops to around twenty C, or - wash my mouth out - it actually even rains.

We know, we often used to come to Greece in May and counted ourselves lucky if we had a week or two of cloudless skies and calm seas. It can happen. We arrived back here from the UK on April 21st this year and there followed two and a half weeks of exceptionally settled weather, with temperatures up around the levels usually expected during June. This led Yvonne-Maria to speculate that perhaps the weather had actually settled early this season. "That's it. No more rain until late September" she sadly opined on more than one occasion. Oops.

After May 9th the temperatures dropped to even a little below the average for May and the unsettled weather returned. Mind you I'm not complaining. By and large it's still be predominantly sunny and, with lots of garden maintenance to be undertaken, it's been wonderful to be able to to it with the thermometer only betraying temperatures in the lower twenties. Positively perfect weather for working out of doors, just not quite reliable enough to enable a tourist to spend the entire day beside the pool or on the beach. "Aaaaargh! What do we do now?" they cry.

We often leave home when the sky is 60% cloudy and drive down through the area where the hotels are, only to see the bemused visitors in various stages of frustration about what to do. Of course, some simply resign themselves to the fact that it's a "go to town" day or something. But it's fascinating to speculate about what conversations are going on as we drive past. Plus, it is only May. Why don't some of these people take that fact into account when they pack their cases? Once or twice during the past ten days or so we've had daytime temperatures which wouldn't be out of place for Rhodes during January. Once or twice it's been 19ºC at noon! That's cold. Well, it is if you've only got a pair of shorts and a strappy top to tog yourself out with. How cold it makes one feel to drive through Pefkos and see some bloke with his England football shirt folded and tucked into the back of his shorts, which dip down at the front under the bulge of his sizeable belly, whilst he pushes a double baby-walker beside a partner or wife who's obviously a huge fan of BHS, Littlewoods or Primark. Quite why some people think that it's perfectly acceptable to stroll along a street in a foreign country half-naked is beyond me. What actually drives me to want to get violent is seeing some suncream-smothered, sweaty naked male back pressed against a cushion cover in a roadside bar or café, whilst its owner sinks yet another draught Heineken, totally unconcerned about the fact that some rather more decent person will be sitting there later, unaware that when they get home and take off their nice cotton shirt or t-shirt, they're going to be wondering what all that awful smelly stain is down the back. Not for nothing do the coach drivers on the excursions prevent anyone from getting aboard if they're not wearing a top. Can you imagine what sort of a state the seat backs would soon be in if they didn't?

Now I don't mean for any aspersions to be cast (ie. about the aforementioned chainstores), but just where do British women go to buy those awful colours? OK, maybe the Dutch are on a par here, but it's definitely dead easy to spot a North-European tourist for several reasons. One, they wear next to nothing even when it's cool. That applies probably even more to the men. Two, the women always seem to have managed to fill their wardrobes with those turquoise, pink or lime green tank tops which no woman south of Calais would ever wear in a million years. Shapeless and plain, they look like they'd be better used as table napkins at a dinner party. Plus they tend to mix and match these with shorts that not only don't go, but they fight like cats and dogs in the colour stakes. Then there's the overweight variety who still insist on wearing a top that's far too short over skintight leggings that make me feel ever so slightly queasy if I'm unfortunate enough to catch sight of the rear view.

We have a lot of fun these days guessing what country someone's from. When it's cloudy but just won't actually rain is the best time for people-watching, since, as alluded to above, many resort to wandering aimlessly along the road, drifting into and out of souvenir shops, stopping to exchange a few more animated gestures in their conversations and generally looking hopelessly like fish out of water. Now the Germans generally have pretty good dress sense, except that they have a habit of always wearing a particular style of spectacles. Always a dead giveaway. But the German guests I've worked with usually exonerate themselves well when it comes to shirts (although checks generally have the upper hand over plain), tops and shorts, always wearing the kind of the latter that sport pockets all over the place. You never know when you're gonna need another pocket after all.

The Scandinavians are always impeccably dressed and I've yet to come across a Russian who didn't have a designer name on his or her polo shirt or trainers, or that of their kids. None, however, of the above, ie: Germans, Scandinavians or Russians, will ever be seen wearing the kinds of colours that you see on a British (or perhaps Dutch) woman. That applies to the Greek girls too. Plus it's only generally the Brits who seem to think it's dead cool to turn out in an [England] football shirt as casual wear. Do the manufacturers of all those brightly-coloured plain strappy tops for women aim them peculiarly at the UK market? Seems so to me. Either that or French and Italian thrift shops are chock full of unsold stock from the major chains. Maybe the locals buy them, take them home and make them into table napkins. But there's no doubt about it, we Brits weren't at school the day they handed out the taste tips.

So, here we were yesterday driving through Kiotari and there they all were, the blokes with socks under their sandals (white, with a thin blue line around the top being de rigueur this season), the slightly podgy wives with their sunglasses up on top of their heads, ever hopeful that they'd soon be able to drop them down a little lower. There were the families who were evidently on the brink of an argument because the clouds had deprived them of the family pacifier - the day-long beach or poolside vigil. There were the excited shop-owners, all thinking, "There IS a god! I'm gonna make a couple of Euros today if it stays like this." For bar owners read ditto. There was a surfeit of white skin, or perhaps bright red on those who'd been here just a little longer and had been able to roast themselves a couple of times. These were no doubt thinking that at least when they fly home they'll be able to give the impression that they've been well-blessed with sunshine.

I say white skin, but frankly, these days it's more and more often obscured by all kinds of tattoos isn't it? I can't help thinking that so many of these folk are going to reach middle age and say to themselves, "I wish I hadn't done it." These things really are for life, unless you want to go through the exceedingly painful process of having them removed. Mind you, with the size of some of these markings these days there's no way they could have them taken off without needing a skin transplant.

