Monday, 31 December 2012

Wood, Water and a Worried Greek

Takis stood ruminating, a look of grave concern on his face. I was showing him the wood-store around the back of the house and he was worried about the distance we'd have to carry the logs which we'd just arrived home with, after our expedition into the hinterland together to cut them (see the post "Self Sufficiency").

"Is there no way we can reverse the trailer round the back here?" he asked, scratching his five-o'clock shadow with his right hand. He was wearing one of those multi-pocketed quilted jackets without any sleeves. Under that he had on a thick woollen jumper, over a wool check shirt and a vest under that too I'd wager. His combat trousers had seen better days and the leg-pockets bulged with all sorts of mystery items. That's the thing with these Greeks, as I've mentioned before. The temperature was about 18ºC and it was mid afternoon under a sky of blue and broken cloud. A little physical labour and I was soon down to a thick short-sleeved t-shirt and jeans, even contemplating the merits of changing into some shorts. A Greek, on the other hand, like my neighbour Taki here, would be dressed for the tundra. Once the season ends it's winter. And if it's winter they're flippin' well going to dress for winter, regardless of weather conditions, which often (as I've also mentioned before, probably) may rival those of any day during a typical British summer. I've been sat in rooms in very warm houses on summer evenings out here too and seen that a male Greek was wearing a vest under his shirt!! There I would be in my short-sleeved shirt and still feeling far too hot, when I could make out the tell-tale shape of the tank-top white cotton vest showing through many a Greek's shirt. You can never be too careful it seems.

It is funny actually, that so often in the winter months our Greek friends are slapping their upper arms with their opposite hands and going "brrrr", when we Brits are going round in long-shorts and t-shirts. Quite often too the Greek will be blowing his or her nose as they deal with a cold, when we're thinking how warm it's been of late. Anyway, to return to Taki's question:

"Why?" I replied. After all, we'd been bringing home logs ourselves for several years and carrying albeit smaller loads round here from the drive out the front using the wheelbarrow. It was no big deal. But apparently Takis, ever the true Greek, was worried we'd find the exertion too much. You know, unloading a trailer-full out the front and then wheelbarrowing the wood a good thirty metres or so to the wood-store. Could do us in, or ay least do us an injury. As Kyria Dimitra in the Lardos bakery once told me, if a Greek could take his car to the toilet - he would.

"Taki," I said, "the trailer's fine out front, we'd have to dismantle a fairly substantial wooden fence to get the trailer around here from John and Wendy's side of the house, or demolish our brick-built barbecue if we come from our side. It's OK, we can move the logs by hand."

The Greek still stood, hands now on his hips, and "tch-ed" a few times. "Yianni," he continued, "why did you build the shed and wood-store all the way round here, eh? Not good, not good." This point of view of course reflects the penchant that the Greeks have for all things labour-saving and practical. Not for the Greek's house a nice flower border or decorative Yucca or three to make the approach to the house look pleasing to the eye. Taki's house has a huge corrugated iron wood-store just feet from the front door, so that he has the minimum distance to cover when fetching logs for the stove. When you arrive at Taki's and Naomi's front gate, you are immediately struck by the fact that the wood-store is half-way between the garden gate and the front door of the house. No time here for prettiness, - practicality, boy, practicality!! You'll always recognise a Brit's home, it'll look well manicured, but won't impress yer typical local Greek, who'll also be wondering why so much good soil is wasted in growing stuff that you can't actually eat too.

After I'd finally convinced my friend that we'd not flake out in the process of moving the logs, he turned to another, related subject.

"You have an axe? I mean a proper one, for splitting the logs?"

"Sure," I replied, and went into the shed to retrieve my heavy-headed iron 'log-splitter', which had been a gift from my dad some years ago when we'd still lived in South Wales. It had made the trip out here with us in "Mitsos", the white van in which we'd transported all our worldly goods when we'd driven over in August 2005. It's a rather traditional-looking long wood-handled heavy axe, with one side of the head a blade, while the other resembles a lump-hammer and is very useful for driving "re-bars" into the soil in the orchard when constructing a wind-shield for the young slips of fruit trees which in the beginning were struggling against the elements during the winter months. The problem of late, though, has been that the head has been working loose. I've been driving nails and manly-looking woodscrews into the wood at the top of the head to try and firm it up a bit, but only with limited success. The axe worked, but the head would move against the handle and I confidently expected it to fly off and in through our bedroom window some time soon, probably landing on the bed while my wife was in there taking a nap or something. That's how my luck usually goes.

Takis took it from me in a manner which suggested that he'd brook no argument. He ran his hand along the rather dull blade and vigorously wiggled the head against the wood of the handle. He didn't notice me wincing.

"You want this to last a bit longer, Yianni?"

"Of course," I replied, whilst also thinking that it would definitely last a bit longer if the head wasn't purposely being wiggled like that. "I'd been thinking about popping down to Pandeli's DIY store in Gennadi for a new handle though."

"No need, no need," he said, "fill a bucket with water and drop the head end in. Leave it overnight and it'll be fine. Probably last you another season. It's the dryness here. Wood shrinks. Not like in England, where it's so damp that wood keeps its moisture for ever. Here it dries out and you need to re-hydrate it. Shove it in a bucket of water overnight, it'll do you OK then."

After he'd gone I did as he'd suggested. I half-filled a bucket with water and dropped the axe-head into it, then left it overnight in the shed. I ran out early next morning like an excited schoolboy to see the result. I whipped the iron axe-head out of the water to see that it was covered in a  micro-thin layer of rust, which I soon cured by wiping it dry with a rag, then smearing some trusty three-in-one oil all over it (brought back in my suitcase last year from the ever-reliable branch of Halfords in Midsomer Norton). It came up good as new. Then I tried to wiggle the head against the handle. It wouldn't budge. It was fixed fast.

By mid morning we'd transferred all the logs to the wood-store and I was able to call Taki to tell him to collect the trailer. I couldn't contain my delight over the re-invigorated axe. Once I'd told him how delighted I was, he replied in his usual dismissive way. "Aach, you British need us Greeks. After all, what do you have that we didn't invent, eh? That applies to ideas too!"

I knew that he was being a little tongue-in-cheek, but I agreed and deferred, of course.


  1. Haven't had time to read this post as been too busy with Kleo.............I've left a comment on your post 'Let loose..........'

  2. I was reading this John thinking you need a bucket of water and then......

    Glad it is sorted.

    1. Aaah, so you knew the solution already Andy. Obviously a great deal brighter than me!!