Saturday, 15 December 2012

Self Sufficiency?

Richard Briers and Felicity Kendall we may not be (apologies to non-UK readers, for whom those names probably don't mean very much), but of late it's seemed that we are indeed living something resembling "The Good Life" of the 1970s TV series.

For the past few days, as we've watched the early evening news on Alpha, I've been seated on the sofa with two large bowls on my lap. No, I haven't had a dose of the jippy tummy. I've been cracking walnuts. I returned from my trip to Thessaloniki with thousands of the things. My wife suggested that, rather than just sit there with an ouzo and orange juice in my hand, I could make myself useful by cracking the shells to release the brain-resembling kernels inside, so that, after a few sessions in similar vein, we'd have jarred up a considerably ample supply of these nuts that so resemble the brain from a pickled head.

It's funny isn't it, how life's so full of coincidences. I mean, there I was just contemplating the nutritional value of plant-based omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid, when Mihalis and Dimitra, my genial and very generous hosts in Thessalonika, decide to give me a huge supply of the stuff in convenient dried nut form, all wrapped up in a plastic shopping bag. Yes, apparently, walnuts are a key source of ALA (the abbreviation for plant-based omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid!) and it has huge health benefits. According to one report by the BBC I read recently, one of the chief benefits of the fatty acid found in walnuts is something that I kind of miss out on these days. It relates to the younger man and his chances of producing progeny with his partner of similar vintage, apparently. Go on, read it for yourself if you like. There, see? I did tell you.

So, yes, we're well endowed - with walnuts I mean - and, as my wife points out owing to her eye for all things thrifty, we've got ourselves a few Euros worth here and we should be grateful. From here on in I can look forward to a more regular supply of walnut cake, of walnuts replacing or at least augmenting the whole hazels that we sprinkle on our muesli of a morning, and who knows - maybe a nut roast or two in the weeks to come. Tell you what, I can touch a thumb to my nose and twiddle my fingers at Type 2 diabetes as well, if this report is to be believed.

It's not just the walnut situation that's prompted the "Good Life" analogy. We've been strolling the orchard and can now take immense pride in the fact that both the grapefruit and lemon trees out there are laden with delicious yellow globe-shaped and - well, lemon-shaped - offerings. The grapefruit tree has more fruit on it than ever and the lemons on the lemon tree are larger than they've been since it first fruited three or four years ago. Only yesterday we were having a coffee in the tiny traditional kafenion, which is perched precariously on a corner at the bottom of Gennadi square, when I found myself studying the lemon tree in the front yard of the house opposite. The lemon tree is a minor miracle. A major one, even. It produces impossibly-useful fruit which can be left on the branches all year round and just picked as and when needed. Got some limescale to remove from your kettle? Couple of lemon chunks left in there in some freshly boiled water should do the trick. Need to remove stains from the shower basin? Bit of neat lemon juice rubbed in soon shifts those. There is a whole host of handy uses to which to put a lemon, the most important being, of course, a slice in your G and T or your VAT.

Too, our little Bulgarian friend Dhopi has been plying us with oranges this winter, as per usual. Several shopping bagfuls a week to be honest. All yesterday morning Y-Maria was "juicing" and this has led to the freezer now being chock-full of freshly squeezed juice. Plus we enjoyed a huge glass of the stuff with our lunch as we sat outside in the sunshine to eat it yesterday as well. A better glass of orange juice I have never tasted.

Finally, to complete the "Good Life" theme, last week we finally, after several years of talking about it, made a trip into "them thar hills" with our neighbours from down the valley, Taki and Naomi (his French wife) to do some serious logging to top up the woodstore for the winter. Mind you, this winter so far has been a stark contrast to the last one, which was the coldest in thirty years. We started using the logburner a full three weeks earlier in late 2011. This year we only lit it for the first time two nights ago, it's been that mild overnight. Tonight, as I type this at 1.00am, it's reading 6ºC outside, so we had it flickering away during the evening. The place is warm as toast, lovely.

It's a good way to illustrate the better side of the Greek nature, this. Yes, everyone thinks that your average Greek would sell his own granny if it meant a few more notes in his hip pocket. But Greek kindness on a neighbourly level is second to none. Takis told us several years ago that we ought to go with them when we go logging. Apart from anything else, he has a license. Now, as far as we understand it, you don't need a license to cut lumber for your own use, only if you intend to sell it. nevertheless, if the Greek "boys in blue" were to happen by whilst you're droning away with your chainsaw, the fact that a license is nearby and can be whipped out in a trice is quite reassuring.

I say that and yet, there was precious little likelihood of any vehicle getting near to us in the spot where Takis took us on this occasion, leave alone a Police car. Some years ago, when we did the olive harvest with "Dimitri the Horse", he'd taken us over the hills and so far away that we'd decided with absolute certainty that, had he abandoned us and fled with the pickup, we'd have been discovered years later as a couple of skeletons under a tree. We were that lost and that far from civilisation. Well, the morning of our planned logging trip having arrived, we were summoned to the front gate at around 11.00am (early start then) by the sound of Taki's 4x4 horn. Off we went and loaded our chainsaw into the back, taking note of the empty trailer which was hooked on behind, then we piled in and off he drove. We passed the village of Asklipio on the back road, which is just dirt, then plied on, through a maze of dirt lanes, past numerous families engaged in their olive harvests, all with their huge nets spread wide to catch the little marvels as they fell, some harvesters sitting on plastic crates taking their sustenance of cheese chunks, village bread and bottled water. Everyone waved at us without exception. Either Takis and Naomi know everyone in this region, or people are just that courteous. Somewhere between the two I guess. Rhodes ruined by tourism? Give me a break.