It's all just a bit of fun. I mean, to make such observations you have to step outside of your own species don't you? I often muse that a travel writer might well be an alien from another solar system. To be able to observe what he or she does and record it objectively it would certainly be an advantage. I haven't, though, ever lost sight of the fact that all the things referred to above (except the tattoos) have at times in the past applied to me, or rather to us. I used to try and get as brown as I could, often using that oil that really basted rather than protected your skin instead of a sensible sun cream. I used to snap away endlessly with my old instamatic and eagerly anticipate getting home so I could bore my friends (amazing I still had any) with a slide show of every single minute of our wonderful holiday.

I used to feel cheated if I'd flown all this way and then some extremely inconsiderate clouds had marred the sky which I'd felt ought to be blue for the duration. At least if you're going to cloud over, I'd say under my breath to the sky, then for goodness sake rain and get it over with. If it didn't, I'd get unbelievably restless. Mind you, in later years we did learn the secret of bar-sitting and people-watching over a drink which one could make last for hours. Great sport.

It doesn't take long to become a tourist hypocrite once you move out here. Take it from me. Well, about seven years or so I suppose.

Almost finally, we're still hearing those horror stories from folk who've come over recently for a holiday. They tell us that their friends in the UK ask, when they tell them that they're coming here to Rhodes, "Is it safe?" 

Once more I'll say, Pleeeeeeeeeease don't believe the scare-mongering tactics of some of the British media. They have blown the so-called "unrest" way out of all proportion. If you come to a Greek island this summer of 2012, the very same experience that you've had all those times before still awaits you. Yes the Greeks are complaining into their frappe or Elleniko about their reduced wages and the higher cost of fuel. But they've always had to have something to complain about, in much the same way as we Brits do over our pint at the local. But there is no appreciable sign when you go anywhere on Rhodes (and I'm sure it goes for all the other islands too) that anything's amiss. The tavernas still serve wonderful Greek food. A glass of Retsina or Ouzo still tastes the same. The people still smile readily at you and you'll often be given a rose by a Greek lady over her garden wall if you stop to admire them. The climate is the same and the sea just as deep a blue. You're still much, much safer wandering around late a night than in most of the rest of Europe and you'll be able to go Greek dancing if you want to.

In short - people will always need to make their living and go about the normal things that one does in life. To the vast majority here, what happens in Brussels, Berlin or to the currency will never change any of that. Humans have the same needs as they've always done and this country's culture survives safe and well. Do come. Greece really needs you to.

Even more finally. Some good news. Down near the beach near us there is a small lake which can be viewed from above on a flat road bridge on the small beach road just north of Shimba's bar. Blink and you'll miss it. In fact if you're driving along that road you won't even notice it. Immediately next to the bridge is the menu board for the Alexis Beach Bar too. But right next to it on the other side of the bridge there's a lot of building work going on as the new hotel that's under construction there nears completion.

Each year at about this time we see baby turtles kind of "hanging" in the water with their heads just above the surface. Once they reach dinner plate size they head out to sea, we assume by struggling out of the water and over the sand/shingle bar which cuts the lake off from the sea a few metres away. Anyway, with all the disturbance of the construction, which has reached right down to the edge of the lake, which is more of a pond really, we'd feared that it would be the end of this location as a nesting site.

Last evening we went for a walk and stood on the bridge to gaze down into the lake. Guess what! We counted at least a dozen of these beautiful creatures all moving around in the water. To say we were thrilled would top the list of top ten understatements in the understatement of the year competition. I only wished I'd brought the camera along, but I hadn't as the walk was a last-minute decision. I may take it out later today and see if they're still there. We're fairly sure that they're loggerheads, which the internet seems to suggest only have a nesting site in this area some distance across the way on the Turkish coast. Well I'm here to tell you that they're wrong!! We have them right here in Kiotari.

Last year as we stood on the bridge and spotted a few, my wife was so excited that she called to a group of British tourists who were approaching on foot. She said with the excitement of a little girl, "You wanna see some turtles?" You know what one of the male members of the group replied? "I'd rather see a chilled pint of lager fanx."

They weren't the regular type of tourist which we get down here, to be honest. Thank goodness.

Friday, 25 May 2012

The Ex-Pat Blog

Scroll down the left hand column and you'll see a link under the heading "Check This Out" to the appropriately named "Ex-Pat Blog", a fascinating and useful site for those seriously interested in living abroad. they've kindly added my blog to their database and asked if I'd flag them up for my readers, which I'm very happy to do. Julien, who runs the site, has supplied me with the following information: is a participative website dedicated to expatriates and their experiences abroad: everyday life, formalities, visas, education, cost of living… It deals with all the important subjects for expatriates and those about to live in another country.

A few figures
• 420,000+ members, located in 206 countries and 400 big cities
• They receive and help more than 1.8 million visitors per month on the website

When the project was begun, 7 years ago, the initial idea was to gather all expats' blogs around the world on one unique platform. Little by little, new participative features have been added: a forum, guides, pictures, classifieds... The latest ones are a Jobs section and a Housing section.

These brand new sections can help potential expats to settle down in Greece and expats who would like to find a new house or explore new job opportunities.

You can get to the Greek info on the site,
if you'd like to take a look, by clicking 
on this logo too:

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Don't Shoot Me, I'm Only the Piano Player

I was in a band once. Did I tell you that? Well, two actually, but the second one only played the one gig with me as bassplayer, so perhaps it hardly counts. The first one, though, well that was different. We'd become friends with a couple who'd moved into our area in South Wales in the late 1990's. The husband was from Trinidad and his wife was an English girl and they both loved music. The husband, Howard, was an accomplished guitarist and composer and a total Reggae-head. We instantly had this in common, and so began a series of evenings round at their place where Howard had constructed his own studio. He'd set up some background music which he'd recorded himself, then play live guitar over that with the girls and me singing Bob Marley songs, plus the occasional Santana track thrown in since Latin rock was also a passion which we shared.

Bear with me here, I'll get to why I'm telling you all this in a minute, honest!

So anyway, I told Howie that I'd always wanted to be a bassplayer and he persuaded me that it's never too late. So, in my forties I taught myself to play and bought myself an axe (c'mon, keep up with the jargon dude) and, to go with it, a mean Peavey bass amp with a whopping 15 inch woofer in it ('cos you had to be barking to think you could lift it into your van), which weighed so much that it almost gave me a hernia to look at it, leave alone try and move it. Actually I did get used to it and was eventually heaving it into and out of my car at regular intervals, saving me a fortune on gym membership fees.

Pretty soon we were a six piece called the Raggamuffins and we were playing prestigious gigs at all the best Rugby Clubs in the area. Well, actually, the one gig I am proud of (even though we were a so-so band, owing to the fact that our keyboard player wouldn't learn to play his very expensive Korg and so resorted to hiding behind it and operating the midi player*) was the time we played the Swansea MAS Carnival on a Greek-style hot day on August Bank Holiday Monday 2001. The stage was built right in the middle of Castle Square and the crowd numbered into the thousands, probably mainly because the weather was so good and there were liable to be a lot of scantily clad dancers around when the carnival itself traipsed through the square and across the stage, thus splitting our set into two sessions. Still, we did manage to get the audience swaying, which I swear was due to the music and not to the sweet smelling smoke which wafted up in clouds from the groovers below.

It was the fact that I'd had this limited experience as a performing musician that I ended up comparing notes with my fellow excursion escort Mehmet last year on one of our Halki crossings. Mehmet is of Turkish descent, but has lived on Rhodes for many years. He's a real musician and plays in several bands during the evenings, whilst doing a few excursions during the day. He's the keyboard player in a rather impressive Abba tribute band called "Abba Dreams"; get it? You know, "I abba dream, a song to sing…" Good eh? I thought so. But then I'm easy to please.

No really, if you've stayed on Rhodes and gone out on one of those evenings when you wanted to be entertained by a nice traditional Greek ethnic show, then it wouldn't have been that occasion. But if you were at "Pefkos By Night" at all last season and saw the band, then Mehmet was the one with the awful wig playing keyboards. That's not the wig that was playing the keyboards, rather the bloke under it. But then, if you're a fella you wouldn't have noticed him on account of the fact that he was stationed behind two very nice girls in skimpy Abba-esque costumes anyway.

So there we were on the Halki crossing every Friday and the occasional Saturday last season talking most of the time about music and I offered the suggestion that, since he also plays in a Greek band during the winter months, perhaps he may have played at a Greek wedding where they fired guns. Bit "hairy" that eh? I suggested.

"No, not really." He replied. "You remember that old Elton John album, "Don't Shoot Me, I'm only the Piano Player?" He asked. I did. "Well, the reeeeally scariest gig I ever did was in deepest rural Turkey once, at a Kurdish wedding." I was all ears.

He continued: "I ought to have known that things weren't going to be right when we got to the location for the reception. I'm talking deepest village life here, a bit like that movie in America where the banjo players had a musical duel. The locals didn't look the full shilling [not that Mehmet would have used the particular expression, it just seems the right one for the moment]. The venue was really a glorified chicken run, with genuine authentic chicken droppings all over the floor and genuine authentic chickens still running around. Oh, and a few goats were hanging about as well. To enter it you went through a tatty gate in a chain-link fence! The ground sloped gently upwards to the area where they wanted the band to set up, and that was it really. Still, they were supposed to be going to pay us and so we swung open the van doors and carried all the gear up the slope to the "stage" area. Woodstock it wasn't.

"The band consisted of a couple of singers, a guitarist, a bassplayer, the drummer and me on keyboards. We soon got going and the wedding guests mingled and drank. Then they drank some more and continued to drink. The atmosphere was deteriorating a little and things began flying around. You know, the odd beer bottle, the occasional ladies shoe, that sort of thing. We thought it was going OK until a sizeable contingent of guests started chanting for a particular song. It was an old traditional Turkish village song which we didn't usually play, but we agreed a key and set to it, not wanting to antagonise what was becoming an edgy audience. It was now late in the evening and no none seemed to be considering leaving. I was thinking, 'How long are we gonna be here and, what was more important, would anyone be sober enough to remember to pay us!'

"Having played the extended version of the song for about ten minutes or so, much as the Greeks do with their live music and dancing, we thought we'd wind it up and play something else. In hindsight, this was not a good idea. No sooner had we struck the final chord and maybe a millisecond of silence had ensued than the male members of the crowd, who were a formidable bunch of village men who evidently worked with their hands, since these were as big as shovels and their biceps like Sly Stallone's - only bigger, started chanting for the same song again. We decided that if we weren't going to see things turn ugly, we'd better comply and so started the same song up all over again. If I'd known then what I know now I'd have said that things were still going swimmingly at that point.

"The next thing that happened was that they started getting the guns out. Not just rifles, but pistols, the lot. There were even a few running oily rags (or perhaps just their handkerchiefs!) along extremely sharp-looking knife blades by now too. I was feeling a little nervous." I'd say that in the "feeling nervous at a dodgy gig" stakes, this was one that rated quite high on the scale of nervousness, but that's just me. Mehmet was smiling now, but I knew he wouldn't have been at the time. My face betraying my rapt attention, he went on:

"Once the guns started being fired it freaked the vocalists out and so they just left, mid-song! The crowd weren't bothered, as long as the music went on and they were shindigging around, waving arms and bottles and knives about, often within inches of the band members. Yes, the two singers just retreated from the microphones, crept away and never came back. I knew things were getting bad when the guitarist unplugged his instrument and did likewise."