After probably three quarters of an hour driving around, occasionally stopping to point at or peruse a fallen burnt tree trunk for the ease of access and possible quantity of fuel which it may yield, we finally drove into a clearing among some tall pines, most of which were still alive and sporting lots of green needles. Takis instructed the ladies and I to hop out, while he gamely drove the 4x4 even further into the trees, where the undergrowth was well over bumper-height, until he'd come to within a few feet of the horizontal trunk which he'd selected as our goal. The smell of oregano filled our senses as the jeep bruised the leaves as it progressed further from the track.

Executing a few skilful manoeuvres, Takis brought the truck and trailer around so that, once we'd begun cutting the logs, they could be thrown into the back with ease. Soon the drone of two chainsaws could be heard echoing through the forest and clearings as he and I set about "logging" in earnest. Naomi set out on a flat stone a picnic comprising a couple of flasks of hot coffee with four ceramic mugs, some chocolate, some choccy-chip cookies and some delicious home-made bread for the hungry workers to attack as and when we got hungry, which in my case was immediately. Me and my better half were instantly aware that we'd omitted to consider the need for sustenance. It didn't matter, Naomi had packed enough for the four of us. My wife, bless her, set about lugging the cut logs from where they fell from the hot saw-blade to right beside the trailer, where Takis told her to just sling them in and he'd start organising them when there were enough in there to warrant it.

After a couple of hours the trailer was full to head-height with an impressive haul of lumber, which we fully expected to share 50-50 once we got home. We set off again and once more Y-Maria and I were bewildered by the criss-crossing of various dirt tracks and were soon lost as we crested hills and crossed small valleys, trailer bumping and clanging behind our heads, before finally emptying out on to the tarmac road just north of Asklipio village. Birds of prey swooped and hovered above and things rustled in the undergrowth as we passed. We drove into the village along lanes so narrow that you had to breath in, then stopped in the wider ones and the village square as Takis rolled his window down to exchange politely shouted pleasantries with everyone we passed, without exception, whether they were in a vehicle or on foot.

We got home to our place, which is a kilometre further up the valley from theirs, and Takis drove the trailer up on to our drive. By now it was mid afternoon and we probably only had about 90 minutes of daylight remaining. To unload the trailer and wheelbarrow the wood around to the woodstore behind the house was liable to take longer. No matter, the pair of them assured us, they'd leave the trailer on our drive and we could call them, once we'd emptied it, to come and collect it. It was all we could do to dissuade them from helping us get all the logs shifted before they left, but we insisted, we could handle it ourselves. What humbled us was hearing, on suggesting as we did that we just drop our half of the haul on the drive where it was, that it was all for us, every last lovely round log of it. They'd planned this expedition purely for our benefit. They'd spent the greater part of the day using their vehicle, their trailer, their chainsaw (inc. fuel and chain oil of course) and their food and drink - all for us, just so that we could have a decent supply of wood for our stove this winter. All the way through the day we'd assumed that we'd split the results of our labour, but they wouldn't hear of it.

As they drove out through the gate, minus the trailer, we were profuse in our thanks, but they smiled, waved and told us that was what neighbours were for. In fact, Takis took a look at our shiny new car under its carport and suggested that, if we did need any more lumber before the winter was out, we were to go into the hills, select a trunk, cut what we needed and then call him on the mobile, whereupon he'd be happy to drive up there with the trailer and bring the stuff back for us.

Have trailer - will go logging!

"You'll not be wanting to chuck filthy logs into the back of that car, least not for a year or two yet." he said.

Actually, we've now got that much wood out the back, we reckon it'll get us half way through the next winter too! The next day we shifted all the wood around to the back, where my ever industrious better half set about sorting and stacking it (See the pic in the previous post, "Climate Change") and then she swept out the trailer in readiness for Takis to come and collect it. When he turned up I thanked him and Naomi again and told them we couldn't be more grateful and how could they do all this without reward. Takis replied, "Johnny," [a lot of Greeks call me Johnny, since they can't handle single syllable names, for some odd reason], "That's how we are. We don't go to church, don't believe in a lot of the sanctimonious stuff, but that's our belief. That's our religion. Be to your neighbours what you'd like them to be to you. Payback always arrives some time."

We're planning to prove him right on that one soon. Here I suppose the "Good Life" analogy ends, since no way could you see Takis and Naomi as Margot and Jerry, now could you.

1 comment:

  1. What a fabulous long post,John. So lovely to read about day to day tasks in your 'almost self-sufficient' life. Takes me back to the 70's when we were living/working on a farm and doing our best to live a simpler life. I hope the time spent on this hasn't delayed the novel writing tho'. Really looking forward to that!