"No, you're kidding!" I interjected.

"I'm not. That's exactly what happened. You know, there are times when you curse the fact that you play an instrument that you can't just up and carry around. You certainly can't risk leaving a drum kit or an expensive all-singing-all-dancing keyboard behind and still expect to retain ownership by morning. But a singer, they can just run for it. A guitarist is a pretty close second. The P.A. was rented, so all he had to do was unplug it and creep away, guitar still over his shoulder. I knew it was getting really serious when the bassplayer did the same."

"So, what, you mean it was down to just you and the drummer!"

"Yep," said Mehmet, "It's absolutely true. You'd be surprised at how most people who are out of their skulls on some kind of village hooch won't notice as long as there's a beat and a melody. Plus, of course, I was playing some base notes on the keyboard anyway. The volume made up for the lack of guitars and the crowd weren't bothered about vocals by now."

"So," I asked, "How did you finally get out of there? Did you get paid?"

"We had to keep playing until they either fell asleep or left. I think we finally stopped, after having played the same song for hour after hour, with very sore fingers on my part and arms and legs hanging off of the drummer at around dawn. Fortunately, our van was still there, the other members having come with their own transport. But we very quietly packed up the gear among the scattered sleeping bodies and sloped away to the sound of the cockerels crowing and the sight of the sun's first rays peeping above the horizon. We never did get paid for that gig."

Well, if I didn't know it was Mehmet telling me this I may not have believed it. But that's about the size of it. I remember one gig which the Raggamuffins did in Merthyr Tydfyl one Saturday night. It was our last gig as it happens. The crowd in that club was seriously antagonistic-looking and Howard's wife Marilyn, who'd endured the gig whilst sitting alone in the crowd, having seen knives glinting in the strobe light and heard unmentionable things going on in the toilets, told us that she'd been scared the whole time she was there. After our set ended at just after midnight the DJ was under way and set for a night-long session. So we'd had to pack up our gear and carry it through the pulsating horde on the dance floor and yours truly was designated to go behind the bar to collect our fee, which was several hundred Pounds Sterling in cash!

I stood there amidst the smell of old beer and goodness knows what else whilst the manager counted out the dosh, conscious as I was of the fact that I was going to have to walk out from there, down a flight of stairs and into the street, then cross the road to our vehicles whilst a goodly number of Merthyr good-timers would know what was in my sweaty palm. Outside in the dark street there were two Police cars, their occupants standing by whilst men peed into shop doorways right next to them. But at least I felt that we'd probably get away in one piece and with our fee intact, which, of course, we did.

After hearing Mehmet's story, though, I realised that an after-midnight crowd in Merthyr Tydfyl is a bunch of pussycats when compared to a bucolic Turkish wedding reception.

*I ought to add that although he didn't learn the keyboard parts, he had a superb singing voice and is still a friend, at least I hope he is!!

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Par for the Course?

There's a certain etiquette in the UK which governs how we're dealt with by sales personnel in stores. You know what I mean. For instance, if you're being helped to chose a product or service by a member of staff, other clients, even other staff, will tend to hang back and wait until an appropriate juncture, or perhaps an invitation into the conversation, before interrupting. They may even exercise patience and wait until you've been served and made your exit before approaching the fellow staff member who's been helping you. It's a little different here in Greece and sometimes the way they conduct themselves takes some getting used to.

We had to go to town one Friday recently to buy a new router. The old one was behaving strangely. I used to think that a router either worked or it didn't, but after now having had two which seem to be working when in fact they do weird things, like not load some web pages whilst others seem to behave normally, I realize that it's not as simple as that. In a similar way I used to think blind people were simply in darkness, until one lady whom we knew some years ago in Wales told me that she liked the colour of my trousers!! We were sitting on her sofa in bright sunlight and I was wearing some light blue chinos. The lady in question always had eyes that left one in no doubt that she was quite blind and yet, this unnerving moment led to her explaining that many who are diagnosed as "blind" do in fact have some limited vision. So, it's an odd comparison to draw I know, but it helped me come to terms with the behaviour of a couple of routers.

If you're a regular reader of these ramblings and my books you'll be aware that whenever someone who lives in the South of the island, as we do, needs to purchase a new product, it invariably involves an expedition to Rhodes Town, which usually ties up a whole day. So off we set to go into the depths of Rhodes new Town to the OTE (Greek equivalent of BT) shop, where we were hoping to avail ourselves of the latest model to which OTE will lend their technical support. In I walked at around 11.30am and was soon aware that all the sales staff were either dealing with customers or talking on the telephone. I waited around for a few minutes until one chap said goodbye to the person to whom he'd been talking and I asked him if I could purchase a new router please. The reply I got was what everyone from further down the island dreads, but hears all too often:  

"Ah, well, the new stock's only just come in this morning. It's all still in cardboard boxes out the back in the storeroom. Can you come back this evening?"

"Oh," I sighed, putting on my best 'please take pity' voice, "…but I live in Kiotari." As I've mentioned before, the shops here close at around 1.30pm and then re-open at five. To have to wait around for that long is extremely tedious and would mean our arriving home late in the evening, since the obligatory stop at a couple of food supermarkets always has to be factored in when these opportunities arise. Knowing the distance and logistics involved he replied, much to my relief, "Well, then, give me an hour and come back. We'll get some out so that you can buy one. OK, sir?" OK it was.

So far so good on the "sales staff/customer" front you may think. I met up with my better half and we were soon sitting under that huge tree at the "Court House" cafe in Mandraki, sipping on our iced coffees and enjoying our favourite participation sport - people watching. Already there was a plentiful supply of tourists to pass comment on, the fact that a couple of cruise ships were in adding to their numbers. My wife had looked from one of my hands to the other when I'd approached and questioned what had happened about the new router. I'd explained the not-unexpected situation and bemoaned the frequency with which this kind of thing happens here, to which she'd replied, "Be grateful he didn't say they were coming in tomorrow!" Positive thinking, that's my girl.

So, after a very pleasant interlude during which my wife had earmarked several passers-by for a make-over and I'd searched to see if any of the excursion boats I knew were tied up along the harbour, we left some cash on the table to cover the frappes and arose to walk the couple of blocks back over to the OTE shop.

As we climbed the few steps to the shop entrance, there was my man, standing outside and engrossed in an animated conversation with another young chap. It was impossible to hear what they were saying so it could have been business or it may have been a conversation about the coming evening's social life; we'll never know. As I passed him and opened the glass door for my wife to enter before me (eh, what fellas? I know how to treat a woman!), he did, however give me a nod to acknowledge that he'd seen me return.

Once inside we stood around and didn't even have the opportunity to fend off any other sales assistant by explaining that we'd spoken to the bloke outside earlier as they were still all busy in one way or another. This is where we reach the point about staff-customer etiquette which I opened with above. After a wait of maybe four or five minutes, he finally bade goodbye to the other young man and walked back into the store, whereupon I opened my mouth in an attempt to say, "Well, here I am, back again…" but, just as my lips parted he held up a hand in the familiar "stop right there" motion and picked up the phone on his little desk. We exercised patience while he dealt with whatever it was he needed to deal with and then expected to have his full attention. He smiled at us and began with a "Right, OK…" when one of his colleagues called over from some distance away and yet another conversation started up. We were now becoming aware of the reason for all the visual banner ads around the place. They give you something to read during those elongated periods during which your relationship with the person serving you is interrupted.

Concluding this latest chat, he then looked towards us and I made an attempt to ask if they'd got some routers ready, at which he smiled, held up a hand once again and began a conversation with a motorcyclist who'd just entered the store from behind us and walked past us up to our salesman. During the course of this conversation, he looked around at some other colleague who was sitting in a glass booth a few feet away and had a kind of sign language discussion with her. So far we'd been back in the store for quite a while and had only accomplished about three words, a few nods and hand signals with our salesman.

Finally he turned to us and invited us to approach his computer terminal. I asked what the price of a new router was and he showed us on the screen, then, before I could say "OK," he told us he'd be back in a jiffy and strode off toward a door marked "Private. Staff only." At least that looked promising. "Maybe he's gone to get us our router" I suggested to Yvonne-Maria. I ought to have known better. Some five minutes later he re-emerged carrying something quite a bit smaller than a router, which he handed to the motorcycle man who, as it turned out, was still lurking about, probably also reading the advertising banners around the place. Then, having given our man some kind of paperwork in exchange for the small package, he left the store.

Seizing my opportunity I asked loudly: "So, do we have a router then?" I did try and force a smile to. No sense alienating him, eh?

"Of course!" He replied and picked one off of the top of a pile of routers which had evidently been placed on the floor near another display while we'd been sipping our frappes down at Mandraki. Up until that moment neither of us had even noticed them, mesmerized as we'd been by the antics of our staff member. I extended a hand to receive the boxed router when he hesitated, thrust his empty hand up yet again in a "wait a mo" gesture and tapped a few keys on his computer. At this point his desk phone rang and, of course, he answered it.

Eventually, with an engaging smile that suggested that he'd done his very best for us, he handed me the box, along with a docket which we had to then take with us to join the back of the queue for the desk where people pay their phone bills. After several more minutes spent in this queue, we'd finally paid for the router and made our way toward the glass doors to make our exit. As we passed our salesman I glanced toward him and gave a kind of wave of thanks, to which he reciprocated with a smile and a brief wave of the hand whilst his other held his mobile phone to an ear. He was also trying to make conversation with another person who was standing adjacent to him at his desk.

Walking along the street in the sunshine I felt quite mentally exhausted and wondered what was the life expectancy of someone who does this guy's job. Whilst it had been frustrating to endure the succession of interruptions, most of which had been of his making, it had been evident that he saw nothing untoward in this. He'd done his bit and we'd eventually emerged with what we'd come for. It just took a bit longer than it might have, had we enjoyed his full attention for more than a few seconds at a time.

I thought about feeling sorry for him, since we only had to endure that kind of thing once in a blue moon, whereas he apparently spends every working day like that. But then it's par for the course for him I suppose. See, the thing is, we Brits can find it quite a trial to be dealt with in such a manner since, by and large, once we're being attended to by a salesperson, the tendency is for others to wait patiently rather than interrupt. If the phone rings they'll usually apologize while they answer it, or perhaps let it ring. Here in Greece, however, we've now discovered from experience on many occasions and in varying circumstances that you can be holding a conversation with someone when another person will walk up and simply interrupt and, in the process, take up the entire attention of the person to whom you may have been talking to just seconds before. It's not considered bad manners or rude, it's just what they all do.

If you're the kind of person whose nose is easily "put out of joint" as it were, you'd be spending an awful lot of time taking offence.

Still, wonder if he ever goes people-watching.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

On Grapes and a Growing Girth

Mihalis was once more waxing lyrical about plants when I talked to him the other evening. Having made his acquaintance very soon after we arrived here, so that would be almost seven years ago now, I was all of a sudden reminded of how soon the time passes.

He it was (you'll have come across him several times if you've read the books) who first used to give us fresh produce on a weekly basis until, having learned that we intended to try and grow some of our own food for ourselves, he switched from giving us his delicious kitchen-ready produce, to supplying us with seedlings and seeds, along with all the advice needed to make a success of growing them. My biggest trouble in the beginning was that he'd rattle on incomprehensibly and I'd have to hope that I'd picked up enough to get it right. Fortunately, in the early days my wife would step in with her interpretive skills to help out a bit.

Mihalis is probably ten years my junior, but owing to his lot in life he hasn't had the luxury which I've enjoyed of being able to look after himself as well physically. Raising a young son with his wife in Kalathos, he also lives not a stone's throw from his now-aged parents, whom he has to help on a daily basis (a very common situation on the islands), has a substantial plot of land around his house, all of which (with the exception of a few flowery borders that is) is given over to fruit and vegetable production. He keeps ducks, chickens and rabbits and also harvests olives from hundreds of family-owned trees every other November. For the six months of the tourist season, just for good measure, he works from 7.30am until 3.00pm seven days a week as a waiter in a hotel too. He's quite a busy man.

Growing things here it's important first to learn to do it the way the locals do. I am acquainted with several UK ex-pats who are in the habit of bringing seeds from the UK, or trying to follow a calendar of planting which is similar to that which they'd have followed back there, but this isn't a god idea in my opinion. The weather and the soil are both totally different, as are the growing seasons. Plus - and you can call me a bit paranoid here, but - I feel that it's not altogether a good idea for the local environment to be introducing flora from a different part of the planet. Who knows what effects it may have on the environment here in the long term?

Anyway, returning to my chat with Mihalis. As he talked enthusiastically about these courgette plants which he'd lovingly begun raising in nice, rich compost in their little individual plugs (small tomato puree cans! I know 'cos the labels are still on them), he thrust them at me as a gift while explaining exactly what I should to with them in order to be eating some almost marrow-sized fruit in just a few weeks. I told him I really would like him to give me some more of those "Fasolakia" (French beans) which he'd given me some years back. This was the time when we had endured "Hartley" trouble (Ch. 4, "Hares and Hosepipes", Tzatziki For You to Say) before eventually harvesting a bowlful of these deliciously tender slim green wonders every day for quite a few weeks.

I remembered that this variety of bean is best planted during the high summer months. "Isn't it August when you're meant to plant them?" I asked my horticultural advisor.

"No, no, Yianni, the first of July. You put them in on (as he pronounced it) 'Julie' one. Then Avgousto, in the middle, you cut your first beans." At this point he put his first finger and thumb to his mouth and kissed them away in that gesture that says 'yummy!' Once again I was struck by the quite specific day on which I ought to plant these beans. Not, "at about the beginning of July", but rather "July the first"!

I was looking at him with a deal of affection as he talked to me in his "Gre-nglish", which he seems to think I'll understand better, and thought how he'd physically changed since first I'd made his acquaintance. Back in 2005 he'd had a respectable head of hair. Now, most of what used to grow up top has receded to somewhere behind his crown and his girth is considerably larger than it had been then. In a funny sort of way, though, it suits him.

I was suddenly struck by the thought of the vines which he'd given me a few years ago, all of which I'd trimmed and planted according to instructions, or so I'd thought. But when I'd gone through the process of what I'd done with him he'd chided me on getting all kinds of details wrong and shook his head as if to say,"Oooh, I dunno. Maybe they'll survive. Maybe they won't." But they have. This year they've put on spectacular growth and, to our amazement, are sporting baby grapes in an almost respectable quantity. I felt the urge to tell him, since he'd often asked me how they were doing and I'd had to reply that, whilst they were alive, they hadn't given us a single grape. I'm glad I brought it up, since it elicited some more pearls of horticultural wisdom from him.

"Now" he said, an air of seriousness crossing his brow (you don't take such things with levity!), "you like dolmades? You know you can have dolmades without the meat."
"Yes, of course," I replied, "'Pseftikes' dolmades."

"Bravo Yianni, that's right. Well now, if you see the baby grapes it's time to trim the vines to encourage the grapes to fatten up." He now proceeded, with the evident enthusiasm of one who deeply loves these wonders of the creator's handiwork, to tell me how to run my fingers delicately along from the last bunch of fledgling grapes on any particular stem to the next growth of leaves and there to cut off the rest of the stem. This will send all the moisture and goodness into the grapes. Then he enlightened me as to why he'd mentioned dolmades. You never waste anything when you grow food in Greece. The cuttings are of course going to bear plenty of grapevine leaves - which you now trim from the stems to use in making dolmades. I had to admire the infinite, thrifty wisdom in all of this.

As if to remind me of this wisdom, the following day we had to go to Arhangelos to help Josie with her garden and there, right across the road from Josie's house, was a pair of old ya-yas up a ladder, trimming their vines from a canopy on their avli [terrace] which, apart from yielding them their annual grape harvest, also gave shade for a family car or two.

So today I've been out with my trusty secateurs (look closely and you can see the baby grapes, exciting or what?)...

Thursday, 3 May 2012

A Sunday Morning in Laerma

Sunday morning, April 29th dawned clear and blue. Nothing unusual there then. It felt like the hottest day of the year so far, which the thermometer provided proof of later in the day, when it read 28.5ºC at around 4.30pm. After all, it was the end of April!

We drove up to Laerma and strolled around the village.

Just above the parking area where preparations were under way for the May Day celebrations (a fact made evident by the scattered small plywood huts from which would be sold traditional fare and large sections of stage upon which the dancers would perform which were strewn or stacked in the sunshine), we walked part-way down a steep lane, where a few goats decided that their desire to stay out of the sun outweighed their natural desire to flee any close contact with some human strangers, so they remained under the welcome shade of a tree, under which also sat a rather un-fetching rusting old VW van. 

On the other side of the lane was a stand of pine trees which evidently served as a garage for a villager's tractor. At first I thought that the tractor had died and had been laid to rest there, until I noticed how the plough which was attached to the rear, along with the tyres with which it was shod, were obviously still in service.


A garden fence which we passed protected some artichoke plants, which were at eye-height and only a couple of weeks short of being ready to harvest. The artichokes themselves were a kind of pink colour, whilst the foliage resembled that of a kind of poppy which we used to have in our garden in the UK, only much, much larger - as if, in fact, it had been irradiated in some nightmare nuclear sci-fi scenario from a 1950's B-movie. Prior to moving here I'd never eaten artichokes, but quite often when invited to dinner at our friend's Mihalis and Ermina's home in Kalathos, and recently when we ate with an elderly widowed friend in Rhodes town, we'd find on the table among the assorted dishes on offer a huge saucepan or tureen containing a kind of soup, which consisted of artichokes, peas and onions, perhaps lentils and carrots sometimes too, all in a savoury brown-coloured sauce.

Further down in the village itself, parked outside of the large cafe with the huge tree (just down from and opposite the Igkos Taverna, see this post) was a pickup loaded with fresh young vegetable seedlings, all in their little polystyrene or plastic plugs. A find! Only the previous day we'd been into a nursery to stock up on courgettes, summer lettuce and aubergines, but were too late for tomatoes and cucumbers. This pickup seemed well stocked with both and so we hung around, safe in the knowledge that the owner would be sitting in the cafe just a few feet above us and would soon be by our sides if he sensed a sale. He didn't disappoint. Calling out for us to "hold on, he wouldn't be a mo", he soon left a half-finished frappe and a conversation with a small knot of village folk and trotted over to the pickup, discarding a cigarette end in the process.

"Oriste!" (Lit: Here you are/I am) he cried, "how can I help?" With a little research as he busily picked up various plugs to read the scribblings on their sides we selected a few examples of two types of tomato, both beef and cherry, plus a couple of cucumber plants that should in a few weeks be supplying us with succulent stubby cucumbers, the short variety. Slipping him the required few coins in payment, I asked if he had anything in which I could carry the purchases a few hundred metres up the road to where the car was parked, whereupon he quickly produced a black plastic crate, which I promised to return as soon as I'd deposited the delicate plants in the shade of the car's boot.

When I returned a few minutes later, with the better half sheltering from the hot sun under the shadow of the buildings opposite whilst chatting with the lady from the Igkos, I returned the crate and we were once more on our way. Within a few more yards passing an alley between two houses, we spotted an old man, sitting on a cracked and battered white PVC patio chair, with a small rusty table in front of him, bearing his Elleniko coffee. His flat cap had seen better days and his red check shirt was of the woollen variety, with a soft collar which disappeared beneath an old jacket which would be totally non-plussed were you to introduce it to a dry cleaner's. Between the jacket and the shirt he wore an ancient olive-coloured wool sweater, with the odd hole here and there. Well, it was only in the mid-twenties Celsius and still the end of April. That's still viewed as winter here. Best be safe rather than sorry, don't want to catch a chill.

Upon our calling  a greeting down to him, he responded with a smile and beckoned us come closer. "Kathiste!" [sit down] he said and pointed at a couple more discoloured patio chairs which were positioned a few feet to his right, indicating that we were more than welcome to draw them up to him and spend a while conversing.

His name was Manolis and he proudly announced that his fiftieth wedding anniversary would be observed next year, since he and his wife were married in 1963, when I was still running around in short trousers. He was quite evidently a man of the land, as were most of his generation. Yes he was born here in Laerma, but had spent a few years in Germany during the 1960's, where some of their five children had been born. All five were sons and four of them survived, one, however, having died in tragic circumstances about seven years ago following a feud right here in the village, which resulted in both the son and his wife being killed. Manolis' eyes watered over as he recounted this sad fact. Feuds used to be very vigorously pursued in rural Greek villages and still are in parts of Crete, where it's still not unusual to see road signs peppered with gunshot, used as they are for target practice by groups of villagers of one family which may well be at loggerheads with a family in the neighbouring village. They still shoot guns at wedding receptions when the dancing gets going and after they've had an ouzo or five, which can be quite alarming for a foreign guests from the oh-so-genteel British Isles!

His wife appeared from behind the mosquito screen which protected her open kitchen door and asked us would we like a drink? After having agreed to accept an Elleniko each, we watched as she disappeared inside again to prepare them for us. Looking around we could see that Manolis still worked hard growing vegetables. Just behind us was a substantial sized vegetable patch, which seemed to have in it more weeds than vegetables, but, seeing us eyeing it, he began to enthuse about the benefits of growing your own, especially in these difficult times. We told him that in our modest little way we were attempting to follow his example, whereupon he arose and bade us follow him into the patch and, bending over, ripped some leaves from a plant that we couldn't even discern among the huge weeds which surrounded it. Immediately he shoved the green leaves which he'd pulled from the plant into his mouth and crunched on them. Still got a few decent teeth then, evidently. We asked what it was he'd pulled and he told us, whilst pulling a few more leaves for us to chomp as he did so, that it was called "Andeeri" in Greek. The leaves resembled rocket, Kos lettuce and dandelion all rolled into one.

"Very good for you!" he enthused, "Chopped up, add a little lemon juice and olive oil, all you need for a nourishing lunch!" We'd have been quite rude not to have shoved the leaves he'd proffered us into our mouths as he had done, so we did so. They were actually quite tasty, with a hint of the bitterness of rocket in there somewhere.

As were returned to the rusty old table, Manolis' wife emerged with a tray, on which she'd placed two Greek coffees, two glasses of chilled water, a dish of lovely wrinkled home-preserved black olives and two slices of village bread. On bidding us help ourselves, she went back in for a couple of paper serviettes. She soon became immersed in conversation with Yvonne-Maria whilst I continued on talking with Manolis. I understood most of what he said, but I also had to guess at some of it, owing to his broad accent. But I just made sure to smile and nod at appropriate moments and he was happy to talk on about his past. One of his sons was evidently the apple of his eye as he was still in Germany and apparently quite a senior officer in the police force of the town where he lived. His other surviving children were either here in the village or living in Rhodes town, all married and most producing grandchildren for him and his wife to dote over.

Whilst I asked him what he'd done for a living before retiring, I was conscious of the fact that his wife had shed a few tears whilst talking to mine. Later Yvonne-Maria told me that she too had explained about their son who'd been killed and it was this that had made her cry. That kind of emotional wound never really heals.

Manolis proudly waved his hand behind him, to bid us take in the vista of the valley below, which for the purposes of his explanation had to represent the entire South of the island. "I used to manage the forestry and roads for all this area," he told us. "…from Profilias and Istrios over to Appollakia, and down to Katavia. A lot of the pines in this area I planted with my own hands. Didn't have all this fancy machinery in those days." This prompted us to refer to the huge fires that had ravaged this area back in 2008, when Laerma was almost evacuated as the fires approached to within a few yards of the houses, destroying thousands of trees (many of which we now knew he'd planted years before) and eating up acres of valuable vegetables which should have kept the villagers fed for months. He was effusive in his description of how bad it had been, whilst also demonstrating a philosophical outlook by saying, "So life goes. You have to take the rough with the smooth. Doxa to Theo [praise God]."

Something which we wanted to ask him, since he was a man who'd spent his entire life following the rhythm of the earth, planting, harvesting and eating its produce, was why our courgette plants were a failure last year. The plants were healthy enough and the flowers huge and yellow. Yet the courgettes had only reached thumb-size before turning brown, going soft and dropping off.

"Disease," he said, solemnly. "You ought to have fed them with this…" He now rose and turned to the old rusty refrigerator just behind him, on top of which was a selection of plastic bottles and reached one of them down to show us. "It's common and it's not just over-watering that's the problem. It's important to dose them with this before the fruit grows too big." And so our lesson continued. We told him how we so loved the taste of the vegetables which we either grew ourselves, or purchased in the local stores. "Back in the UK," my wife said, "so much of the fruit and vegetables has hardly any taste. It's all wrapped in cling film on polystyrene trays. Even the stuff that is loose can have been flown thousands of miles by plane before arriving on the shelves." Why was it, she asked, that the tomatoes, the cucumbers, the oranges and the beans all tasted so much better here?

With no hesitation at all, Manolis replied in two words, "The sun!!" He declared. "Without the sunlight which we get here, much of the food grown in other climes is 'forced' with artificial methods. There's no substitute for the SUN!!" he emphasised. Well, whether he was right or not, he was convinced that this was the main reason. We were too.

It was drawing near time for us to leave, as we were conscious of not overstaying our welcome. Turning his attention back to his nearby vegetable patch, he arose once again, went over and pulled some more leaves for us to eat with our olives and bread. 

"Now, what really makes it wonderful," he added, with a sparkle in his eye, "is to add your own freshly dried mint." His wife took this as a cue and went back inside, to emerge a moment later with a large clear plastic bag and a glass jar, which was full to the brim with dried mint. Emptying some of it out on to her husband's palm, he then sprinkled some of the dried mint into our hands, rubbing it into smaller shreds as he did so and bade us sprinkle it over the leaves. "Now," he said, "pop that into your mouth along with an olive and some bread. Can there be anything more good for you to to eat than that?"

As we arose to take our leave, Manolis poured some of his home-produced dried mint into the plastic bag and knotted it before handing it to my wife. His wife also, noticing that we'd left a slice of village bread on the plate, picked that up, wrapped it in a paper napkin and gave it to me. Time and space doesn't allow me here to go into all the other subjects we'd touched on. There were so many herbs which he had growing in pots all around us about which he'd expounded the virtues and offered us ideas as to how to use them to the best effect.

Tearing ourselves away and repeatedly thanking this humble, hospitable couple for their time, story and advice, we walked back up the short alley to the village's main street. Waving at them one more time before they disappeared behind a wall, we heard them reminding us to come again.

"And you'll have to come to our 50th anniversary next year!!" Was the last thing we heard Manolis call.

We'd bought six seedlings from the pick-up man earlier and paid him four Euros. He'd asked for €3.60, but I'd given him four. As we strolled back up through the village to the car I saw something shiny on the hot asphalt in front of us. bending to see what it was I saw that it was a one Euro coin. Finders keepers? Well, it wasn't very likely that anyone was going to come looking for it, so it ended up in my pocket.

"Well," I said to my wife, "Those cucumber and tomato seedlings were really cheap now, weren't they?"

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

I Couldn't Bring Myself...

Out on the tiles. Well,let me re-phrase that, down on the tiles of our terrace this afternoon, I was almost going to tread on this little fellow (accidentally, of course), when I couldn't help admiring his outfit.

He's only as big as your little fingernail, always assuming that it is a "he" that is and not a "she", but I just had to snap him and show him to the world. After all, in the post about all the wild flowers (A Bit of Botany...) someone called Matt (but he didn't fool me, I reckon it's Monty Don from BBC Gardener's World under a pseudonym) ID'd all the plants that I couldn't name.

So maybe there's an arachnid anorak out there who'll tell me what species he/she is...